Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Happy Layoff Day!

We're really having winter here this year. When I opened the front door to get my newspaper this morning, it was snowing! We usually only have wintery precipitation about once a year, if that, and this is our fourth or fifth episode this year. I'm running out of cute sweaters to wear to class.

It just occurred to me that today is a momentous anniversary. Five years ago today, I was laid off from my job. That was part of the chain of events that led to me being where I am today. Five years and maybe a few days or a week or so ago, I first had the idea that grew into my series (I don't know the exact date because at the time I didn't realize that this wacky little idea that popped into my head would end up changing my life, so I didn't make a note of it on my calendar). Three years ago today, I mailed the proposal for what would go on to become Enchanted, Inc. to the agent who would end up selling it for me. I did write that down.

Here's the story: My previous career was in public relations, first for a medical center, and then for some PR agencies, where I worked primarily on technology clients. I sold my first three books while I was working at the medical center, then between the time I submitted a proposal for a fourth book and the time they bought it, I changed jobs to work at the first agency. I sold the fifth book while at that job. Then the dry spell hit. I was still figuring out what to write next when I got a new job, and that job had a lot more responsibility and a lot more travel. I got back into writing, finished a book and got an agent. That book got rejected, but with some very nice comments and requests to see something else. I was trying to write something else, but the day job was driving me insane. I hated the work I was doing (it had a lot to do with my phone phobia -- spending the day calling people is a bad job for someone who hates the phone), I was out of town all the time, and I was exhausted. I finally had a total meltdown and said that I was going to quit. I had enough money in savings to live on for a while and thought I could freelance some, but I wanted to write. Instead of letting me quit, my supervisor worked out a deal with the director to let me work a 3/4 time schedule, enough hours to qualify for benefits, but not full-time, and telecommute. I could do all the technical PR writing for the company and work as a kind of writing coach for the rest of the staff. It was perfect. The next year and a half or so of that job were probably the happiest I'd been in my whole career. Because work came in spurts, and because my part-time salary meant I couldn't work overtime, that meant I usually could take a whole day off each week, or several off at the end of the month. I still traveled quite a bit, but it felt less stressful, and I knew I could take time off at the end of a trip since a business trip usually meant a lot of extra hours. Oddly enough, though, I didn't get much writing done. I was just enjoying living, for a change. I did get the next book finished, and then it was out there for a long time (supposedly) with no response, so I hadn't really started on anything else.

But at about the end of that time, things went downhill. My supervisor went to work in another office, and the person who took her place didn't seem to get me. She was also a bit paranoid and insecure. If you ever read Dilbert, she was basically the "Topper" character. Whenever anyone mentioned a bit of experience from another job that might be useful, she would immediately have to top it. We were discussing going after a client in the health care arena, and I, of course, mentioned the five years I'd worked at a major medical center. She immediately "remembered" having done a big health care project in another job. She did this even to the interns. It was insane. I think she was also a little threatened by me because I was at a level where if I'd wanted the job she had, I probably could have had it. The only saving grace was the office director, who seemed to appreciate what I could do, but then he left. I started planning my escape. Just before the end of 2001 I bought my own laptop so I'd have a good computer if I lost the business one. Then when they announced that the new director would be someone I used to work with at a previous job -- and he was the one person in my whole career with whom I'd ever had a hallway screaming match -- I started saving important files onto disks. I really saw the writing on the wall when I was totally shut out of a meeting to plan the pitch to retain our biggest client. It was during this stressful time that I came up with that wacky story idea one morning when I was dragging myself up the stairs to my home office, and the idea got me excited enough to decide that given everything that was going on, this might be a good time to finally force myself to go freelance. But then the agency lost the biggest client (due partially, as I later learned, to the fact that I wasn't at the meeting), and I was on the chopping block.

So, on January 31, 2002, I got the call to come to the office and turn in my computer, company credit card and office keys. I was a little scared, rather angry about the way it was handled, but oddly elated. Fortunately, I had something to look forward to. I'd been late to the game reading the Harry Potter books. I'd read the first one about a year earlier and had the second two from a trip to England but hadn't read them yet. That year right around the New Year, I'd finally read them, and I'd put my name on the waiting list at the library to get Goblet of Fire. I'd finally got it that week and was planning to spend the weekend reading. Being laid off meant I got to start my reading earlier. I got home from turning in my stuff and being officially laid off, made some tea, and curled up on the chaise lounge to read. I don't know if it was the associations or the catharsis it offered, or what, but that was one of my favorite reading experiences ever. I kept laughing out loud, to the point I had to stop and put the book down for a while, and then when it turned tragic at the end, I bawled. Maybe the book really did make me that sad, or maybe it was just the way I channeled all my emotions. I think I identified with how alone and isolated poor Harry felt without a family because my parents were on a cruise in New Zealand at the time, so on a day when something major had happened to me and when I kind of needed my Mommy, it was the one time in my entire life when I absolutely couldn't reach her. That's still possibly my favorite book in the series, and I'm not entirely sure if it's because of the book or because of all the baggage I brought to reading it at that time.

The day after I got laid off, the huge client my agency had lost, which led to my being laid off, called and hired me as a freelancer, so I had a feeling I'd be okay. I had a couple of tough years, got a lot more rejections and was more or less abandoned by my old agent, but I did write that book, I got a new agent, the book sold, and now look where I am! I think that's cause for celebrating layoff day.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What's Next?

Wow, the day after I post the Korean cover for Enchanted, Inc., I get an offer from that publisher for the Korean rights to Once Upon Stilettos. I can't wait to see what that cover looks like! Now I just need to sell another book in this country, but it would probably help if I'd finish revising that proposal, huh? I'm not quite at the level where they'll send me a contract for another book blindly. I have to at least be able to pretend that I know where I'm going.

And then I have to figure out what comes next for me. The follow-up book to a popular (even if only mildly so) series is always a challenge. I know that as a reader. I have some authors I'd follow anywhere, but I also know of a few cases where it was the particular series I fell in love with, and the characters in that series, and I just wasn't interested in the author's other books. I suppose it's possible that if I'd given them a chance, I might have fallen for those characters, but the topic, subject matter or story line of the other books didn't appeal to me. I know all about wanting more of the same, only maybe a bit different, from a favorite author. And I know that some of you would prefer that I keep writing more and more books in this same series. I'm certainly not planning to end it definitively for good. In fact, I already have a story line for a second series brewing. But I think I can do a better job of writing those books and do a better service to those characters and to my readers to give myself a break and write something else for a while. I have a rather short attention span and need to mix things up. There are also other characters and other stories in my head, fighting to get out. So, I hope that whatever comes next, y'all will give it a chance. I'm trying to do something that will have some of the same appeal while still being a bit different. Don't worry, I have no plans to write an Oprah-esque dead baby book (seriously, did it seem to anyone else that every novel she picked, back when she was doing contemporary novels, had something to do with a dead, dying or missing child?). I can't seem to help being funny and quirky, even when I'm trying to be just the opposite.

Again, I'm afraid I don't have a lot of time to chat today, as I have class this afternoon, have some errands I need to run along the way, and lots of work to get done. Not to mention the fact that House is back tonight. Yay!!! I've missed His Surliness. And I imagine I'll have to make some tweaks to my House essay soon. I'm finishing up revisions on my Firefly essay and trying to avoid thinking about the fact that apparently the Mighty Whedon himself will be reading these (Jane Espenson is the editor of the book, and I already know that she liked my essay -- which is kind of nice validation for a certain theory I've been discussing since 2002, and some of you who've been around me since then or who even "met" me through discussion of that particular theory will know exactly what I'm talking about). By the way, y'all did hear that Joss Whedon is directing an episode of The Office, right? All my worlds are colliding!

Okay, off to lunch and then Target and then music class.

Monday, January 29, 2007

First, Mom said I needed to post a correction/addition. If you are crazy enough to try the horseradish in tomato juice sinus cure, she says you should heat the concoction before drinking -- I do a minute and a half to two minutes in the microwave. It's kind of gross cold, plus the warm liquid has benefits of its own. I usually use V8 juice instead of tomato juice. Maybe I've been influenced by their advertising, but I find I have more energy on days I drink it -- even without the prepared horseradish mixed in. The cure seems to have worked because the horrible pressure and headache are gone. I'm still sleeping with the vaporizer running, taking extra vitamin C and drinking plenty of liquids to hold off any future attacks.

It doesn't help that we seem to be having an actual winter this year. Usually, we just have a few days of really cold weather, but this is a real winter for this part of the world. We may even get more snow/ice/sleet this week. How is it that when I was writing about the Christmas season in New York around this time last year we had such an unseasonably warm winter, yet this year when the book I'm writing takes place in May I get cold weather? It can be hard to stay in the mood, and I have to keep mentally deleting the heavy coats I find myself picturing on my characters. Come to think of it, I have a bad habit of inserting details from my present life into my mental images of what I'm reading or writing. When I had knee surgery more than ten years ago, in every book I read as I recovered, I pictured all the major characters on crutches. I remember reading one scene where the heroine got mad about something and decided to walk home instead of sticking around and waiting for a ride, and I was in tears about how stubborn and brave she was to go all that way on crutches -- and then I realized that the character wasn't actually on crutches. That had just been the way I was picturing her because I was on crutches at the time (and on some really fun painkillers that probably had something to do with it).

Now, in other news, I got copies of Enchanted, Inc. in Korean today. The cover is really cute.

I got next to no work done over the weekend because I was strangely social, getting together with a couple of different groups of friends and catching up by phone with some friends and family. As a result, I'm probably a little more reclusive today and have a lot of extra work to get done. But, possibly thanks to that V8, I've actually been pretty efficient about getting things done. Of course, the really hard, time-consuming stuff is what's left on the to-do list. Little items like "revise a book." There may be some whimpering.

So, speaking of whimpering, it's time to get to work. (Whine, whine, moan) If you're dying for more sparks of brilliance from me today, there's a nice interview with me in the Rose and Thorn Literary E-Zine. That's probably more coherent than anything I can muster at the moment.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I think I'm winning the war of the sinuses. The pressure isn't so bad today after yesterday's regimen of a more humid environment, lots of fluids, peppermint tea and Mom's remedy of horseradish in tomato juice (I find it kind of yucky, but it does work). Now I'm trying to get a few things done before I take advantage of a rare warmish and sunny day to hike up the hill and see Dreamgirls. Exercise and sunshine should be good for me.

So, I'm turning today over to a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit entry. I last featured Jennifer Lynn Barnes when her young adult novel Golden was released. Now she's gone from Yale to Cambridge, where she's doing autism research on a Fulbright Scholarship, and she has a new book out, Tattoo.

About the book:
Bailey Morgan isn't the type of girl who shows a lot of skin, but somehow, she ends up in a dressing room at the mall with her friend Delia applying a temporary tattoo to her lower back. Never one to suffer fashion doubt, trendsetter Delia knows exactly where she wants her own tattoo: on her stomach, right where her shirt ends—can you say "midriff"? Annabelle, the quiet one, chooses the back of her neck, and tomboy Zo plasters hers on the top of her foot. The tattoos will last for three days, and Delia's sure that with them, the four friends will absolutely kill at the school dance.

Unfortunately, killing is just what someone has in mind, and Bailey, Delia, Annabelle, and Zo are in for the battle of their lives. Along with her tattoo, each girl receives a gift—a supernatural power to help them in their fight. As Bailey's increasingly frightening dreams reveal the nature of their enemy, it becomes clear to the girls that it's up to them to save the world. And if they can get Delia to stop using her newfound power to turn gum wrappers into Prada pumps, they might actually stand a chance.

And now the interview:
What inspired this book?
When I first started thinking about this book, I knew I wanted to write about four friends who suddenly aquire supernatural powers, but I wasn't sure how exactly to make that happen. Then, one day, I found this awesome, sparkly, blue-green tattoo in my drawer, and it crossed my mind that it looked like it could have magical powers. My brain connected the dots, and the premise for Tattoo was born. In a large way, though, the book was inspired by my college friends and how much their friendship meant to me- I wanted to write a book about friendship. Given my preferences genre-wise, it just happened to also be a book about adventure, supernatural powers, and saving the world.

Do you have any tattoos yourself?
I don't have any tattoos. Every once in a while, I think about it, but I'm way too much of a wuss to ever go through with it. I've never even dyed my hair!

If you were to get a magical power from something like a tattoo, what power would you like to have?
This question is easy. I'd want the power I gave to Delia in the book- transmogrification. It's the ability to turn one object into another object at will. So if you've got a dirty sock, and you'd rather have a giant diamond or a bowl of ice cream or Brad Pitt, you will it to be so. I'm firmly convinced it's the best power ever.

What are you enjoying most about living and studying in England?
I really enjoy the language here. The accents are wonderful, but I'm endlessly entertained by English vocabulary, and differences between the way I talk and the "proper English" my friends are attempting to teach me.

What do you miss the most about the US?
I really miss having free nights and weekends on my cell phone and being able to talk to all of my friends on a regular basis. When I went home for Christmas break, it was so nice to (a) be in the same (or a close) time zone to everyone else, and (b) be able to call them at will and talk about nothing for as long as I wanted. I also miss the food.

What are you working on now (other than graduate school!)?
Right now, I'm actually working on a sequel to TATTOO. I can't tell you much without giving away the ending of the first book, but I can say that it's due out in Fall of 2008. I'm also in the final stages of revision on a new series called THE SQUAD, which is about a group of teen operatives whose cover is that they're their school's varsity cheerleading squad. After I finish up with these, I'm not sure what I'll do next, but I'd really like to try my hand at science fiction with a chick lit twist, especially if I could find some way to tie it into my area of study.

For more info, check out Jennifer's web site.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Whatever Happened to ...

I have now declared all-out war on my sinuses. I've got the vaporizer going in my room at night and I'm drinking plenty of fluids. On the way to class today, I'm going to pick up some mint herbal tea (I'm running low) and some tomato juice to make Mom's no-fail remedy, which involves horseradish in tomato juice. It kills my stomach, but it totally opens my sinuses. Then on the way home from class, I'm picking up a tub of the hot and sour soup at the neighborhood Chinese place. That stuff also always works (but I think the people who work there think I'm always sick because that's the only time I go there -- still, their soup could get FDA approval as a sinus cure). The annoying thing is that I'm breathing freely. I just want to drill a hole in one side of my face to relieve the pressure.

But enough of that. Today's topic is "whatever happened to ..." As I've been writing a lot lately, that means I've been spending time in my "library" on the loft where my comfortable chair is. When I get sidetracked or stuck, I find myself contemplating my bookcases, and that leads me to thinking about books I've enjoyed whose authors seem to have vanished. I have a lot of these in the science fiction section, as I was in a science fiction book group from 1995 until about 2002. We liked to alternate classics with new authors, and we often picked things by chance or on a whim, just because they sounded interesting. I lately started looking up some of these authors to see if they had anything new, but I've been disappointed that they haven't.

One book that totally blew our minds in the group was The Merro Tree by Katie Waitman. It was weird, trippy and may have been the book responsible for what became one of the group's catchphrases ("kinky alien snake sex"), but it was utterly compelling and fascinating. That book won or was nominated for all kinds of awards, and I think was even considered by Barnes & Noble to be one of the top debuts for that year. I remember looking for more books by that author, but nothing seemed to come up. A little Internet sleuthing revealed that she had one more, but that was still back in the 90s. You can't help but wonder what happened to someone who made such a stunning debut.

Another science fiction writer of the 90s was Patricia Anthony. I sat next to her at a banquet at one of my very first writers conferences soon after she sold her first book (and boy, could she spin a story!). She had a number of books out during the 90s, got great reviews, and was promoted by her publisher as a science fiction author whose work was quite literary. We read Brother Termite in the group, and it was a fascinating twist on the alien invasion story. A quick Internet search doesn't show any publications for her since the 90s.

Then there was James Halperin, who was one of the rare self-publishing success stories. He wrote a book for fun, self-published it because he wanted to share it with people and he didn't really aspire to be an author, then a Random House editor got his hands on it and bought it. The Truth Machine was a critical and commercial hit, and then he followed that up with The First Immortal. He's still out there, but all of his more recent publications are about rare coins (that was always his primary profession). I got to know him a little bit (he's local), and my guess is that he had a couple of stories to tell, but didn't want to make a career out of it. But boy, does he have an imagination.

One that wasn't from our book group but who I also read and enjoyed in the 90s is fantasy author Mary Brown. I first read Pigs Don't Fly (But Dragons Do), then went back and found The Unlikely Ones. I was in the middle of reading that book when I met her editor at a conference and gushed in a rather embarrassingly fangirly way. There was a sequel to Pigs Don't Fly, and an Amazon search reveals that there was one more book I've never seen, but otherwise, her latest publication was an omnibus edition of her earlier books.

I really hate to see people disappear, both as a reader and as a writer. As a reader, I want more good stuff from people whose work I've enjoyed. As a writer, it fills me with dread and terror to think that I could just as easily vanish. Will people ten years from now be wondering what happened to me? "Yeah, she had this cute little series, but I haven't seen anything after that."

But enough about books you can't find anymore. Here's one you can -- well, starting next week: Protector of the Flight, by Robin D. Owens, the latest Out of the Blogosphere entry.

If horses could fly...

Then Calli Torcher might ride again. But a devastating accident left her in such pain, she thought the chimes and chanting in her ears were a hallucination...until she found herself transported to another world, and met the Lladranans who had Summoned her.

Lladrana was a parallel, magical earth filled with exotic creatures, noble humans and magic– all threatened by an encroaching evil.

And when the mighty volarans stopped obeying the Chevaliers, the flying horses' unexpected rebellion had thrown Lladrana into an uproar. In desperation, the sorcerers had sought help from afar - and gotten Calli. If she could fulfill this mission perhaps she would also finally find all she had longed for – a mate, a home, a family. But against this great darkness she had no battle experience, no strategy plans. She had only a bond with horses...

For more info and an excerpt, visit Robin's web site.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hibernation Tendencies

You know, when I decided this was the best month for writing, I forgot about the hibernation factor. Yeah, there's not much to do and you don't really want to go outside, but that means it's also way too tempting to stay in bed and not get up to get any work done. I guess if you have a regular job and are writing on the side, you have to get up anyway. But if you don't have schedule constraints, it's very easy for the work day -- or the awake part of the day -- to keep getting shorter. But I have deadlines, so I will keep on plugging even if all I want to do is curl up under the covers and daydream.

I don't know how I'd fare in my own writing month. So far, I've got about 30,000 words of a novel done, plus I'm about halfway through a revision draft on another novel. And I'm doing some rewriting on the first three chapters of the book I'm writing so it can be submitted. I'm sure all that would add up to the equivalent of 50,000 words by next week. This kind of multitasking is new to me, and I kind of like it. It's nice to have a change of pace to spread out the work.

For those in the Chicago area, I'll be on a few panels at Capricon next month, and there will be a room party Saturday night based on my books. I'm really excited about that, and quite flattered. If you're there, come by and have a potion.

But first, I have work that must be done, no matter how much today feels like a good day for napping and reading. Gee, you know my brain must be out of commission if this is all I can think of to say instead of my usual novel-length posts.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Minor Ranting

Yet another day has escaped from me, but I had class this afternoon, which disrupted my flow (and probably only replaced goofing off time, to be honest). I'm finding the sequence of stoplights between my house and the campus to be fascinating and infuriating. The campus is on the same main road that I live just off of. It's about six or seven miles away, and there are something like 16 stoplights along the way (depending on which campus entrance I use). These lights aren't at all synchronized, so it is possible to hit almost all of them on red even when driving exactly at speed limit (a lot are at entrances to major corporation campuses, so they're on sensor triggers). Six of those lights are at access roads for the three major highways I have to cross. Even those aren't synchronized, so you can quite often have to stop at lights on either side of the highway. Under average conditions, it's about a fifteen-minute drive, and then there's time for parking and then walking to the classroom. If I leave 25 minutes before class, I will hit almost all of those lights on green and end up being very early to class. If I'm running late and leave 20 minutes before class, I will hit almost every one of those lights on red and barely make it on time.

I'm still plowing through revisions on book 4 and revising the proposal for book 5, and I'm making decent progress, I think. I'm hoping to be really productive tomorrow, since I have no major distractions or interruptions.

I'm always amazed when I confess my phone phobia to hear how many people share it. Too bad we can't spread it to all those people who never get off their cell phones, even in public places. There are people I get in line behind at Target about whose lives I know more than I really want to -- probably more than I know about many of my friends. Those are the people I say are using high-tech binkies -- the cell phone as a sort of adult pacifier. They aren't really talking about anything, but having that conversation going is somehow soothing and takes them out of their current circumstances. I'm more of a live in the moment type, so that annoys me because it disrupts the moment I'm trying to live in when I have to listen to someone yammer on like that to thin air.

And now that I've ranted about traffic lights and annoying cell phone users, it's time to get to work.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Random Things About Me

I did something wild and crazy and essentially took the weekend off, so now I'm having a hard time getting back into the swing of things. It doesn't help that I overslept this morning. Not overslept in the sense of being late, but overslept in the sense of sleeping too much. I went to bed pretty early last night because I just couldn't keep my eyes open, even to read (of course, there it didn't help that I'd reached the point in the book where the main character was insisting on acting like a complete idiot by loudly making a faux noble sacrifice, all while the other character kept insisting she didn't have to because if she'd shut up and listen for one second instead of interrupting him to loudly proclaim about the sacrifice she was making, he could tell her that he had new information that made her noble sacrifice unnecessary -- ugh!). Then I still slept almost as late as I would have if I'd gone to bed at the usual time. As a result, I have this weird sleep hangover where I'm still rather groggy and have a headache.

I have some revisions to make on my book 5 proposal, based on my agent's comments. It's so hard to write a good synopsis when I know that I'll pretty much be making up the big, climactic stuff as I go. My agent kept asking "how?" type questions to which the only real answer is "I'll figure it out when I get there, but I can't know until I see what happens before then -- or meet all the people I'll meet before then."

I'm kind of whimpering about the amount of work I need to get done in the next week or so. And yet, because of the grogginess and lack of focus, how did I spend the early afternoon? Catching up on the Battlestar Galactica video blogs on the Sci Fi web site. Argh.

Out of sheer laziness and inability to focus, I'm going to punt and play with that "list 10 little known facts about yourself" thing that's been going around, only I'm not tagging anyone. Do it if you feel like it.

1. I have a minor obsession with crossword puzzles. It's my mom's fault. Apparently, her doctor mentioned something about it a few years ago as a way to maintain mental acuity, and when she was doing them, I started doing them. Then she found them frustrating and switched to Sudoku, which I totally don't get, and I'm the one still nuts about crosswords. I even make up my own games with them, especially early in the week when the New York Times puzzles are too easy. I find one clue to solve, and then can only fill in words that spring off that one, and so forth, and have to solve the whole puzzle building off that one word. Or I try to do as much as possible of a puzzle in my head without writing anything down. I love/hate the Saturday NYT puzzle because it has more to do with trivia and knowledge than it does with logic. Sometimes it's really hard, but when I can solve it, I feel really good. The Sunday puzzles are supposed to be hard, but they're more just seeing patterns and logic, and those are usually pretty easy for me.

2. I'm not a big fan of sandwiches. There are a lot of things that I like perfectly well, but the thought of putting them together between two slices of bread grosses me out. I'm also not crazy about salads for the same reason, but with "mixed together with lettuce or mayonnaise" instead of "between two slices of bread" as the reason. However, I love soup, with all sorts of things mixed together in broth or stock. Go figure.

3. I know I write about my characters drinking coffee all the time, but I don't drink coffee myself. I love the smell of it, but it doesn't taste like it smells, and that's so disappointing. If I'm in a desperate-for-caffeine situation with no tea available, I can sort of tolerate coffee with enough milk and sugar in it, and preferably with a bit of vanilla -- in other words, with enough stuff in it so it no longer tastes like coffee.

4. I can't eat raw onions -- don't like them and they give me terrible heartburn -- but love cooked onions if they're cooked enough to get really soft or caramelized. As a result, I've been known to go to a Dairy Queen and order a burger with no onions, with a side of onion rings. The counter clerks always give me a funny look, but it's different, I swear! I also don't like onions as a pizza topping but put lots of onions in when I make pizza sauce, for the same reason. As a topping, they don't cook enough to be good.

5. I hate the telephone. Loathe it. It has to be a pretty urgent situation for me to call someone because I'm always sure that I'm interrupting them at a bad time, and I'm not too crazy about being called except by certain people at certain times. I have a cell phone that I probably pay too much for, considering I might use it once a month. E-mail, to me, is the best invention ever because it allows me to communicate with people in semi-real time without having to talk on the phone, which usually causes heart palpitations and sweaty palms if I'm the one doing the dialing.

6. I have an edited-for-television vocabulary. In fact, I don't think I've ever said a word that can't be said on prime-time network television, and I don't see that changing, since the longer I go without saying certain words, the harder it is to even imagine saying them. Plus, I have a very literal mind and tend to get very vivid mental pictures of the literal meanings of some of the things that get said, and most of those are funny rather than tough, so it ruins it entirely. I have all sorts of fun euphemisms, though (the fun of watching science fiction TV: they make up their own curse words!). So, yeah, my books are sometimes criticized as being squeaky clean, but I have a certain mental block there. I guess I'd better never create a character who swears like a sailor or I'll be in big trouble. I'd have to make up a cursing vocabulary.

7. I went through a phase of really, really wanting to be an actress. But I imagine I would have been somewhat hampered by the not-swearing thing (which would limit roles) and by the horrendous stage fright for anything musical. I was taking acting classes and was even in a show, and then I met my first editor and wrote my first book and decided I liked the writing thing better.

8. This is going to sound really odd, given my documented fondness for Barry Manilow, classical music and show tunes, but I love 1980s hair band heavy metal. I own CDs by the Scorpions and Queensryche. Seriously. But when you listen to it, some of that is pretty operatic, so not that far removed from show tunes. Operation Mindcrime is essentially a musical.

9. I'm really good at talking to men in a friendly way, but I can't flirt to save my life. The way I seem to indicate romantic interest is by panicking and getting shy. That's not very effective.

10. With all this talk about stage fright, shyness, fear of the phone, etc., I sound like a big scaredy cat, but I have my moments of boldness. I do stuff like traveling alone to foreign countries, walking in big cities alone at night, lots and lots of public speaking, letting tens of thousands of people read stuff that I write, and I've never been susceptible to peer pressure because I was never afraid of what the other kids would think or say about me.

So, there you are, all sorts of insight into my psyche. Now I need caffeine so I can work.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sanity Check

Today's writing tip: Be sane.
As usual, that's me giving advice to myself. I've developed what I'm calling a coldlet. It's not a full-fledged cold, just enough to be annoying: Mild sniffles, mild cough, mild stuffiness, mild shivers (though that could be because it's cold). I broke down and took a decongestant yesterday because I had to sing for the music teacher and my sinuses felt all gunked up, and that gave me a couple of hours of clear breathing that was then followed by hours of even worse sniffles, jitteriness and then exhaustion (seriously, I don't get how or why people cook that stuff up into something even more concentrated and then take it for fun). I got all the editing/revision done I needed to do for the day on book 4, but then later in the evening when I was going to make myself write my daily chapter of book 5, I found myself just staring at the screen and drifting off to sleep. I was beating myself up over the fact that I just couldn't bring myself to write.

And then I remembered that, hello, I'm not on a deadline here. The proposal hasn't even been submitted to the editor yet (though my agent said the synopsis was brilliant). So why was I killing myself over working on a book that isn't even sold? If you're trying to sell a book, then yeah, you need to work on it and finish it, but if your deadline is self-inflicted, don't go crazy with it. If you really and truly need to give yourself a break to rest or be human, then do. So, I went to bed quite early last night, which meant I got up at a reasonable hour this morning. I'll continue my editing this afternoon, but it may be an evening for curling up under a blanket, drinking hot liquids, and reading or watching movies. Fighting off the coldlet is probably more important than finishing a book that hasn't even sold yet.

As for the music class, yesterday I had to meet with the teacher before class to sing up and down some scales to give her a sense of my range. Even doing that much got me all hyper and shaky. But eventually I calmed down enough to do it. I had the fact that I'm a soprano verified, and apparently I have a pretty big range (she kept going higher and higher on the scales and raising an eyebrow when I hit the note). Then she assigned me two very Baroque pieces full of trills and flourishes, one in Italian. So yeah, I get to attempt to overcome my stage fright by singing an opera aria in Italian in front of people. As I said, kill or cure. Actually, I think learning this music will be fun. Maybe if I get my work done in time this afternoon I'll get out my flute and start figuring out the notes.

Meanwhile, we're starting to plan the publicity for Damsel Under Stress. I get a very small regional book tour this time around. It will probably be just as glamorous (not) as my previous "book tours" but with the publisher footing the bill. I'll still probably be infringing on friends' and relatives' guest rooms as much as possible to spread the budget as far as possible. The problem with Texas is that it's so big, it takes hours to get from one place to another. It's not like you could do a signing in one city in the morning and make it to another city for that afternoon. That means lots of time in the Saturn (or whatever I'm driving by then).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Galloping Gourmet Ruts

Today's another school day, and while it's above freezing, it's rainy, so I'm really having second thoughts about all this committing to leave the house twice a week stuff. Plus, I have to go in early today to meet with the teacher and sing for her so she can figure out what to assign me. But it is good for me, and I do need this.

I actually stuck to my schedule yesterday, so I'm on track with all the stuff I have to get done. I may survive. And, wouldn't you know, offers for freelance work always seem to roll in when I'm swamped beyond belief. In a way, it feels good to be in a position to turn work down, but there's a part of me that worries because if I don't get another contract, I'm really going to need that work.

My former editor may have abandoned me to go to another publisher, but she's still the greatest. She apparently occasionally checks in here and saw all my gushing about Love Walked In, my favorite book of last year. It turns out that the book is published by the imprint where she works now, so she sent me a copy (I'd checked it out of the library and was going to buy a keeper). So, I just figured I'd plug it again as a way of saying thanks. :-) I'm looking forward to re-reading it when I next have spare time. I'm scheduling some for December.

Some of you may remember last fall's Galloping Gourmet phase, in which I became mildly addicted to the Food Network and started shopping at the farmer's market grocery store. Some of that has faded, but out of that phase I got a few new recipes. I'd been in a bit of a cooking rut, where I was eating pretty much the same things over and over again. With the new recipes, you'd think I'd have a little more variety, but instead it seems like I've created new ruts. I've had so much fun cooking the new things I've learned to make that I've started living on those foods. There's the vegetable soup I got from a Rachael Ray show. I seem to make that every couple of weeks (it makes enough to last a couple of weeks). That got me bold enough to try making other homemade soups, so I've improvised my own chicken noodle and beef with barley soups, so I haven't bought canned soup in ages. I also got a recipe for a corn chowder out of a newspaper article, and that's become my new favorite comfort food, even replacing macaroni and cheese. Then I learned to make risotto, which I love. I've also been playing with the rustic French bread recipe in Joy of Cooking. That one is a bit of a challenge. It takes more than a day to make bread that way, because you make the starter the night before, and then when you make the dough in the morning it has to rise for almost six hours, and then you make the loaves, and they have to rise for a couple of hours. There's some real technique to shaping free-form loaves that hold their shape, so I'm still practicing to get something that looks as good as it tastes. I also need to work on my technique for using a baker's peel to transfer a loaf to a baking stone in the oven. It didn't work very well the last time, so I may just do it the easy way and shape the loaf on a pan instead of using the stone. The bread is really good, though. It's like what you get in European bakeries, and it goes perfectly with all that soup I've been making.

Now I just need to learn to bring back some of my older favorites mixed in with the new favorites for more variety. I'm as bad as a toddler with food jags, where I can go for days perfectly content to keep eating the same thing over and over again.

Speaking of food, I have to go get some lunch before I head to class.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cure or Kill

Supposedly, the wintery weather was gone and the next wave was going to the south of us. Then I looked out the window when I got up this morning, and everything was dusted with snow. It wasn't heavy snow, but there was ice under it, and almost all the schools around here are closed. There's been the occasional flurry that I can see, and there must sometimes be something falling that's substantial enough to make noise on the skylight while not being readily visible when I look out the window.

I may have got more than I bargained for with that music class. It's going to be work. As in, the teacher expects about 45 minutes of practice a day. I think it will either cure the stage fright/phobia or kill me in the process. It's basically the equivalent of getting over your fear of spiders by having yourself locked in a box with a lot of them -- you either get used to them and no longer fear them or you become truly terrified of them. There will be a lot of solo performing in front of the class. I know that I really need this, and deep down inside I kind of want it, but I will admit to being tempted to drop it and say never mind because I am terribly, terribly busy right now and don't have the time to put in that much work. I will have to remind myself that I'm not taking the class for a grade, so I don't have to get all diligent and competitive. I'm pretty type-B for almost everything in my life, but when it comes to anything resembling school, I get all type-A+++ all over again. When I was in school, I was basically Hermione Granger without the magical powers and British accent.

And I am busy. I figured out last night that if I can edit a chapter a day of book 4 and write 20 pages a day of book 5, I'll finish work on book 4 well ahead of the deadline and finish a rough draft of book 5 on my self-imposed deadline. Meanwhile, I have books to judge for the Romance Writers of America Rita award, which means reading six books by March. That should not be an issue, as I usually read at least one book a week, and I'll be traveling in February. I can generally read one book on the flight up to Chicago and another book on the flight home, so that gets at least two out of the way there. To that, add 45 minutes a day of singing -- though I pick up music really fast, so I might be able to do less. Generally, I can sing something through a couple of times and have it memorized. And, just to remind myself, I'm not getting a grade or credit for this class. It's a junior college and I already have a four-year degree. I'm not planning to go into any field for which I'd need credit for taking a music class. This is for fun and to broaden my horizons. I may have to cross-stitch that on a throw pillow to keep that thought in mind.

Thanks for the input on digital cameras. If it ever thaws to the point I'm willing to be out of the house, I'll have to go shopping around. Now, for another question to throw out there: if you were going to have or go to a theme party based on the world of my books, what do you think some appropriate drinks, food, activities and decor would be?

I guess I'd better get to work on all those daily tasks. The cold may work in my favor because it's the kind of day when I want to stay huddled in blankets and doing nothing but working or reading.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Project Get a Life Starts

Today I start the first actual, concrete step in Project Get a Life: that music class at the community college. And I'm already sort of regretting it because it's cold and I don't want to go outside. But I have to mail some stuff, which means I'd have to go out anyway, so I might as well drag my body out to be around people.

It warmed up to just above freezing for a while yesterday, so all the ice started melting, and then it froze again, which created some really interesting icicles. The roof of my house is very steep, and it's those half-cylinder red clay tiles, so the water had definite channels to run in on its way down the roof. As a result, the icicles on the eaves were perfectly spaced. I also had some freaky icicles on the holly bushes in front. The leaves had all been perfectly coated with ice, so you couldn't tell the ice was there unless you touched them. The ice had barely started melting when it re-froze, and now the bush is covered in tiny icicles. I took some pictures, but I still have a few more pictures on that roll, so it may be a while before I get it developed.

Speaking of which, I'm thinking of getting a digital camera. I'll probably continue using film for major travel photography and more arty stuff, but digital would be handy for quick snapshots to post online. I could get up photos of things like booksignings and conventions within a year or so instead of having to wait until I finished a roll of film (I can take eight rolls on a vacation, but for day-to-day life, I never think of using my camera). I wouldn't need anything too fancy or high-res. Probably some optical zoom to help frame shots, and it would need to be a camera that could work with my iBook. Does anyone have suggestions for a kind of camera or features, etc., to look for or beware of?

I found out that I don't have to have the book 4 revisions done until March, so I can relax a little. I think I will attempt multitasking because having more of the potential book 5 written will give me a new perspective on book 4.

And now I have to go get ready for the first day of school.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Keeping a Calendar

The ice storm turned out not to be quite as dire as was predicted. It rained so hard that it pulled down some of the warmer air from a layer above the cold air that it warmed things up to just above freezing. It didn't go below freezing for a long period of time until most of the rain had stopped. Whatever was already on the ground froze and is still frozen because it's still below freezing. I never lost power, so I didn't need the Duraflame log, anyway. I'm thinking of getting a non-electric fondue pot as a contingency plan in case I do lose power. When you don't have heat, the last thing you want to eat is cold food, and I could at least heat soup that way (there's no gas in this particular area -- it's all-electric). The neighborhood roads seem clear, but there are still problems on highway overpasses and bridges. Not that I plan to leave the house today. It's colder than it was over the weekend and I have no urgent need to be out and about. I think my driveway is still iced over, too. When it rains, most of the water seems to pool right behind my garage, which means I'd have to back out onto a skating rink.

It was a perfect reading weekend. I finally read the new Dick Francis mystery. There had been talk about whether or not he'd be able to write after his wife's death, but this one was just as good as his older books. I still love his characters. There's also something about his books that makes them kind of addictive. You can't read just one. If I read one of his books, I'll then develop a taste for that kind of thing, and that's all I'll want to read for a while. So now I'm re-reading his previous book. It's been long enough since I read it that I've almost completely forgotten it. Of course, I'm sure it will all come back to me just when it becomes most suspenseful.

But now I have to get back to work. Saturday, the ringing doorbell dragged me out of my warm bed when the FedEx guy showed up with my editor's revision notes on book 4. The big, bubble-wrap package spent the weekend blocking drafts from the lower corner of the front door, but today I shall have to open it and see how much work I have to do and how soon I have to do it.

I am now one-fourth of the way through the potential book five, and here's my writing tip of the day: Use a calendar to chart events in your book. Even if you don't specify within the story exactly what year the book is taking place or exactly which dates are involved, the calendar helps a lot with internal consistency. A lot of software is available for printing a blank calendar page for almost any month of any year (I've been using iCal since I don't use it for my personal calendar and that means it's not full of appointments). Then, as you plot or as you write, make a note in the appropriate calendar square. That helps you orient yourself in time so you don't do crazy things like have two weeks in a row without a weekend showing up and so you can refer to events earlier in the book as "two weeks ago" or whatever at a glance. I know of some people who even find out things like phases of the moon and put that in there so that they don't have two full moons in too short a space of time, but so far I don't think I've mentioned moonlight.

You'd think by this time I'd have learned to do this from the start because it would save me a lot of trouble. I didn't start the calendar until midway through book 4 -- and then realized that I'd written too many consecutive days without a weekend showing up. Oops. This time, it turned out that I was later in time than I realized, and an event that I had pegged to a specific date and had planned to happen in a later chapter actually needed to go earlier because I'd passed that date. Oops again. And guess which chapter now needs to be rewritten? Yep, The Dreaded Chapter Five. There's something I wrote in chapter five that will be moved to chapter six or later, and then I need to write the date-specific event in chapter five. I don't know what it is about that chapter.

I also need to learn to file these calendars where I stand a chance of finding them again because they come in really handy when a copy editor questions the timeline -- or when I start revising and doing the kind of major surgery where I accidentally cut an entire day instead of just a scene that takes place that day (I need to know to change the transition to the next scene to something like "a couple of days later" instead of "the next day"). I had to recreate the book 3 calendar from a previous version of the book before all the hacking and slashing so I could see how the timeline was supposed to work when I got to copy edits because I couldn't find that calendar. It's probably under a pile on my desk and I'll find it by the time the book is published.

So now I guess I have to go downstairs and find something else to block the draft (new weatherstripping will have to wait until it gets warm enough to have the door open for a few minutes) so I can read over what my editor said about the book. I don't know why I get all anxious and reluctant about that because she's already said she loves it. We'll see if I have to put the potential book 5 on the back burner until this is done or if it's just a little work and I can do some of both each day. And we'll see if my all-or-nothing brain can handle that kind of multitasking.

Friday, January 12, 2007


My word for the day yesterday was "thwarted." I really like that word. Its sound and feel really seem to fit the meaning. It wasn't really a bad day. It was just one of those days when lots of little annoying roadblocks seemed to spring up to keep me from doing the things I wanted to do. That's actually good writing structure, where you start with your character's goal for the scene, and then each attempt to achieve the goal is thwarted so that the character has to keep trying other things to reach the goal until finally reaching it or else changing it. (And, to be honest, I never seem to be able to do that consciously when I'm writing.)

My first thwarting came from an odd bit of correspondence. At a convention last fall, the bookseller who has a booth at most conventions asked me if I'd be going to a particular local one that's coming up. He tends to sell a lot of my books when I appear, so he wanted to be ready (and he wanted to sell books, I'm sure). I'd attended that convention a couple of years ago and, frankly, wasn't overly impressed, but I told him I'd check into it. So, I contacted the convention using the e-mail address they posted for contacting them. I was very clear in the subject line what the message was about, and mentioned in the message that it was the bookseller who suggested I get in touch with them about maybe being on some panels. I included my credentials (a series with a major publisher, plus participation in genre-related anthologies, as well as a list of places where I'd spoken). I got no response until this week, when they contacted me to say that they'd only just then found my message in their spam folder and was I still interested. I said I was. Then yesterday, they e-mailed me to say that it was really too late and all the panels were full, but that if I was attending I should say hi and they might put me on the invitation list for next year.

My response was "huh?" They made it sound like it was my fault for sending a message that went into their spam folder. But I'd been very careful to make it something that even if it did get into a spam folder (real messages get caught in mine all the time), it would be obvious from the subject line what it was about. I could understand it being my problem if the subject was something like "Hi!" And if you're trying to run an event or a business, you check the spam folder for the only contact address given out pretty regularly, or you risk missing out on stuff (I get in the neighborhood of 200 spam a day, and I check that folder every other day or so for anything obvious I've missed.). And then it's really bad PR to tell someone who was volunteering to participate at your event that it's too late when you were the one who lost the message for more than a month. I restrained the Irish temper and didn't write a response saying so, and I'm restraining the slow-burn Norse temper (boy, did I get the best of both worlds, or what?) that makes me tempted to name names and undermine their reputation in the future with everyone I encounter in the industry (PR skills can be used for good or evil). Instead, my grand plan is to become so successful and famous that in the future they will beg me to participate in their event, and I will then lose their message in my spam filter. I'm sure this year they're really going to suffer from both of my local fans not coming just to see me. (Though, to be honest, I really didn't want to do this all that badly and was only looking into it for that bookseller. I hate committing to things at this time of year because I usually just want to hibernate, especially if there's a risk that the weather could be bad. It's the principle of the thing and the rudeness and lack of professionalism that bugs me. I wouldn't have been irritated if they'd responded right away back in November to say they already had all the guests they needed. It was losing the message and then saying they couldn't work with me because they didn't get it in time that made me feel thwarted.)

So then, while I was still seething, I headed out on some errands. The main reason I went to Target was to get some Duraflame logs because of the ice storm that's supposedly on the way. It turned out that they no longer sell single logs (I know they used to because that's where I bought the one I have). You have to buy them by the case. I don't need a case and don't have room to store a case. I also didn't want to have to go to yet another store. I couldn't tell if they no longer carry single logs at all, or if this was just yet another case of the retail idiocy that declares winter over after Christmas so that their supply of winter goods starts being depleted in January, even though the worst part of winter is still coming. But in the retail world, it's spring already! And for once, the checker didn't ask me if I found everything okay, and I was even ready to say something instead of smiling and nodding. I might have if it were one of my usual favorite adult cashiers, but I doubted the teenage girl I got would care or bother to do anything.

By this time, I had a low-grade thwarted rumble on simmer, so I headed to the bookstore. I had a list of things I wanted to look for and a gift card. And would you believe, the store didn't have a single book from my list -- not even the new release featured in the B&N e-mail newsletter that had a coupon for that book? All of the books I wanted were released in the last two to three weeks, all of them were by reasonably established or prominent authors, and, as I said, one of them was even in the newsletter telling me to go buy it at their store. I looked all over the store, in multiple sections and on the front tables, which are still full of puzzle books. They also still didn't have any copies of any of my books. I'm starting to get worried about the fact that book 4 will be a January release next year. I think a paranoid e-mail to my agent may be in order.

I calmed down when I got home by straightening up my garage, putting up some shelves and moving my Christmas stuff out there. And then I wrote a chapter, but did not use the word "thwarted." Also, The Office last night totally rocked. Maybe I can fit "thwarted" into today's writing.

Now that I'm through ranting, I've got a new Out of the Blogosphere book to mention (but good luck finding it at my neighborhood bookstore. Grrrr), Jaci Burton's Surviving Demon Island.

What's America's top female action star doing on a tropical island shrouded in secrecy? To Gina Bliss, competing in a survival-type reality show is a nice change from fending off on-screen villains. Until she meets real-life action hero Derek Marks. A survival specialist in a tight black T and sexy stubble, he's arousing every bad-boy fantasy she's ever had...and testing her survival skills to the max. Martial arts, jungle warfare - Derek's done it all. But his latest mission is more dangerous than a stick of dynamite. Try telling that to the sexy, adrenaline-pumped actress who's got his libido racing off the charts. As the heat rises between them and real-life violence erupts, suddenly Derek and Gina are on the run...and when they uncover a secret so explosive it could blow the lid of their so-called reality show, these two unlikely heroes are about to discover what surviving's really about....

For info and an excerpt, visit Jaci's web site.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Melissa Senate

The proposal for the new books is now with my agent. That means that everything I've been working on is now in someone else's court. That also means that I've got a lot of stuff looming that could come back to my court at any moment -- my editor's revision notes on book four, my agent's suggestions on the proposal and some revision suggestions on my pop culture essays. The way things tend to go, I will get all of the above simultaneously.

In the meantime, this could be a good day for a trip to the bookstore because today's Girlfriends Cyber Circuit entry sounds like exactly what I need. It's the latest from Melissa Senate (probably the person I've known longest in the publishing world), a fun mystery called Love You to Death.

Abby Foote’s worst exes are on someone’s hit list. Who’s going around shooting men who broke Abby’s heart? And why?

First, a former boyfriend (who dumped Abby in the most humiliating way possible) is found murdered the day his engagement is announced. Then two other exes report attempts made on their lives right after breaking up with her. Coincidence? A very hot detective from the Portland Police Department doesn’t think so. Neither do Abby’s friends, family, coworkers and former boyfriends dating back to kindergarten, who are all shaking in their shoes as though the Abby they know and supposedly love to death is capable of, say, poisoning their Diet Cokes. Is someone trying to frame her? Do her some kind of warped favor? Abby, with that delicious detective on her trail, is about to find out.

Now, the interview about the book:

What inspired this book?
Wishful thinking? Just kidding! It's interesting to me that this is my first book that came to me in an idea from out of the blue; one day I just jotted down: "Ex-boyfriends on someone's hit list" in my Idea Book and it grabbed me instantly. Just seemed so much fun (in a black comedy way, of course!). LOVE YOU TO DEATH is fun and lighthearted, but the story ISN'T a black comedy at all; Abby, the main character, is quite affected by her breakups. She really seeks to understand WHY her relationships--in which she, at least, was so invested--didn't work out. And didn't work out in a big way: some of these guys were such jerks about the way they ended things. Someone in her life didn't like that at all. Everyone thinks that someone is Abby, which affects her in a whole other way. How well do you know the people in your life? Your own relatives? Your friends? Your coworkers. Who'd vouch for you without blinking an eye? Who'd give the police an earful about you? What started as a "cute" idea for me ended up taking me to some big questions. Love that about writing!

Most of your previous books were set in New York, and now this one's in Maine. How did the change of setting affect your writing, the tone of the book and your characters?
I loved setting this book in Maine. It's funny that 99% of the people I know and meet are transplants like I am, at least in my area of the state. And pretty much everyone I know and meet could very well have lived next door to me in the Manhattan skyscraper I moved from. So this book didn't feel very different to me than my others in terms of the characters and their outlooks, their language, how they dress. I don't even think I put anyone in a fleece pullover! I did have fun setting the first chapter in LL Bean's, which is located one town over from mine. A giant (like 20 feet tall) duck boot greets you at the front door.

Is there anything personal about the idea of killing off exes (and is your killer available for contract work?)? ;-)
LOL! The idea just seemed so...funny! I do have a few awful ex-boyfriends in my past. But I've never wished, say, that a television would fall out a window onto their heads or anything. Not really.

What was different for you between writing chick lit and writing mystery?
LOVE YOU TO DEATH is chick lit first and foremost with a lighthearted mystery as the plot. I loved planning the mystery, turning my heroine into an amateur sleuth. I'd love to do it again.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on my next novel, which will be published in the summer of 08. It's about twin sisters, an intervention (from a bleh engagement) and a long road trip. Right now we're making our way to the Grand Canyon on a donkey. Isn't traveling through your characters great?

For more info, check out Melissa's web site.

Now I'm off to the bank, Target and the bookstore. We're getting an arctic front this weekend (supposedly) and I think I ought to get some firewood in case the power goes out. And some hot cocoa mix. And something to read (in case the 200 or more books in the to-be-read pile aren't enough).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Writing Month Update

First, a little housekeeping: In spite of my good intentions, I haven't started responding to people who e-mailed writing goals. That may start tomorrow because I'll get a bunch of stuff off my plate today and can take some time to catch up. Really, those only matter at the end of the month when I check against your final progress report.

This is all on the honor system. If you tell me you met your goal, I'll believe you (and if you lie, you'll just burn in hell -- the special one where child molesters and people who talk in the theater go -- or else karma will work against you and you won't win the drawing). You don't have to send me anything other than an accounting of what you accomplished. I can't even read all my e-mail in a timely manner. I certainly can't read lots of writing stuff. So, I will not see what you wrote.

For additional motivation and tips, my friend Candace Havens (author of Charmed and Dangerous is doing an online "Fast Draft" workshop starting this week. It's all about how to write a first draft in two weeks. For info, go here. I thought about signing up for that myself, but my e-mail is already out of control, so I don't think I should add yet another e-mail list to my life.

In fact, I'm currently taking an online course on trauma medicine for writers -- not doing trauma medicine, but writing about it. No, this is not a hint about anything I have in the works in my series (unless I get inspired). I've just been frustrated by most of the medical resources available for writers. They all seem to be along the lines of "if this happens, the person should get to the hospital as soon as possible, where doctors will do such and such." Well, if you can get to the hospital right away, that takes all the fun out of it. What if you're stranded on a mountaintop and the only way down is being guarded by angry dragons? When I worked at the medical school, I'd sometimes go down to the library to look things up, but then those books were all about what to do in the hospital and really weren't about how the patient would progress if you didn't treat him (though, from what I heard about the crowds in the ER there, that might have been handy knowledge).

When I post this, I'm going to take one more pass at my proposal and then send it off to my agent. Mom liked it, and now it appears I'm obligated to write the rest of the book even if it doesn't sell because it's cruel to leave your mother in suspense. Cross your fingers, pray, light candles, sacrifice some chocolate, or do whatever you do to influence the powers that be so I will actually earn some money for writing this book (and so the rest of you will get to read it, too).

My schedule for this year is starting to get full. I'll be going to Capricon in Chicago next month. I may be speaking but don't have the final word on that. Most important is that I get to hang with my Chicago friends and see my brother. Lois McMaster Bujold is the guest of honor, so I'll be in shivering fangirl dork mode, I'm sure. I also got brave and signed up for a voice class at the community college. That means I'll be forced to leave the house twice a week, and being in a class setting may force me to get over my weird phobia about singing in front of people. It's a regular class that I'm taking on a non-credit basis, so it meets during the day. That probably means the students will all be either real students who plan to major in music or retirees, maybe some stay-at-home moms. The real students mean there will be some intimidation factor.

So, now, work, I guess, huh? I got a very slow start to the day, even though I went to bed reasonably early (for me) last night, and I'm still not feeling fully awake. I seem to have a very strong hibernation instinct. At this time of year, I could live curled up in bed with the electric blanket around me. Maybe I should take a walk while it's still warm and sunny (yes, Mom, I'll get to work).

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


So, the day after I post about the 12:30 rule, what happens? I get up relatively early (for me) and finish all my e-mail and reading before 12:30. Blogger appears to be down, so that did cut out some of my industry reading for the morning. On the up side, it makes me feel very efficient to be ahead of schedule.

I think my book 5 proposal is just about done. Mom's got the chapters now (but I think it's Meals on Wheels day, so I may not hear from her until later), and there are a few tweaks I want to make to the synopsis, but I should be able to send it off tomorrow. I decided to do that instead of waiting until I'd written a few more chapters because I'm pretty sure that my agent will make me revise at least something, and I can have a few more chapters written before that, so it will all have about the same effect while also potentially saving time. I also want to have as much of this book written as possible before I revise book 4. I had written the whole first draft of book 4 before I got my editor's notes on book 3, and it really helped me have a clearer picture of all the character and emotional arcs. It's supposed to be cold and rainy, with possibly even an ice storm, this weekend, so I should get a lot of work done. I don't know why I'm more creative and productive when wet stuff is falling from the sky, but I am.

Speaking of work, I had the almost frightening realization yesterday that I might possibly be a workaholic. I used to mock the people I worked with who were certified workaholics, the people who competed to be the first ones in the office or the last ones to leave and who took their laptops home with them when they did leave so they could do even more work. I was the one avoiding getting a laptop (until I started telecommuting) because I didn't want to be readily available after hours, hitting the door as soon after the end of the workday as I thought I could get away with it and who chose to take a cut in hours instead of a raise. My life was definitely not my job.

Except ...

I was usually rushing home (or staying home) to write. I was probably as much of a workaholic as those other people were. I just wasn't a workaholic about my day job. Now I may be even worse. There was a movie I wanted to watch on HBO yesterday afternoon (okay, it was Nanny McPhee, but it has Colin Firth and Emma Thompson in it, and Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay, so hello!), but I guess I couldn't imagine "wasting" that much time, so for an hour and a half movie, I'd gathered up the day's newspaper (and crossword puzzles), my brainstorming notebook for book 5, and all the organizational stuff to put away my Christmas decorations. I felt so guilty for not spending that time writing, even though I knew I was going to write at night, that I felt like I had to spend that time doing as much other work as possible. I guess that was my "hitting bottom" moment.

But I don't feel like I'm a hypocrite, and I don't think I'm in serious workaholic danger. For one thing, since I work for myself, I know that I receive a direct benefit from the work I do. There's a lot I can't control in this business, but I can control the amount and quality of writing I do. If I write more, I stand to sell more, and if I write better, people are more likely to buy my books and tell others about them. If I don't write, I don't make money. All those workaholics I used to work with didn't achieve such a direct benefit. They may have been on the fast track to promotion, but when it came to layoffs, the workaholics were right there with us slackers on the chopping block. In fact, I outlasted several workaholics before I got cut, myself. The company was the beneficiary of all those extra hours and the employees didn't really get anything out of it. I may be enriching Random House a bit by all my tireless promotional work and my attempts to write more and better, but really, it's just a drop in the bucket for them, while it makes a big difference to me.

Also, even with the way I've been working lately, I'm still not putting in quite as many hours as a regular full-time job. I don't have commuting time. I do allow myself a fair amount of goofing-off time during the day. My main problem is not allowing myself large chunks of non-productive, non-work time, but then, I've never been good at just sitting and watching TV. I have to be doing something else at the same time. Once the crosswords are done, it might as well be work. In fact, there are a few projects where I consider the TV to be the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. Those medical radio scripts are so much more fun when I write them during commercial breaks while watching TV (I like to do them along with House because I enjoy the juxtaposition).

So, my prescription for myself is to take some reading time this weekend while the wet stuff is falling from the sky. I have the new Dick Francis book, and that's perfect rainy/snowy day reading.

Now I'm going to beat all the people who rush to the grocery store before an ice storm because they won't do it until Friday when it's already raining but not yet freezing and I'm doing it today while it's reasonably warm and sunny. I also need milk, and that can't wait until Friday.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The 12:30 Rule (and status update)

A corollary to my three o'clock rule seems to be the 12:30 rule: No matter how early I get up and to the office, I will finish checking e-mail and doing my round of usual Internet reading at 12:30. I am not a morning person, by any stretch of the imagination, so it takes me a long time to wake up and be fully alert. I have to eat breakfast, read the newspaper and have a cup of tea, then get dressed and head to the office, where I check my e-mail. Then I get another cup of tea and make a circuit around my usual bookmarks, mostly industry news and information and a few message boards. Somehow, if I wake up early and am in the office by nine, I finish this at 12:30. If I drag myself out of bed late and get in the office at 11:30, I finish at 12:30. Then I watch the last half of the noon news while eating lunch (if I haven't just finished breakfast), reading the newspaper comics and working the New York Times crossword before going back to the office and really beginning the business part of the day. I suppose when I have more time I read more carefully or am more inclined to comment on blogs or to post on message boards. I might also be better about actually responding to and dealing with my e-mail, and I might start working on my blog entry. But still, getting up earlier doesn't seem to affect the amount of time I have available to work or the time of day when I start dealing with things.

A quick status report of various things:
I got the page proofs for Damsel Under Stress reviewed and returned to my editor. That ends my involvement with what goes on the inside of the book, unless there's a question from the proofreader. My editor talked me off the ledge about my paranoia about one aspect of the cover, so what's on Amazon is pretty much the final cover. My work related to this book now is focused on promoting it. The content is more or less set in stone. That's kind of bittersweet. On the one hand, it's a relief to have it off my plate, but on the other, it means it's really and truly done and I have to say goodbye to it. It's going from my brain to other people's brains, where they'll layer their own impressions and perceptions on it. This one's possibly a little darker, heavier and more emotional than the first two books, but it does still have a few parts that make me laugh out loud, maybe even more so than with the other books.

I'll be getting my editor's comments on book four soon. It sounds like she's enjoying it, but there's always room for improvement. I also have comments on this draft from my agent. I moan and whine about it because it's a lot of work that can sometimes be very painful and require scrapping scenes I thought I loved while writing entirely new ones, but this is one of my favorite phases of the process. It's been months since I looked at the book, so I have a fresh perspective and more distance, and at the same time, I'm getting feedback from others. That means this is the phase when I can really dig into the book to make it the best it can be. I just have to try not to get too down on myself for feeling like I've failed for not having it be perfect to begin with.

Meanwhile, I've written the first three chapters on the possible book five, and then last night I rewrote the first scene. Now I have some more rewrites to do because I've realized what needs to be fixed. I think (hope) I'm spotting the kind of stuff my agent usually critiques me for and makes me rewrite. I'm probably going to step out on faith and just keep writing this book, even without a contract, because it's fun. Right now, I'm trying to decide whether I should just polish up these first chapters and send them to my agent before going on with the book or if I should write a couple more chapters first and then revise the first three in light of what comes up later (I might be able to do my usual cut of chapter two ahead of time) before sending it in. This is when my impatient and perfectionist natures go to war. Sometimes, I like to have things done really, really well, as perfect as possible, while at other times I just want to get things done. Right now, I'm not sure which is best. At this point in my career, I'm not sure that a perfect proposal is what the book sale will hinge on. It will have much more to do with my previous sales numbers and projections for how well this one could sell than it does with how brilliantly worded the chapters in the proposal are (so go get more people to buy more books now, so the numbers will show before it's time to make a decision!). But I also don't want to turn in something that doesn't capture their imaginations and make the editors desperate to read the whole book.

Most of my good intentions for the new year have already fallen by the wayside. I am writing, but not as much or as quickly as I'd hoped. I'm a little more organized in getting things done. The house is still a mess, and I've slacked off from exercising. I have more than 3,000 e-mails in my in-box, so that is clearly out of control. I need to take down and put away all my Christmas stuff. I like having the lights up inside, so I'm reluctant to get rid of them. Maybe I'll find a non-tacky way to incorporate little white lights into my regular decor. I have all sorts of new organizational containers for putting that stuff away in the garage, which will clear space in my office closets. I'm quasi excited about that.

So, that's my life in a nutshell. I'm having a really hard time getting my brain focused today, so I may spend the afternoon cleaning and organizing, which helps me think, and then tonight I can do more rewriting of the proposal.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Three O'Clock Rule

Ack! Today sort of escaped from me. I've just finished proofing the galleys for Damsel Under Stress, and I must say that I had to go get snacks in order to read the next-to-last big climactic chapter. There was a lot of nervous energy. Those who are lucky enough to get the advance copies will have a few "oops" still in there. I caught a couple of ghosts of versions past, where there was still a reference to something that had been deleted. I'm not even sure what draft I'd consider this final version to be. I know I did two near-total rewrites.

I had a big "Hey, get out of my brain!" moment last night while watching The Office. Wednesday night, I wrote a scene about a spontaneous party breaking out in the department where, as Owen puts it, they'll throw a party to celebrate opening a new box of pencils. This party was a luau party. And then guess what kind of party Michael decides to throw on The Office the next night! I have no idea at this point if the scene will even remain in the book (and, really, if the book will ever actually be published), but for the record, I did write it before seeing it on The Office. And I think my luau is better and a little weirder, but then on The Office they can't have gnomes singing Don Ho songs into a karaoke machine while standing on a conference table.

In the past few years of writing full-time, I've discovered what I've started to call "the three o'clock rule." It seems like no matter how hard I try, I can't get started to work on a book until after three. Before then, I can do administrative work, industry reading, dealing with e-mails, marketing, and stuff like that, but doing anything specifically on the book can't seem to take place until three. Yesterday, I was being so efficient on all my administrative stuff that I was sure I'd get an early start, two or two-thirty, even. And then at two FedEx showed up with a payment for a foreign edition, and that meant some record keeping and filing. When that was done, my editor called. Next thing I know, it's three. I generally try to schedule my day with the three o'clock rule in mind, blocking out the time after three for writing. Damsel was a weird book in that it wouldn't happen for me until after ten at night, but otherwise, I seem to be good about getting to work at that point.

I guess that's my writing tip of the day. If you have the luxury of picking the time you write, then work with your natural rhythms and patterns instead of against them. Try to shove everything else into your less-productive hours, and then devote your peak time to writing.

Today I got my schedule all mixed up. I did end up working on those page proofs earlier in the day, and then there was a tea emergency that meant I had to go out, but then I also had to go to the bank, and if I had to do that, I might as well take care of my other errands. Target did fail me this time. They don't sell any loose tea at all. Kroger didn't have the kind I really wanted, but they had something that would do. And then I hit Office Depot, which can be very dangerous for me in general, but which is particularly perilous at this time of year when I'm still pretending to myself that I will get organized. I was excited to find that they had lap desks -- those things with a hard top and a beanbag underneath that you can put on your lap while you lounge around, and it gives you a comfortable desk-like surface. The one I had dates back to my high-school years and the cloth was disintegrating, so beans were spilling out. It's all wrapped up with duct tape at the moment. I hadn't found another one like it anywhere, so I was very surprised to find one in Office Depot (I think mine came from some craft store). A lap desk is essential for doing crossword puzzles or for using my laptop while sitting on the lounge or on the sofa. Now I can get comfortable to write without ending up covered in little styrofoam beads. I was excited enough about the lap desk that I managed to resist all the little organizational items that I know will do me no good, and I was still feeling good enough that when I dropped into Barnes & Noble and they didn't have any copies of any of my books, I didn't get too depressed.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Entertainment Year in Review

I have nearly 20 people who have posted or e-mailed writing goals to me. I'm trying to get back to everyone so you'll know for sure I have you on my list, but it may be this weekend before I catch up (I have to finish proofing galleys this week). A couple of you (and you probably know who you are) need to get a little more concrete with your goals. It needs to be something measurable so we can make sure you're eligible to win prizes. Just "working on" something is a little vague. It could be as little as looking at something, which is hardly fair compared to someone trying to write 50,000 words! I'll be taking goals until end of day January 6.

And to think, last year I only got three people willing to write a single paragraph to have a chance at an advance copy of Once Upon Stilettos, and now I've got almost 20 people committing to write about 50,000 words so they can get a chance at an advance copy of the next book. I feel like I'm moving up in the world. :-)

As longtime readers here may know, Damsel Under Stress was the book from hell when I was writing it (the title soooo fits), but now that I'm reading it in typeset form, I'm loving it. I keep forgetting that I'm supposed to be proofreading. There was one part that totally cracked me up. I just had to sit and laugh for a few minutes before I could get back to reading, and I seldom do that with things I wrote. I don't know if it will strike anyone else as funny, but there's just something about that part that totally tickles me. It involves some new characters, and they're more of these strange people who just pop out of my head fully formed, with their own look, voices and mannerisms. I have no idea where these people come from. It's kind of scary. There's another one in the possible book 5. She sprang out of my head and into the book and it was like, "Oh, so that's who you are. Okay."

Speaking of books and related stuff, I realized that I never did any kind of year in review list. I guess my consumption of entertainment last year was about as middle-of-the-road as everything about that year was. There wasn't much that really got me excited. I don't even think I saw ten movies, so there's no point in doing a top-ten list there. My big book discovery of the year was Terry Pratchett, though I'm way behind the rest of the world on that. Still, it's nice to know I have tons more books to get through before I've read everything he's written. I read something like 100 books, at least, last year (I started counting in June, and I had more than 50 in the last half of the year), so it's hard for any one book to really stand out in my memory. I'm actually planning to call a moratorium on my library and book-buying habit for a while and attempt to start working through my to-be-read pile before it topples and kills me. I've told myself I don't have to finish every book, but I have to at least attempt to read it before putting it in the donation box.

I didn't even get too excited about TV this year. I still adore The Office, and I'm really liking the way they're taking the whole Jim and Pam relationship gradually. It feels very realistic. My Name is Earl isn't quite as consistently brilliant, but it has its moments that really stand out. I got a lot more into House this year, but a lot of that had to do with working on that essay, and the more I delved into the characterizations, the more I got involved in the show itself. That's become my favorite for discussion and analysis. While Battlestar Galactica is still brilliantly written and acted, it got so very bleak this year that I didn't like to dwell on it too much. Yeah, the last remnant of mankind on the run from killer robots isn't exactly happy material, but what I've liked about the previous seasons was that these desperate circumstances often brought out the best in these people. This season, I've started to dislike the characters I liked before, and I haven't found myself liking many of the others any better. My big surprise love was Friday Night Lights, which never ceases to amaze me. Last night's episode had me alternately laughing out loud and weeping. I finally got to watch it live instead of on tape, and now I'm wishing I'd taped it because the balance of humor to emotion was perfect. My other big surprise love is Standoff, which is probably doomed. It's just a fun show. I don't tape it, rewatch it, or even think about it much. I often forget to mention it in lists of things I watch. But boy, do I enjoy it when it's on. Again, a fun mix of humor and drama, some good action, pretty people, and snappy dialogue. If I'd lost a VCR and had to choose a show to tape and a show to watch back when Friday Night Lights was in that same time slot, I'd have chosen to watch Standoff, tape Friday Night Lights, and then skip The Gilmore Girls, which is saying something.

I may give up on Desperate Housewives now that Sci Fi is programming on Sunday nights (starting later this month). I don't care enough to tape it, especially if there's something decent on Masterpiece Theater. I tried and gave up on Ugly Betty. I have issues with humor built on humiliation or the main character doing foolish things out of good intentions. When I was a kid, I often had to leave the room when watching Gilligan's Island reruns. So, I found Betty's plight more painful than amusing. I know, I'm out of step with America, but this isn't the first time and I'm sure it won't be the last. I'm so-so about Heroes. I love some of the characters, but there are others that bore me, and if they don't start having something actually happen to really move the plot forward so that it takes fewer than three episodes to cover one big plot event, that one may go the way of Lost for me. Or I'll tape it and only watch the parts I care about.

Let's hope I find something that really knocks my socks off this year. I've already read a couple of upcoming books that are going to be great, but I'd love to stumble on some pleasant surprises. Now back to the galleys ...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Healthy Writer

I've occasionally made reference to my radio scripts that I write each week. That's sort of my side job, and it's actually a continuation of my very first professional job. I worked for almost five years in the news and public information office at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Part of that job involved writing the public service radio health information spots (so I actually got to use my broadcast journalism degree), and I've kept doing this one task as a freelancer. This feature is called Health Watch and is syndicated on the ABC Radio Networks, so if you ever hear that feature, I wrote it (you can imagine fairies and gargoyles in it, if you like). It's a way of staying on top of medical news and keeping my ear for medical jargon (I like to say I'm multilingual -- I'm fluent in two dialects of jargon, medical and telecommunications), as well as earning some steady money. Anyway, I was writing my scripts this week, so health-type stuff is on my mind.

I know from personal experience that when you're on a writing binge, it's all too easy to get into some non-healthy habits. You grab junk food or eat whatever you can throw from your freezer into your microwave, you consume large amounts of caffeine, and you don't find the time to move very far from your desk chair. I also know from personal experience that although you think you're giving yourself more time to write by doing that, you may actually hurt your own productivity.

Believe it or not, there have been scientific studies showing that exercise boosts creativity and brain power. People perform better on tests of creativity and cognitive reasoning after an exercise session. Taking a little time away from the computer could, therefore, make you more productive when you return to it. It also helps you avoid carpal tunnel syndrome and aches and pains in your neck, shoulders and back. I do have to force myself to get moving, and that's one of my resolutions. I have found that when I'm stuck, taking a walk can give me time to think, and I usually come up with a great idea along the way (I've been known to get a run in this way, too, when I come up with a great idea and then turn and run back home as fast as I can). Sometimes I make a mix tape of songs that make me think of the book or characters and listen to that while I'm walking (an iPod playlist would work, too, but I'm low-tech and am one of the five people in America who doesn't own an iPod). I'm also trying to make myself do yoga more often to loosen my neck, back and shoulders. I used to have great posture, thanks to dance and marching band. I once, on a dare, walked all the way across the University of Texas campus with a textbook balanced on top of my head. But I noticed in a lot of pictures taken of me last year that I was slouching pretty badly, so I need to do something about that.

The other thing that's important is drinking plenty of water. Caffeinated beverages don't count toward your water intake. Caffeine is a diuretic, so it's actually the opposite of drinking water (alcohol, too). You really do think better when you're drinking enough water. The eight glasses a day thing is actually not entirely true. Your water needs depend on your activity level and environment. If you're sitting at your desk all day in cool weather, you may not need as much, maybe around six glasses. When I'm cold, I sometimes have a hard time making myself drink water, but all the hot beverages I really like are either high in calories or caffeinated, so there's not a great substitute. But I can really tell a difference in my energy levels and thought processes when I drink enough water.

I don't have any studies to back up the idea that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables helps your creativity, but it does make you healthier in general, and not having a cold or some other illness really does make it easier to write.

Of course, chocolate is an essential food group in the writer's arsenal. Dark chocolate is actually quite good for you. It's a good source of antioxidants that fight disease, and it's got more antioxidants and less fat and calories than milk chocolate. Drinking a cup of hot cocoa made with dark chocolate is the equivalent to a glass of red wine as a source of antioxidants.

Getting enough sleep also may help, but that's something I struggle with when I'm in the middle of a book. My brain won't shut off, so it takes hours for me to fall asleep, and then I have weird dreams and wake up a lot, which is why I then sleep very late. Last year, I decided to just go with the weird pattern, so I stayed up half the night writing and only went to bed when I was truly sleepy. Most of Damsel Under Stress was written after 10 p.m. If you have a normal day job that doesn't let you sleep until 10 in the morning, it can be a challenge finding time to both write and sleep, but finding that balance does make it easier to write better. Then again, I get some of my best ideas when I'm having trouble sleeping. In fact, I know I'm really into a book and on a roll when I hit the not-sleeping state.

So, that's all my health nagging. I just don't want any of my readers dropping dead over the keyboard. I need all the book sales I can get!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

To Outline or Not To Outline

So, today is the first "work" day of the new year, and I had all kinds of grand plans about hitting the ground running and being miraculously more efficient than I usually am. And then I slept more than an hour later than I planned to, and it took me longer than usual to get myself going. I may have to start setting an alarm. I think I have bear blood that makes me try to hibernate at this time of year, and even when I go to bed early, I still end up sleeping ridiculously late when left to my own devices. One nice thing about working for myself, though, is that I really don't have to get out of bed if I don't want to. It just means I have to work later in the day.

I have already crossed a couple of items off my day's to-do list, which is more than I usually have done by this time of day, so I'm not being too terribly bad. One thing I learned in all my time management reading is that if it takes less than two minutes to take care of something, you should just do it when it comes up. It's simple, but brilliant. So many of the things I procrastinate about are stupid little simple things that I could get off my plate so easily, but I put them off until they become more major. I'm also going to implement the concept of a tickler file for managing pending things. We'll see if this newfound enthusiasm lasts more than a few days.

Now, for my writing tip of the day. Writers often talk about "plotting" vs. "pantsing." The plotters like to outline the whole book before they start while those who write by the seat of their pants just like to start writing and see where that takes them. There are extremes on either end. I know of writers who storyboard the entire book before they write a word, with every scene outlined on a color-coded post-it note stuck on a poster board. The thought of that makes me break out in a cold sweat. And I know of writers who start a book with no more of an idea than a character's name, and they write to figure out what the book is about. The thought of that also makes me break out in a cold sweat.

I think most people, including me, fall somewhere in the middle on that spectrum, with some falling closer to one end or another. This is one of those things where you have to figure out what works for you, and anyone who tells you absolutely that there's any one right way to do things is wrong. However, when you're trying to write fast, at least a little bit of outlining or brainstorming can really help. Even if you don't outline the whole book, just taking the time to think about what happens next can save you from the dreaded "I don't know what happens next!" block.

I've found that the parts where I come to a screeching halt usually involve one of two things. A big one is fear -- I know it's a big scene, something I've planned in my head, and suddenly I'm afraid to write it because I know it can't be as good on paper as it was in my head and I want to keep it perfect for as long as possible. There's not much to do about that other than make myself write it and promise myself I can continue to tinker with it until the book is published. The other big red light for me is not being sure what should happen next, and that's where brainstorming can help. Fifteen minutes with a spiral notebook can save me hours of tearing my hair out.

Here's how I try to work (and note that I'm doing this as a potentially helpful example, not telling you an absolute way to work): When I'm on pace, I try to write a chapter a day. I like to end my chapters with a little hook or mini-cliffhanger to keep readers turning pages, but that has the same effect on me when I'm writing because it makes me want to see what happens next, and to do that, I have to write it. When I finish the chapter, then I get out my notebook and start brainstorming the next chapter or scene. I make a random list of things that could happen next, then from that I get a sense of how the next scene will play out, so I can write an outline. That way, when I sit down to work the next day, I already know what will happen. I may have been thinking about and imagining the next chapter as I fell asleep the night before, so I've already seen the movie in my head and it's just a case of transcribing the scene I've been picturing.

That method may not help a true "pantser" because some of those people lose interest entirely once they know what will happen. They're writing to find out what happens, and once they know what happens next or how the story ends, all their enthusiasm is gone. If you're one of those people, I can't help you because I have no concept of working that way. I would be utterly paralyzed. If anyone who works that way has any tips for keeping on when you're stuck, please share!