Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Gloom Lifts

It finally rained starting yesterday afternoon and throughout the night, so the sense of looming, impending doom has been lifted. I also watched the new Robin Hood episode and a mini-marathon of early season 2 Battlestar Galactica episodes, which made me feel much better. As usual, watching people whose lives are worse than mine helped give me a sense of perspective that lightened my gloomy mood. When I get like that, comedies don't help because those people's lives feel sunnier, rosier and happier than mine, and that makes me feel worse. Why don't I have cute, if embarrassing, encounters with gorgeous men when I'm walking down the street, minding my own business? It's no fair!

And am I the only person who finds Sex and the City depressing in general? Those people's lives seem so empty and meaningless. All these supposedly intelligent women, and all they can talk about is men and sex? Do any of them ever actually read books when they're not a prop for picking up guys? Then there's the way they tend to treat the men in their lives. Carrie was a total psycho with men, and I find myself watching that and thinking, "She can get a boyfriend -- many boyfriends -- and I can't find one?" So, yeah, that was a bad OnDemand choice in the mood I was in. I can only watch that when I'm feeling good about myself and can look down on those fictional harpies. Starbuck may have been a lunatic when it came to relationships, but she had value in her life beyond her love life. There was blowing stuff up, flying, teaching others to fly, having a cause and even having something to believe in. Thus the abrupt switch from Sex and the City to Battlestar Galactica for mood-lifting viewing. I guess I'm waving my geek flag here, but at least geeks have more to obsess about than shoes (not that shoes are a bad thing to obsess about, but there has to be more to life than that).

I must be hitting the big time as a blogger because I'm starting to get some spam comments. It took years for them to start to show up, so I'm guessing it's because there are now more links to me, or something. I keep hearing people talk about the vast numbers of spam comments they get, so I was feeling unloved and left out.

In addition to my trip to New York tomorrow and all the fun last-minute planning (I'm trying to figure out if I have time to get away from the city to visit one nearby thing that works as a location for a couple of potential projects, so there's train schedule checking), I have a couple more things to be happy about today. There's a new episode of House on after a long hiatus (stupid American Idol), and I just discovered that Damsel Under Stress got a four-star review in Romantic Times magazine. They've moved me from "chick lit" to "paranormal fiction," which I think is appropriate because this book is far more fantasy than it really is chick lit. Actually, I gave up trying to write to fit expectations for any particular genre and am just writing what the book needs to be. These days, I seem to be pretty much my own genre.

And now to start figuring out what to wear and get to packing so I can catch an early flight tomorrow.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Non-Rainy Days and Mondays

I had a pretty good weekend that involved lots of quality cocooning time, mixed with some actual going out. My music teacher was in a recital of works by women composers for piano and/or voice, so I went out to that. It was some fascinating material, since most works by women have languished in obscurity. They seemed to mostly be things they wrote to perform for their circle of friends, which usually involved a bunch of famous composers and musicians (since most of the women were married to famous male composers/musicians). You know, that sounds like a really cool social life, getting together with your talented friends to perform music with and for each other. It would make for a more interesting gathering than popping in a DVD. I guess I'd need to find a friend who plays piano and has one, and then I'd have to actually practice my flute and get over my voice stage fright.

And now I'm having a real Monday, though I guess it started on Sunday afternoon, with a weird kind of melancholy. I'm not entirely sure what it's about or what the source is. Part of it may have to do with work being kind of in limbo right now, with nothing contracted, so I don't have anything I have to be doing and don't know if I will. I've been playing with something on spec, but I'm kind of dissatisfied with it at the moment (though I think I've figured out what the problem is and how I might be able to fix it). Meanwhile, it's far enough from the release of the last book that it's pretty much over, without a lot of new feedback or results rolling in, yet too far from the release of the next one to have a sense of how it might do. Yeah, limbo is a good word for it. I guess this is when I should get reassurances from my agent, but I've never been the kind of client who needs or wants handholding, and, of course, when I might need it, that's the week my agent is out of town (though she's in New York and meeting with my editor, so I'd rather her be doing that than holding my hand because that has more concrete benefits).

I think the weather has something to do with it, too. For about a week now, it's felt like it was about to storm at any moment, with those big, grey, looming clouds that make the air feel heavy. But due to a variety of atmospheric conditions (that the weekend weather guy loves to get into in great detail, much to the amusement of my anchorman), nothing has happened. That gives a kind of sense of impending doom, like you're constantly on edge, waiting for something to happen, and after a while that makes me feel oppressed and restless, which then escalates what might have been a slight dissatisfaction into a real melancholy. I think one big storm would make everything feel better. It would release a lot of tension.

On top of that, I seem to have messed up my wrist. It turns out that the desk position for my laptop that's most ergonomic for typing probably isn't the best position for doing stuff that involves scrolling and clicking on the trackpad, and without any serious writing work to do, most of what I've been doing is scrolling and clicking.

Fortunately, I'm off to New York on Wednesday where I will get some spoiling from my editor, talk to the PR people to get more specific about what we can do for this next book, then hang with other writers. Plus, swing dancing and a Broadway show. That should be the cure, unless, of course, what comes out of the meeting with my editor is news that they don't want the next book. And then I'll be in a good place for making my troubles go away. And during that whole time, I won't be on a computer, which means my wrist will have a chance to heal.

And, wouldn't you know, the day when I'm dying to discuss the season finale of Battlestar Galactica is when the Television Without Pity forums are down. Arrrgggh! After that episode, I got mildly freaked out when I woke up early this morning and heard fuzzy music that seemed to be coming from the wall. And then I woke up a little more and realized it was my neighbor's clock radio alarm going off at 5 in the frakking morning, loud enough that I could hear it through the wall and with earplugs.

I think today I will focus on housework touch-ups and getting ready for the trip because I really need to stay off the computer as much as possible.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Stuff I'm Watching

I bounced out of bed at a frighteningly early hour (for me) this morning instead of doing my usual thing of lying there for at least an hour after I woke up. You'd think that would make me more alert, but instead, I'm still groggy. It doesn't help that it's all dark and gloomy outside. It looks like it's about to storm like crazy, but the weather guys insist that the most we'll get will be sprinkles. I have work I feel like I should be doing, but part of me knows that there's no rush -- my agent is out of town for a couple of weeks, and I'll be out of town next week, so it's not like it makes a difference when I get something done. I'm seriously tempted to fill the thermos with hot tea and spend the afternoon reading or melting my brain OnDemand. My wrist is kind of hurting, so spending the day away from the computer would probably be good for me (yeah, I can rationalize anything).

I think today's fun topic will be random stuff I've been watching (speaking of OnDemand). I discovered last weekend that I actually get all the HBO channels and not just the main one (it's amazing what you learn when you keep hitting the wrong remote button). I get flavors of HBO I've never heard of. That doesn't make a huge difference, since I mostly watch HBO stuff OnDemand, but it does come in handy. Like, right now, they've got the Star Wars films -- all of them -- in heavy rotation. With about ten channels of HBO, that means that at any given time, I can probably find a Star Wars film on. They make good background noise because I like the music. They're also fun to watch in a meta sense, with full knowledge of everything else that's happened in the careers and lives of the people involved. For instance, finding humor in the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi was one of the first roles in which Ewan McGregor managed to actually keep his clothes on, while also really wanting him to suddenly burst out with, "My gift is my song ... and this one's for you." (ooh, I haven't watched Moulin Rouge in a while, that could be fun today) Watching Bleak House on PBS last year has given me a new fondness for Wedge in the original films. Having read some of Carrie Fisher's work has made me aware that, as snarky as Princess Leia seemed, she was waaaaay toned down from what she could have been.

There's also some fun with the "what might have been" casting. One of the many weaknesses in the prequels was the fact that Anakin Skywalker as he was portrayed just didn't seem like someone I could believe would turn into Darth Vader. Seriously, could the Scourge of the Galaxy have started as a whiny teenager? Was enforcing the Emperor's reign of terror really just a twenty-year pout-a-thon over people not taking him seriously? While the dialog did suck, part of the problem was that the actor said that lousy dialog with such a pathetic whine and he came across as a rather vapid lightweight. Well, did you know that, apparently, one of the other actors originally considered for that role was Jesse Spencer, currently seen as Dr. Chase on House? I'm sure he would have had to tweak the accent a bit, as Darth Vader was definitely not Australian, but James Earl Jones did give a slight British-like inflection to his voice in the original films. Spencer has an incredibly expressive face (he doesn't get to do or say much on House, but watching him in the background as he acts the hell out of nothing is highly entertaining) and a knack for acting out an entire scene that's not even on the page just through body language. With a script as bad as in the prequels, that ability to act around the script would have been pretty useful. He holds his own with Hugh Laurie in intensity, so he might have been able to convey someone who had the potential to turn scary. So, it's fun to imagine what might have been, except I'm not sure it would have been worth sacrificing House as it currently is, so perhaps it was for the best.

I also caught Take the Lead, the fictionalized version of the Mad, Hot Ballroom story, and I found it disappointing. For one thing, not nearly enough Antonio Banderas dancing. For another, it missed the point and devolved into Standard Teen Dance Movie territory. There was all the talk throughout about how ballroom dancing would teach the kids self respect and respect for others -- and then we get to the climactic competition scene, and the kids end up doing the kind of oversexed writhing around on the floor that they were supposedly learning to move beyond. It wasn't even a tango they were doing. The steps weren't there. Not to mention the fact that they were dancing to music that the orchestra wasn't even playing. Plus, I find the "our improvised, street-smart dancing is superior to what you've spent years of hard work, training and practice developing" message annoying. In general, I'm not a fan of competition ballroom dance, not Dancing With the Stars (though there I'm also opposed to anything with "stars" or "celebrities" in the title) or even the real ballroom competitions on PBS. What I love is social dancing -- participating instead of watching. I definitely don't like the choreographed stuff. I went out once with a guy who'd danced competitively, and I couldn't dance with him. I couldn't find his lead to follow, and I thought I'd completely forgotten how to dance (he certainly acted like it was all my fault). But then they did a mixer dance, where you had to change partners every time they blew a whistle, and I managed to dance just fine with every other man there. I think my date was too used to choreography. He was also too busy checking himself out in the mirrors around the dance floor.

The thing I love about ballroom dancing is that the defined steps give you a sort of common language, so you can dance right away with someone you've never even spoken to before. Then you have to communicate on a non-verbal level, so that the slightest touch or bit of pressure tells you exactly what to do and how to respond so that the two of you can move as one. I love dancing with someone who really knows what he's doing, and then I can let go and totally trust him and follow his lead. I can even close my eyes and still know just what to do. That's incredibly sexy and romantic, and I don't get to do it nearly often enough because there's a shortage of men in my general age range (and sexual preference) who are into that kind of thing, and most of them come with their own dance partners who get snippy if the men dance with anyone else. If only men knew what a total chick magnet that skill was. I'm flat-out turned off by a big, manly SUV, and I roll my eyes at Porsches, but if you can lead me in a really good foxtrot, you've got a decent chance, and dance lessons are much cheaper than Porsches.

Finally, I remain hooked on the BBC Robin Hood. It's kind of campy and anachronistic, and I know enough history to get a few giggles at all remarks about what a great English king Richard was (considering he only set foot in England a few times in his whole life), but I love the characters and it's a ton of fun. I'm also getting hooked on Supernatural. I don't know how I missed it last season (I think it was because it was on opposite The Office), but it reminds me of very early X-Files, but with cute boys. They totally got me last night, and throwing in "Silent Lucidity" was the final straw. Dude, Queensryche! And yes, I'm getting excited about Queensryche in the same post in which I got excited about ballroom dancing. I'm complex. Deal with it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

My Anti-Electronic Field

Would you believe the house is still clean? On tomorrow's agenda is a little touch-up work to keep it that way. I may have turned over a new leaf.

I forgot to mention yesterday in discussing the Harry Dresden books that I've had reason lately to really identify with one aspect of Harry. In the books, because of a kind of semi-electromagnetic field caused by his magical powers, he has a rather alarming effect on electronics. That forces him to live a fairly low-tech life. He doesn't dare drive a car with an onboard computer, and forget about carrying a cell phone.

Well, while I was reading that book, I started having electronics going out on me left and right. First, it was the CD player in my office. I turned it on, and it just made grinding noises. It wouldn't even eject the disc that was in it. I figured the disc got out of place and jammed, so I tried picking up the player and moving it around a bit. I did get the disc out, but now even with no disc in there, it won't open or close. It just makes grinding noises. That player is around 15 years old, so I guess it's ended its natural lifespan, but it was the "good" one, the component unit that has fun features like a keypad where I can put in the exact number of the track I want instead of just hitting the "skip" button over and over again. I suppose it was ready to be replaced, but considering recent car repairs and everything else going on, that's a low-priority item, since I do have other CD players and I usually don't listen to music while I work.

So, I moved the portable CD player boombox into my office. And then it started acting funny. The volume would randomly surge or go quiet for no apparent reason, or it would stick at weird places in certain tracks, then spontaneously skip forward. It was like a poltergeist was in charge of the CD player.

Then I had a minor problem with a VCR -- the new one, not the old one. It didn't want to eject a tape. Eventually, I did get it to let the tape go. I don't know if it's working now or not because I haven't used it since.

And then my color inkjet printer stopped printing. It acts like it's printing, but nothing comes out, except a few odd smears of magenta. I've learned from reading the troubleshooting info that I should have been printing things more often, and that the fact that I seldom use the printer may have been a problem. But I've run the nozzle cleaning utility about a dozen times and even replaced one of the print cartridges (it's the kind where each color has its own cartridge), and the new cartridge is even less likely to put out any ink than the old ones. I'm not sure what to do now, and I suspect that any repairs would probably cost more than buying a new printer, but still, the printer is only about a year and a half old. I shouldn't have to replace it.

I'm getting kind of worried about what might break next. I do have an ongoing problem with electronic clocks and watches. I can't keep a clock or watch on time. My computer clock is currently about fifteen minutes ahead, my VCR clock is five minutes ahead and my car clock is five minutes ahead. My wristwatch is only about two minutes ahead, but I just reset it for Daylight Savings Time. My alarm clock is currently about two minutes ahead. Mind you, I don't do any of this on purpose. It's just that any clock that's around me for any length of time will gain time. If I want to know what time it really is, I have to check the digital cable guide or my cell phone because they run off a network that's nowhere near me.

However, I don't think magical powers are causing this. Nothing that exciting. I'm not sure what causes the clock problem, but I suspect the electronics have to do with old stuff that doesn't get used often.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Book Report: Storm Front

The house is still clean. Go me! This is a whole week now.

Now, for the book report. I always seem to be late to the game on the popular series. I didn't even buy the first Harry Potter book until after the fourth one was published. I only got into Terry Pratchett last year. So now I'm finally getting into Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. On the bright side, when you're late to the game, you don't have to wait months or even years between books. You can just inhale them all at once. But then that tends to leave you even more impatient for the next one after you've caught up because you're used to being able to read them one after another (kind of like getting into a TV series on DVD and being able to marathon a season in a couple of days, and then getting very frustrated when the next season comes along and you have to wait a week for each episode). I guess it's a double-edged sword.

I even came to this series in a backward way. I'm ashamed to say I hadn't heard much of it until I met Jim at FenCon last year. I had an autographing session at the same time as him, and when I wasn't busy working up my courage to actually speak to Alan Dean Foster, I eavesdropped on Jim's conversations with his fans as he discussed his books and why he wasn't too upset with the changes they were having to make in translating the series to television. That afternoon, I moderated a panel about writing a series with both Alan and Jim, and I think I became prejudiced toward liking the Harry Dresden books when Jim called me pretty (what can I say, I'm easy). I ended up more or less interviewing him about the translation to TV series, and I was intrigued by the idea behind his series. But if I know a movie or TV show based on a book is coming out, I always wait to read the book until after I've seen the film or TV show because I'm almost always disappointed in the film version if I've read the book, but if I've seen the film and then read the book, I enjoy the film and then like the book even more. Win-win-win.

So, I liked the TV series and picked up the first book, Storm Front. Now I'm totally in love. Harry Dresden is my new literary crush. I'm a big sucker for a noble, gallant, self-sacrificing guy with a sense of humor. This is going to sound like an odd comparison, but I described it to Mom as like a Dick Francis book without the horses and with the main character having magical powers. The structure is very much like a Dick Francis mystery, with the hero reluctantly getting involved in the case because he can't help but come to the aid of someone who needs him, and then he gets in almost over his head on the way to the conclusion. The hero has some special skill that helps out, but he's no superman. He's all too human, which means he gets knocked around a bit, but he keeps trying. He's a little old fashioned and very gallant. And after reading one of these books, you get in the mood to read more like it. Nothing else will really satisfy you for a while.

Ironically, the former pilot episode that was (very loosely) based on the first book in the series aired the day after I finished reading the book, so I sort of broke my own rule, after all. The episode was different enough from the book that I didn't catch myself constantly comparing the two. I think tomorrow I will have to drop by the bookstore and pick up the next book. I'll need airplane reading material next week.

You know, I could totally see Harry Dresden and Owen hanging out. They'd have a lot to talk about. I would say that they should go out for a beer, but that might be a bad idea. Owen is kind of a silly drunk (as you'll see soon enough), and it doesn't take much to get him that way.

I'll be at yet another conference with Jim next month, so now I can play fangirl, too, and since I knew him before reading the books, I might not be too intimidated to actually talk to him.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More Updates

The house remains clean (we may be going for a record here). I do still have some sorting/organizing to do in the office, but that's a little overwhelming to me right now. I started feeling the effects of the weekend exercise yesterday afternoon and am now barely moving (ouch). I think today's exercising will be some yoga, and then I'll have to make sure to do the workout that left me sore again because it seems to have worked.

I did some updating to my web site yesterday. The first page or so of Damsel Under Stress has been posted, I've updated my list of public appearances, and I put together a page on the Great Blog Campaign to make it easier to keep track of how it works and what to do. In case you're coming here via a friends link or blog subscription and don't have easy access to my web address, you can find my site here. I'll add a longer excerpt from the new book and a few other goodies next month, leading up to the big release date.

For those asking where I might be coming on this round of "book tour," it will likely -- unless something earthshattering happens -- be limited to places I can drive to from Dallas. Not that I'm afraid of airplanes, but airplanes cost money. I do have some promo money from my publisher, but it wouldn't cover plane tickets. Right now, that means my "tour" will cover Texas, Oklahoma and maybe Louisiana. I know I'm doing a bookstore event near Austin, and I will likely have signings in Dallas and Tyler. Otherwise, I'm hitting the science fiction convention circuit in the Texas/Oklahoma area, so I'll be in Dallas a couple of times, Oklahoma City, Houston, Tulsa and probably Austin (since I just found that invitation in my spam folder). You have to sell a lot of books at a signing to make it even start to pay off, and I'm not yet at the level where my publisher thinks I'm likely to sell enough books at any one place for them to want to pay for me to go there other than giving me gas money for the Saturn. I'm trying to focus my travel on events where there's more going on than just me sitting behind a table and signing books. It's all about building to that level, and I may get there someday with all you fabulous people supporting me along the way.

Meanwhile, convention attendees in this region are probably going to become sick of me.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Status Check

It appears that I'm finally going to get to have a "normal" week, with no major events or upheavals (unless something else breaks). It may be the last one for a long time, since I'm ramping up into book release mode. I'm already planning a relaxing weekend for reading/movies/writing, and they're forecasting storms, so that would be perfect. Then next week I go to New York, and then April starts all the speaking at conferences and libraries, and then May 1 the book comes out, and the summer is filling up with conventions. So, this seems like a good time to pause to re-group and check status on a variety of things.

The house is still clean, even after the Sunday newspaper, which is usually the bane of my existence. We'll see how long I can maintain this until I start getting busy and lazy. Anyone want to start a pool? Next I plan to start tackling digital clutter -- my e-mail in-box. I have a scary backlog built up that I really need to deal with.

I still have that crazy crush on the weekend anchorman. Hey, maybe he'll see the article about me and fall in love. Um, yeah, right. In my dreams.

No word yet on the prospects of a book 5. It may be a few more weeks. I'm developing a proposal for another series, in the meantime.

I actually exercised this weekend. I got out the DVDs I got on clearance at Ross and did the workouts. Yay, me! It's amazing what I find the time to do when I'm not lying around and feeling guilty about my house being a mess.

I'm now officially hooked on the BBC Robin Hood. Oh, I hope they put the whole thing up on OnDemand. I might also be slightly in love with Robin. Noble self-sacrifice with a sense of humor gets me every time, plus he's a real cutie (even if he does look like he's about twelve).

My interest in Battlestar Galactica had waned somewhat this season, but they've got me hooked again.

Speaking of the digital backlog, I feel like such a slug that I keep forgetting to post this, but my friend Sheridan, a fellow survivor of one of my former scary bosses (one who hasn't yet made it into a book), does the Team in Training thing for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She does a hundred-mile bike ride around Lake Tahoe and is one of the coaches who helps others do this event. If you'd like to support the cause and be part of making someone ride a hundred miles, you can donate here.

Remember that if you want to win an early copy of book 4, you can "enter" by blogging about book 3, and you can contact me if you want an interview or something. You can see the details in this entry.

And, finally, if you need some cute in your life or a smile, you need to check this out. Warning, it's probably not dial-up friendly because it's photo-intensive. May cause laughing out loud or "awww"-ing out loud. Not recommended for those with an aversion to cute animals or text-messaging lingo. This one is probably my favorite.

And now to get to work.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Fantasy and Fairy Tales

You know how rare me having a clean house is when the fact that my house is clean makes it a tourist attraction. Yep, the parents had to come over today to see it for themselves. Then we went out to lunch and I got to play personal shopper for Mom at Macy's. I also found a killer red dress at something like 80 percent off. It will be perfect for wearing to go swing dancing in New York in a couple of weeks.

I have my first book event set up, so start marking your calendars. My Austin-area appearance will be at the Hastings Books and Music in Round Rock the evening of May 9 (it's a Wednesday night). They're having me come speak to their book club, but everyone's invited. I like this idea of my store appearance being tied to an existing event. It means I'm pretty sure someone will be there, which is better than sitting all alone behind that table for a couple of hours. I don't know if I'll be doing a separate Austin signing because we're still working on the schedule.

I've been working on developing a workshop for a conference where I'm speaking next month, and that had me digging through some notes I've made from books about fantasy fiction. I love the reasons one author mentioned for the "purpose" of fantasy: recovering the power to see the world magically like a child, escaping restraints of the modern world, the comfort of the happy ending and return to the normal world, and developing idealistic goals. Though I think that some of the darker current fantasy doesn't exactly carry out all those, particularly the happy ending and the idealism. I'm not personally a fan of the "life sucks and people are mean, and there is no hope" brand of fantasy. You can take me to some dark places, as long as you bring me back out again. Just don't leave me there!

From the same book, there were definitions given for various kinds of fantasy. I've been using the tagline "fairy tales for modern times" to describe my work, and looking at the definition they give for fairy tales, it looks like that's appropriate. They say that fairy tales are on a smaller scale than high fantasy, explore the boundary between the safety of "home" and the danger of the unknown, and they offer lessons of practical value. I think that fits my work pretty well, since I really look at that boundary between the magical world and the real world, and the challenges of crossing the line on either side. Food for thought.

I may get back into playing with book 5 tonight. Chatting with that reporter yesterday really got my mind back into the story. No, it hasn't actually sold yet, but in case it does, it would be nice to have it already mostly done, and if it doesn't, having a complete manuscript might make jumping houses easier. For just about every question the reporter had about some of the mysteries I've set up in the series, my answer was, "that's what book 5 would be about." I also have another series I'm trying to develop that I need to work on. Plus all the promo and PR work that's really ramping up for the next book. I'm so very busy and important. (Ha!)

But first, I've discovered that OnDemand is carrying the new BBC Robin Hood series, even though I don't get BBC America, so I think I must watch that. I liked the first episode, and the second episode is now up. If this is just a teaser and they aren't going to give us the whole series, I'll be very annoyed.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I had a great interview this morning, so now I'm looking forward to seeing the article when the book comes out. I'll post a link. It's always fun to talk about books, and especially my books -- though there was some digression into Harry Potter speculation. This was also one of my first chances to get real reader reaction to Damsel Under Stress from someone who's read it. There may be an online chat in conjunction with the article, and I'll be sure to post details about that so I can count on my legions of loyal followers joining in, even if they aren't in physical proximity to a booksigning.

I was all ready to relax and continue enjoying my clean house this afternoon, but then I remembered all the stuff I was supposed to do today that I'd put off until after the interview. And I need to get back to actually writing occasionally.

So, while I run to the post office and then do other business-type stuff, I'll leave you with the latest Out of the Blogosphere book, New Moon, a juicy werewolf book by Rebecca York.

Landscape architect Logan Marshall is out for a jog—in his werewolf form—when a trap catches his paw. As it saps his strength, he is saved by another werewolf, who—to Logan's amazement—is female.

Female werewolves aren't supposed to exist. But Rinna is a shapeshifter from another dimension who's traveled through a portal to this world. And the trap that ensnared Logan was set by her former captor, and meant for her...

But as soon as Rinna and Logan touch, an electrifying bond forms between them. Unable to resist his desire for Rinna, in all her many forms, Logan will have to earn her trust, and travel through both dimensions to save her—and earth—from the wrath of her enemy...

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

And that reminds me, new Supernatural tonight!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Clean Sweep

My house is currently in a very strange state. It's clean -- really clean. Thanks to a generous donor (aka Dad), I hired Molly Maids to give it a good once-over after I got the clutter out of the way, and now it almost looks like no one lives here. Well, except for the office, which looks like a creative, disorganized (but clean!) person works here, and for parts of the bedroom (the scary bookcase). I still suffer from having too much junk and too little storage, but I will not be ashamed to have a reporter in my living room.

The odd thing is, the place looks very naked without the usual clutter. I may have to get some decor items. My living room is pretty big and has a very high vaulted ceiling, so there are a lot of white walls, and I have off-white carpet, but my furniture is rather dark.

I'm one of those lunatics who feels the need to clean before the maid comes over, though I did have a burst of sanity and refrained from getting out the vacuum cleaner this morning before the maid got here. I'd been thinking that what I need is a pretend cleaning service -- if I make an appointment, then I'll go nuts cleaning the house and won't need the maid to do anything. But now that I've seen what they did, I realize they go deeper and more thorough than I have the patience or attention span for.

Meanwhile, I got most of my work for the day done while they were cleaning the downstairs. Now I just have to deal with the difficult stuff like what to wear for the interview and what points I want to be sure to cover.

And now I'm almost afraid to move, touch anything or do anything. This is why I hate getting my house clean. I end up feeling paralyzed. It's also why I never completely clean my office. I'd never be able to get any work done in a totally clean office.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Book Report: Fun Books

We're back to t-shirt weather, and I think I've got one I haven't mentioned before, so we'll temporarily resume that old feature. Today's t-shirt is for the PrimeCo Personal Communications PR Summit 1996 (it's definite cleaning wear). This was the cell phone company that was later merged with a lot of stuff to eventually become Verizon Wireless, and I was on the PR team for the launch. The really fun part of that was that I had to work out of their offices for the launch day to handle any media inquiries while their own PR staff was at the launch event, and while I was on the phone with a reporter, they evacuated the headquarters building because of a bomb threat. When you're on the phone with a reporter, the last thing you want to do is let him know there's a bomb threat, but at the same time, the police and fire department are practically dragging you out of the building. I had to come up with some reason I had to go, then got his number and ran out with a cell phone -- only to find out they weren't letting us use cell phones near the building for fear of setting off the bomb. I think I ended up walking about half a mile down the street to start letting people know what was going on. I don't think they ever found a bomb.

Ah, fun times. See why I love being a writer instead?

I've been on a "fun book" tear lately because after all my deadlines, it feels good to just unwind. So, here's a list of recent fun reading:

Confessions of a Serial Dater by Michelle Cunnah -- This book was incredibly mis-titled. The title and cover make it look like the book's about a commitmentphobe who dates around a lot, and there's nothing like that in the book. The heroine dates all of two men in the course of the book and has one ex-boyfriend mentioned -- and the relationships that ended were ended by the men. Fortunately, I liked the book on the pages far more than I probably would have liked the book that went with the cover. I'm not sure what title I would have given it, but I usually suck at titles. The book seemed to be more about social networks and how the heroine's friends and family and their friends and family wove together in good and bad ways. Good: when her old friend turned out to be the perfect person for a hard-to-fill job. Bad: when her most recent ex's new girlfriend turned out to be the co-worker of her cousin's fiance, so she kept running into her ex at family wedding-related events. If you liked the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, this book is similar in tone, with the idea of a great person the main character keeps running into at the worst times and the big group of wacky friends and relatives.

Coupon Girl by Becky Motew -- I totally forgot to talk about this one when it came out because it was one where I read the manuscript ages before publication for a cover blurb. I finally got a copy of the finished book and re-read it. This is a real "happy" book because it just makes me feel good. Our heroine is a saleswoman for those coupon mailers, and in order to win a sales contest so she can replace her psychotic car, she's supposed to get "close to the business" by finding ways to get involved in the community. Her idea: audition for the community theater production of The Sound of Music. She ends up meeting a very interesting cross-section of the community through both her work and the show, and the climax is an account of possibly the most hilarious production of The Sound of Music ever to be performed. It almost makes me want to do community theater.

Cyber Cinderella by Christina Hopkinson -- this caught my eye in the bookstore mostly because of the title. I really like variations on the Cinderella story. The premise is one of those "Oooh, why didn't I think of that?" ones. Our heroine gets bored at work and Googles herself -- only to find a web site about her, complete with paparazzi-like photos of her at parties and out with friends and pictures from her school days. The site makes her look like an energetic woman-about-town with an exciting life. The problem is, she's not famous at all. She has a boring life, a job she hates and a bad boyfriend. Does she have a secret admirer or a scary stalker? With the help of the cute office IT guy, she sets out to find the identity of the webmaster. Meanwhile, seeing her life like that on the web makes her re-evaluate it. It raises the question of what you might do differently if you realized that someone was watching you and reporting your life to the world. My one complaint about the book was that I did sometimes want to slap the heroine around. She's one of those people who would rather be with a bad boyfriend -- an alcoholic who doesn't seem to care for her outside the bedroom and who is sponging off her -- than be alone. I know there are people like that, but it's an utterly foreign concept to me, and I get frustrated with people who refuse to break up with people they know are bad for them just because they think it's worse not to have a boyfriend.

And now, back to the cleaning and organizing. I almost don't recognize my own home.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Thinking Inside the Boxes

As in so many things, I seem to be out of step with the rest of mankind when it comes to the spring time change. This is supposed to be the hard one, when you have to get up an hour early, but it's an easy adjustment for me. In fact, today I woke up before my alarm went off (which is a good thing because while I set my alarm, I forgot to actually turn it on -- kind of like how I managed to set my alarm instead of my clock an hour ahead on Saturday night). I think the way my sleep cycles tend to fall, I wake up at about this time anyway, but I refuse to get up that much earlier than I need to, which then means I oversleep because I seldom fall back asleep for just an hour. I also adjust more easily to moving east a time zone than I do to moving west, even though I more or less function on Pacific time (go figure). The move toward spring also helps. I may joke about being part bear, but I have been more functional and up much earlier as the days have been getting longer. My body really does seem to hibernate.

The cleaning frenzy continues. I've discovered that I have a weird addiction to boxes. I think that comes from a phase in my life in which boxes were in short supply and I never had them when I needed them for wrapping gifts or mailing things. My mom used to save boxes, so that if you needed to, say, wrap a cello as a gift for someone, she could reach into her closet of boxes and pull out the perfect one. I, too, got in the habit of saving good boxes. But then it got out of control as I entered a phase in my life in which boxes were coming into my house faster than they were leaving. I get boxes of my own books sent by my publishers -- the US edition and each foreign edition. I have boxes of my own books that I've ordered. And then there's that little B&N.com habit I've developed, not to mention boxes of other things like promo materials that get shipped to me. I could probably move using all the little book boxes I've got stockpiled. So why does it physically hurt to just throw one in the recycling bin? This annoying voice in the back of my head always says, "You'll probably need that tomorrow." And then there's my sentimental side. I hate the idea of throwing out a box from Random House stamped with my book title on the side.

I'm also realizing just how out-of-control the to-be-read pile is getting. Most of it is publisher freebies from conferences or things my editor has given me, but there are a few books in the stack that I bought that I've been saving for the perfect reading occasion. I'm running out of places to put the TBR books. There may even be more TBR books on the bookcases than there are books I've read and want to keep. I may force myself to at least try to read one per week, and if I can't get into it, I will allow myself to put it in a box to donate to a library book sale, take over to the neighborhood nursing home, or something like that (don't worry, Mom, these are all books you've read and returned to me). It's kind of sad when I don't get around to reading an advance reading copy until after the book has been released -- often until the mass-market paperback is already out. I guess the crazy bookshelves won't reflect badly on me in the newspaper interview because a reporter would expect a writer's home to look like the aftermath of an explosion in a Barnes & Noble.

Now to go deal with my mail. I've finally cleared space in my office to set up a mail center so I can avoid letting my mail settle in my living room. I can put the shredder right there, too, and that way I can get rid of the junk mail right away. Tomorrow I think I'll have a book report post, since in my cleaning I found some I ought to report on.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Shoveling Out the Office

You know how I'm always talking about wanting to get my house cleaned and organized? Well, I have an incentive now. The local newspaper (which is a major metropolitan daily) wants to do an interview with me to run in conjunction with the release of the next book, and the reporter wants to do the interview in my home. This week.

EEEEEEEK! I just turned in a book, after writing two back-to-back. We're talking steam shovel levels of cleaning here. But you know, after two days of work, it's starting to look like it may happen. I tried something wild and crazy and started with my office, even though it's the place where I usually shut the doors and let it stay messy. I realized that most of the clutter in the living room is stuff that belongs in the office but that gets stuck in the living room because I don't have a place for it in the office. So, if I get the office organized a bit, then I'll have a place for all the stuff in the living room. I'm not trying to sort through everything in the office. There's a fair amount of stuff that's been shoved in the closet for me to deal with later, but my desk and the area around it are clear, I've rearranged things to make more room around my desk and generally be more ergonomic, and I have a lot of stuff filed.

Now, though, I'm kind of running out of steam. I tried putting on a CD and working in a particular room while that CD played so I didn't burn out in any one room. What I didn't realize is that the CDs I was putting on were double albums (it's hard to tell with a CD). So instead of 45 minutes of work at a stretch, I was doing an hour and a half or so. No wonder I burned out. I may tackle the bathroom next, then deal with the living room tomorrow. I think I'll make it by Thursday. And then I'll try not to let things fall apart again, no matter how busy I get. I already love my mostly clean desk. It makes me feel free and a lot less stressed.

Wish me luck!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Melanie Lynne Hauser

I actually have a Project Get a Life report! I went out last night! The Texas Exes group in this particular corner of the suburbs had a belated Texas Independence Day party last night, so I went to it. I was kind of the odd one out as it seemed like most of the people there had graduated about ten years before I did, but I met new people, had some interesting conversations and had a margarita and quesadillas with guacamole (yes, I appreciate the irony of having Mexican food to celebrate Texas Independence Day, but that's the way we do it). I realized how quiet my life has become when I couldn't remember the last time I drove at night when I wasn't coming back from the airport. I think it was before Christmas. And this is the time of year when it gets dark pretty early.

Today I have nothing on the agenda and nothing immediately due, other than that trip to the post office I need to make. I think I'm going to do some housework, which means it's very appropriate that my Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest today is Melanie Lynne Hauser, author of Super Mom Saves the World, the sequel to Confessions of Super Mom.

It's six months after the Horrible Swiffer Accident that left her a superhero, and Birdie Lee is still adjusting. For starters, she's hearing voices and having lustful thoughts about Mr. Clean. Then there's the fact that her daughter is suddenly sporting a bright pink streak in her hair, courtesy of her new friend Vienna (and if recent history has taught us anything, we all know that a girl named after a foreign city is going to be trouble). Birdie's son is experiencing his first case of puppy love, her nerdy scientist love interest has just proposed marriage, and her annoying ex-husband is suddenly less annoying. Which can only mean he's up to no good.

But things get even more sinister when her hometown of Astro Park gets Little League fever in a big way. Rabid parents, performance-enhancing Gatorade and a domed stadium on shaky - potentially explosive - ground are just the beginning of Super Mom's problems; throw in a ticked off school janitor and a corrupt mayor, and Super Mom has her hands full. Can one superhero — one mother — struggle to keep her teenagers in tow with one hand while saving her hometown from disaster with the other — while trying to find time for herself as she plans her marriage to her very own Super Man? Only if she’s Super Mom!

And now the interview:
What was your inspiration behind this book?
My deadline? Seriously, the first inspiration was that I was contractually obligated to write a sequel to the first book! Which was challenging in that I'd never thought of the first book as a series book; I thought it was a stand alone. But once I got over my fear of the unknown, I welcomed the chance to explore these characters' lives and relationships further. I think, though, if there is one nugget of inspiration that the whole book kind of revolves around, it's that mothers are always taken for granted, never getting the credit they deserve for knowing what's best for everyone, even if they're superheroes.

Mr. Clean vs. the Brawny guy: Who really is hotter, and why?
Actually, I think the Brawny guy is! I'm a sucker for a man in flannel!

Tell us about some of your Swiffer tour adventures
Well, I had one signing where the CRM ran back to the storeroom and got a box of Swiffer dustcloths - he then passed them out to everyone to use as bookmarks, and I signed them! I've also signed boxes of Swiffer products, when I've met with book clubs (because every home has a Swiffer!). And just last night at my launch party, P&G was nice enough to provide us with a box of Swiffer Dusters for everyone, and a huge Swiffer gift basket to give away at the end of the night.

If you were going to develop a super power based on cleaning products, which products would most likely cause it, what power would you want, and who would your nemesis be?
Really, I have to rely on the original book, when Birdie (aka Super Mom) loaded her Swiffer WetJet with all the cleaning products she owned - and forgot to turn on the exhaust fan. I can see myself doing this, unfortunately, because I use my WetJet all the time, and am somewhat of a cleaning nut!

As far as my nemesis - probably organic cleansers & real dustcloths. I'm shamefully addicted to convenience, and love those products that you can use once and throw away! So if I had a nemesis, it would the old-fashioned, green way of cleaning.

What are you working on now?
Something completely different - a World War II spy caper for the young adult audience!

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Just that I love it, even though I thought I couldn't love another book about Super Mom as much as I did the first one. Because the first one - the one that springs from this amazing, unique, brilliant idea you get in a flash of inspiration - always feels like a gift. But in the end, I grew to love this one just as much, and I think I learned that it doesn't matter HOW you write a book - and it will be different with each book you write - it only matters, in the long run, that you do your best job as a writer. And that if you have done that job, when it's finished, the reader won't know if it was an easy book to write, or a difficult one. And that's what it's all about.

For more info, you can visit Melanie's web site

I might even be inspired enough to get my Swiffer WetJet that I bought ages ago out of the box and see if it works on my evil kitchen floors. I shall report Monday if I've developed any super powers.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Back to Normal (and catching up)

First, if you are so inclined, the folks at the GalleyCat publishing blog are doing a survey about how readers hear about books. Because mostly publishing industry people read that blog, they asked us to send regular readers over there to participate. You don't have to give them any info beyond clicking on the button that best answers the question. Here's the link to the poll. Who knows, the results could end up teaching the publishing industry a thing or two.

I am now done whining about my car. Just a few final thoughts: Good things to come out of the adventure include finding a neighborhood repair shop a few blocks from my house where the people seemed to be pretty nice and honest, as well as finding a friendly cab driver who lives in my neighborhood whom I can now contact directly if I'm ever in dire need of transportation. I've also learned how to get to a few crucial places using public transportation with no car at all (I'm very good with the rail system, but have always driven to the park-and-ride rather than starting with the bus in my neighborhood, since the bus in my neighborhood runs only once an hour and only on weekdays).

I completely forgot to mention that in the middle of all that chaos, guess who had to perform in the music class on Tuesday? Yeah, I needed a wee bit more stress in my life. But after a shaky beginning, I actually did okay and was even enjoying myself by the end. I wouldn't say that I'm cured of my stage fright, but I think I am on the mend. I've upgraded from phobia to plain old fear. Maybe next I'll hit nervousness. Who knows, eventually I could work my way up to diva. Next week is spring break, so I'm hoping to get myself back on track, work-wise.

Speaking of back on track ... that blog campaign I mentioned last week. If you want to participate and want to interview me, have me write a guest blog, interview a character, have a character do a guest blog, or otherwise come up with an entry that requires my input, please e-mail your requests to me at shanna@shannaswendson.com. Put something specific in your subject line so I can recognize it right away. My spam filter sometimes goes hypervigilant, and when I skim through the spam folder I look for subject lines that look real. If I don't recognize your name and the subject is blank or something generic like "hello," the message may get deleted. I will work on these throughout the next couple of months and send them all back just before it's time to start posting. Deadline to send me questions or other requests is April 23, but I will be dealing with these in the order I receive them, so if you wait until the last minute and I get crazy, there's always a chance that I'll spend less time and effort on yours. If there's a question I don't want to answer or don't feel comfortable dealing with, I'll let you know and give you a chance to come up with something else.

Remember that you don't have to use me. To be eligible for prizes, you just have to mention the book name and my name (and it would be nice to mention the first two books, for new readers to find). These should all be posted the week of April 30-May 7. Our goal is to get enough awareness and sell enough books that first couple of weeks that my publisher gets excited (going into a second printing really fast would be cool, too).

The prize categories I'm planning to do for sure will include most creative idea (for entries that are your idea but that I write), best entry written by the blogger, best interview (you're judged on the questions rather than my answers -- though good questions tend to lead to good answers), best review (either of this book or the first two books/the series itself leading to the new book), and biggest impact (like something viral that gets passed around -- a quiz or meme -- or if you can demonstrate a certain size blog readership, generating a lot of comments, recruiting a lot of additional bloggers, etc.). There may be additional categories depending on how many books I get to give away. And then the remaining books will be awarded in a drawing among those who participated who didn't win another prize. The panel of celebrity judges will include me for sure, possibly Mom (though I haven't asked her yet), and then I'll see if any of my "people" want to play. I may pick finalists and then let Mom and any other judges vote on the winner, so I don't make them plow through the (I hope!) hundreds of blog entries.

And speaking of advance copies, those who won copies of book 3 in Writing Month, I'll be getting them in the mail tomorrow, I promise. The car issues got me off-track in my scheduling this week, and instead of getting to the post office, I was running around dealing with repairs and the rental car. I'll start working on ideas for some other way to give away the remaining copies next week.

Finally, we've got another Out of the Blogosphere book this week, Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh.

Used to cold silence, Faith NightStar is suddenly being tormented by dark visions of blood and murder. A bad sign for anyone, but worse for Faith, an F-Psy with the highly sought after ability to predict the future. Then the visions show her something even more dangerous-aching need...exquisite pleasure. But so powerful is her sight, so fragile the state of her mind, that the very emotions she yearns to embrace could be the end of her.

Changeling Vaughn D'Angelo can take either man or jaguar form, but it is his animal side that is overwhelmingly drawn to Faith. The jaguar's instinct is to claim this woman it finds so utterly fascinating and the man has no argument. But while Vaughn craves sensation and hungers to pleasure Faith in every way, desire is a danger that could snap the last threads of her sanity. And there are Psy who need Faith's sight for their own purposes. They must keep her silenced-and keep her from Vaughn...

For more info, an excerpt and behind-the-scenes scoop on the series, visit Nalini's web site

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Automotive Adventure Ends

My automotive adventures have finally come to an end. My car was repaired yesterday, and it is now safely at home in my garage. I returned the rental car this morning and had a bit of a trek getting home from the rental car place, but this was where knowing DFW Airport pretty well helped. I took the bus from the rental car center to a terminal. There I caught the bus to the remote parking lot that also has a city bus stop. I caught a city bus there to the transit center in my general area, and from there I caught a bus that dropped me off pretty much across the street from my house, except I still had to walk a block to actually get to my house because of that brick wall that wraps around my complex. The car wasn't due until noon, but I cleverly found by checking the bus schedules that there was one bus this morning where there was a ten-minute layover at the transit center instead of 40 minutes, so I was able to get off one bus and on another one right away. The Dallas city buses are really nice compared to those I've ridden in other cities. The one that went to my neighborhood was more like a tour bus, with the seats you can recline a bit and the fold-down footrests. So now, it's all over except for paying the credit card bill next month (ouch).

This is going to sound rather odd, but I have to admit to getting a certain degree of satisfaction out of coping with adversity. Not that I want adversity to cope with, but in retrospect, I like that I was able to think one step ahead, stay calm and come up with creative solutions to my various problems without having to ask for a lot of help other than maybe some advice. I guess you can see where Katie's stubborn, independent streak comes from. I'd definitely be the type who would want to see if I could handle the scary magical stuff myself before I asked someone for help, even if I was close to someone who was a real expert on it.

The final diagnosis was a failed shift cable assembly. Apparently, the part that holds the cable that connects the gear shift to the engine broke, and the cable then popped out. It happened just as I was pulling into my garage after driving home from my parents' house. I recall hearing a noise and thought I'd just pulled too far forward and hit one of the storage bins in the back of the garage, but it was probably the cable snapping. Here's the scary part: it could have happened at any time. I'd just been driving cross-country, often in the middle of nowhere, and it could have stuck in whatever gear it was in at the time. I could have been on the open road, and then it would have been stuck in fifth gear. Instead, it stuck in first gear in my garage. I definitely have a guardian angel.

My angel has had a bit of a break with this car. This was my first serious failure with this one. I've only needed battery jumps previously (the hot weather here and the fact that I don't drive often conspire to eat batteries). But the car I had in college required a team of guardian angels to provide round-the-clock coverage, and boy, did they get put to work. They always came through, though. That car was a Sentra wagon, and it was possessed. I was at the point where I figured I'd get better results calling an exorcist than a mechanic. Yet, somehow things always worked out. The first time it died on me, I was interning at a news bureau at Johnson Space Center in Houston. Like most broadcast news internships, there was no pay, so I was trying to find a part-time job to help pay my living expenses. I'd just interviewed for a hostess job at a restaurant and my car died in their driveway as I was leaving, so I had to go back inside and ask to use their phone and phone book. On the bright side, that meant I got to spend even more time with the restaurant manager, and he got to see how I dealt with people when I was stressed, and I got the job.

It was several breakdowns before that problem was fixed. The dealership first put in a new battery, but it ended up being an intermittent problem with the fuel pump -- so intermittent that my dad took it to the local auto place when I was home between the internship and the next semester, and they told him there was nothing at all wrong with it. Then it died in their driveway as we were trying to leave. Next came a problem with the carburetor. The car died as I was driving down a major street (Research Blvd. in Austin), and I coasted into the next driveway -- which turned out to be an auto repair place.

Around this time, the car started eating clutches. The first time one burned out on me, I was driving home at the end of the school year, with most of my worldly goods in the back of the car. The car sputtered to a halt on a country road in the middle of nowhere. This was before the days of cell phones, and though there were houses nearby, it didn't look like anyone was home. Before I had a chance to start worrying, a car pulled over. It was an off-duty state trooper and his wife who were going to the city nearest my hometown (probably the best thing you could ask for in strangers offering a ride). They said they'd give me a ride to that city, and then they ended up taking me all the way to my town when they realized how close it was. They dropped me off at the school where my dad taught, where I got to tell him that I'd made it, but my car was in a ditch about five miles outside Frankston. The next clutch that went out, I was on my way home after the next fall semester. I wasn't too far outside Austin and was on a country road that would connect me to the bigger highway. I coasted up to what turned out to be a salvage yard -- right behind their tow truck. I got a tow and a ride back to Austin, to that repair shop I'd coasted into before, where I was able to call a friend to give me a ride back to the dorm. I was a day late getting home for Christmas, but at least I had a safe place to stay. Needless to say, there was a bit of a dance of joy when I traded in that demonic thing masquerading as a car.

With my last car, my angel just had to help me with a tire, when a tire blew out right in front of a Goodyear place. I did have a tire go flat on my current car, overnight while I was in a motel. I have an air compressor in the trunk, so I aired up the tire and was able to get to the Discount Tire Company shop two blocks away to get the flat fixed (and they didn't even charge me, since I'd bought tires at one of their stores before and they include free lifetime repair service -- even though those tires were on a different car).

So, while I've had my share of car troubles, they always seem to work out for me. I still get a little shaky when I realize how bad this one could have been. This is definitely one of those times when I feel like someone was watching over me. And now I guess I need to do the work that I've been needing to do while I was dealing with all this car stuff, huh?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Automotive Woes

First, the update on my automotive woes. I now have a rental car, a Hyundai Sonata in a very pretty shade of dark blue that is just about my favorite color. As with most rental cars, I'm convinced they put the controls in random places and mark them cryptically just to make things more fun. It took me about fifteen minutes at the rental car place before I could figure out how to adjust the seat so I could reach the pedals. I'm sure I'll have the car just the way I want it at about the time I have to turn it in. The other big adjustment is driving an automatic transmission, something I haven't done at all in about six years and that I've only done occasionally in rental cars in the past 20 or so years.

My own car is now at the repair shop. Thanks in part to a comment left on my blog, I guess my subconscious got inspired, and overnight I half dreamed/half imagined a way I might be able to get the car to a repair shop without having to call a tow truck. The engine seemed to be working fine. My problem was just that the car was stuck in first gear. Theoretically, if I could manage to get the car out of the garage, I could then drive the two or three blocks to the repair shop by creeping along in first gear. This morning, I went out to test the theory. I put my foot on the clutch and released the parking brake to coast backward a bit, then tried driving forward, and it worked. So I put my right foot on the clutch pedal and pushed back with my left foot and managed to back the car out, and then I crept to the repair shop in first gear. It was so cool! It really worked! The shop is in easy walking distance of my house. If I hadn't had places I needed to be this week, I easily could have dealt with all of this without even getting the rental car. My next adventure will be returning the rental tomorrow and then getting home, but since I used the airport's car rental place, I've figured out that I can get home via city bus. It will take a while, with a long layover between buses at the transit center, but I can bring a spiral notebook and do some of the brainstorming work I needed to get done this week. I might even get more accomplished when I have fewer distraction options.

And would you believe, I may have to sing in class today. I guess I'd better practice some.

My library talk last night was a lot of fun. It was a great group of teens and a librarian who really seemed to relate well with them, which is good to see because it means those kids are on track to be lifelong readers. I've even already received a thank-you e-mail from one of the teens. I talked to them about becoming a writer and what it took. It was the kind of talk I wish I could have heard when I was that age because while I knew it was something I wanted to do, I didn't know that I could do it. I'd never met an author in real life. To me, that was kind of like being a movie star. It wasn't something you could just do. (I have no idea where I thought movie stars or authors came from.) I don't know if my career would have gone differently if I'd had that information back then, but I know I would have been more encouraged by the possibilities. A big shout-out to the gang in Wylie, if anyone's here reading.

Monday, March 05, 2007

One of THOSE Days

I seem to be having one of THOSE days. I got home yesterday evening and I guess I was so eager to get home that I forgot I'd planned to stop at the grocery store along the way. I just foraged and then figured I'd run out for groceries this morning. So, I did. I got dressed, made a list and went out to the garage. I started the car, then went to put the car in reverse to back out of the garage, and the gear shift wouldn't engage at all. I drive a manual transmission, and the stick was all loose and floppy. I suspect that is very bad. I'm not sure what happened or when, but it happened at some point between the time I pulled into the garage yesterday and this morning when I was heading to get groceries.

And, wouldn't you know it, this happens to be a day when I needed to go somewhere. I have a speaking engagement at a library on the other side of the metro area. Most of the time, I can easily go a week without getting in a car, but whenever I have some kind of car failure, it's always on a day when I absolutely MUST go somewhere.

I'm proud of myself for my calm, though. I just went inside, logged onto the USAA web site for rental car discounts, booked a rental car, and I've called a cab to take me to the rental car place. I live practically next door to a major airport, so the rental car places aren't too far away. Now I just have to figure out what to do with my car. I don't know if it's something the neighborhood service station could fix or something I need to take it to the dealer for, and I don't want to commit to having it towed until I'm sure what to do about it. I'm not even sure if it's something I should have fixed or if it's a sign I really should get a new car. This is the first serious problem I've had with this car, and it's almost ten years old. I was sort of planning to replace it sometime this year, but I wanted to see what kind of book contract I get before I decide what kind of car I want. I haven't even started looking at what's available.

So, if anyone out there knows anything about cars, is that thing with the gear shift not engaging fixable or fatal?

I guess I'm lucky that I did need to get groceries because I discovered the problem long before it was a crisis. Normally, I'd have just left at the time I needed to for the library program, and then it would have been too late to make alternate arrangements. Or, it's possible that whatever happened when I stopped in my garage could have happened in the grocery store parking lot, and I'd have been stranded there with all my stuff from home and my groceries instead of safe at home.

Now it's almost time for my cab to be here, and then once I have wheels I can figure out what else to do.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Post-Book Recovery Time

Just a quick post before I dash off for my post-book recovery weekend.

Finishing a book is a lot like the end of the semester from my school days. The end is particularly stressful with final exams and big projects due, and then it suddenly drops off, all at once, so that you feel relieved but also a little lost. You can't even enjoy just goofing off because you still have that nagging feeling that there's something you should be doing. Obviously, you're forgetting something important if you have actual free time.

And, wouldn't you know it, everything I like to watch on TV was in reruns on my first guilt-free night in ages? I watched the reruns anyway because the ultimate in mindless TV is watching reruns. It's stuff you know you'll like, and you won't miss anything if you zone out, but if you do pay attention you might catch something you missed before. There were also chocolate cupcakes. In the aftermath of sending the book in Wednesday, and while I was procrastinating working on the House essay, I had a sudden craving for baked goods. I found a cake mix in the cabinet that had just passed its "best by" date. I figured it would be a shame to waste it, so I made cupcakes. I didn't have any icing or even any ingredients for icing, but I melted a Dove Promise on top of one and smeared it around a little bit. Then on my way to class yesterday I bought some chocolate fudge icing so I could really enjoy the cupcakes. I may even stop just icing the tops. Instead, I'll take them out of their paper cups and spread icing all around them. Anyway, there are worse ways to spend an evening than watching My Name is Earl, The Office and Supernatural while eating chocolate cupcakes with fudge icing.

Now I'm making sure to pack workout clothes so I can use my parents' home gym this weekend.

I may give myself a little latitude with work next week, but I need to start my publicity effort in earnest, I have a book proposal to develop, and I'm speaking Monday at the public library in Wylie. I also need to do some handouts for a conference I'll be speaking at in April. Plus, I have to sing again next week for my music class. I'd been practicing the Italian song, but it turns out that we're supposed to do the same song again, supposedly with improvements from all the practice we've been doing since the last time. Oops. Looks like I'll be singing in the car while I drive to my parents' house. Speaking of which, it's time to load up and head out.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Book Report: Mental Health

I'm free! I'm free! I'm free!! The book is turned in, the essay is turned in, and I currently have no major, pressing deadlines. I almost don't know what to do with myself. I'm trying to get a little housework done, then tomorrow I'm heading to the folks' house to hang out and eat barbecue (and probably lots of other stuff). And then work begins again on Monday.

I've been sadly neglecting my book reports. Part of that was because of the deadline, but it was also because of the fact that most of my reading recently has been books I'm judging, and that has to stay anonymous. I may bring up some of those books later, when I can do it in a context that doesn't indicate when and why I read them.

Today's theme would be mental health, which is highly appropriate for "the book is done!" day.

Did any of you see the TV series Emily's Reasons Why Not? It starred Heather Graham and ran for all of one episode before it was cancelled. I don't get TV programmers, because how can they judge what the audience will be based on one airing? They can't tell if the people who did watch would have told other people about it, or if they'd roll their eyes at it and not come back. The episode really wasn't that great. But the series was based on the novel Emily's Reasons Why Not by Carrie Gerlach, and had almost nothing to do with the book, aside from the title and the main character's name. The book itself is a lot of fun, and it manages to sidestep one of the major pitfalls you see in chick lit. One of the most amusing things about chick lit is the bad side of dating and romance, all the bad dates and Mr. Wrongs the heroine experiences before finding Mr. Right. When you're chronically single and dateless, it makes you hate the heroine less for finding the perfect guy when you've seen what she's been through. However, if she goes through too many bad dates or bad guys, there's the danger of her looking Too Stupid To Live if she can't figure out what's not working for her or she can't learn from her mistakes. This book has most of the bad relationship stuff told in retrospective, so we see her learning along the way. Emily is in therapy because of her string of romantic failures. Her therapist makes her take an honest look at her past relationships and make a list of reasons why each relationship was a bad idea. For most of the book, each section is about a particular relationship and what happened, followed by the list she comes up with of the things she should have realized or has learned from it. By the end, we see her putting the Reasons into practice. So we get the best of both worlds, all the fun of her disasters while also seeing that in the present she's trying to grow.

Then, closer to the women's fiction realm is Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakthrough by Isabel Sharpe. Isabel has been a good friend for a long time, so it's been fun to read the finished product after being part of some of the brainstorming for various parts of the book. When she first came up with the idea, she described it as "Madonna moves to Mayberry." After the not-guilty verdict in the trial of the century for allegedly murdering her abusive, cheating lover, the only place Lorelei Taylor has to go is the house she inherited from her grandmother in a small Wisconsin town. She's the kind of person who can't help but shake things up, and her influence ends up affecting a Stepford wife who can't deal with anything short of perfection and an abused young wife who sees that not-guilty verdict as an inspiration. Think Desperate Housewives, except not nearly so campy and with actual character growth.

And then I have another Out of the Blogosphere book, My Favorite Earthling by Susan Grant.

Keira, warrior-queen of the galaxy, is as famous for her beauty as she is for avoiding marriage. But when an upstart little planet called Earth threatens her world with its fleet of spaceships, the fate of her people lies in her hands. She must bind herself to a barbarian from the rogue world...or face the destruction of her own!

Confirmed bachelor Jared Jasper knew the trick Earth pulled on the alien invaders wasn't a permanent solution. What they needed was a peace treaty. It just never occurred to him that he would wind up on the bargaining table. Playing the pushover groom to a mouthy alien babe who knows how to use a plasma sword is not exactly his idea of fun. But with six-billion people depending on him, he doesn't have much choice--sleep with the enemy...or bring on interstellar war.

For more info and an excerpt, check out Susan's web site. She also blogs about her adventures as a 747 pilot, which is a lot of fun to read.

Finally, two months from today, Damsel Under Stress will be released!