Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Calendar Woes

I must really be getting in shape from my ballet exercise class because I'm not the least bit stiff or sore today. Now I want someone to develop an exercise class based on River's ballet-fu from Serenity -- some kind of ballet/kickboxing hybrid. That would rock.

I got everything on my to-do list done yesterday. Unfortunately, one of my tasks was getting my timeline and calendar of the year's activities in shape, and that slapped me in the face with the ugly realization that two of my most anticipated events for the year are happening the same weekend in different parts of the country. On the bright side, if you can call it that, I don't have to make the agonizing decision of which one to attend, since I committed to one of them back in November before I even knew when/if/where the other one would be. Now I'm really, really bummed, and I can't think of a way to do both without inventing teleportation or time travel (Hmm, I wonder if you could build a working transporter out of parts from a couple of old printers, an old computer and an ancient crock pot). I suppose if I could work it out with both groups I could do part of each event and then hope for no flight delays.

I have a new book coming to life in my head, and it's starting to drive me nuts because it's not one I'm contracted for and I can't even try to sell it until I complete and turn in book 4 of my series. Actually, it's an older book, one I've been tinkering with off and on for about ten years. I've always had a sense of the theme I was trying to explore, but the way I went about doing it wasn't working. This book was a large reason behind my long publishing dry spell because I kept working on it and re-working it and it still didn't sell. My current agent was able to immediately pinpoint what the problem was, but I didn't really agree with her on the way to fix it. The other night the whole thing of how to fix it -- who the characters really were and what was really going on with them -- came to me in a flash. It would be a complete re-write, just salvaging some of the scene ideas, but I think in a way it's closer to the story that was initially in my head way back then than any of my previous efforts were. I'll let the brain go on percolating it until I have time to deal with it.

I'm in the process of wading through my e-mail in box. I started with more than 3,000 messages. Now I have it down to under 1,500. Not all of them were things I let pile up while I was lost in Book World. Some went back a few years. I'm bad about getting a message, thinking that I want to respond but not wanting to deal with it at the moment, and letting it sit in my in box as a reminder. And then more things pile up, so I never end up dealing with it. Or I keep things that I need to have handy as reference, but then forget to delete them after I no longer need them. I also seem to keep every message my editor or agent ever sends me, plus I still have all of the congratulations e-mails I got when I sold Enchanted, Inc. I'm trying to move all those souvenir e-mails into folders to get them out of my in box so the real to-do messages don't get so lost. One problem I've discovered from having so many messages in my in box is that if people's computer clocks aren't set right, I may miss their messages entirely. They end up a year or so back in the stack. I found a brand-new message, never opened, back in the July section of the in box. I doubt it actually came in July. It probably was just another bad computer clock setting. My goal is to get everything that's not a current to-do or reminder out of my in box.

I had thought about going to the movies this afternoon. A movie I'd put off seeing is now at the dollar theater, probably for the last week, since it comes out on DVD this week. It's a DVD I'll probably buy, anyway, so at the moment my brain is trying to talk me out of going, even if it is 50 cent day at the dollar theater. Even the thought of shoe shopping along the way isn't tempting me much at the moment. I'm trying to figure out if that's me being practical because I do have a lot to get done, or if it's the hibernation instinct kicking in again.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Weekend: Tea, Scones, Dreams and a Review

My brief "vacation" is over, and now I'm back to work, with a to-do list that makes me want to crawl under the covers. I think it's all doable, so I'm not going to get too worked up about it yet.

Saturday was a lovely rainy day. I have a tile roof, and there's a skylight upstairs in my office, so the rain on the roof makes a nice sound (when I'm awake. When the office was my bedroom, a gentle rainstorm could sound like machine gun fire, and it would wake me up.). I made tea and spent the afternoon reading. I'd ordered The Big Love by Sarah Dunn from B&N because it was on clearance and it sounded intriguing (and I needed one more book to get free shipping), but hadn't had a chance to read it. It was really, really good, one of the best American chick lit books I've read in ages. There was a lot I could relate to, to the point that I found myself wanting to meet the author because I felt we'd have a lot to talk about.

Sunday, the sun finally came out. As much as I enjoy rain and gray skies, after a while you do need a little sun. I kind of had a false start to the day, as I finally proved that all those things I've read about dreams taking place in just a few seconds really are true. My alarm went off, I hit snooze, and then I had a dream where I lived through an entire day. And then my alarm went off again. I was seriously disoriented after having lived an entire day in the span of nine minutes. Some of the disorientation came from being yanked out of the dream so abruptly. I wonder if that's how the away teams on Star Trek felt when they were always being beamed up just when they were in a bad situation, like, "Hey, I could have handled that!" In the dream, I was giving a speech on "So, You've Always Wanted to Write a Book" to a convention of television reporters (I haven't met too many journalists who don't claim that they're going to write a book someday), but in a variation on the "I have a final in a class I forgot I was taking, and now I don't know when or where it is" dream, I'd spent the whole day at the conference writing the speech but had forgotten to find out when and where I was giving it, and there was a possibility that the time had even passed. Unfortunately, the alarm woke me before I found out and before I gave the speech. I was curious as to what I'd say (because that does seem like a good topic for a speech). The only thing I remember writing had something to do with not taking a window seat on an airplane so you'd have more room to write while you travel, so I may not have gleaned any nuggets of wisdom, after all. Anyway, it was very strange going through a day when I felt I'd already lived through a day during those morning nine minutes.

I didn't want to waste the sunshine, so I went out and ran errands, even did a little shopping. One good thing about a hibernation phase is that it's nice for your bank account. I haven't bought much other than food in ages. I only bought office supplies, but I looked at other things. I even tried on shoes. Then I did a wander through the B&N. A lot of times, visiting bookstores leaves me more motivated to go home and write, but I didn't have anything to go home and write, and the bookstore visit left me with a strange sense of melancholy. I think I'm getting a bit of panic about the book coming out so soon, with the worry about where and how it will be shelved, if people will like it, and all that.

For the people liking it issue, I have my first review from someone who has good taste. :-) This is the reviewer who has a quote on the front cover, so I shouldn't be surprised that she liked it, but it's still nice to get that validation.

And finally, the scones recipe. It's from a book called Having Tea with recipes by Tricia Foley. The texture reminded me of really fluffy buttermilk biscuits, but without that tedious cutting the shortening into the flour step. I found that it halved easily to make scones for one, and then I just rolled the dough into a circle and cut it into quarters with a knife instead of trying to cut it into rounds.

Cream Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
Approximately 1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Gradually add enough of the cream to form a soft dough. Knead lightly on a floured board, handling the dough gently to retain the air needed for the scones to rise.
Roll out to a 1/2 to 3/4 inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds with a sharp knife or use a cookie cutter and arrange on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving a 1/2-inch space around each one. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes 8.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Rainy Day Ramblings

It's a nice, rainy day, and I think I'm going to use it for relaxing. They keep saying it's supposed to clear up this afternoon, but I don't see any signs of that yet. Now for some randomness.

I think A Room With a View may have to win my award for Most Romantic Movie Ever. The music, the settings, the costumes, all that passion simmering just under the surface. I hadn't seen it in ages, got the DVD months ago and finally got around to watching it yesterday. Sigh. Now I want to study Italian and travel in Italy, but I'd look kind of funny if I dressed like that as a tourist today.

I found a new recipe for scones that was incredibly quick and easy, and they turned out very, very good. I shall have to do that more often. Only not too much more often, with the whole Operation Anti-Cheez-It Butt campaign going on.

Once Upon Stilettos will be released two months from today. Eeeeek! (Yeah, I know you guys are glad it's so soon, but I have sooooo much to do between now and then.)

I have one more book to read for Rita judging, but as I still have about a week to get that done, I think I'm going to spend today reading a book that's been sitting on my bedroom floor, begging to be read, for more than a month. It's not that the book I'm judging is particularly bad. It's just not what I'm in the mood to read right now. It did trigger a burst of pet peeves, though.

I know it's sort of a convention of the romance genre, but I'm getting increasingly irritated by the "I'm so attracted to him and I hate that because I can't stand him" thing. I don't get it. Maybe I'm just weird, but I've never had that love/hate thing going on. If I can't stand someone, he becomes unattractive to me. I can't imagine being drawn to someone that I hate myself for being attracted to. I realize the genre requires some kind of initial attraction and some conflict, but this is a big reason why I migrated as an author and as a reader to chick lit, where there are fewer rules about stuff like that. She might hate the guy in chapter one and end up with him, but there's less insistence that she simultaneously think about how sexy he is. For instance, in Bridget Jones's Diary (the book, not the movie version), it takes her a while before she notices Mark Darcy as attractive at all. In their first meeting, when she mostly finds him irritating, she makes no mention of anything physical except his height and his unfortunate sweater (and in the book it was just an ugly, old-man-looking Argyle sweater, not a reindeer sweater).

A non-writing pet peeve: One thing that will set me off is people misspelling my name. I can deal with people mispronouncing my name, since it happens all the time (for the record, "Shanna" rhymes with "Anna" and, sadly, "banana." The "d" in "Swendson" is silent). I will forgive the d being omitted from my last name, but otherwise it bugs me. What set off this rant is the speaker information forms I got from a conference that accepted my speaking proposal. All the forms spell my first name "Shana." It's not as though my name isn't in the proposal at least five times, on the forms, in the web address and twice in my e-mail address -- which they've managed to send mail to a couple of times. I'm afraid I wrote a snippy little note to that effect when I returned all the release forms, but in this business your name is your brand, and it can hurt you if people can't find you by name. If my name is misspelled in a conference program or on a web site, then people will have trouble looking me up.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Other Lives

Now that I've compared Olympic skating to writing, I need to find another extended metaphor to play with. As Mom did remind me, that whole dream was really just part of a very vivid fantasy life. I think most writers are like that. I had this whole Walter Mitty-esque existence going on in my brain. If I was in the backseat of the car on a family trip, I might have been a princess kidnapped by evil conspirators, a fighter pilot, an explorer on a river boat on the Amazon, a witch riding a broomstick, a passenger on an airplane going to some exotic land, etc. I basically was Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, but I had more mental characters than just Spaceman Spiff (or did Calvin have a larger cast in his head?).

In addition to being a champion figure skater, I've also been a champion gymnast, a Broadway star, an Oscar-winning actress, a famous author, a princess, an X-wing pilot, a ballerina, the first female president, a globe-trotting television journalist, a flight attendant, and a popular singer, among other things. In some cases, I did actually attempt to do some of those things in real life. I've studied voice and have been in a stage musical, I was in the high school drama club and have taken acting classes, I've taken ballet classes, I got a degree in television journalism, and, oh yeah, I've written some books (hey, one of those daydreams could come true!).

Then there are the other random things I've tried that I didn't necessarily spend a lot of time daydreaming about. I've played the flute and oboe, I took guitar lessons (but that didn't work because I never developed calluses, and that was painful), I can sew, do embroidery and knit. I've played with making pottery and ceramics. I think I had every craft kit known to mankind. I used to be able to draw a little as long as I had something to look at as a model, but I haven't tried that in ages.

But I realized this morning while working on a new bio to send for a conference where I'm speaking that I don't have much in the way of hobbies at the moment. I don't have a "day job," so I can't talk about that except in the past tense. I don't even have any serious hobbies that I dedicate a lot of time to other than reading and writing. I sing in the church choir and take that ballet exercise class, but that's about all I do that doesn't relate to writing. I think I need a life! I do a lot of random little things, but nothing with the kind of consistency where I could put it in a bio. That may be my project for the year, to find something and dedicate enough time to it to have something to add to my bio.

(And discussing TV shows on the Internet probably doesn't count -- that's the thing other than writing or reading I seem to devote the most time to, but I tend to consider that promo work.)

Now, though, it's a delightfully rainy day, which around here qualifies it as a national holiday, so I'm going to curl up on the sofa and watch a girly movie. A Room With a View sounds good right now.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Death of a Dream

I have reached the point where I've realized that I must give up on a long-held dream. It's time that I face the facts and accept that some things just aren't meant to be.

Yep, sad as it is to admit it, I will never win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating. Even in the alternate universe where I actually learned to ice skate, if I haven't won one by this age, it's not going to happen.

I think I've always been fascinated by ice skating. When I was little my parents took me to see the Holiday on Ice show. I guess there was some kind of licensing tie-in with Peanuts because Snoopy from the show visited my kindergarten classroom and we "skated" around by taking off our shoes and sliding around on the floor. I have vague memories of "skating" around the house, possibly while wearing my ballet recital outfits (Mom may have to verify this). I first became aware of the idea of figure skating competition during the 1976 Winter Olympics when Dorothy Hamill won the gold medal. I dressed my Barbie doll in her ballerina outfit and a pair of short boots, and she skated along with Dorothy. But we didn't have an ice rink anywhere nearby, so it was pointless to dream of skating. I kept up with ballet, then switched to gymnastics early that summer. Later that summer, Nadia got a perfect ten at the summer Olympics, so it was gymnastics for me for a while. I did watch skating when I got the chance, and I got my parents to take me to the Ice Capades when Tai and Randy were starring.

I didn't really start thinking seriously about skating until the 1984 Winter Games. That was when I caught myself choosing and even editing my music for my short and long programs, as well as drawing designs for my costumes. I'd been on ice skates once in my life, when I was at a shopping mall rink in Dallas a couple of years earlier, and since I'd managed to stay upright and even start building speed in that first time, I convinced myself that I was a natural. In my dreams, I decided that when I went to college in a city that actually had an ice rink in it, I would start taking lessons and then stun everyone with my prowess. I started exercising at home so I'd be in great shape for when that time came.

Of course, I soon got sidetracked by other things. I was in the band and the drama club. I went through a phase where I was going to lose weight and be a cheerleader (that didn't happen). Mostly, I wrote a lot. I filled a lot of spiral notebooks with the beginnings of stories and with story ideas. When I went off to college, I did go to the local ice rink a couple of times, but I used that time in my life to explore a lot of things. I took fencing, was involved in professional and service organizations, took voice lessons, got back into ballet, tried to get back into gymnastics (my body objected), and learned ballroom dancing. I was also writing, taking journalism classes, still filling spiral notebooks and later computer disks, and taking other classes I thought might come in handy for writing (I took fencing primarily so I could write about swordfights in fantasy books -- along with almost every other person in that class. We tended to throw a lot of bad fantasy cliche dialogue into all our bouts.). I used to criticize myself for being so scattered when it came to interests, but now I realize I was training myself to be a writer because you do need that variety of experience to bring to your work.

I guess I must not have wanted that gold medal enough, considering I've had an ice rink in my neighborhood for the past twelve years -- in walking distance! -- and for six of those years it was only a few blocks away, and I've never gone there. That hasn't stopped me from daydreaming and choreographing my programs every four years. I did reach the point where the dream was in that alternate universe where I'd actually carried through on all those grand plans (as well as not having bad knees that can't handle high impact anything or bending deeply with a lot of weight on them). I even mentally took up ice dancing for a while because I thought that was more suited to my abilities. But now, though, I have to accept that I won't even have that alternate universe gold medal. And I'm okay with that because in my universe, I think I've done the equivalent. I wouldn't trade the things I've done for a life spent doing the kind of training it takes to reach the top in a sport like that.

There are some lessons from this that can be applied to writing, or to any other dream:
1. Wanting it isn't enough.
You have to actually do something about it. If you want to be a figure skater, you have to actually get on the ice. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Yeah, I know, duh, but you'd be surprised at the number of people who find out that someone is a writer and then say, "I've always wanted to write a book," but have never written a word. If you're not doing anything about it, then maybe you don't want it as much as you think you do. It makes a nice daydream, but if you're not willing to take the steps to get there, that's all it will ever be. If I can live within blocks of an ice rink and never go skating, I never honestly wanted to be a skater.

2. You have to do the right things to reach your goal.
All of my off-the-ice cross training, ballet classes and the like would have come in really handy if I had decided to take up skating, but those things did me no good toward the skating dream because I never actually learned to skate. Sadly, I see a number of would-be writers making the same mistakes. They write a lot of beginnings but don't finish books. They win a lot of contests, but they never submit to editors or agents. They go to a lot of conferences and workshops, but they never get around to really writing anything because they want to learn it all before they start. Contests, conferences and workshops can all be helpful, but they won't help you reach your goal until you write a book and submit it to someone who can help you get it published. Period.

3. Sometimes, hard work and desire aren't enough.
Writing groups are great for support and encouragement, but they're also bad about spreading what could be described as false hope. There's an often-repeated mythology in these groups that if you want it enough and work really hard, someday, you'll be published. I'm sorry, but that's not true. For one thing, talent really is a factor. So is luck. So is timing. There are a lot of people out there wanting the same thing, and the odds are against you, even if you are good. Look at Michelle Kwan. She's considered to have been at the top of her sport for about a decade. She's won numerous world championships. But she's never won an Olympic gold medal. There were 30 women who went to the Olympics for the figure skating event -- out of the ENTIRE WORLD. Think of the thousands of other women out there who had skills not far below that level, who were very, very good, but who didn't make the cut. Three women from the United States are competing, and it's a good bet that some of the women who didn't make the cut there could have beat some of the women from other countries who did get to go. But that's the way it works. Agents and publishers receive hundreds of submissions a week, and each publisher (aside from Harlequin) only puts out a few books a month. Do the math. It's all about getting the right manuscript on the right desk at the right time. Sometimes, someone less talented who hasn't worked as hard will sell just because of having the right material at the right time, just as a possibly less-talented, less-experienced skater will win the medal because she happened to be better on the night that counted.

4. You have to love it enough to do it for its own sake, not for the ultimate reward. Otherwise, you'll go nuts.
If your life as a skater is worthless without an Olympic gold medal, then you may as well give up now because they only give one of those per event every four years. You're not going to drag yourself to the rink day in and day out unless you enjoy it for its own sake, unless skating brings you some kind of pleasure. That's not to say you shouldn't aim high, just that you need to be able to appreciate the process along the way enough that if you never reach that lofty goal, you won't feel like you've wasted your life. It needs to bring something to your life beyond just that one medal. The same goes with writing. If you don't enjoy it enough that you'd do it even without the hope of publication, if you wouldn't be making up stories in your head no matter what, then you'll only make yourself miserable if you keep slogging away just because you want to make some money eventually. If you do luck out and get published, you're still going to have to keep writing, and you'll be writing to deadline, so you'd better find some pleasure in it because it only gets harder. There will be days that aren't fun, but if the only thing that will make you happy with writing is selling a book, then you're setting yourself up for misery.

Now I'm looking forward tonight to watching those people who did have the talent and the desire to stick with it and make it this far toward realizing a dream. I imagine I'll still catch myself listening to music while mentally choreographing programs for a few weeks. I might even decide to make use of my neighborhood rink to get some exercise, especially during the hot summer months when cool exercise sounds like a good idea (In my defense for not using that rink, until recently it was the practice ice for the local pro hockey team, so there weren't that many public skating sessions). Otherwise, I have to keep writing so those voices in my head won't drive me crazy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I hadn't realized what a weight getting that book done was on my shoulders. Then I sent it to my agent and promptly almost collapsed. I spent the rest of the day lying on the sofa and watching TV. First I had to catch up on the House episode I'd taped, then there was the Olympic Ice show on USA, followed by a whole night of figure skating. I think I could have slept until noon today if I'd let myself. I had a task to do for my one lingering bit of "day job," and now I'm sorely tempted to go spend the rest of the day on the sofa watching movies or reading. It doesn't help that it's a gray, nasty day. I'm even tempted to skip choir practice because of the gloominess. It's very foggy, and it doesn't seem to be clearing up much as the day progresses.

I'm not entirely sure why finishing a book is so draining. It doesn't exactly look like hard work. In my case, I only spend a few hours of a day actually working on the book. But I think the issue is that it's so all-consuming. Even when I'm not working on the book, there's a part of my brain that's still tinkering with it. You have to dig into your own emotions to put them on the page, and that leaves you vulnerable the rest of the time. It's like I can't completely let it go until it's truly done and out of my hands (for the time being), so I get no "rest" from it. There may only be a few (or less) hours spent physically typing on the keyboard, but it's essentially a 24/7 endeavor. It doesn't help that I had my own emotional upheavals going on in the midst of this, and I didn't realize until I was done just how much of it was me being off-kilter instead of it having to do with the book.

I can't collapse much, though. I have a lot to get done -- Rita books to finish judging (one more!), promo work to do, tons of reader e-mails to answer. I had this sense of not wanting to deal with the reader e-mails while I was writing, but now I know why. I didn't really want my current work to be influenced by reader mail. I was kind of afraid that if I read something about someone's favorite character, I'd feel pressured to go play up that character's role, for instance. I might not have done it consciously, but my subconscious tends to like to make everyone happy, and that would have driven me nuts. If you've written to me since November or so, I'll probably reply in the next week. I also desperately need to clean my house, starting with my office. It's verging on looking like the homes of those people they have on Oprah and shows like that who have deep-seated psychological issues where they use clutter as a security blanket and they have to be treated professionally before they can clear out their homes. I don't think I have any serious psychological problems, unless laziness counts.

But now, as much as I feel all the "need to do" guilt, I think I'm going to give myself a break to take a lazy, slothful day or two.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Off to the Agent

After some serious work yesterday, over the weekend and then this morning (yes, even before noon!), I think the book may be ready to go to my agent. It's long -- more than 115,000 words -- and I tend to get even longer with my agent's suggestions, but she may be able to find a few places I can cut. Pacing in a series like this can be challenging because readers who've been following these characters may enjoy getting the chance to learn more about them even in quieter scenes that aren't absolutely crucial to the main plot. In fact, the more invested readers are in ongoing characters, the more they look for a chance to see what they're like when they're not saving the world. If you ever look at fan fiction, it's often about the in-between times that don't make the cut for a one-hour TV show (and I don't just mean those times that don't make it on broadcast television). That means that when I'm looking for scenes to cut, I not only have to look at how crucial they are to the main plot, but also what they tell us about these people, what they reveal about the characters that we previously didn't know. Not that I'm showing the characters doing their laundry (though, come to think of it, there are a few mentions to laundry), but I do have a few quiet times that give us a glimpse of another side of the characters. I guess we'll see what my agent says.

Mom's taking another look at my revised ending, and then if she thinks it works, off it goes. This is where I really miss Rosa, who could give me the reader/fan perspective and give me a sense of whether the typical fan would like it or declare jihad against me.

Looking back at the process of writing this book, I can see a few things I've learned about making things go more smoothly. My biggest "innovation" was learning to take the laptop to the chaise lounge on the loft, where I could write while wrapped in the electric blanket and disconnected from the Internet. I'll have to come up with a new writing location for the next book I have to write, because I'll be mostly working during the warm-weather months. The loft is the warmest spot in the house, and it's the one place in the house with no fan. It's great in winter, but a place I avoid in the summer. I guess I could bring up my standing fan. I could also haul the laptop out to the patio table.

With the last book, I got the bright idea of getting a thermos to hold a pot of tea at a time, so I wouldn't have to be constantly making tea. In the last week or so, I got the idea of putting my tea in an insulated travel mug. That limits the number of trips up and down the stairs to refill or reheat my tea, plus it reduces the chance that I'll spill it. It's worked well enough with the freebie advertising type mug I've got, so I think on my next Target trip I'll buy a good one.

When the book goes to my agent, I'll have around two weeks before I get her feedback, and in that time I do have a bunch of promo stuff to do. I'll wade through the thousands of messages (literally) in my in-box, and I hope to get some house cleaning done. I seem to recall that there was a desk surface under all this stuff.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


I was sort of iced in again this morning. I set my alarm to get up for church, then turned on the TV when I woke up, only to see all the reports of bad ice patches and serious wrecks on the roads I'd have to take to get to church, along with weather forecasts of continuing freezing rain. So I got back in bed, turned the electric blanket up to high and went back to sleep. When I went out later to get my newspaper, I saw that my driveway was iced over. Now, though, cars are going up and down the main road at their usual speeds. I think it was worst on the freeways, and that's where I'd have had to drive. I did learn that there were a lot of wrecks on the road I'd have had to take to the meeting that was cancelled yesterday, so I guess it was a good thing I didn't have to decide on whether or not to go based on conditions here. I did go out to dinner last night, and the roads were fine, but it was starting to drizzle just as I got home, and drizzle at 27 degrees can be a bad thing on the roads.

I've got a chicken stewing on the stove to make chicken and dumplings tonight, and I'm planning to make tea and spend the afternoon on book revisions.

Yes, I am Miss Excitement. But hey, I did go out to dinner last night! With people, even!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Book Anxiety

The supposed winter storm is currently somewhat less than promised. My meeting this morning was cancelled last night, just in case. Unfortunately, I still woke up at about the same time my alarm would have gone off. I probably wouldn't have gone, anyway, if I wasn't sure about the road conditions, but at least this way I didn't have to go through the routine of whimpering, hitting snooze a few times, and then finally dragging myself out of bed to look out then window and then make a judgment call. Instead, I just rolled over and went back to sleep. The roads are clear, but my newspaper was covered with sleet, so it would have been hard to tell if the roads would have still been clear when it was time to come home. Plus, to get to the meeting I would have had to go on a very, very high overpass, the highest in the entire area. It remains to be seen if I'm going to have to cancel my plans for tonight. I may cancel, regardless, because I really don't want to go out.

As for the "this book sucks" phase, I really do go through it at some point with every book. Enchanted, Inc. was the only one where I don't recall hating it deeply, which was probably because when I wrote it, I didn't think anyone other than Mom and Rosa would ever read it. I had no expectations and no pressure. I do think I had a moment of "there's nothing really to it!" panic right after sending the first couple of chapters to an agent. I went through most of the "this book sucks" phase in the weeks before reviews started to come in.

Most writers I've talked to have gone through the same thing with almost every book. I think it's mostly because once you get it actually written, you realize how far the written version is from that perfect book that was in your head. I've used the analogy before, but it really is like seeing a movie version of a favorite book, and even if it's one of the rare good adaptations, it's different from what you saw in your head when you read the book, and that takes getting used to. Your first impression is often that it's so very wrong just because it's not your own mental movie.

As I got closer to the ending in re-reading last night, I started liking the book a lot better. I don't know if that was because I was used to it by then or if the ending just rocks (I still need to do some rewriting on the very end). I may need to amp up some stuff at the beginning, but that's where my agent is so helpful. She's great about helping me take a good book and find ways to make it better.

Now I think it's time for tea and catching up on Battlestar Galactica discussion (awesome episode last night), then fixing those parts of the book that I know need adjusting so I can get it to my agent Monday.

Friday, February 17, 2006

It's hard to write good books

Operation Anti-Cheez-It Butt had a mixed start. I went for a walk, and I ate no Cheez-Its (because there were none in the house), but I also probably ate bigger meals than normal, and I'm not sure if the reduction in snacking was enough to balance out the bigger meals. Today I'm thinking of doing a bit of ballet exercise, but as the temperature today is about 40 degrees colder than it was yesterday, it may be hard to make myself get out from under the blanket. Cold temperatures also make me long for hot comfort food type things. It may take superhuman restraint not to bake brownies this weekend because we're in for a possible freezing rain event, and that just begs for baking and eating brownies with hot cocoa. You do have to love Texas, going from 85 degrees one day to freezing rain the next.

I'm in the middle of reading through the book, and I'm in that state I know I get into with every book, but it still bugs me, and getting that nasty review at this time didn't help. It's the "I like some of this book, but basically, it sucks" state. I'm pretty sure it's not true and it's just anxiety talking, but still, I can't help but worry that this is the book that is so bad my agent will dump me and my editor will hate me. I have to remind myself that it's already sold, so it's not like I'll get a rejection, even if they do hate it. They'll just make me rewrite it.

See, I do need the chocolate.

Trying to judge books for the Rita award at this time doesn't help because I'm afraid I'm applying my hypercritical view of my own writing to other people's books. Then again, some of them might deserve it. Yep, you guessed it, it's time for more pet peeves!

I like sorting things and creating neat categories for filing stuff, but I can't quite decide where to file this particular rant. In general, it has something to do with the popularity of marriage of convenience plots in romance novels, particularly historical romances, and the way characters respond, but mostly it comes back to the good old Too Stupid to Live situation.

Marriage of convenience plots are popular because in some respects, it's historically accurate. The idea of marrying purely for love is a relatively recent one. There may be some historical revisionism at work in the fiction version because we'd like to believe all those people ended up falling in love. There's also the possibility that when you're dealing with all the pitfalls of modern dating and trying to find someone to marry for love, sometimes the idea of just finding someone for practical reasons and then falling in love sounds pretty good (especially given the kind of men you tend to find in these books). As an aside, there was actually a recent study that found that marriages based on more practical matters tend to last longer than marriages based purely on love. I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that the initial passion is bound to fade with time, giving the impression that the relationship is diminishing, while if you start with a practical basis and then fall in love, you feel like the relationship is improving.

Anyway, there are some pitfalls to how this plot can be handled. I already ranted about the "too bad he'll never love me be because we didn't marry for love" idiocy. Diana Peterfreund in her blog a week or so ago ranted about another pitfall, the heroine who is desperate to marry to achieve whatever goal (often avoiding starvation and staying off the streets), who's willing to marry just about anyone, but who then suddenly declares she'll only marry for love when a perfectly suitable man offers to marry her. I'm currently reading a variation on that, where the penniless orphan from a good family who has no real prospects and will need to find a husband or starve meets a rich, handsome, nice, good with kids and animals nobleman who falls madly in love with her at first sight, and she then declares that she can't marry him. No real reason, just "because" (mostly because the book would have been over in chapter two if she'd said, "okay," but you do kind of need more than that). The first half of the book is him wooing her constantly while she continues to insist that she won't marry him. She finally gets a reason in the second half, when the villain -- someone she knows is the villain and knows is out to destroy the hero -- tells her something awful about the hero, she believes it and starts using that as her reason for not wanting to marry the hero. Because, of course, you should always believe what the evil guy says about the person he wants to destroy, even if it contradicts what you've observed about that person.

The sad thing is, this book received great reviews (I looked it up because there were some plot elements in it that I thought would have people up in arms, but they haven't been mentioned at all). I guess maybe I'm out of step with the genre. I also did start to see why people become jaded about raving Amazon reviews because I recognized a lot of reviewers' names there, so I know that friends of the author were posting glowing reviews, while the ones that seemed more honest were fairly scathing.

What this really goes to show me is how very hard it is to write a great book. It's so easy to go down the wrong path, make characters do things just to further the plot, use bad stereotypes to create characters, make your characters act like idiots, etc. I seem to be grading against an ideal rather than on a curve. I'm not sure my own books would hold up to the kind of standards I'm setting. I think I'm also starting to see what elements readers must respond to. In the one I'm currently reading where I want to strangle the heroine, the hero is, quite honestly, to die for. I adore him. I wonder if readers love him so much that they're willing to put up with a lot of other stuff just to spend time with him, and they love seeing him happy at the end enough that it blurs everything else in the book, leaving them with a positive impression.

And now back to reading my book through while realizing how much it sucks.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Chocolate Quests and Sexy Beasts

The stores must have done a better job planning their inventory this year because I almost struck out on my post-Valentine's chocolate quest. The grocery store didn't have anything I wanted, and then Target's clearance shelves were rather sad. Most of what they had were those conversation hearts and pink, heart-shaped versions of Marshmallow Peeps. They did have some of their fancy store-brand chocolates (the ones with the annoying ads), but that wasn't what I wanted. I did get a candy-filled mug, mostly to get the mug. The design on it looked like artwork from a 1940s-1950s ad, showing two women who looked like they might have been exchanging the secrets to their favorite cleansing products, but the caption said, "I say you DITCH him!" It's not entirely relevant to my life (as I described yesterday), but I thought it was funny. The strawberry licorice twists were a bonus. But I really, really wanted chocolate, and as my Dove dark supply was dwindling, I was almost desperate enough to just buy a regular bag at full price. I went to the regular candy section, and there I found one bag of dark Dove hearts buried in the rest of the chocolate, and then it rang up at half-off. Score!

It was probably for the best that I didn't find more than that because when I was getting dressed to go shopping, I could barely zip my jeans. Actually, candy really isn't my problem. I can eat one or two pieces and be okay. What I had to do (and did) was avoid buying the Cheeze-Its that were on sale. I can eat a whole box of those before I know what I'm doing. I also feel more motivated to exercise now. I guess I've been living in sweats for too long.

In other news, I did decide to attend the Romantic Times conference this May, so if you're going to be there, be sure to say hi!

But enough about me. I have another Out of the Blogosphere entry today. My guest is PC Cast, author of Goddess of the Rose, a magical, sensuous retelling of Beauty and the Beast, with a modern slant. When the enchanted, beastly guardian of the Realm of the Rose kidnaps a modern woman with a knack for growing roses (thanks to a bloodline she wasn't aware of) to break the curse on the Realm, he doesn't quite get what he expected.

So, the interview:

Where did you get the idea for the "alternate reality" where your book is set?
I took all of the Beauty and the Beast fairytales I've read throughout my life, mixed them up, and added a healthy dose of PC World!

Would you actually want to live in that world?

If you did live in that world, what role would you want to play (or what role do you think you'd play)?
I'd have to be High Priestess of Hecate and immortal lover of the Beast. Hell, I created him, so why not?

Which is your favorite Star Trek captain?
This is shallow and immature, but I'll always love James T. Kirk.

For more info, visit PC's web site.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Happy Cheap Chocolate Day!

Today is the best part of Valentine's Day for single people and chocoholics. It's the day when all that Valentine chocolate goes on sale for half off. Woo hoo! (I'll be hitting the store later today.)

I was thinking last night about my sad relationship history, and I've realized that my dating life for the past fifteen years falls almost entirely into two categories: The Incredible Disappearing Men and the Cling-Ons.

With the Incredible Disappearing Men, there's sparkage that seems mutual. We have one or two dates that go really well. We seem to have a lot in common and a lot to talk about. On the final date, we're making plans for the next one -- and I don't just mean he says, "I'll call you," (which we know is code for "you'll never hear from me again unless I'm bored or desperate"). He's actually talking about what we'll do, to the point that the only thing left to settle is the exact day and time, and sometimes just the time and logistics because the thing he was talking about wanting to do takes place on a specific day. Then I never hear from him again, and he doesn't respond at all to my attempts at contact.

That particular pattern is creating a downward spiral, I'm afraid. I've been disappointed enough times that I'm almost afraid to let myself get my hopes up or even show too strong an interest, even if I do meet someone I really like. Part of my brain is saying, "Why bother? He's just going to disappear." Then I'm sure he picks up on the ambivalent vibes, thinks I'm not interested, and disappears, cutting his own losses. So then I'm even more afraid to let myself like someone, and so on.

With the Cling-Ons, I'm usually a little less sure about my level of interest, but willing to give the guy a chance. We have a couple of dates that go well enough that I may be starting to think things could work out. And then he goes all weird and control-freak clingy on me. He'll call when I'm out, leave a message, then call and leave another message complaining that I haven't returned his call before I even have a chance to return his first call. He'll act like he's trying to catch me in a lie, such as calling me on a night that I've said I need to be writing because I'm on deadline to make sure I'm really home and writing (that was a real problem when I had a full-time job and was writing books on the side). He'll get in the habit of calling on Friday afternoon to see what we're doing that weekend, then get angry and accuse me of avoiding him if I've already made plans for the weekend. I've even had these guys get whiny about me not wanting to go out when I'm sick or have just had surgery. Seriously, I once had a guy whine, "But when I'm dating someone I want to go out with them," after I'd had knee surgery, was on crutches, and found just getting to and from work and physical therapy to be a major ordeal. In these cases, I break things off because some of these are early signs of potential abusers, or at the very least, whiny, annoying, selfish jerks I don't want to deal with. I'm not actually sure what I said to break things off with the post-surgery guy because he called soon after I'd taken a pain pill, which kicked in midway through the conversation, not long after him starting to whine because I didn't feel like going out on a date, and I don't remember the rest of the conversation. It must have been good because he never spoke to me again, even though we went to the same church and had a lot of mutual friends.

Even my exceptions fit into one of these categories. My one serious boyfriend during this time frame pulled an Incredible Disappearing Man routine after we'd been dating for the better part of a year. We had a really great date, he talked about how glad he was to have found me, and then I didn't hear from him again except for one phone call where he called me, then ended it abruptly because he was cooking dinner and his food was done. I did have one Incredible Disappearing Man who told me after our one great date that he was having to move out of state for work, and there was another I'd been flirty friends with but hadn't dated who moved away to go to grad school just as things looked like they might lead into dating, and he did tell me he was moving. Then there were a couple of Disappearing Men with whom the few dates were stretched over the course of months, so that they'd appear, we'd go out, then they'd disappear again for a while before finally disappearing for good. One stretched things out longer because he'd respond when I contacted him, and then we might get together, but then he never contacted me on his own and I got the message. I did have one potential Cling-On who apparently did pick up on the vibes and bowed out before becoming a pest (he did most of his Cling-On behavior on the actual first date).

I can think of a few blind date scenarios that didn't fall into either category because there was next to no interest on either of our parts, or else it was such a "hell, no!" on my part that I managed to pass the word through the people who set me up that it was a no-go (if I didn't manage that while actually on the date).

And that's why I'm still single. I guess the other reason, according to an article I read yesterday, is my working environment. Apparently, more than half of all people in couples met their significant others through work or school. I guess if I met someone at a writing conference or booksigning that might count, but otherwise my work keeps me from meeting a lot of people on a regular basis. That's still not incentive enough for me to want to get a real job anytime soon.

Now to head out in search of chocolate. I've almost finished my stash from last Valentine's Day, and even last year's Easter stash is dwindling, so I need to re-stock.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day with the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit and Julie Kenner

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! My "present" this year was a really, really nasty review from Kirkus Reviews, but then they trash everything. In the old days, that publication was generally only seen by librarians, but now, unfortunately, that will be the review posted at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Joy. On the bright side, the fact that they chose to review my book means they thought it was somehow significant.

I was sort of thinking of doing a good Valentine's Day post, you know, single people blah, blah, blah ... Hallmark holiday blah, blah, blah... after-Valentine's chocolate on clearance blah, blah, blah. But instead, you get a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit visit. My friend Julie Kenner is a repeat visitor, so I had to think of a few new questions for her about her latest book, The Manolo Matrix. Stay tuned for a little figure skating rambling from me at the end of this post.

Aspiring actress Jennifer Crane knows all about games -- the games girls play to get a guy; the games actresses play to land a part; and the good old game of credit-card roulette. (How else is a girl supposed to afford her shoes?) But she never expected to be playing a game with life-or-death consequences. Unable to successfully score an acting gig, she has, instead, been cast in the role of reluctant bodyguard to a real-life assassin's target -- a dashing FBI agent of all people! -- and must embark with him upon a scavenger hunt across Manhattan in search of the ultimate prize: survival. Before this, Jenn's definition of fighting dirty has been elbowing her way to the front of the line at a Manolo sample sale. Now, if she wants to stay alive, she's going to have to learn a few new uses for her stilettos. . . and they ain't pretty.

What inspired you to write this book?
Well, the book is a sequel, so part of the inspiration was built in and stemmed from the first book (I wanted to write a book -- a series, really -- wherein the characters had to solve a series of clues to stay one step ahead of the killer). This particular book, however, was inspired by my love of Broadway. In the world of my book, someone has started playing a computer game for real, with deadly consequences. The clues stem from a player's interests, and in this case, the clues stem from Broadway. I've been addicted to broadway musicals since I was in high school, and it was great fun pulling out bits and pieces to create clues to lead to specific locations!

(Ooh, as a lifelong Broadway addict, this may be a book I can really get into! And sing along with!)

What, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
Um, not much. She can sing and act. I can't sing my way out of a paper bag. She's a total fashionista; I'm a sometimes fashionista. But I'm VERY skilled at finding cute clothes at thrift stores, and I do have a weakness for purses!

How has making the move from attorney/author to full-time author changed your writing processes?
Surprisingly, I don't have more time to write. The gap filled with life stuff that had gone ignored. Like, oh, laundry and dishes, LOL. So somehow I always end up writing at night, just like I had before. Seriously, time expands to fill a vacuum!! Or something like that....

What are you working on now?
I'm finishing up my first YA novel -- The Good Ghoul's Guide to Getting Even (Berkley, April 2007) and then I'm turning back to finalizing the final book in this series, THE PRADA PARADOX! (February 2007)

As one of the pioneers of moving chick lit into other areas (thrillers and paranormal), where do you see the chick lit market going?
I'm a pioneer? Really? How cool is that?

(Well, those were the first that I know of in those subgenres -- Carpe Demon did sell before I sold Enchanted, Inc., even if mine was published first, but mine was a full manuscript when I sold, which moved up the pub date.)

And even if you're right, as far as I know, pioneers aren't necessarily prescient. Too bad, too! But I suppose I don't need to be psychic to see that chick lit is changing. But everything changes. Without that change the industry would become stagnant, and who wants that? Writers are always complaining that editors and agents, when asked what they want, say "fresh new stories!" Yes, that's broad and vague. But it's also true. Because that's what the readers want. And as chick lit evolves, that's what's is happening and will happen. A subtle shift to add freshness. Look at what you're publishing! Talk about a fresh spin on chicklit!

(Unless you're talking to Kirkus ...)

Anything else you'd like to say about the book and the process of writing it?
Just that I had a great time writing it! And that I can't wait to go back to NYC and hit another round of shows!
(Count me in!)

For more info on Julie and her books, visit her web site.

Okay, now some figure skating talk. I love watching the pairs competition because it's so romantic. It's the ultimate demonstration of trust in a relationship to let someone throw you around like that or get very close to you with sharp blades. Plus, there's such interdependency there -- they have to work together, and they stand or fall together. One person's mistakes affect both of them. Last night's Olympic finals in pairs demonstrated both of these aspects. The Russian pair that won was known for being the team where he dropped her on her head during competition, and then he had to regain his trust in himself to keep going, and that made her worry about trusting him (fortunately, she doesn't remember the actual falling on her head part). At the end of their program, he dropped to one knee in front of her on the ice and kissed her hand. It was such a swooningly chivalrous gesture, almost something out of an earlier century. And then the Chinese pair that won silver demonstrated that interdependency when she pulled herself together to finish the program even after taking a bad fall. If she pulled out, she pulled both of them out, but she gutted it out and they medaled. And yes, I was crying.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Busy/Lazy Weekend

I had a busy/lazy weekend. On Saturday, I got up bright and early to drive up to Bonham, a little town not too far south of the Oklahoma border, for a big library event. We must have had nearly 50 people in the audience as a group of authors spoke a little bit about their books and careers, then signed books. Afterward, the library board and romance book club hosted a salad luncheon for us. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoy chatting with readers (and being fed by small-town Texans. Yum.).

I think I may have found the basis and general location for Katie's hometown. That area is about as far as you can get from New York in overall feeling. It's very wide open, on the prairie, and it's really the part of the country where I feel most on top of the world. You may be at a higher elevation in the mountains, but unless you're on the top of the highest mountain, there's something higher than you. On the far north Texas plains, no matter where you are, you feel like you're on the highest point in the world, with the horizon stretching as far as the eye can see. It's the exact opposite of the canyons of the city. It turned out that one of the library board members was from New York, and we chatted about that for a while, the contrasts between New York and that area. I'd allowed for plenty of extra travel time (when you're driving back roads, you never know when you'll end up behind a tractor hauling hay, or if you'll come upon a funeral procession and have to pull over), so I got there really early and took a walk around the town. I'll have to go back when it's warmer. Temperatures in the 40s with wind chills in the 20s and 40 mph gusting winds don't create the ideal environment for wandering and exploring outdoors. That also may not have been the brightest thing I've ever done, especially when I repeated that by exploring the outlet mall I passed on the way home (but it was a really good outlet mall, so I'll have to go back there, too).

Which led to a lazy Sunday because I woke up coughing and with the sniffles. I'm fairly certain it was allergy-related, having more to do with whatever that wind was blowing in from Oklahoma (I figure that anything from Oklahoma is like kryptonite to me, the native Oklahoman who hasn't been there in ages) than with the cold itself. Benadryl cleared it right up, but that necessitates a lazy day because there's no getting anything done when I'm on that stuff. I curled up under the electric blanket on the sofa and got caught up on watching the previous episodes of Bleak House that I'd taped so I could watch the new one Sunday night. Now I'm thoroughly hooked and almost wishing I'd waited to watch it all straight through because I hate having to wait for the next installment. It really is a soap opera. If Dickens were alive today, he'd totally be on the writing staff for As the World Turns. He was all about the mysterious pasts, secret identities, long-suffering heroines, near-fatal illnesses with miraculous recoveries, secret babies, revenge, and the like. I don't think he ever used evil twins, but he at least twice based a plot on the idea that two entirely unrelated people could look so much alike that they were mistaken for each other. Good stuff. It's also fun watching the Parade of Vaguely Familiar British Character Actors in this kind of production, with the Victorian hairstyles and facial hair making identification more challenging.

But now it's back to work. I suspect my editor is snowed in up in New York, but that doesn't mean I get a day off. Time to do a big read-through of the book before sending it to my agent.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Minor Dilemmas

I have one more item ticked off my to-do list. My Judy Blume essay is done. Of course, my brain had to do its usual trick of changing its mind at the last minute, so after I wrote the essay yesterday, just as I was going to bed last night I came up with a totally different angle on it that required rewriting it this morning. But I'm happy with it, and the editor said she loved it after giving it a quick skim, so that's good. Yay!

Now I have one more chapter to revise on the Monstrosity, and then I can get the last of those off to Mom. I will then give myself the weekend off before doing my big read-through starting Monday.

But it's not really a weekend off because I have to speak to a library group tomorrow, and I should be preparing for that right now. I also have a ton of reader mail to respond to, some updates to make to the web site (like the new release date), and a few PR things to take care of. I'm hoping to get the Monstrosity to my agent next week, which then means I can watch the Winter Olympics guilt-free (ah, I knew there was a method to my madness) while my agent reviews it.

They're really presenting me with a dilemma tonight. I always watch the opening ceremonies, but hello, it's Sci Fi Friday! And then they're burning off the remaining Arrested Development episodes on Fox. I think the secondary VCR will tape Arrested Development, and then I'll catch up on the opening ceremonies during commercial breaks on Sci Fi. The ceremonies spill over a half hour after Battlestar Galactica ends, so I'll get to see the lighting of the torch, and you know if anything major or touching happens during the ceremonies, they'll be showing it over and over and over again during the next few weeks. Maybe I'll recognize the occasion by wearing my official Team USA 2002 beret that my friend who lives outside Salt Lake City got me after the last Winter Olympics when they were on clearance (yes, the same ones that were going for a fortune on eBay during the games could be bought for $5 afterward). It's actually cold enough today to wear something like that.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Out of the Blogosphere with Gena Showalter

Hey, I'm actually functional before noon! Alert the media!!!

We're Out of the Blogosphere again, this time with Gena Showalter, author of Jewel of Atlantis.

All Atlantis seeks the Jewel of Dunamis, which legend claims can overcome any enemy. Grayson James, human agent for the ultra-secret Otherworld Bureau of Investigation, has orders to keep it from the wrong hands – or destroy it. What he doesn’t know is that Jewel is a woman, not a stone! But once he meets this precious gem, destroying her is the last thing on his mind…

Jewel, part goddess, part prophet, is a pawn in Atlantis’s constant power struggles. She needs Gray’s help to win freedom and uncover the secrets of her mysterious origins. Gray needs her wisdom to navigate monster-ridden Atlantis. But need blossoms into passionate love as they fight demons, dragons, vampires – and a prophecy that says the bond between them could destroy them both.

I asked Gena some of my usual questions. She toured here with a previous book, so some of the questions are the same, but because the book is different, the answers are different.

Where did you get the idea for the alternate world where this story takes place?
It started with the small kernel of an idea: a dragon changeling. I needed a home for him to guard, and he needed enemies. I thought, what about vampires? What about demons? What about centaurs? Nymphs? Minotaurs? Mermaids? Amazon warriors? One by one these creatures popped into my head. I wanted to use them all, so it was just a matter of figuring out how to get them all in the same place. That’s when the idea of Atlantis was born. It became the place the gods hid their biggest mistakes.

Would you want to live in that world?
I would absolutely love to live in Atlantis. These creatures are warriors, pure alpha, and they protect their women with their lives. They live with abandon and they love with their whole heart.

If you did live in that world, what role do you think you'd play there?
Hmmm, a king’s love interest, perhaps, or a female warrior who captures and collects all the men.

Which spaceship would you want to be on the crew of: The Enterprise (original or Next Generation), Moya (Farscape), Serenity or Galactica (old version or new, your choice)?
Serenity! I'd fly it, date the crew, and learn to fight :)

(That's a very good answer around here.)

For more info on Gena and her books, visit her web site.

And now I must go relive the days of pre-teen angst and write that Judy Blume essay. I spent most of last night writing it in my head, so we'll see how much I remember. After crash-reading through three books last night, I'm having odd junior high flashbacks. It's easy to forget just how cruel kids really can be. They can look angelic, but I think we're recruiting too old for the military. Airdrop in a bunch of 11-year-old girls and the enemy would surrender in a heartbeat. Though, come to think of it, there's probably something in the Geneva Convention about that. It's worse than chemical or biological warfare. And it would probably lead to sectarian violence as all the little cliques and factions would form and start attacking each other, then re-form for no apparent reason other than "you're not our friend anymore."

Ah, yes, the good old days.

But I'm excited because it's The Office night. I don't remember the last time I was this excited about a show that didn't involve spaceships, aliens or vampires, but this show really makes me happy.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

There is no "normal"

I thought that maybe a tough exercise class after a sleep-deprived night would have me in bed early, possibly even jolting me back to a "normal" schedule.

I thought wrong. I did go to bed a little earlier, as in before one in the morning, but still later than "normal." Some of that lateness was, however, due to dozing off on the sofa and not wanting to get up and get to bed because I was comfortable where I was. And then I slept until my recent usual late morning wake-up time, but this time it wasn't because I was lying there thinking (my usual reason for staying in bed so late). I was sleeping hard until that time and only woke up because I was having the kind of dream I had to jolt myself out of to convince myself it was only a dream (I was out of town, couldn't remember my return flight time and couldn't find my flight information among all my stuff, and I had the sinking feeling that I'd missed my flight hours ago -- I'm sure that has something to do with the deadlines I'm staring down).

I'm less sore after the exercise class this week than I was last week, but I've come to the sad realization that my back muscles must be incredibly weak. It's not so much that I'm sore or in real pain. I'm just aware of muscles that I must never have really used before. I have pretty strong abs from all those years of playing wind instruments and singing, but apparently they weren't balanced out with strong back muscles. I'm hoping that as I strengthen these long-neglected muscles, it will be easier to improve my posture while sitting at the computer.

As for the writing, one thing that I realized toward the end of this book is that I really am starting to love Katie, my heroine. Not that I didn't like her before. I'd have to like her to spend that much time in her head. But she didn't really fascinate me. She was a lens through which I could study other characters who did fascinate me. Now, though, I think I've gained a new perspective on her, and I'm as interested in exploring her inner workings as I am any of the other characters. There's more going on with her than I ever realized, and that's going to make book four even more fun to write. I think part of it is the way she's grown through the course of the series so far. She started as a bit of an innocent, but she's gaining an edge.

Now, a Target run, followed by some work on that Judy Blume essay I have to get written by Friday. (EEP!)

Monday, February 06, 2006

You've finished the book, now what?

I am now a little more coherent than I was last night/this morning, but only a little. At 2:30 or so, I was just about to get in bed when I had the panicked realization that I hadn't made a backup of the work I'd just done. I back up just about daily, so it wasn't like I'd lose the whole book if my computer suddenly blew up, but I'd written nearly 40 pages in one day, and I didn't want to lose that much work. So I ran upstairs and backed up the file to both my jump drive and the off-site place I use for backup. I finally got in bed just before 3. Then I was wide awake shortly after 7, but managed to get back to sleep. And then my phone rang sometime mid-morning, long before someone who didn't get to bed until 3 should be waking up. It was someone looking for my brother. Fortunately, I was just coherent enough to say I didn't know his new contact info, since he's just moved, and neither coherent enough (to think of the clever quote) nor incoherent enough (to think it would be a good thing to say under the circumstances) to come out with, "I can't keep track of him when he's not incorporeally possessing a spaceship. Don't look at me." (There really is a Firefly quote for every occasion.)

Now, to answer some of the questions/remarks in the comments (at LiveJournal) from my last post:

It's kind of hard to say how long I've been working on this book. I started writing the proposal for it (a synopsis and the first three chapters) back in August, then did a round of revisions with my agent. After the book sold, I started working on the book in earnest on November 9. So it took me just under three months, give or take a few weeks.

I wish I could take some zombie time, but at the moment, I don't have that luxury (though I'm really not trying to accomplish much today). I have to write an essay for a Judy Blume tribute book this week. I also have some promotion stuff to get started for Once Upon Stilettos, and I'm doing a speaking thing this weekend I need to get ready for.

Meanwhile, there's the rest of the work that needs to be done on this book. I'm calling this draft 1.5 because I've been revising a bit as I go. I write some, then go back and polish a previous chapter to send to Mom. Usually by the time I'm ready to go back to a chapter for Mom, I'm far enough ahead that I know if I need to change something to set up a later event. I still have five more chapters to get to Mom, and I already know that there's quite a bit that needs to be changed during that round. And then I want to sit down and go through the whole thing as quickly as possible to see how it holds together as an entire book instead of the piecemeal way I wrote it. I already know of a couple of things that need to be adjusted in retrospect (what Mom calls "Bill and Tedding," like the way Bill and Ted would remind themselves that later they'd need to go back in time and set up something for them to use when they got into that situation). I'll also be looking for anything I can trim in the early parts of the book. That's when the book will go to my agent, who will then surely find a lot of other stuff I need to work on.

But it takes her a couple of weeks to get back to me on stuff like that, and possibly longer with a monstrosity of this size, so that will be my "zombie time." Actually, during that time I want to clean my house thoroughly. I'll also be doing some promo work and brainstorming another book idea. Meanwhile, Book Four is starting to stir in my brain.

I was thinking of napping this afternoon, but instead I think I'll force myself to go to bed at a reasonable hour. I may start trying to catch up on the more than 3,000 e-mails in my in-box (seriously) and respond to people who probably think I'm dead. Then I have my exercise class this evening. I plan to pick up some takeout on the way home (maybe Indian food this time), and then I think I'll collapse on the sofa and watch the first-season episodes of Stargate SG-1 they're showing now on Sci Fi (I never actually saw the first season). Tomorrow, I have to get back to work.


Book done (well, sort of. The End reached, but still lots of work to do).

Brain very, very tired.

Need sleep, but I may have had too much tea.

Fire bad, tree pretty.

113,000 or so words.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Melissa Senate

Today I've got a very special guest on the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit, but first a quick writing binge report: I topped 100,000 words last night. I didn't stay up quite as late, but I did start work while the sun was still up. Still couldn't sleep, though. I think I may have two and a half or so more chapters to write. It's hard to tell. I got the advance payment for this book yesterday, so I guess that means I actually have to finish it, huh?

But enough about me. My guest this time around is Melissa Senate, author of the new book The Breakup Club. She launched onto the scene in 2001 as author of the bestseller See Jane Date, which was made into a movie for the ABC Family Channel starring Charisma Carpenter (of Buffy and Angel fame).

But Melissa and I go way back beyond that. Let's indulge in a little time travel here. In 1991 I wasn't long out of college and had decided it was time I stopped just thinking about being a writer. I needed to do something about it. I'd taken a couple of community college seminars. I'd joined the local "Writers Connection" organization (which turned out to be mostly older ladies writing poems about their cats, but hey, it was still a step in the right direction), and from there found myself in the local chapter of Romance Writers of America. I guess one of those things got me on the mailing list for a conference being put on by a local writing group and hosted by the University of Texas at Dallas. It was expensive (at least, it seemed to me at the time), a pretty big investment for someone with less than a year in an entry-level job (and a state job, at that, where the legislature had frozen salaries a couple of weeks before I was supposed to get my six-month review and a raise), but I decided to go for it. The conference turned out to be an odd, interesting experience. I honestly don't remember much about it, but near the end of the first day, I went to a workshop session hosted by an editor from Silhouette Books. Her name was Melissa Senate.

I'd never met a real, live editor from a New York publishing house before. I'm not sure what I expected, but I certainly didn't expect the editor at the conference to be the person most like me. I'm sure I was by far the youngest person there (I know everyone at my luncheon table was a grandparent), and Melissa was in my age range. Plus, she had curly hair! I stayed after the session to chat with her, and we ended up hanging around together at the reception that followed that session. After all that, she asked me to send her something.

I think that was the first moment at which I thought this writing thing might be a real possibility. It was no longer an abstract dream, but something I could actually do something about. The problem was, I had nothing to send. I'd never finished a project. I was notorious about starting stuff, getting a new idea, and then playing with that. But I did have a first chapter written and an outline for a book that might be something she'd look at because I'd entered the conference manuscript contest. (The fun irony here is that was my "primary" entry and it didn't win. But you could enter two categories, and I wanted to get my money's worth, so I'd thrown together a fantasy entry, and that was what ended up winning the contest.) I rushed home from the conference and got to work on the book. This was in September, and I finished the book in February. I remember mailing the proposal on Valentine's Day.

And that was when Melissa became the first editor to send me a rejection. And yes, I'm still speaking to her. She still had nice things to say, and I ended up selling that book elsewhere. I feel like I owe her a lot because I'm not sure I'd have ever gone through with really writing something and submitting it if I hadn't met her and had her encouragement. A few years later, she started up a new line at Silhouette, so I sent her a query letter, and she asked to see a proposal. That book did sell. And then both of us moved on with our careers, moving in different directions. She started writing instead of editing, and now, here we are! I'll let Melissa describe her own book below, so here's the interview:

What inspired you to write this book?
A good friend who had the courage to leave a bad marriage said one day, "Thank God I have my breakup club meeting tonight" and my ears perked up. She and a few coworkers met for lunch/drinks/dinner to commiserate over their broken hearts and cheer each other on. I was so inspired by that. My four main characters immediately came to life.

Describe your creative process.
I wish I could be a seat-of-the-pantser, but I'm a serious outliner! I write very detailed synopses and then I break that down into chapter by chapter outlines, just bullet-points. I rarely veer from my synopses, but I always veer from my outlines. I always revise as I go when writing the manuscript. I'd like to just write a draft straight through, but I don't seem capable of letting anything go until I'm satisfied.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
My wriitng habits totally don't work for me! My writing hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m when my son is in school, but my best creative time is at 6 a.m., when I first wake up. Once I'm out and about and playing, "Mommy, be a scary monster and chase me!" and packing his lunch and driving in the endless Maine snow-flurries to his preschool and back, it's very hard for me to come home to my office and jump back into the narrative thread. (It might require something I've always had a problem with: discipline!) I've finally started working at night when my son goes to bed. What helps me write is Earl Grey tea, which I'm addicted to (lots of sugar and a little milk). And my office does inspire me--I love having my "favorite stuff" all around me, my covers up on the wall, and my collection of tiny angel statues that I got from the Vatican Museums and family photographs and books, books, books all around.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your main characters?
This time, absolutely zippo! Usually I have everything in common with my main characters, and even though The Breakup Club has four points of view, I'm nothing like any of them! I think I did that consciously; because I usually do write autobiographically, I wanted to try to actually MAKE UP my characters. :) It's much easier for me to steal from my own life, though!

What was it like having one of your books turned into a movie? Were you pleased with the result, or did some of the things they changed surprise you? (I personally thought that most of your bad dates in the book were far funnier than what they came up with.)
It was one of the highlights of my life. It was such an unexpected gift. I couldn't believe it then, and I still can't. The entire experience was pure joy. The screenwriter/producers changed some things and left out some important things, but the spirit of the book remained. I absolutely felt I was watching my Jane. Now that I think about it, that's probably the most important point. Thanks for liking the blind dates that I created better! I have no idea why they changed stuff that seemed arbirtary, like the dates. Or her last name, which still would have worked for one of the date jokes they had in the movie. They changed her last name from one male first name to another for absolutely no reason. Anyway, I loved the movie so much. And it's on next weekend (Sunday, 2/12 at 6pm Eastern Time on ABC Family).

How has your background as an editor affected your writing career (either positively or negatively)?
It had a HUGE effect, since I'm 80% sure I wouldn't have even attempted to write a novel if a former coworker hadn't called me up and asked me if I were interested in trying my hand at writing for this new "chick lit" imprint Harlequin was developing. Also, I'm pretty good at being my own editor as I write, though that's what stops me from being able to write a draft all the way through before revising. So maybe I should shut myself up as I write!

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark. Not only isn't it delicious and decadent, but you can't eat as much of it at once. I can eat a pound of M&Ms, but dark chocolate I savor.

What are you working on now?
A chick lit mystery! It's about a woman whose worst ex-boyfriends keep turning up dead or seriously injured... I'm having a blast writing it. It's also fun to write a book set in my adopted home state of Maine. I'm so used to writing with a New York state of mind, but now it's all about nature and LL Bean. It'll be interesting to see if you can take the girl out of New York, but not the New York out of the girl.

(Hmm, I wonder if she needs some additional ex-boyfriends to kill off. I have a few I'd be willing to offer for the greater good.)

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Meet the members of The Breakup Club, four co-workers at a New York City publishing house who revolt when they're assigned to work on a high profile celebrity biography about perfect love. Okay, they don't revolt so much as talk about their personal lives more than their puke-worthy project... :

Lucy Miller-Masterson... She's a superstar editor of bestselling books, the wife of a hot-shot doctor, and the mom of a precocious pre-teen. Everything changes when she finds a list of her husband's New Year's resolutions--make that resolution: to leave her.

Miranda Miller... She hates her job as an editorial assistant at the publishing house where her older sister, Lucy, is a big cheese. She hates that her ex-boyfriend, the guy of her dreams, doesn't seem to be coming back with an engagement ring and an apology. So she gets proactive--and actually manages to make her ex propose to another woman. Now what's she gonna do?

Christopher Levy... The newly-separated thirtysomething dad has weekend custody of his one-year old baby and not a clue how to handle fatherhood as a single guy. Unluckily for him, the sanctimommies at the playground are full of advice. Luckily for him, he's got the breakup club.

Roxy Marone: Hmmm... marry the guy who's been her boyfriend since first grade (her wedding's only hours away!) or, say, run out the backdoor, race for the subway (in her veil and makeup and chignon) to go on a potentially life-changing job interview? Twenty-five-year-old Roxy risks the wrath of her super-traditional family and fiance to fulfill her own dreams . . .

If I ever finish the current monstrosity, which is growing like a radiation-exposed mutant, I will be treating myself by reading this book. For more info on Melissa and her books, visit her web site.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Out of the Blogosphere: Robin D. Owens

I have a bit of a writing hangover this morning. Last night I really got on a roll and wrote something like 35 pages. I was writing until past one in the morning, and then after I made my paranoid backups and got ready for bed, I didn't actually get in bed until around two, and then my brain would not shut off. I was on the verge of trudging upstairs and writing the scene that insisted on playing out when I finally managed to drift off. Then I woke up earlier than usual, totally wired. I'm within about 4,000 words of my target word count, but I suspect I'm going to go over. I have at least three more chapters to get through. I'm hoping I'll be done with this draft Sunday night.

In the meantime, we're resuming the Out of the Blogosphere book tours. This particular blogging circle focuses on authors of paranormal romance/women's fiction. That can include science fiction, fantasy, time travel and a bunch of other "other" stuff. The first guest is Robin D. Owens, award-winning author of the recently released Sorceress of Faith. She's also the author of the popular "Heart" series.

When grad student Marian Harasta is summoned to the land of Llandrana as the desperate hope to stop the encroaching Darkness, she's stunned to find herself the center of a dispute among Sorcerers who want to augment their Power with her own. She must quickly learn her new magical Powers – and decide who she can trust in this strange land. She has prayed for a miracle to save her brother – could Lladrana offer that knowledge, and can she somehow return to Earth with it?

I've tried to come up with some interesting questions for authors who write about other worlds (and let me know if there are questions you'd like to see answered).

Where did you get the idea for the "other" world in which your story is set?
I have two worlds going...the "Heart" series, Celta, is an offshoot of interest in pagan spirituality, the popularity of Celtic music and culture, and simply thinking about the first scene in HeartMate...T'Ash rolls divination dice and is told "Today you will meet your HeartMate," and he is shocked and fascinated...and believes. So I had to develop a world where a macho guy would do a daily divination and believe, which, of course means divination and magic work, and doesn't look like a wimp or sissy. Did I say he was a blacksmith? Muscles. Oh, and a jeweler, too. Shiny, pretty presents...

Amee, of the Summoning series, is a wounded planet. Evil monsters living north of the main country, Lladrana, and the "Dark" itself has injured the world. The main society is "aural" or "hearing" based. Oddly enough, this series came to me many years ago before I started seriously writing. They were stories I told myself before I went to sleep.

Naturally, I also make 'em up as I go along...

Is it a world you'd actually want to live in?
Celta more than Amee. Celta has some class problems and some injustice problems, but it is overall a stable place (though even in 4 centuries humans aren't multitudinous and families die out or go sterile or get cursed...). Amee...well my heroines are all in a desperate battle, and will all fight evil and BE on a battlefield.

If you did live there, what role do you think you'd play?
On Celta, I don't think I'd mind being anyone there, though it would be fun if I had excellent Flair (psi power/magic). On Amee, I think I'd like to be like Marian (of Sorceress of Faith, JUST OUT), who will probably be less on the battlefield than the rest, but still...it's a dangerous place. She still gets an excellent man and is very powerful and flies on winged horses, she just won't be on the battlefield as much.

And finally, the most important question :-) :
Which is your favorite Star Trek captain, and why?

Oh, Jean-Luc Picard, for sure. Sexy, and that voice...incredible. A good leader, calm in a crisis, and I loved how he played in the holodeck...

For more info on Robin or her books, check out her web site.

Now, I have a research question: Has anyone out there ever spilled something (like a cup of coffee or a soda) onto the keyboard of a laptop computer? Or have you been present when someone else has done that? Or are you a computer expert who would know what would happen if someone did that? I need to know what would happen -- would there be noise, sparks, smoke, would the screen go black? I've never actually done that (and now I'm going to move my tea mug well away from the computer, lest I tempt karma by bragging.) and I have no idea what it would look like.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Party Time

When I'm gearing up for a part of a book that will be hard to write, it's amazing the kind of "work" I can come up with to put off working on it. For instance, yesterday I ended up looking for chocolate pie recipes so I'd have something to take to a friend's house for dinner this weekend. I researched the dates of Queen Victoria's reign (while reading historical highlights) so I could be sure that something I was referring to as "Edwardian" really wasn't actually "Victorian." I looked up info on the hotel where the RWA national conference will be held this summer so I could decide if I want to go a day early as a sort of "vacation day." Then I looked up some favorite books and authors from childhood to offer suggestions to a friend who had asked for ideas on books she could give her grandchild. I forced myself to stop the madness when I caught myself looking up the historical setting of a book I'd mentioned because I felt like I needed to correct something another friend said about it (and I restrained myself from going through with correcting the friend because it was a minor, petty thing that didn't matter). I think I also took every little quiz that anyone on my friends list had posted. I don't usually post my results, but this little personality test was almost disturbingly accurate:

WHITES are motivated by PEACE, seek independence

and require kindness. They resist

confrontation at all costs. (Feeling good is

more important than being good.) They are

typically quiet by nature, they process

things very deeply and objectively, and they

are by far the best listeners of all the

colors. They respect people who are kind, but

recoil from perceived hostility or verbal


WHITES need their quiet independence and refuse to

be controlled by others. WHITES want to do

things their own way, in their own time. They

ask little of others, and resent others

demanding much of them. WHITES are much

stronger than people think because they dont

reveal their feelings. WHITES are kind,

non-discriminate, patient and can be

indecisive, timid, and silently stubborn.

When you deal with a WHITE, be kind, accept

(and support) their individuality, and look

for nonverbal clues to their feelings.

What Color Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Though I should add that if I do get drawn into the kinds of verbal battles I usually try to avoid, things tend to get really, really ugly and often loud. I will argue when I get drawn into a dispute, but I don't enjoy it and end up feeling sick later. Once that has happened with someone and I realize they're not going to let me avoid the conflict, I try to avoid that person in the future.

So, anyway, the part I was avoiding writing was a scene taking place at a really big, wild party. I'm not really a party kind of girl. In fact, the wildest parties I've attended are probably the parties Harlequin throws during the RWA national conference. It's a lot of sleep-deprived and punchy women kicking up their heels while drinking lots of free wine and champagne, to the tune of a very loud band. These used to be distinguished by a certain very famous big bestselling author (who shall remain nameless here because I don't want it to show up in a Google search, although I suspect she doesn't have time for Googling herself, what with writing about a dozen books a year under a couple of different identities -- hint, hint) getting utterly wasted before getting out on the dance floor and staying there until the party shut down. (I will confess to having been on the dance floor with her at the very end at one party, but I had only had a couple of glasses of champagne all night, so it's probably scary that I was doing that mostly sober. But I like to dance and don't get to do it often enough.)

But then I realized that was exactly the kind of party I wanted to write, anyway, only with a larger variety of guests instead of a bunch of romance writers. The hard part turned out to be juggling all the characters, since most of my supporting cast showed up in this one scene. But I got it written, and I know what happens next, and the rest of the book should be fun to write. I think I'm even going to put off grocery shopping because I don't want to break the spell and leave Book World for very long.