Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Happy Halloween! I'm not doing much of anything this year. I have candy, just in case, but I've never had a trick-or-treater in all the time I've lived in this house, even in the years when I actually remembered to turn my porch light on. Trick-or-treating seems to have gone out of fashion, which is a shame. There's all this paranoia about safety, but I just checked at snopes.com, and my impression that there hadn't really been a case of true poisoning or tampering with Halloween candy was correct. The case that people remember of the cyanide in pixie stix was actually a targeted murder -- the father deliberately killed his son to cash in on an insurance policy and tried to make it look like the kid picked up poisoned candy while trick-or-treating. There have been a few cases of pins and razor blades in apples, but most of those turned out to be pranks or hoaxes, either actually done by the kid who reported it or targeted specifically at another kid (most often a younger sibling). So, basically, a tradition is dying out because of unfounded fears from urban legends. I guess there might also be some worries about pedophiles, but that's why you go with your kids or why kids should go in groups. I was lucky, growing up on military bases, because there wasn't that kind of fear of your neighbors. You knew them, and even if you didn't, you knew where they worked and who their boss was.

I ran all my errands today and have finally just about cleared off my epic to-do list. I had to go to Fry's -- the big computer (including parts to build your own), electronics, DVD and office supply store, basically nerd heaven -- to get some office supplies, and a lot of the staff and even some patrons were in costume. But even the realistic looking devil working customer service (strangely appropriate) didn't wig me out as much as all the people walking around with their little Bluetooth cell phone headsets/Borg implants. There's something about those that unnerves me a bit, like that's the first step toward turning us all into cyborgs. Last week's Dr. Who episode didn't help much in that department.

I found out that I got chosen to do a reading at the World Fantasy Convention. I'll be moderating the group reading at 3:30 on Friday, so come by if you're there. I'm starting to get things together for that trip. It's a road trip, so I don't have to worry about packing light. I can bring everything in my closet if I want to. I'm most excited about being able to bring boots. Boots can be a pain to travel with by air. They fill up the suitcase, and if I wear them, they're annoying to take off and put back on while going through security. But for this trip, I can bring several different pairs! Whatever will fit in my car! I'm staying at one of those extended-stay mini suite kind of hotels, so I'll have a kitchen in my room. That means I can have breakfast in my room before facing the world, and at the end of the day I can go back to my room for dinner and unwinding, if I want to. I baked some scones this afternoon to bring for breakfast food. Now I just need to stock up on road trip snacks.

My Halloween celebration is going to involve watching the return of House, and maybe baking some brownies (more road trip snacks). I'm such a party girl. No costume. I'm wearing a vintage (from my school days) University of Texas sweatshirt. Hey, it's orange, so it sort of works.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Meeting my characters

The time change coming right after my trip helped me get caught up on rest, but at the same time, it gave me a bit of jet lag because I had to essentially adjust to a difference of two time zones. That first Sunday afternoon of standard time really is the long, dark teatime of the soul because it feels like it lasts forever. You feel like it's late afternoon, early evening, even, but then you look at the clock and it's only three, and the afternoon continues to stretch out before you. Meanwhile, the first couple of mornings of standard time feel kind of decadent. You feel like you're oversleeping, even if you're actually getting up early.

All that extra sleep has meant I've more or less recovered and may even be coherent later in the week when I have to be in public mode again. It also means I've managed to remember other stuff I wanted to talk about from this trip.

I felt like I kept running into my characters this trip. It all started in DFW Airport. Because I've given up on professional football, I didn't realize that I was flying from Dallas to New York the morning after the New York Giants were playing the Dallas Cowboys in Texas Stadium. I may have been one of about three people on the whole flight who hadn't been to the game. In the airport waiting area, I managed to end up in the middle of a whole group of guys picking on the one guy wearing a Cowboys jersey. It was all good-natured ribbing and so entertaining that I didn't even get my book out. Soon, I was even part of the conversation. These guys were mostly firefighters and cops, those salt-of-the-earth types who can be all swaggering, macho and manly, but who are still basically good guys who are loyal to their friends (and their teams). Basically, they were all Sam, just in non-gargoyle form. I may have picked up a few new speech patterns and mannerisms to use with him. Fortunately for the lone guy in the Cowboys jersey, he ended up sitting next to me on the plane, so he didn't get picked on. We just shared our mutual disgust for Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells.

Later that day, I was walking down Irving Place and passed the coffee shop that will make an appearance at the beginning of Damsel Under Stress. Standing on the sidewalk in front of the coffee shop was a really good-looking dark-haired guy in a suit, talking on a cell phone. At first, I barely gave him a second glance because he just seemed to belong there, in a way I'd seen in my head dozens of times. And then just as I went past him, I did a big double-take, as I realized that this guy looked almost exactly like Owen does in my head, but he really was there on the sidewalk. Wouldn't you know, I didn't have my camera with me. I'm not sure I'd have had the nerve to take a picture of a stranger like that, though. I felt enough like a dork for coming to a dead stop on the sidewalk and turning around to stare. Fortunately, he was on the phone and didn't seem to notice. I guess if he'd said something, I could have said that he reminded me of someone I knew.

Then on Friday, I was wandering lower Manhattan, and there was a guy who looked exactly like Rod does in my head standing at the bus stop closest to the building I use as the model for MSI headquarters. I don't think I ran into Ethan or Philip, but I encountered a lot of guys who may have spent a few decades under an enchantment. Everywhere I went, men were being incredibly chivalrous to me. Total strangers were helping me carry my suitcase up and down stairs in the subway station, when I got on a bus, young guys stood up to offer me their seat, and even old men on canes were holding doors for me. I do occasionally run into manners like that in New York, but never quite to that extent, even on the trip when I was recovering from knee surgery and was visibly limping. I must have looked awfully frail and vulnerable, or something.

In other news, I guess I'm still in the PR agency mindset because I do time sheets for myself, mostly for accountability and to see how I'm spending my working time. I set a 30-hour workweek because I only count time actually working and not all the usual time wasters you get in an office, like pointless meetings, hanging out around the coffee machine, and so forth, and also because a lot of the creative process doesn't take place in a "work" setting. I come up with some of my best ideas in the shower or in the middle of the night, and it's difficult to quantify that. Plus, reading is an important part of my job, but I don't count that time as work unless it's obligation material, like judging a contest or reading to give a blurb for a book. When I go over 30 hours in a week, I give myself comp time. I also have vacation time set aside. Well, after updating my time sheets, with all the comp time I've accumulated just in the latter half of the year, plus the vacation time I haven't used, I'd need to work only two days between now and the Christmas holidays. But I have far more work than that to do. I guess I'll have to create a rollover policy. What it means is that for the rest of the year, I'll do the work that I'm obligated to do (deadlines and such) and the work that I really want to do. Otherwise, I will feel no guilt about goofing off if I have nothing due and don't want to work. Today is an obligation day, so I need to head to the post office.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Wanderer Returns

I'm home! Actually, I got home Friday night (pretty late, thanks to a delayed flight), but I just now managed to drag myself upstairs and get on the computer. And then I promptly wished I'd done so earlier, because I had a lot of stuff to wade through. It's nice taking a break from e-mail and all that, but then there's even more when I get back to it.

I had a great trip and am very tired, but I don't think I'm quite as tired or as sore as I was the last time. For one thing, I managed to almost entirely avoid blisters. I just got one from a seam on the toe of a sock, and that was on the last day. I didn't even notice it until I had to put my shoes back on after the security screening. Then I felt it. My knees are a little achy and my shoulders are stiff, but I think that's a given from almost any travel that involves stairs, walking and carrying stuff. I didn't do as much insane walking as I usually do in New York, aside from the time I got my mental wires crossed and got off the subway one stop too soon on my way to Random House (oops). I made my frugality work in my favor this time -- I bought an unlimited 7-day MetroCard and was determined to get my money's worth in four days, so I rode wherever possible. I really just need to get in shape to do this kind of trip without pain. You can't expect to walk five or so miles a day after months of little activity without some soreness.

This trip ended up being focused almost exclusively on business. I didn't even get around to the possible book research wandering/sightseeing I had planned, and I didn't do some of the "hey, a real fall!" activities I wanted to fit in. Tuesday, I had a meeting with my film agent (and got to see what a big agency like that looks like). Then I got together with a group of readers, which is always fun. I've found that the readers I've met are all cool people to chat with. We talked some about my books, and then got sidetracked into other things.

Wednesday was the big meeting day -- lunch with my editors, then meetings at the publisher to talk about publicity, next steps and all that. It sounds like they actually like me over there, so chances of more books are pretty good. I guess that means I have to write something, huh? Then I got together with my former editor, who's now at a different publisher, for some hot cocoa and chat. It turns out I've thoroughly corrupted her and her husband. I got her into Firefly, and then from there they got into Buffy and Angel, and now they have all the DVDs. That world domination plan seems to be progressing nicely.

I spent most of the rest of the trip making a valiant effort to visit as many bookstores in Manhattan as possible to sign whatever books they had on hand and to meet the staff. The publicity folks at Ballantine said that was one of the more effective things I could do, promo-wise, so I did it. That also gave me a chance to visit some parts of the city I hadn't yet explored much. I'll have to post a list of stores with autographed copies, in case anyone wants to do holiday shopping (or even check to see if any copies are still there). Although there were stores with no copies at all (including the Union Square B&N that's even mentioned in the books!!!), I was pleased to see how many copies of both books so many of the stores had, even this late after the release. I think the two champion stores were the B&N at Lincoln Center and the Borders in the Financial District.

Thursday night, I went to dinner and the theater with my editor. We saw Mary Poppins, which had just opened. This was my first time to see the original cast of anything, which I thought was rather cool. It's a stage adaptation of the Disney movie, except they seemed to have gone back to the books more rather than strictly sticking to the movie version. I thought they fixed some of the structural, thematic and pacing issues in the movie, such as actually making the songs have something to do with the story. As y'all might have figured out, I'm a sucker for anything that mixes in magical stuff with ordinary life. And yes, I still cry for the "Feed the Birds" song. That one slays me every time I see the movie, and it got me in the show.

I may have maxed out on Italian food during the week, though I'm actually thinking about having pizza for dinner, so I guess it's not possible for me to max out on Italian. Wednesday we went for Italian for lunch, then I had pizza for dinner. We had Italian again Thursday night, and then I went to lunch in Little Italy on Friday.

Meanwhile, I think I now know what book 5 in the series will be about, and I may do that next instead of trying to do something in between. Part of it came to me while I was napping a bit before getting dressed Wednesday morning, and then the rest of it all came together when I fell asleep on the plane on the way home. It was one of those times where I didn't realize I'd fallen asleep, then I had this weird burst of insight and woke up with no idea I'd been asleep and a bit of disorientation when I didn't know where I was. Then I pulled out a notebook and started making fast and furious notes until I had a rough plot outline. After all that talk about wanting to take the rest of the year off, now I'm strangely eager to write.

But first I have a lot of taped TV to catch up on.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Stressed Damsel (and NY meeting!)

Yeah, I've been MIA, but this is the psychotic phase in my life. In fact, I saw the preliminary cover sketch for Damsel Under Stress this morning, and boy, is that what I feel like these days (you'll have to wait until it's a done deal before I post it).

I had a lot of fun Saturday at the East Texas RWA conference, and it seemed like the audience stayed awake during my speech on using mythology and psychology to create fascinating characters, which is good. I was the last speaker of the day, and goodness knows I was barely conscious by that point. Sitting still all day and having a big lunch have that effect on me. I think I'm going to submit that workshop for the RWA national conference.

Then Sunday was the Buns and Roses tea in Richardson. We had a great turnout, with nearly 200 people. What was fun for me was that the people at my table hadn't actually read my books, so I got to recruit new readers. I even had a reporter from my favorite local TV station at my table, but I didn't put two and two together and figure out why she seemed so familiar and why I felt like I should know her name until much later. I'm so bad about recognizing people out of context. I suspect I could run into my own mother in a place where I didn't expect to see her, and I'd be going, "You know, you seem really familiar. Why do I know you?" Someday when I have a shorter to-do list, I'll have to tell the story about Troy Aikman in the grocery store.

I've pretty much finished going over my copy edits, and the copy editor really saved me on one thing. I did so much rewriting on this book, compressing and changing scenes, that I lost a day out of my timeline early in the book, which threw everything else off, and it became obvious later in the book, which is where the editor questioned it. But I needed the days to line up like that at the end of the book, so I had to go back to the beginning and fix the place where I lost the timeline. Now I think I want to rewrite my author bio completely, but I can't think of what to say. Maybe that will be work to do on the plane tomorrow.

Final word on the New York meet-up: Let's meet at 6:30 Tuesday evening (tomorrow!) in front of Posman Books in Grand Central. I pretty much do look like the photo in the back of my books, but I likely will not be wearing a spaghetti-strap dress at this time of year. Depending on the hair day I'm having, weather conditions, baggage problems or whatever, there might be a ponytail and glasses. But still, I'm the average-sized brunette with crazy curls. If you get there after we've found a place to go, we'll leave word with someone in the store. Now, some of you better show up so I don't feel like I've been stood up!

And finally, I've been too big a flake to remember to say anything about this, but the Out of the Blogosphere group has been doing a block party the last week or so. Today's my day to play host, and in my post today is a sneak peek at the opening scene in Damsel Under Stress. Check it out and check out the other authors while you're there.

Now I have about a zillion and a half things to do before I catch a plane in the morning. I may play with phone posts at LiveJournal, or something like that, but don't count on seeing anything here until Saturday.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents E. Lockhart

I'm in the middle of digging through copy edits, and it's less painful than I anticipated. This editor is great, and I get the feeling she really gets the book (and is pretty into it), which helps.

While I'm working like a maniac, I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest. E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List (which is now out in paperback), has a sequel, The Boy Book: A Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Taming Them. In the previous book, teen Ruby Oliver plummeted from social butterfly to leper when her top-secret boyfriend list became public. Now a high school junior, she's trying to rebuild her life, with the guide to understanding the male sex she wrote with her ex-friends.

Now, the interview:
What was the inspiration behind The Boy Book?
I thought up the concept when I was writing The Boyfriend List. In that book, Roo and her friends keep a joint notebook with all their observations about boys -- and I found myself wanting to WRITE the notebook, which was wholly unnecessary for that novel. But I realized I probably had a sequel in me, since I wanted to write it so much. The Boy Book is the story of Roo's junior year of high school, structured around entries from the notebook she kept with a group of girls who are now her ex-friends. 

Was writing a sequel easier or more difficult than writing the first book?
Oh, so hard!  But fun, also. I loved returning to Roo's voice and all her indulgent footnotes. It was very hard to balance old characters and new -- and to come up to readers' expectations.

How did you come up with the information in the boy guide within the book? And would you vouch for its accuracy?
I would NOT vouch for its accuracy!  The advice in the guide is written by boy-crazy fifteen year-olds. I mean, some things are good to know, like The Care and Ownership of Boobs or Clever Comebacks to Catcalls. But other things are completely deluded and confused and the book is about Ruby's relationship to the advice in the book and to the girls with whom she wrote it.

Is there a nugget of info about boys you'd like to share as a teaser?
What he says: I never felt this way before.
What is understood: He loves me!
What he means: Can we get to the nether regions, now?

What he says: I'll call you.
What is understood: He'll call me.
What he means: I don't want to see you again.

What he says: It's not you, it's me.
What is understood: He's got some meaningful problem going on in his life that's blocking him from being anyone's boyfriend, even mine, though he likes me so much.
What he means: I like someone else.

What he says: We're just really good friends.
What is understood: Nothing is going on between him and that other girl.
What he means: We have a flirtation, but I don't want you to bug me.

What he says: I'm so messed up.
What is understood: He needs my support and help.
What he means: I want you to leave me alone. 

(Hmm, sounds a lot like bigger boys to me. Some things must not change with age.)

Just how do penguins factor into all this?
Ha!  Isn't that little guy on the cover cute? 
Roo has a job at the zoo, giving a spiel during the humbolt penguin feeding. And when she's there, talking about fish and flipper waving -- she sees something she's not supposed to see... 

What are you working on now?
My next book comes out in May, and it's about teenagers in summer drama camp. TItle: Dramarama.  Here's a link to the foxy-looking cover, a shameless show-tune imix, and more:

For more information on all her books, visit The Boyfriend List web site.

And now, back to work for me! Plus some minor shopping. I've realized I don't have an appropriate coat for the anticipated weather in New York. My old trench coat kind of died. It requires mending I don't have time to do right now.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Crazy Time

Crazy time has officially begun.

I just sent off Book 4 to my editor, so that's off my plate until she lets me know about revisions.

But I just got the copy-edited manuscript for Damsel Under Stress. I now have to go through it to make sure the copy editor didn't change anything substantial and fix anything the copy editor flagged. I haven't yet really looked at it to see how extensive that will be. I have until October 31 to finish, but I'll be in New York most of that time, so I really need to finish it all by Monday so I can carry it with me to New York and turn it in while I'm there.

Meanwhile, before Saturday I have to finish writing a speech and I need to make a handout by Friday so I can get it copied. I also want to finish my marketing plan before I leave for New York (it's mostly done, just needs some formatting). Since I'll be coming back home Saturday night and have this tea Sunday afternoon, I need to get my outfit picked out and ironed, plus the favors for the people at my table made, before I leave town. Then between Sunday evening and Monday night, I have to write a set of radio scripts and get everything ready for the trip.

Can I hear a big "Whew!" from the crowd? Yeah, I thought so.

I'm still working out my schedule for New York. Now I'm wishing I'd allowed myself more time, though I don't know where I'd have fit it. There's so much I want to do. I'd kind of like to get up to Sleepy Hollow, since it will be right before Halloween, but I'm not sure I'd be able to fit that in, with everything else I want to do. Tuesday is now booked with my meeting with my film agent and the reader get-together. Wednesday afternoon is full with business stuff. I have Thursday during the day free and then Friday until I need to leave for the airport in the afternoon. During the "free" time, I want to hit a lot of bookstores to sign books they have in stock, and I'd like to make it up to the Cloisters because I have a sense of it being a location for something in the future, but I'm not sure what it would be until I get there and walk it again. Those who are familiar with it, can't you just see a magical battle happening around there? I'm sure I'll see a lot of the city, even some parts I haven't visited before, while hitting every bookstore in sight.

I'm also working on my wardrobe. More specifically, the shoes. I get blisters very easily. I could have custom-fitted pillows wrapped around my feet, and I'd get blisters from them (I'm a delicate flower), so finding the right pair of shoes to wear while doing a ton of walking can be a challenge. I had the perfect pair of shoes that were so comfortable. I walked all over New York in then many times, all over London, Oxford, Cambridge, and many other places, with never a blister. They were the one pair of shoes that was safe to bring as the only pair of shoes on a trip, because I knew I could wear them all over for days in a row without pain. But then I guess all that walking stretched them out some, so they started slipping up and down, and on my last trip with them, they did threaten to rub blisters. Last fall, I was so excited when I found an identical pair to replace them, but it turned out they weren't exactly identical. When I wore them on my last trip to New York, I spent the whole time in agony because of blisters and soreness. For this trip, I decided to dig out the old shoes and see if adding some heel inserts and gel insoles would make up for whatever stretching there was. It seems to be doing the trick, but I'll be bringing a back-up pair of shoes and rotating them, just in case. Now I just have to figure out the clothes to go with them. I'll add that to my to-do list.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

NY Meetup and stuff

Mostly business-type stuff today, as it's errand day and I have soooo much to do.

On the New York get-together: Looks like we'll go with Tuesday evening, around 6:30. I'm trying to accommodate the schedules of most of the people I've heard from. Most likely somewhere in the Grand Central vicinity. I should have an exact meeting place posted tomorrow. We might end up meeting at Posman Books within Grand Central, and then trooping to a place where we can chat. I'll also invite my editor and see if she wants to join us.

If you can't make that, I'll also be trying to drop in on most of the bookstores I can find in Manhattan to sign their stock, so if you're looking to buy books and want them signed, we might be able to arrange to meet up at a store.

I have locations for all the Borders and B&N stores, but I've been having a hard time finding independent stores in New York that look like they'd stock my books. Most of the ones I've found seem to be highly specialized (children's books, mysteries, New Age, non-fiction, travel, etc.) or used and rare. If you know a good independent store in New York that might stock my books and wouldn't be snooty about selling that sort of thing (sorry, but my experiences with non-specialty independent stores haven't always been the greatest -- I get a strong sense that my books aren't worthy enough), let me know! I've got a short list from searching Booksense, but there have to be more.

In other news, I've seen cover art for that Judy Blume tribute book I'll have an essay in next year, and it's really cute. I don't have time at the moment to post it, but I'll get to it eventually. The cool news is that Pocket Books will be putting the book out in hardcover, so it should get a little more attention that way.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Last Weekend

Last weekend was my final free weekend until the middle of November (practically Thanksgiving), and in spite of my opting out of trying to stalk my anchorman, it really was the perfect last free weekend. I got stuff done around the house, like cooking, cleaning and laundry. Sunday, the rain held off as I was going to and from church, and then it rained steadily all day, making it the perfect day to spend on the couch with a good book.

With that book, I had a weird art/life/art mingling experience. The book was Love @ First Site by Jane Moore, and I picked it up Friday afternoon because I'd bought one of her earlier books on my last trip to England and I was in the mood for a good British chick lit book. Then on Saturday I mentioned my bias against online dating, which resulted in some discussion in the LiveJournal comments. Sunday afternoon while I worked the newspaper crossword puzzles, I watched a Live From Lincoln Center concert by Audra McDonald on PBS. There's something about good story songs, especially those from musicals, sung by a really expressive singer that makes me weepy, so I was already kind of sniffling and teary-eyed when she did a song called "I Won't Mind," that was from the point of view of a woman who's a kind of "aunt" to her friend's kids. For some weird reason, that song and the way she did it wiped me out, and soon I was sobbing (I think it struck off a book spark, though who knows where that story idea will take me). When the show ended, it was really raining, so I made some tea and picked up the nearest book at hand, which was Love @ First Site.

As you can probably tell from the title, it dealt with online dating. A woman in her mid-30s gets the not-so-welcome surprise gift of a membership in an online dating service for her birthday -- with her own ad already placed. She does want to meet someone because her sister's happy marriage and family really makes her want to have that for herself. She loves playing aunt to her sister's kids and would like her own someday. So, she figures she may as well give it a shot. In other words, the book seemed to include just about everything that's struck a nerve with me in the past couple of days. It had a lot of funny moments, plus some strong emotion, as well as the kind of ending that left me sighing. Perfect rainy day reading.

As I mentioned before, I did try online dating once. I met a guy who seemed great. We seemed to hit it off. We went out twice. At the end of the second date he was talking about things he thought would be fun to do together, and we were making vague plans -- everything but the exact date and logistics. Then he vanished completely. His profile went off the site, and he didn't respond when I sent him a casual follow-up e-mail that wasn't nagging, merely giving him my impressions of a movie we'd talked about that he wasn't sure of, but that I'd seen in the meantime. I guess that's about the same as my non-online dating life. But in the past few years, there's apparently been a predator using online dating to get his victims in my area, where he plays nice, meets his date at a restaurant, and then after the date he offers to walk her to her car -- where he then kidnaps and rapes her. And it's happened at restaurants in my neighborhood. That's made me a wee bit nervous about trying online dating with anyone in any proximity to me. I don't think they've caught him, since he used false info to sign up for the online dating site and the women don't know anything about him beyond the screen names.

Then there's the fact that I am apparently not compatible with anyone. I did one of those personality tests on one site, and it couldn't find anyone within a 50-mile radius who was in any way a match for my values, personality and interests. I'm not sure if that says something about me or something about the men on that site.

But who has time for dating, with all I have going on in the next few weeks! Speaking of which, we weren't able to arrange an "official" event in New York next week, but if I know that at least a couple of people are planning to show up, I'm willing to meet up for a chat and to sign any books you want to bring. I'm free on Tuesday late afternoon and evening and Wednesday evening. We just need a location. The cafe at the Union Square B&N has been suggested, but they're having major author events both nights (Tuesday it's Paula Deen!). I don't know if that will make the store crazy or mean you can get a table in the cafe, for a change. I love the coffee shop on Irving Place (71 Irving Place, I think?), but table hunting there can be a challenge, too. So, if you want to do this, let me know when works for you and if you have any place suggestions.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Chickening Out

Okay, so I didn't go to the event where the news guy would be, for several very good reasons:
1) I didn't wake up until around 9, and the event started at 10. It's a 20-minute drive to get there, and I'd have needed a shower (and lots of primping time).
2) The hayfever came back with a vengeance last night, and I didn't think it would be the smartest thing in the world to go to an event at a restored historic farm where the activities would include hay rides. Not to mention the fact that I certainly wouldn't have been at my best for first impressions. I look and sound like I should be shuffling around in a ratty terrycloth bathrobe with fuzzy bunny slippers and a wad of tissues in my hand. I even bit my tongue while sneezing this morning (ouch!). I pretty much embody most of the seven dwarves right now -- I've got Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Wheezy (or did I make that one up?) and Grumpy to go along with my usual Bashful. Not very attractive.
3) This is probably the biggest one. I wouldn't have been all that interested in this event if the guy weren't going to be there, and I have this personal rule/belief/superstition that if you go out specifically looking for love or even to meet someone, that automatically dooms the endeavor. Maybe this comes from that unrealistically romantic nature of mine, and it may be a big reason I'm still single. But I still believe that the best way to find what you're looking for is just by living your life, doing the things you love to do and want to do, and if it's meant to be, that other person will be there, too. When you go with the sole purpose of meeting someone, it creates a different kind of energy and changes your expectations, which lowers the chances of success. That's one reason I don't do online dating (I did try it once) -- the only reason you're doing it is to meet someone, and it feels desperate. This event was billed as a "family day," and that's the kind of thing that makes singles feel very out of place, alone and invisible. If I didn't get a chance to talk to or meet this guy, or if I did meet him and he was a jerk or showed zero interest in me, then I'd have got nothing out of the day and would have probably just been depressed. It only would have worked well if it was the kind of thing where I'd have gone and had fun, no matter who might be there (and if I hadn't been sneezing my head off).

Instead, I'm having a rare house cleaning day. Well, sort of. I did dishes, have done some kitchen cleaning and am doing laundry. I also hope to do some reading this weekend. I was out shopping yesterday, which was very depressing. All the clothes they have in the stores right now look like someone threw a black towel into the wash with them, and it bled, so the colors are all murky. But I made a stop by the used bookstore and found a pristine copy of I Capture the Castle on the clearance shelf. There might have been a slight squeal and a bit of a bounce when I saw it. Because I do like to support authors, I severely limit what I'll let myself buy used. I'll buy out-of-print books, books by dead authors (who don't need to build careers), and big bestsellers whose careers are going okay (which allows me to devote my new-book money to authors where my purchase really makes a difference). As Dodie Smith is no longer with us, this book fit into the second category, so I felt no guilt. I checked this one out of the library when I last read it, and I've been planning to get a keeper copy to re-read. It's a book that makes me happy.

Now I think I'll go clean my bathroom/dressing area.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Occupational Hazard

I ended up not doing nearly as much reading as I'd planned yesterday, mostly because I kind of went on a cooking binge. I cranked up Ella Fitzgerald on the CD player (it was an Ella kind of day) and made oatmeal raisin cookies -- using a mix of regular and golden raisins and dried cranberries for the raisins and throwing in some toasted walnuts and cinnamon chips. Then I made a stew for dinner. I think I was having so much fun with the new chef's knife that I deliberately made something that involved a lot of cutting and chopping.

Yesterday, a friend sent me a link to a Word Spy definition that she said sounded like me. The word was quirkyalone, which is someone who enjoys being single and therefore prefers to wait for the right person instead of just dating a lot. Yeah, that would be me. Further, this is a person who really is a romantic and who doesn't want to settle for less, which is part of why they're still single. As the person who apparently coined the term says, "We are no less concerned with coupling than your average serial monogamist. Secretly, we are romantics, romantics of the highest order. We want a miracle. Out of millions we have to find the one who will understand."

I generally consider this quirk to be an occupational hazard of being a writer or being someone who has the kind of imagination it takes to be a writer. I can't seem to turn off the writing part of my brain, even when it's getting in the way. If I meet someone, before I have the slightest chance to get to know him, my brain has already drafted the entire love story -- the witty conversation, the first date, the proposal, the wedding. Sometimes, I don't even have to meet someone to start that kind of daydreaming. If I'm going to a place where I could potentially meet people, I'll have dreamed up a cute meet with someone perfect for me, the witty conversation, the progression of the relationship, etc. That puts a lot of pressure on the real encounters. No human being can live up to what's going on in my head.

I think that's part of why I'm the queen of the Crush from Afar. Until I went to a high school that was too small to do anything from afar, I always seemed to have crushes on guys I didn't actually know and never made an effort to meet. My first big one was in seventh grade, on an eighth-grade boy who was in my PE class (there were 80 people in my PE class, so still plenty of distance). By the end of the school year, I had an impressive dossier on him. I knew his entire schedule, who he hung out with, even which books he checked out of the library -- because it seemed like I was always pulling the same ones off the shelf, and then seeing his name on the checkout card (yes, I took that as a sign that we Were Meant To Be). Thanks to my mom meeting his stepmother at some military wives luncheon, I even knew all about his family and his backstory. I daydreamed all kinds of romance-novel-worthy scenarios about how we'd end up meeting, but I seemed to go out of my way to avoid meeting him in reality. If I saw him coming, I'd head the other way. My friends were absolutely forbidden to say his name, point to him or otherwise indicate any interest whatsoever in him. Even though the class we had together was the kind that might allow for many mingling and casual chat opportunities, I somehow managed never to end up on a team or in a small group with him (of course, there that may have been smart, as I was phenomenally uncoordinated and would not have made a good impression). I think I enjoyed the idea of having a crush, of liking someone who didn't know I existed and didn't know someone liked him that much, and all the fun little mental fantasies the crush gave me more than I would have liked the idea of dealing with him in reality. I went through a similar pattern in eighth grade, and then again in college (The University of Texas, with some 50,000 students and lecture classes with 200-800 students, is the ideal place to have a good crush from afar).

But, you know, sometimes reality does cooperate with the daydreaming, which only reinforces the cycle. I have two great examples, and I swear, I am not making this up. At UT, I was in the ballroom dancing club my senior year. Every year, they have The Great Waltz of Texas, where they have a chamber orchestra in the Texas Union ballroom, and people come all dressed up for a night of waltzing. I went with the club, which was a mix of guys and girls, nobody really coupled up. Of course, I had daydreams about being swept off my feet by a handsome man. When they struck up "The Blue Danube" as the first waltz and everyone in my group paired up, I was left the odd one out, which I didn't mind because I wanted to get a sense of things before I hit the dance floor. But a moment later, a voice beside me said in a European accent, "Excuse me, Miss." I turned to see a tall, blond man wearing a tux with tails. He bowed and clicked his heels together, then asked, "Are you unaccompanied for the evening?" When I said I was, he asked if I would care to dance, then he held his arm out to escort me to the floor. I spent most of the evening being literally swept off my feet (he was a very energetic Viennese waltzer) and generally feeling like Cinderella. At the end of the event, we got our coats -- his was an opera cloak -- and he walked me down the grand staircase. When we got outside, a dense fog had rolled in, and once we parted on the West Mall, he disappeared into the mist in a swirl of opera cloak. Seriously. I did not make that up. I'm not even embellishing.

The other time something like that happened, I was at a conference in Washington, D.C. I had the usual daydreams about meeting someone cool there before the event. Then the opening session got pretty boring, so I started studying the other attendees. There was one really cute guy maybe just a bit older than me there, and I found myself daydreaming about how he'd approach me during the coffee break, blah, blah, the usual romantic fantasy. And then we had a coffee break. I was heading over to the refreshment table when I saw the cute guy walking straight toward me. Yep, he did approach me, we talked, then we went to lunch together, wandering Georgetown to find the perfect place with the right atmosphere, and we pretty much hung out for the rest of the conference. If that happened in the Internet age, we'd have probably at least tried to keep in touch by e-mail, but back then, the phone and snail mail to each other's offices, which was the contact info we had through the conference, seemed a bit too much, so it didn't go beyond that. But it didn't really need to because that weekend was great for what it was and reminded me that I was capable of snagging the cutest guy in the room.

And that brings me to the here and now. Remember that anchorman I have the huge crush on? Well, his station is doing a community event in a town next to mine tomorrow, and he's the station's on-air personality for the event. This could be my chance to meet him, and now I'm wondering if I really want to. I know me, so I know the odds are that if I even saw him, I'd head in the opposite direction and totally freeze up, even if I do have plenty of icebreaking material, since we went to the same journalism school and know a lot of the same people. Mom said to just look so hot that he'd want to come over and talk to me, but just thinking of that is making my stomach go all wobbly and my heart race. Is it more fun to daydream, and is it worth the risk that I might meet him and think he's a jerk, or that he wouldn't be remotely interested in me, which would mean I'd no longer have my fun daydreams? And by this time, have I built him up so much in my head that there's too much pressure for reality to stand a chance? Then there's the fact that it's supposed to be a family event, and that makes me feel weird about going alone (Mom said to say I was researching a book if anyone said something). And, of course, my silly romantic writer's brain is busy at work. By the time I'd finished reading the information on the event, my brain had scripted our introductory conversation, mentally searched my calendar for a day I might be free to get together with him again, planned my outfit for that date, and then realized that the event is held at a site you can rent for wedding receptions, which would be perfect if that's where we met. ARRRGGGGHHHH! It's enough to drive me crazy. Why can't I just meet someone and have a nice chat like a normal person, without writing the story of the rest of our lives in my head at the same time?

I guess you'll know the outcome if that paragraph (and any related comments) disappears abruptly tomorrow afternoon. That's the hazard of being a quasi-public figure and trying to balance life and blogging. There's no way of filtering out people I know from reading this, and if you met someone who was an author, wouldn't you get a little curious and Google them to check them out? It's like there's this treasure trove of info on what I'm like and what I like if someone bothered to read all this, and I'm not sure I'd want one of his early impressions to be me gushing about having a crush on him in a very recent entry (he'd have to be really into me to dig far enough back for anything else I've mentioned). I do know that people I've met have looked me up in the past. If these last two paragraphs disappear tomorrow and you're dying to know what happened, e-mail me and I'll do a secret e-mail blog post about it.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Blustery Day

Yesterday's "get my life together" attempt: I tried to take my recycling out, but it turns out the city recycling center is closed on Wednesdays. It's also closed on Tuesdays, which means it's closed on the two days I'm most likely to be out and about during the day. But everything's in my car to go out tomorrow. I also cleaned out the "nest" that tends to develop on and around the sofa -- all the newspapers with the crossword puzzles or with articles I wanted to go back to, my crossword reference materials, spiral notebooks, books, etc. You could take one look at my living room and tell exactly where I spend most of my leisure time.

Yesterday's Galloping Gourmet adventure: I bought a real chef's knife, and boy, does it make a difference. Now we'll see how long I can go before I end up needing stitches (I don't have a great track record with sharp objects). I also did a huge amount of grocery shopping. The fun thing about a lot of fall fruits and vegetables is that they keep pretty well, so I can stock up. I also got nuts for all my fall baking needs. As for cooking, I made homemade strawberry jam, using some berries I found in my freezer inventory. For breakfast this morning, I made scones to go with them. I'll continue clearing out my freezer this evening by making a stew, and I may also bake some oatmeal cookies. The sad thing about my current cooking binge is that while I'm cooking like a madwoman, I have almost zero appetite. It's the act of cooking I'm enjoying, then I taste what I've made, and then I'm done. The freezer is going to get really full now, but I guess that means next time I'm starving but don't feel like cooking, I'll have plenty to eat.

You'd think from the way I put up food that I grew up during the Depression or had parents who grew up during the Depression. Maybe it's a farm girl thing. If you have a big garden, you have to find some way of preserving all the stuff you grow. I remember being dragged out of bed early in the morning during the summer to help pick the corn (it's sweetest if you pick it first thing in the morning before it gets hot), and then blanch it for freezing. Ditto with stringing and snapping peas and stewing and canning tomatoes.

I'm taking most of today as my "I finished the book!" holiday. I've got tea, cookies later maybe, and some books. I'm a little disappointed in this round of library books, since there were two in a row I decided I didn't care to finish. But I'm in the middle of another Terry Pratchett book now, and he's reliably good. And then I have a few (ha!) more in my to-be-read pile. The weather is as blustery as promised, so it's a perfect day for that sort of thing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The End

Yesterday's wacky "get my life in order" housekeeping task: I put on my gloves and inventoried my freezer. I had no idea what was in there, and I discovered that there are a lot of things I've been buying repeatedly, in spite of having a good supply in the freezer, simply because I didn't know what was in my freezer. I bought a new refrigerator a year or so ago, so there wasn't anything truly weird and surprising, but I did learn that I won't need to buy corn tortillas, round steak, ground beef or chicken breasts for a while. I always forget I have corn tortillas when I'm planning to make enchiladas, and I have a habit of stocking up on meats when they go on sale, without knowing how much I have in my freezer.

Yesterday's galloping gourmet adventure: I made focaccia bread. The last time I made this recipe, I thought it tasted a little bland. This time, I took several steps to avoid that. I made an infused olive oil with garlic and fresh rosemary, then used part of that as the oil in the dough itself and used the rest as the oil to pour over the top. I used fresh rosemary as the herb topping, plus a sprinkling of kosher salt to bring out the flavor (I may have used a little too much salt, but you can brush that off easily just by giving the bread a good shake). It was sooo good, and I'm planning to make a good stew to have with it.

Now that I've had a few days to recover, I've realized that I have a love/hate relationship with reaching "the end." On the one hand, it feels so good to be done. On the other, there's a little sadness, some letting go. The story is done and out of my head, so there's nothing new left to discover. Even if I keep revising, the story is pretty much done. I'm left a little wistful and melancholy. That melancholy often means that the list of things I want to do when I'm done with my book doesn't actually get done. The whole time I'm on that home stretch, I can't wait to be done, and I keep telling myself all the things I'll do when I'm done. And then when I am done, I no longer really want to do all those things because I'd rather be writing again. It's maddening.

I think there's also a different sense from finishing a first draft to finishing revisions. Finishing the first draft is a huge rush, I guess because it's like reading a book for the first time, seeing it all unfold. I really do tend to happy dance and get out and do things after that phase. Writing a first draft is hard, but it's also like play. It's all about spinning the story. Even though it's sort of an end, it's really more the end of a phase, and I know the story will get even better. Revision, on the other hand, is work. Sometimes it's harder to mold what has been written into something better than it is to just write it from scratch. But even writing from scratch during the revision process isn't easy, because that usually requires cutting something that's already been written. Oddly enough, I don't so much mourn the parts that are cut outright. I just shift those into my "cuts" file and go on. I think I convince myself that I may be able to use that deleted scene elsewhere in the book, or if all else fails, on my web site. But when I have to replace an already written scene with a new scene, or else substantially rewrite an existing scene, then it's hard. I know that whatever I cut at that point is just cut. It has to exist in an alternate universe. There's all that work that went into the original scene (and often, I can remember exactly what was going on as I wrote that original scene), and it was wasted effort. Even if I know the new scene will be better, it's kind of sad. Therefore, at the end of all that, my reaction is usually more a sense of tired relief than elation. I know that this is pretty much it for the story. It may get tweaked a little more, but I don't want to do much more work on it. My head is already moving on to the next project.

Meanwhile, there's all the other insanity going on right now, with a workshop next weekend that I have to research and prepare, the upcoming trip to New York, marketing work to do on the next book, and a whole bunch of little, nagging business things I have to take care of before I hit my Crazy Three Weeks of Fall.

Tomorrow may be my "yay! the book is done!" day that I more or less take off, since I have the first round of to-do list things ticked off. The weather forecast is for a "blustery" day (makes me think of Winnie the Pooh), and that sounds like a great day to spend baking, drinking tea and reading.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Narrowing the Field

One of the absolute best things about working at home is when you wake up in the morning to the sound of rain, and you can lie snug and warm in bed while listening to it rain -- and knowing that you don't have to go out in it. Back in the days when I commuted, I groaned and whimpered when I woke up and it was raining, because traffic was always an even worse nightmare. Now, it's a lovely day to spend at home working, and I may even take a little time off just to read. I have the balcony door open so I can sit at my desk and listen to the rain, and I have the string of firefly lights over the doorway on. Add a cup of tea (which I have), and this is the life!

I had a bit of an epiphany related to reading the other day, in the spirit of "so many books, so little time." I'm pretty stubborn, and I hate to start a book and not finish reading it. Well, in theory. If I own a book and can theoretically go back and finish it at any time, then I haven't technically stopped reading it. I've just put it aside for a while. As a result, I have a shelf full of books with bookmarks stuck about a quarter to a third of the way in. I have actually gone back and finished some of these, so it's not entirely a lost cause. But when it comes to library books, I usually try to finish them because there's something so final about returning a book to the library unread. It's like outright admitting that I'm not going to finish. This time, however, I made a conscious decision not to keep reading, not because I didn't like that particular book, but because I've realized I don't like that kind of book, in general.

Yes, folks, I hereby declare that I am officially over "assistant lit." That is, the books that are about young women toiling in thankless, low-level jobs in supposedly glamorous or high-powered fields -- the assistant to the evil editor of a fashion magazine, the assistant to the top Hollywood agent, you get the picture. I realized that even if the book is entertaining and well written, I don't really enjoy it because I find it stressful. I can feel my blood pressure going up as I read, and I've even found myself having nightmares.

I guess it's kind of like horror. Some people love the thrill of being scared in a safe environment. Some people may enjoy vicarious stress, getting all the sensation of working in a high-pressure field without having to worry about any of the consequences. After all, it's not like your own job is on the line if you can't handle it when every line on the phone is ringing at once, and all the callers are people who are never supposed to be put on hold and who must be put through to your boss immediately. I, however, don't enjoy that (I had to take a sip of tea to calm myself after just writing that). I've worked for people who got high on stress and who would deliberately add stress to a situation just to make it more "fun." I'm more mellow, and the more stress you can remove from a situation, the happier I am.

Not that I'm opposed to characters in books having tough jobs or bad bosses. That's kind of a staple in chick lit. I just don't want that to be all a book is about. The bad job is just part of a life that also includes friends, family and romance. For instance, Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed had a heroine with a really stressful job as a junior lawyer, with a demanding boss and a ridiculous work schedule, but the book was about the heroine falling in love with her best friend's fiance. The hated job was just another sign of how she'd limited herself by thinking about what she thought she should do instead of really considering what she wanted out of life (she'd introduced the fiance to her friend in the first place because she was afraid he was out of her league). Or in Sophie Kinsella's Undomestic Goddess, the story was sparked by something going wrong in the heroine's high-stress career, but the book was more about her exploring options and didn't include a lot of time with her all stressed-out on the job.

As a corollary to this, I've decided I'm also over the thinly veiled autobiography books, because that's what most of these that bother me are. These are the ones where the author actually held the job the character does at a company very much like the one in her book, and with a lot of characters who are fictional versions of real people -- and that's the main selling point of the book. It's all fiction, of course (wink, wink), but see if you can figure out how the characters map to real people.

For one thing, in a lot of these cases, these books weren't bought because of the writing, plotting or character development. They were bought because of that celebrity hook (an editor I've worked with actually rejected one of these that became a bestseller because she thought the writing was "pedestrian"). For another, fiction has to make more sense than real life. Fictional characters need believable motivations that result in logical (within the framework of the book) actions. As a result, most of these books fall apart plot-wise for me, and since I don't much care who all the name-dropped, name-changed celebrities are, that means that in addition to the assistant lit stress, there's not much story there to enjoy.

Also, paradoxically, stories like these that are too closely based on the author's real life tend to be less honest than a flat-out novel. When you're writing about your own experiences in what's more or less an act of revenge and your main character is essentially you, it's hard to be objective. As a result, these novels tend toward a lot of martyrdom and self-pity for the main character, lots of "Everyone around me is soooo mean to me, and I'm the only sane one here, and I'm just trying to do my job!" There's also usually a lot of snobbery along the lines of "Everyone here is so shallow and stupid for thinking that all this actually matters and is important." (Yeah, because it's so much smarter to be killing yourself working for something you think is shallow, stupid and unimportant.) An author who's mostly making things up, even if she is drawing from her own background, can be more honest and objective. The characters tend to be more three-dimensional, with a heroine who has realistic flaws and co-workers who aren't pure mustache-twirling evil.

I'm not ruling out all books that have some parallel to the author's real life. Write what you know, and all that. But there's a huge difference between an author using her own legal career as background to develop a character who works as a lawyer and the former junior associate supporting the senior partner in charge of Michael Jackson's defense against pedophilia charges writing a book about an overworked and much put-upon junior associate supporting the senior partner in charge of pop icon Mitchell Johnson's defense against pedophilia charges (and in the book, the junior associate would probably come up with the key idea that saves the day, only to have the senior partner take credit, so that the heroine then realizes she's wasting her time in the legal field, quits her job in a dramatic scene and then decides to write a book as a way of recovering from all the stress). Oh, and I made that example up. As far as I know, there isn't a chick lit book about the Michael Jackson case. Yet.

This new stance of mine really helps me narrow my reading choices so I can spend more time reading books I like without guilt. I had been forcing myself to read some of these because they were big sellers in my field, but since I have no celebrity ties in my life and have never worked for anyone famous, I'm not sure that there's anything I can take from these books that applies to my career.

Oh, wait! I worked in the PR office at a medical school with a lot of Nobel Prize winners, and I even got to be the media escort for Dr. James Watson (of Watson and Crick, the DNA guys) for a day during a special symposium. That sounds like hot material for a chick lit novel. The scene where the heroine has tea with Dr. John Watkins, who won a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking research into the structures of ... well, some important molecule, while waiting for a reporter to be ready for an interview, would be a real page-turner. Yeah, American readers would be sure to line up to read the behind-the-scenes scoop on working with some of the world's top scientific minds. (I actually think that was one of the coolest things ever to happen to me at work, and Dr. Watson was a true gentleman, so there's no real scandal there.)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Adventures in the Banana Republic

I've been such a flake lately that I totally forgot to announce something else I'm involved in.

If you're in the North Texas area, the Richardson library is having a big author tea to raise money for the library and literacy efforts. It's a high tea, with each table hosted by an author. I heard a rumor that they'd have local firefighters serving, but I haven't seen that on any of the promo material, so I'm not holding my breath. There will be prize giveaways, raffles, books to buy, and that sort of thing. The event is the afternoon of October 22. For more info or to buy tickets, visit the tea web site. I think the only way to guarantee that you're sitting with the author you want is to buy the whole table, but somehow I doubt I'm going to be stampeded if you want to try to sit with me.

They're encouraging us to wear hats to make it a true high tea experience, so I spent part of Saturday morning trying on possible outfits to go with the hats I have. I love hats, but the seasonal hats I have aren't really tea party hats. I have my grandfather's tweed fedora (his Tom Landry hat) that goes with more sporty/casual clothes. I have a bigger black wool fedora that makes for a good 1940s femme fatale look. I could totally rock that with one of my 40s style suits and maybe seamed stockings and stiletto heels, but that's not really my author image. So it looks like I'll go with my very favorite hat, a sort of Victorian-looking floppy crushed velvet number with a big satin rose on it.

I bought it at Target years ago when I just fell in love with it. It was so impractical, but it was so me. I still haven't worn it very often around here, but it's traveled all over the place with me. It's a lot more stylish than a knit stocking cap when I'm in a cooler climate. I've worn it all over England, repeatedly in New York in wintertime, and it went on my last trip to Chicago. Even better, I get compliments everywhere, whenever I wear it. When people stop you in the street in London or New York to tell you how fabulous your hat is, that's really something.

But coordinating it with something other than a winter coat is more challenging. I don't want to go too Victorian and look costumey. It needs to be a little more funky, kind of vintage shop chic. As a result, I was digging through my vast collection of white shirts and blouses (two things I can never resist: black skirts and white shirts), and I found something that was a real blast from the past when I looked at the label. The label said "Banana Republic: Travel and Safari Clothing."

Yes, folks, once upon a time, Banana Republic was not known for being the home of moderately priced urban sophisticate clothing. Instead, it was where you outfitted yourself for adventures in exotic, out-of-the-way locales (thus, the store's name). Does anyone else remember that era? They usually had an old army jeep parked in the middle of the store, and the clothes tended toward stuff like photographers vests, safari jackets and the kinds of shirts you could rinse out in your hotel room sink and drip dry overnight. Back then, I was a journalism major dreaming of being a foreign correspondent, and whenever I was in the mall, I'd drop in on Banana Republic to pick out the outfits I'd be wearing when I looked intently at the camera and said, "This is Shanna Swendson, reporting live from (international trouble spot)." It made me think of all the war stories my journalism professors told about their adventures in far-off places (before they retired to teach).

I couldn't really afford to buy anything there, but by carefully watching for sales, I bought two things from that era that are still in my closet. One was the shirt I found Saturday, which is a sort of mix between a vest/waistcoat and a shirt -- it's got the body style of a vest, but with sleeves. I thought it looked very Out of Africa, like something you'd wear with jodhpurs or a long khaki skirt and riding boots. The other is a long, A-line black knit skirt that's still one of my favorite things to wear for long plane flights, like overnight to Europe. It's as comfortable as pajamas, I can fit my legs up inside it if I curl up, so it's like a built-in blanket, it doesn't wrinkle, and because it's a skirt, I feel a bit more stylish and sophisticated upon arrival than the stereotypical sweatsuited American tourist the Europeans love to mock. With that skirt and my hat, no one ever pegs me as a tourist (plus, there's something about looking kind of like you stepped out of the Victorian era that makes people feel compelled to carry your luggage for you, even if it has wheels).

I'm still a little sad that I never got my Banana Republic safari jacket before they changed their corporate identity. Never mind that I'm not all that interested in actually going on a safari or roughing it or going to any place that might be considered an international trouble spot and their current clothes probably fit my lifestyle better. I still liked having a store that made me dream of adventure.

Friday, October 06, 2006


I'm done!!!! Done, done, done!!!!!! I'd be doing a happy dance if I had the energy and if my office wasn't such a mess that there's no floor space for dancing.

About fifteen minutes ago, I got through the revisions on book 4. I'll still want to re-read the last few chapters, because I changed a lot, but the worst of it is over. There's this incredible weight lifted off my shoulders. I've had books hanging over my head for about a year now, and while finishing this one (more or less -- it's not turned in yet) means I'm sort of unemployed, it also means there's nothing major I'm supposed to be working on for a little while.

I'd had all these grand plans about taking the month off and getting stuff done, like cleaning my house, relaxing, reading, getting a life, but I just looked at my calendar, and I have a week and a half before things get wacky again without letting up until mid-November, and there's a lot of stuff I have to get done before then. Ack! I guess I'll try to mostly take November and December off. There are a few things I'll need to work on, but they're a couple weeks worth of work spread over a month and a half, so that's okay. And I will try to give myself some down time in the next week and a half before things get totally nuts.

For now, though, I'm making a pizza (the dough is rising), and I'm going to spend several brainless hours in front of the television. Battlestar Galactica is back tonight! Wheee!

Can you tell I was inhaling Dr Pepper all afternoon? Wheee!

Ahem. Now I have to go make my pizza sauce.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Gourmet's Still Galloping

Today's t-shirt (yes, finally a non-repeat -- I really need to do laundry): Shindig, Wildwood, New Jersey, September 2003. Ah, the trip that helped start it all. I was already working on the idea for my series, but I got serious when I decided to add a few days in New York onto my Shindig trip to New Jersey. That was when the characters really started coming to life in my head. You may also recognize the setting.

The infant dose of Benadryl seems to be helping with the ragweed issues (plus, a front came through, which may have also helped). It still makes me groggy, but there seems to be a pattern. There's a window of about two hours in which my symptoms are better and I'm reasonably alert. Then I spend a couple of hours really groggy. I just have to time my day so that I work as much as I can during the clear periods. I can actually write while loopy from Benadryl, but revision is harder when I can look at words and just see individual words without being able to form them into sentences or even a story. You can't fix a plot from a big-picture perspective when all you see are individual words.

It may not really feel like fall (other than the ragweed), but the Galloping Gourmet is still hard at work, mostly because I got so bored with what I was eating. After trying a few of the Rachael Ray recipes, I have to ask what army that woman is feeding. I can eat for a week on one of her recipes. Last week, I made this macaroni and cheese dish with broccoli and chicken, and I reduced it by a third, and I still got something like six meals out of it. I knew the soup I made earlier this week would make a ton, but I put up four 1-2 serving packets in the freezer plus had about two servings in a refrigerator dish after eating the soup for dinner that night. Supposedly, it would serve four. I guess that's four sumo wrestlers. I made my first risotto last week, and it was really good. Though it probably wasn't the most appropriate meal to eat while watching My Name is Earl. I felt like I should have been eating something made with Velveeta.

I have about six more chapters to revise, and they're the ones that require the most work. I've got about an hour of grogginess left, so I think I'l fit my "but this is haaaaaaarrrdddd!" whining in now. I'd love to finish tomorrow afternoon so I can enjoy the weekend guilt-free.

And now, I've got another Out of the Blogosphere book. As a reminder, this is a group of authors who write fantasy or paranormal books with romantic elements, and we team up to tell our readers about the other books and spread the love around. The book this time is Seduced by Magic, a sensual fantasy romance by Cheyenne McCray. When a spell backfires, Copper Ashcroft finds herself in a mysterious Otherworld, where she meets Tiernan, a warrior also pulled into that realm. To save their city from the demons of the underworld, they have to join forces and fight a passion that has bewitched them both. More more info on this book and an excerpt, you can visit Cheyenne's web site.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Charity Auction

I knew I was being a flake today, but I totally forgot something very important.

Author Julie Kenner is holding a big eBay auction to raise money for Love Without Borders, an organization devoted to getting medical care for children in Chinese orphanages. These kids have problems like cleft palate or heart defects that are treated routinely in the United States but that often go untreated in these orphanages, which can affect a child's chance of getting adopted.

Lots of authors have contributed goodies like autographed books and critiques. You could, for example, bid on a personally autographed set of my series to-date. I'm also doing something very, very rare. For the highest bidder, I'll critique a synopsis and three chapters of your novel. I very seldom do critiques, so this is your one chance. There's other cool stuff, like Harry Potter movie posters signed by Chris Columbus.

For more info, check out Julie's web site, and be prepared to have your heart broken by all the pictures of babies in need of help.

In other news, I made a quick Target excursion and will be trying the minimum dose of children's Benadryl. I figure I might get more effect with fewer side effects by taking a tiny amount more often. I still doubt I'd be able to drive, which means missing choir practice, but it's not as though I could sing, anyway. I also discovered that all the Claritin stuff is 24-hour, not 12-hour, which is even worse. That's a big commitment to make to an antihistamine, a whole entire day! Even the kids stuff is like that.

I also might have stocked up on the Honey Wheat Thins, which are on sale and are my new addiction. The real trigger for the trip was when I ran out of Kleenex. That was a crisis worthy of taking action.

However, I violated one of the major rules of the universe: I went out in my work clothes instead of my going-out clothes, with no makeup at all, my glasses and with my hair just pulled back in a sloppy ponytail, and I didn't run into a single person I knew (or anyone I really wanted to know). The fabric of the universe may be fraying. Usually, it seems like the worse you look, the more likely you are to run into people you don't want to see you like that.

Amen and Achoo

The ragweed woes continue. Ugh. I'm almost desperate enough to take something for it, but that has its own bad effects. It reminds me of a running gag in the movie I'm With Lucy (a cute little romantic comedy). The heroine has hayfever, and there's only one specific medicine that works for her, something that's getting hard to find. Everyone keeps trying to get her to use some other kind that they say is better, but she knows that only this one kind works for her. Then they suggest she get the 8-hour formula of that medicine because it lasts longer than the 4-hour that she wants. She goes on this rant about how it has to be the 4-hour because the 8-hour stops working after six hours, and then you have to go two more hours before you can take more. I feel like shouting, "Preach it, sister! Amen and achoo!"

For me, Benadryl is the one thing that really seems to work to make the allergy symptoms better. The down side is that it knocks me out. I can barely remain conscious when I take it, and I certainly wouldn't try to drive while taking it. I just resort to it when the allergy symptoms are keeping me from being able to sleep or when I'm too miserable to function, anyway, and then I try not to take it too many nights in a row because then I have a hard time falling asleep without it. I've tried the non-drowsy allergy medicines, but they don't work as well for me and they still make me drowsy. I'm less drowsy than with Benadryl, but also less clear of the allergy problems, so I'm not convinced it's a worthwhile trade-off.

Though, come to think of it, there is the possibility that the Benadryl doesn't actually clear up the allergies. It just makes me not care that I have allergies.

My other problem with all the allergy drugs is that they seem to linger in my system, probably because the dosage is set for an average-sized man and I'm a smaller-than-average woman. I don't take even the four-hour Benadryl less than eight hours before I'll need to drive. My other problem with the so-called non-drowsy stuff is that I've only found it in a 12-hour dose. It makes me drowsy enough that I don't feel safe driving when taking it, so I can't take it if there's a chance I might need to drive within the next 18 or so hours. The 12-hour thing also means that I can't take anything else on top of it. I'm trying non-drug interventions, like spicy soup and lots of tea, but I'm at the point of saying to heck with it, I have groceries for a few days and could survive without driving, but I need to work and am not focusing the way I am, so I may as well take something that will help a little and just not drive for a while.

In other news, it's time for a little TV talk! I'm already on record as liking Christopher with Lorelei on The Gilmore Girls, and that was sealed last night. I'm sure I wasn't supposed to agree with the things being said about Luke and Lorelei (how's that for vauging it up to avoid spoiling?), but I felt they were totally on target. Now we just need to find something for Rory to do other than sit around and pine for her boyfriend, and we'll be back on track. I can't believe that this supposedly very bright and incredibly driven young woman who's trying to pad her resume and make up for lost time at school is spending her summer just hanging out at home rather than doing an internship, having a job or taking classes.

But the real TV news from last night was Friday Night Lights. Wow. I may be in love. I tuned in mostly to see Mack Brown's cameo role (Hook 'em!), and it wasn't the kind of thing I thought I'd get into. I didn't get emotionally invested in any one character (unless you count the town itself as a character), but this may be a case of it just being so good I can't help but like it. I'm from a small, football-mad Texas town, and they so totally nailed all the nuances of the culture. I knew these people. It looked like a feature film, and I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I caught myself yelling during the football sequences like I was watching a real game, and yeah, I was bawling by the end of it. And to think, I remember when Peter Berg (the writer/director) played the gonzo orthopaedic surgeon on Chicago Hope. Even then, though, the episodes he wrote or directed did have a real zing to them. They're repeating the pilot tonight and Saturday night, so check it out if you haven't. It may not be for everyone, but it's very well done. I just wish it was in a different time slot because I'm afraid it's going to be killed where it is (and it's a pain to watch where it is). Oh, and Kyle Chandler still plays quiet stress very well, and looks good doing it. :-)

Now we'll see if I can focus long enough on much of anything to get any work done today.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Foggy Ragweed Day

The ragweed levels have been extremely high the past few days, which is really messing with my thought processes. It's not so much the sniffling and sneezing, which haven't been too bad. There's just something about a lot of ragweed in the air that makes me so very tired. My body feels heavier. It's like someone cranked the gravity up a bit higher. Ugh.

I've been avoiding leaving the house, but I needed groceries and I had to go to the post office, so I had to go outside and face the pollen. I love the automated postal centers at the post office because they mean you don't have to wait in line to mail a package, but the down side is that now just about everyone in line has a pretty complicated issue that can't be done through the automated center. They're also doing passports now, which means I always get stuck in line behind at least three people who have to get their pictures taken and fill out all the forms. Just picking up a package took half an hour of waiting. Never mind that I shouldn't have had to go to the post office to pick up the package. I was home all day on the day they supposedly attempted to deliver. They just stuck a note in my box instead of even trying. Grrr. But I now have replenished supplies of Dr Pepper, and I have ingredients to make a spicy vegetable soup for dinner tonight, which may help clear my head, so I'm approaching happiness. I'd be happier if House wasn't off for baseball. I could use some good snark.

I'm still plugging away on the book, and it seems like each chapter needs two passes because at first I'll think it's okay the way it is, and then as I move on to the next chapter I realize that maybe the way things are doesn't fit what I'm trying to do now. But that means it's going to be hard work, and I don't want to change things. And then I realize I really need to, so I go back and do it. I could really save time if I could find a way to cut the whining out of the writing process, but it seems to be essential.

I am just about at the halfway point (or I will be as soon as I rewrite the last chapter I read), so go me!

Yesterday, I got to see the sales catalog page for Damsel Under Stress. That makes it a little more real. The release date will be May 1. I'd thought they were going with last Tuesday in April, but I guess since May 1 falls on a Tuesday, they're doing May 1 for that month's releases. Eventually, I'll figure out how all this publishing stuff works. At least I won't have the confusion as to whether this counts as an April release or a May release. The books are generally released at the end of one month, but considered to be released in the following month, so my April 25 book this year was a May book. Now I'll have a May book released on May 1.

I'm sure when I read that after ragweed levels drop, it will make no sense. The stuff I try to write today should be highly entertaining.

Finally, my Buy a Friend a Book Week guest blog at Trashionista is up today.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Buy a Friend a Book Week

Hey, kids, do you know what this week is? It's Buy a Friend a Book Week, which I think sounds like a splendid concept. The idea is to give a friend a book, for no good reason. It's sort of a literary random acts of kindness thing. It's also a great way to encourage reading. If you've got a friend who isn't all that into books, find something that you think might fit his or her interests, and maybe you'll get them hooked! And then we'll take over the world!!!

Of course, I might have a couple of ideas for good books to give people, but if you're here, you probably already know about those.

I'll be celebrating with Trashionista, one of my favorite chick lit sites. I'll be a guest blogger there sometime this week, and they'll be giving away a signed copy of one of my books. (My only beef with that site is that it's mostly British, which means they're always talking about books by my favorite authors that I won't be able to get for a while. It's so frustratingly tantalizing. And it makes me want to go back to England. Or drink tea.) My blog entry there will be about some of my favorite chick lit books, which could give you book gift ideas. Or you can look in my blog archives for my various book reports.

In other news, if there are any New Yorkers reading this, I'm working with my publisher to try to set up something fun for readers during my visit there at the end of the month. Stay tuned for details if we manage to pull this off.

And now, back to the book, with its shifting timeline and characters who continue to surprise me. I love Owen, but he may be the death of me. Why does he have to be so darned complicated (and hot)? To think, he originally came into existence as nothing more than "good-looking co-worker at new job."

Sunday, October 01, 2006


One of the challenges in writing first-person narration is that you can only tell the stuff your narrator knows. There's no "meanwhile, back at the ranch ..." If something happens when Katie isn't around, someone else has to tell her about it, or she has to figure it out somehow. But I still need to know what's going on elsewhere. The problem I had with earlier drafts of this book was that I didn't really know. I knew the obvious stuff, but I hadn't really delved into what really was happening elsewhere, what was said among those people, and how they felt about it. They just appeared on-stage, so to speak.

The cool new idea I came up with on Friday morning was mostly about getting into the stuff that was happening off-stage and realizing why one character did a particular thing. It seems small, but that's going to end up affecting the rest of the book. I spent most of Friday putting together the timeline, mapping out what was going on elsewhere against the events that are actually in the book so I could figure out what was going on elsewhere and where and how those events would intersect with the story in the book. That gave me all kinds of other ideas that created a great sense of urgency, a real ticking clock situation. Cool!

There was just one problem: the timeline for the events in the book no longer worked. The events in chapters four through seven or so needed to be condensed into fewer days or else the off-stage stuff wouldn't make sense, and it would all lose that sense of urgency because it would require the off-stage characters to lollygag around before joining the events of the book. I spent all day Saturday trying to figure out how to make that work, how I could move events around. Maybe I could add a scene that would give a reason for the delay. Or I could move a scene. But no, that wouldn't work because of the way events flowed together. I gave myself a serious headache thinking about it.

Then just as I was going to bed, I realized that I'd been looking at the wrong part of the book. All it took to make everything fall in line was going back to Chapter Two and changing a "Monday" to "Tuesday" (and then any subsequent references, until I caught up to where I was supposed to be). The Monday/Tuesday thing didn't matter, story-wise, and moving all other events exactly the way they were to one day later made everything else work out. Mom says I'm "Bill and Tedding" when I go back in the book to add something to set up something I've decided to add later in the story, but I think I'm going to call this the "To Say Nothing of the Dog" solution.

For those who haven't read this brilliant book by Connie Willis (go! Read it now!), it gets into chaos theory and time travel, and when the timeline gets seriously messed up, they realize that the chaotic system is "fixing" things by going to places far from where the actual problem is. An outside interference messed things up in Victorian times, so things started changing as far back as in Medieval times in order to make everything work out. So by making a tiny correction to chapter two, I was able to fix the timeline for the middle of the book.

And it worked! Though I ended up changing more than just Monday to Tuesday because I suddenly no longer liked that paragraph. Now I just need to work my way through the book to make these minor adjustments, until I get to the part that needs to really be rewritten.