Friday, August 31, 2007

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Caridad Ferrer

Ah, my holiday weekend begins. This may be the last thing I do today that could count as "work," other than maybe checking e-mail. I've got a whole weekend of goofing off planned. I think I'm going to see Stardust again today because it makes me happy, and then tonight I'm making fajitas and marathoning Doctor Who. The rest of the weekend will be "Chick flicks and chick lit" with a Jane Austen theme. Unless I change my mind, which has been known to happen. I tend to get these whims.

I kind of started the Jane Austen thing yesterday when I saw Becoming Jane. Sadly, I didn't like it as much as I wanted to. The people who wrote it weren't quite Jane Austen-caliber, so the characters didn't really work for me. I didn't like the main love interest, in spite of the fact that I utterly adore the actor, because he seemed to be a bad cross between Darcy from Pride and Prejudice and Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility. I guess the main reason I didn't like him is that he pretty much verbatim said and did one of my HUGE pet peeves -- the routine where a guy assumes that a woman is too innocent/sheltered/unworldly and needs her horizons broadened, and, of course, he's the guy to do it for her. I HATE it when men do that to me. I'm sorry, honey, but sex with you or even innuendo-laden conversation with you is not going to make me a better writer, and if that is what it takes, then I guess I'll languish on the mid-list (you'd be surprised by the number of men who take that approach with me. Yes, I'm quite literally a church choirgirl -- though on hiatus at the moment -- but I really don't need anyone to "help" me "broaden my horizons" and that attitude is an instant turn-off). Meanwhile, the guy who was supposed to be Mr. Wrong came across as quite sweet, and I couldn't help but feel like he would have been good for her if she'd given him half a chance and bothered to get to know him. And I don't want to think of Jane Austen as the kind of woman who'd go chasing off after the bad boy (after being dim enough to fall for his act) while ignoring the nice guy right under her nose. Yeah, I know they were limited somewhat by the facts, so they couldn't have a woman who never married actually end up with someone, but as I understand it, the facts were really quite vague, so they didn't have to portray the dynamic in quite that way.

The previews were only marginally better with this film, in that they were the "highbrow feel-good" movies, where all sorts of sad, horrible things happen, only to work out in the end. Sort of. However, I feel somewhat better about the state of the world from the previews I saw the other day after seeing one of those movies reviewed. Our local film critic said something to the effect of "pretentious piffle larded onto malicious mayhem," so I guess my assessment of those films was at least shared by one person who might be in a position to know.

And now, to kick off my holiday weekend, we've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Entry, It's Not About the Accent by Caridad Ferrer.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE ACCENT traces the bold transformation of Caroline Darcy, a college-bound beige-blonde born and bred in small town Hampshire, Ohio, into “Carolina,” a half-Cuban aspiring actress, with striking Havana Brown hair, a caliente wardrobe, a taste for platanos, and a hunger for adventure. Carolina has no problem dressing, dancing, and talking the part, down to her effortlessly rolled rrrs – even though she’s only one-eighth Cuban. She owes her attraction to her exotic heritage and her yearning for something… different to Elisa Maribel Teresa de La Natividad Sevilla y Tabares – her Nana Ellie, the great-grandmother she loved, dearly and fiercely, and lost when she was thirteen. Carolina vividly remembers Nana Ellie’s romantic stories of her encounters with everything from the Eiffel Tower to Russian nobility. And she regrets missing the chance to unravel the facts from the fantastic tales – and learn more about her Nana’s mysterious, scandalous past.

The story opens at the beginning of Caroline’s Latina rebirth and undergrad career at the University of Southern Ohio for the summer session. To her thrill and amazement, her Cuban act works like a charm on the opposite sex. Faster than her first beer buzz, Caroline finds herself becoming more popular and getting increasingly intimate with Erik, a smooth-talking frat guy with gorgeous baby blues. The only male on campus who doesn’t fall for Carolina’s Latina allure is Peter, the full-blooded son of Cuban immigrants, who hails from Miami. Despite the danger of being exposed as a fraud, Caroline is drawn to this quiet, serious student – on a strictly friendship basis. But when Carolina gets in over her head and on the edge of a dangerous situation, Peter is the one who comes to her rescue. What’s more, he accepts her for who she is – and leads her on a real adventure to discover the truth about Nana Ellie and the very wealthy family she left behind in Cuba. What Caroline discovers about her ancestors – including one unknown living relative – is more exciting than she ever could have imagined.

Now, the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
I needed to come up with a concept for a second novel and I’ve always been fascinated by how in this country, so many young women (with ethnic backgrounds in particular) go to such great lengths to change their appearance— changing their hair color, their eye color.  I thought it might be fun to take that premise and turn it on its ear a bit, with a character who sees herself as very bland and boring, trying to make herself more “exotic" and exciting and using that as a springboard for adventure.

Describe your creative process.
Generally, I'll have a synopsis that I'll work from, then usually, about halfway through, I'll sit down at write down a chapter by chapter outline-- sometimes just bullet points, sometimes a little more detailed, to make sure I'm hitting all the major points I intend to cover. I'm very linear, so I do write from beginning to end, but I also do revise as I go along-- I guess all things considered, I'm a blended writer.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I have to have an ample supply of Mega M&Ms. :-) In the mornings, it's all about coffee, after mid-morning it's either Diet Coke or iced tea (if it's summer) or hot tea (during what passes for winter in North Florida). First thing in the morning, I usually check email and websites, while my brain wakes up, then I'll check what I last wrote on the manuscript, make any changes or notes that I want to follow up on and then get to work. If it's a day where the ideas don't flow, I'll do research or anything that might get creative juices fired up.

And regardless of what I'm doing, I'm always listening to music--- I always have a soundtrack or two for each manuscript and that's another tool I use to get in the mood (I'm sort of Pavlovian that way) or I'll just listen to favorites if I'm going the research route.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
Well, Caroline starts out as an aspiring actress, and acting was something I was very into, from a very early age. It gave way, somewhat to music, but it's always been one of my artistic loves, musical theatre, in particular. The other things that Caro and I have in common are our love of history and of cooking. Oh, and anyone familiar with NE Ohio, might recognize my fictional town of Hampshire as being very similar to Hudson, where I lived for five years.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark. Seriously dark. The stuff from overseas that I have to go to World Market to find or resort to ordering online.

What are you working on now?
Another young adult project—a contemporary reinterpretation of Bizet’s Carmen. I’m extremely excited by this project, since I’ve always loved that story, and it’s very exciting to have the opportunity to reinvent it for a new era and new audience. I go back into my music background for that one, but also dabble in dance and sports and so far, it’s just been a blast. That will be coming out from Dial in early 2009.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Just that this is a very special story to me and I'm very glad that it's finally out in the world!

For more info, visit Caridad's web site. Or, you can buy it from Amazon.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

More on Movies

I forgot to mention yesterday that I've broken my boycott of the neighborhood movie theater. I don't know if the massive amount of business they lost from me (ha!) did the trick, or if someone else complained, but they had the real box office open yesterday. It definitely fits into the "does that seem right to you?" category: during the summer when kids were out of school, all the summer blockbusters were playing, and they had entire busloads of kids from daycare centers and day camps coming to the theater in the afternoons, they were selling tickets at the concession stand, with one guy having to sell tickets and fill concession orders. Now that school's back in session and in the afternoon the audience tends to be retirees and me, they have the box office open. Though I guess that could have been a marketing ploy, as when you have to wait in line at the concession stand with kids even to get a ticket, just try getting away without buying any snacks. Meanwhile, the retirees and I usually just buy a movie ticket and aren't tempted by snacks.

I found the previews yesterday to be very disturbing. This fall there seem to be a lot of extremely violent movies exploring the dark side of human nature, with people being victims to horrible crimes and then going on to do horrible things, themselves, when the system fails them and doesn't properly punish the criminals. I find a lot about this trend ironic. For one thing, the people making these movies would likely be the first ones to lead protests and candlelight vigils if the system in real life did what they seem to be complaining about the system not doing in the films. For another, they seem to be saying, "Violence is bad, and to show you how bad it is, we'll depict it in loving detail, with plenty of close-ups of the gore, and slow motion photography so you can relish every last bit of it." And, apparently, these are supposed to be "good for you" movies instead of outright violence porn because they star Oscar-bait actors.

So, today I'm planning to see Becoming Jane, and I hope to have an entirely different class of previews with it. I may be seeing a lot of children's movies this fall because I can be a total wimp and because I prefer optimism about human nature and life in general. I prefer to see people at their best than people at their worst. Yeah, the Bourne Ultimatum did have some violence, but it was more suggested than graphic. The handheld camera work meant that it was all chaotic and you only caught enough bits and pieces of what was going on to get a sense of kind of what was happening. In the previews of these other movies, the camera focused intently on the violence and slowed it down so you could really see it -- and that's just the "suitable for all audiences" previews. What will be in the actual films?

And in other news, it's been a while, but we've got another Out of the Blogosphere blog tour entry, Wicked Magic, by Cheyenne McCray:
Rhiannon Castle is a D'Anu witch whose Coven sisters know nothing of the Shadows that lurk within her. Rhiannon can't reveal the truth to anyone-least of all Keir, a rugged soldier who walks into Rhiannon's life and awakens her to a reckless desire. Keir's Tuatha D'Danann brethren are the only real family he has ever known. He trusts no one-until he is sent to San Francisco and meets Rhiannon, the one woman with enough fire to tame him. Then a new threat rises from the depths of Underworld. When a demon goddess unleashes her evil upon our world, Rhiannon's secret could prove the ultimate weapon in this epic battle-or forge a pathway to destruction for the only man she's ever loved.

For more info, an excerpt, etc., visit Cheyenne's web site.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Recovery Phase

I think I remember why the "nothing" in my all-or-nothing routine tends to come about. There's something incredibly mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting about pouring out a book in a frenzy like that. Yesterday morning, I was still on the adrenaline high, but then when it wore off, I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. Unfortunately, it wore off while I was in the mall, so suddenly I didn't have the energy to seriously shop or try things on. But there do seem to be some cute things for the fall, and finally in colors I can wear (unlike last year's weird, murky colors), so when I have energy I may go back.

So, I just crawled my way over to the movie theater from there and finally saw the third Pirates movie. I'm not even sure what I think about it, quality-wise, but for the most part it was the perfect thing to watch when I was utterly brainless. I might not have liked it if I'd had the mental capacity to analyze it. I hadn't realized that Norrington was played by the guy from Coupling, probably because I hadn't seen Coupling until recently (and, oddly, I never put it together from the other side when I started watching Coupling). But as soon as I heard his voice, all I could imagine was him sitting in a pub and whining about women, and that caused many a giggle fit throughout the movie. I was picturing him in the Norrington costume, sitting in the Coupling pub and complaining about Elizabeth and about how women say they want a nice guy, but then they go for the pirates.

Then I came home and more or less collapsed. I watched a lot of the special features on the Doctor Who DVDs and again got strange cases of giggles about the oddest things. I can see me now taking those DVDs next time I visit my parents and insisting they watch a particular special feature because it's so hilarious, and then when we watch it I won't remember why I thought it was so funny. (Yes, I was completely cracking up over the Confidentials. Go figure.)

This morning I had a freelance project to do, and then I went to see The Bourne Ultimatum. I really liked it, but it made me even more exhausted. It was an excellent study in suspense and pacing. What I like about those movies is that while there are a lot of really famous people in them, somehow they're all just actors in them, so I really just see their characters and completely forget about who they are in real life. With most action movies, it's more like with the Big Action Star (*cough*TomCruise*cough) where there doesn't seem to be an actual character there and you just think of him as the star -- in fact, you can't forget who he is in real life.

And then I hit Target and the grocery store, since the hit-by-a-truck exhaustion came with a strange craving for carbs, and I had nothing suitable in the house last night. And now it's starting to rain, so I must sit downstairs in my living room and watch it while drinking tea and eating cookies.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I finished the book last night! I already know a few things I want to change about the ending, since I did kind of meander there, and I was a little short of my targeted page count, but I think it's still within the ballpark for this kind of book, and I know I'll probably add a lot in revisions. But the first draft is done! I got the idea August 5. I started writing August 6. And I finished it August 27. And there were three days out of that time when I was out of town, plus a day getting ready to travel when I didn't write, a day after travel when I didn't write, and a day I spent on plotting, character development, etc. That's the fastest I've ever written a book, and it's not even the shortest book I've ever written, though it is about 100 pages shorter than my usual first drafts for the Enchanted, Inc. books.

I'm now letting it rest until after Labor Day, and then I'll start revising the beginning so I can send my agent a proposal. In the meantime, I'll give myself some time off (an extended Labor Day weekend, I guess), and I may try to catch up on some business-type stuff. Like, for instance, my e-mail. The in-box got way out of control, to the point I was only dealing with color-coded things that came from people in my address book (I have my address book color-coded into categories like friends, family, business contacts, etc., so when I get mail from those people, it shows up in the appropriate color in my in-box).

After every book, I always swear that I'm going to stop doing the all-or-nothing thing and just try to write a little every day instead of hashing it out in a marathon during which I do absolutely nothing else. But, you know, it seems to work for me, so why change it? There are some problems with that approach, like the fact that things tend to pile up while I'm buried in a book, so when I'm done with a book, I have a lot to deal with. And then writing does kind of work like physical endurance. If I go for a while without writing regularly, then it gets harder to get started again. Maybe I need to find a compromise. While I'm doing a first draft, I can bury myself in the book and go nuts, but then I need to also allocate a little time each day to deal with other things. Meanwhile, when I'm not in a book marathon, I still need to try to write a little something almost every day.

I am giving myself today off (mostly, because I do have some things that need to get done), and then Friday is a holiday for me, and I will take the whole holiday weekend. Wednesday and Thursday I may do some book-related research, and I might try outlining a short story I want to write.

In other news ...
I owe Amazon an apology after my rant yesterday about how long they take to deliver stuff. After I posted that, I went out to check my mail and found my package sitting on the front porch. However, their order status tracking system leaves something to be desired because it said that the carrier had been notified to pick up the package and it wasn't even in transit yet, with an estimated delivery date of August 31 -- while the package was sitting on my front porch. I guess I'm spoiled by that other online bookseller that uses UPS, where you can track each step of the way. Meanwhile, my postman never rings the doorbell when he leaves something on the porch (I'm lucky he left it -- normally he just sticks the "we tried to deliver, but you weren't home, so go pick it up at the post office" slip in my box, even on days when I know I didn't leave the house), while the UPS guy rings the doorbell even when I don't need to sign for something (I think he just likes to chat with me).

Meanwhile, the mystery TV series has been identified! It's Star Maidens. That title still doesn't sound familiar, so it's possible I never actually knew the title while I was watching the show, but I recognized several of the episodes in the episode guide, and all the pictures looked very familiar. It turns out, though, that the mental images I had of it weren't quite accurate, and I seem to have mapped a lot of the miniseries V onto it. Although the costumes weren't exactly as I thought I recalled, I think it's still safe to say that they look like something ABBA would have worn in concert in that era. It was a really, really silly show, and I suspect it only stuck in my brain because one of my friends was really into it. There was a bit of playing around with Greek and Roman mythology, and even a quasi-attempt at a sort of Greek or Roman look to it, and my friend was really into anything about ancient Greece or Rome.

I'm still not sure where I managed to absorb all my Doctor Who knowledge. I know the Dallas public television station was showing it when I was in high school, and we could usually pick up Dallas stations on our antenna on Saturday nights, but while I remember watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and even the occasional episode of Red Dwarf, I don't have a specific memory of watching Doctor Who. I remember the show, but I don't remember watching it, which is very odd. Maybe I did a mind meld with a Doctor Who fan at some point in my past.

Friday night's Doctor Who episode gave me the strange urge to re-read To Say Nothing of the Dog. I guess there are a lot of similarities, with a time traveler from the future ending up in England's past, and even though it's not exactly the same period, there's only a 25-year difference, and society was still pretty similar. Probably because of the source of the inspiration to re-read, I'm finding myself picturing David Tennant as Ned, which really works during the parts at the beginning when he's totally time-lagged while so much is going on around him, and he's diving for cover when someone so much as mentions Lady Schrapnell. Since Connie Willis will be the guest of honor at Fencon next month, it's probably good for me to refresh myself about my favorite book of hers (and very possibly my favorite book of all time -- oh, and the copy I'm reading is personally autographed).

Now I need to deal with a few things, and then I'm going out. While I was cleaning house last weekend, I found a gift card from a store at the mall that I'd forgotten about, so there will be shopping, and then I can finally get around to seeing the third Pirates movie, since it's shown up at the dollar theater.

Oh, and happy birthday to my brother! I won't give away the age, and I decided to be nice and not post any embarrassing photos (but I do have some, so be warned!).

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cultural Osmosis

I'm soooo close to finishing this book. In fact, if I'm very, very good today and get excited about it, I might even pull off a marathon and finish the first draft today! Of course, I already know a bunch of things I want to change when I revise it, but I'll deal with that after the first draft is done.

My hair experiment had an unexpected result. I'd thought that doing without conditioner or styling products would result in a frizzy mess, but it was almost the opposite, and I suspect that had something to do with the French braid. The crown above the point where the braid started was a kind of frizzy halo, then most of my hair was just slightly wavy, with the ends very curly. The hair did start to curl up more after I took the braid out, and I imagine I would have had a huge, frizzy mess if I hadn't done the braid. But now I know that my heroine can survive without looking too hideous if she just braids her hair when it's wet.

I did go ahead and order my book completion reward of Doctor Who DVDs last week, and it's a good thing I did, since the estimated delivery date is more than a week from when I ordered them. They haven't even shipped yet, with the status at "carrier notified to pick up shipment." I may still have a personal vendetta against that B-word chain with an online store, but generally, if they had something in stock, you got it within about three days of ordering it, and that was with the free shipping. I bit the bullet and paid for standard shipping from Amazon, since their free shipping had an estimated delivery date of more than two weeks after I ordered and their price was so much lower to begin with, but now I know not to order from them when it's time-sensitive. Most of the time, it isn't time sensitive, but when you want to watch something on a particular weekend, it is nice to be able to get it within a week of when you order it. I guess they're trying to force everyone into Amazon Prime, but that's more expensive even than the B&N membership, and I don't order enough stuff online that I simply must have delivered right now to make that pay off. Maybe with this order I should have just joined the free trial, and then cancelled it.

Speaking of Doctor Who, I'm a relative newcomer to that universe, and yet I feel like I'm pretty steeped in knowledge about it, which is very weird. Before the revived series, the only times in the past that I'm absolutely sure I watched it were the Fox TV movie in the 90s and the summer between my sophomore and junior years in college. That summer I was interning in Houston at a news bureau and working nights and weekends as a restaurant hostess. Because we were a family-oriented restaurant in a suburb, our dinner rush tended to hit early, between about 5 and 7:30. The hostess was the first to be cut for the night when the rush slowed enough that waiters could take over seating people. That meant I got home and collapsed on the sofa just in time to catch the public television airing of Doctor Who, where they showed an entire story arc as a kind of movie in one night. My memories of what, exactly, I saw are kind of hazy, as I was watching on a 13-inch black-and-white TV I was "storing" over the summer for my dorm roommate. I'm not even sure which Doctor it was. I have a vague impression of it being Tom Baker, as that's who I most associate with the role, but this was the late 80s and that would have been way behind, but then they could have just been rerunning older episodes.

And yet, I seem to know way too much about this series. There's so much that's familiar to me, and was, even before that summer. For instance, there was a guy on my dorm floor in college who had one of those long, striped scarves, and I knew it was a Doctor Who scarf (and I'm fairly certain he was around in my sophomore year). I knew someone with a TARDIS coin bank, and I recognized it. When I was watching Doctor Who that summer, I recall my reaction when I found it on TV as being, "Hey! It's Doctor Who! Cool!" And I've caught a lot of the references to the classic series that are in the new version. For instance, when Sarah Jane showed up last season, I recognized her immediately and even had a fairly vivid mental image of what she looked like when she was on the show. I was thrilled to see K-9. There's a big classic reference in one of the episodes later this season that I got to see when watching with some friends earlier this summer, and I actually squealed out loud when it came up -- but I don't know how or why I know that.

It's entirely possible that we did watch some Doctor Who when I was in college, since that's the kind of thing our group would have done, but I don't remember doing so, and I have vivid memories of us all cramming into someone's dorm room to watch Star Trek -- the original series every afternoon right before dinner my freshman year, and then later The Next Generation every weekend when it started during my sophomore year. (I know there's at least one of y'all around here -- help me out!) My parents are fans of the new series but have no recollection of having seen it before, so chances are pretty good I didn't watch it at home before college. We had one television, and we generally watched everything together as a family. I wouldn't expect them to remember details about everything we watched, but you'd think that a series about traveling through time and space in a blue police call box would ring a bell. So how do I know all this stuff? Is it some sort of geek cultural osmosis, so that by hanging around with people who have been into it all along, I'm absorbing aspects of it -- kind of like the way I could practically quote the entire film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail before I ever actually saw it? I'm sure there were dorm cafeteria dinner table discussions that had Doctor Who references woven in, but then that wouldn't explain how and why I recognize images.

I imagine that this is kind of what it must be like to have partial amnesia, or maybe even Alzheimer's disease, where something seems incredibly familiar to you, and you seem to know quite a lot about it, but you have no memory of meeting that person or learning that thing -- like, "I know who you are and why you're important, but I don't remember meeting you."

While thinking of this, I've had a vague mental image of Daleks on the TV set in my best friend's basement rec room during the summer between fifth and sixth grades. That could fit, as that summer may be the one time in my life before I left home when I would have watched something without at least one of my parents around. That summer, my mom got a job and my little brother was in nursery school, so I, as an incredibly responsible 10-going on-11-year old, got to stay home alone during the day (we were on a military base and it was an entirely different world then). We had one TV station in English that worked on American-format TVs, and during the day, aside from a short block of soap operas, they ran a lot of old American TV series, mixed in with stuff they got from British TV. It's entirely possible that they could have shown Doctor Who as part of their daytime summer programming. My best friend's older sisters went to boarding school in England and were home for the summer, so it's possible they would have been in the basement watching Doctor Who while we were playing in there, and then I might have watched it on days when I wasn't outside playing or over at a friend's house.

I don't remember it specifically, so I definitely didn't get deeply into it, but at that age, I didn't get deeply into anything that didn't have a cute, youngish guy involved. As awesome as Tom Baker's Doctor was (and that was right in the middle of the Baker era), he wouldn't have counted as a cute, young guy to me at that age (now, if it had been the current Doctor, I'd have been all over it). My big obsession that summer was Daktari, since in a lot of the episodes there was a cute, young vet, and I was very disappointed when they showed an episode he wasn't in. I do know for sure there was at least one British science fiction series on in the afternoons, so it would make sense for Doctor Who to have been programmed with it.

And speaking of that, since I believe there are a fair number of residents of the British Isles reading this, maybe you can help me name this series. I've Googled and Wikipediaed myself to death and can't find any evidence of this series, and it's driving me crazy. The series would have been on AFN in 1978-1980 or so, but it could have been several years old by the time it made it to AFN. It was shot on video and had a special effects budget of about a dollar per episode, so it had a similar "look" to the early Doctor Who episodes. From what I can recall, the story involved an alien spaceship landing near a British small town or possibly suburb. The aliens were a kind of Amazonian society, where the women were strong, aggressive and in charge, and the men were all weak, wimpy and subservient. The aliens really upset the social order in the town, encouraging all the bored housewives to rise up and take a stand. It seemed lovely at first, but there was something darker going on, and an underground resistance movement formed. At some point, some members of the resistance managed to travel to the aliens' home world, where they saw that the society was based on slave labor, and they led an uprising. The alien women wore metallic jumpsuits that looked like something ABBA would have worn in concert in that era, and they had the Farrah Fawcett hair with the wings on the side. I think it was a Thames TV production, as I recall that logo appearing at the end of episodes. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Friday, August 24, 2007

My Layoff Memoir: Part 3, Moderate Success

I'm now less than 100 manuscript pages away from my targeted completion of this book, and yesterday I wrote a scene that had me squeeing like a fangirl. Actually, there's a lot of squeeworthy stuff in this book, and I figure if I'm pushing my own buttons, then it's bound to affect someone else the same way. I'm also doing a little bit of personal experience research. Some authors do stuff like skydiving or exploring haunted houses to research books. I'm messing with my hair. I mentioned last week that my heroine has curly hair and is stuck in a situation without conditioner or hair gel. Well, I haven't gone without conditioner and a ton of styling products in forever, so I'm not even sure what my hair would be like. Last night, I washed my hair by just scrubbing my scalp, used no conditioner or styling products, and braided it wet. Today I walked to the post office and got a bit sweaty (which also fits with the book). I'm already seeing that my hair doesn't stay in the braid and has lots of little frizzy bits flying around. We'll see what it looks like when I take the braid out tonight.

And anyone with curly hair will know that going without conditioner and styling products is almost as scary and extreme as skydiving for book research.

So, in my saga that traces my journey from corporate drone to unemployed failure to moderately successful author, we're now where I started the uphill climb to the moderately successful part. In the spring of 2003 I'd started to try to take more control of my writing career, but still wasn't having much success. In July of that year, I went to the Romance Writers of America national conference in New York. I'd set up some meetings with editors I'd worked with in the past, and I was optimistic that this would be the conference that would turn my career around. And it was, just not in the way I was expecting.

I came out of those meetings with requests for revised versions of some of the books I'd been working on for ages (in one case, the editor had seen an earlier version and thought that with some revision it would be perfect for what she was publishing then). By Friday afternoon of the conference, I was done with all my business and feeling like I was on my way. I tagged along with my friends to a reception a publisher was holding. The reception was to launch the latest attempt at a Harlequin romantic comedy line, and since I'd written for one of their previous lines, I thought crashing the reception by being dragged by my friends who wrote for the line would be a good chance for me to make yet another possible contact. For whatever odd reason, the reception was also the venue for launching the Luna fantasy imprint. While I was hovering and waiting to talk to the editor in charge of the romantic comedy line, another editor approached me and mentioned that she was one of the editors working on Luna, and did I have any questions? I mentioned that the guidelines said they were interested only in books with historical-like settings for their initial run, but might they ever consider a contemporary setting? She said they'd just bought a contemporary book. I said, "Oh, that's interesting, because I have this idea ..." And then I told her about that quirky Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter kind of idea I'd had, and she totally perked up, so I told her more, about the heroine being immune to magic and working for a magical company. I swear, I made up half the story just as I was talking to her, and she was definitely interested. The friend who was standing next to me said her nostrils were flaring, but I'm not sure it was that intense. She handed me her card and said she wanted to see it. I told her I hadn't written it, that what I'd just told her was all I had, and I had a few other things I was committed to getting done first, so it might be a while. She said, "Then what are you doing standing around here? Go work!"

So, there was an editor who actually thought it was a viable idea! But even then, I wasn't sure there was a market for it. Because I was still halfheartedly looking for an agent, I was keeping a grid with all my various projects, their status, where they'd been submitted, etc., and when I added this one to the grid, my note in the comments section was that I wasn't sure any other publisher would be interested, so this was a lower priority.

That fall, things started really looking up. One of my former client contacts who'd been laid off got a new job, and he needed help developing his new company's marketing materials. Then someone at another company I'd done work for called me about a project. I was making money again! And then in October, I finally started writing that quirky little book. I got three chapters and a synopsis done and sent them off to that editor, but I was having too much fun to stop, so I just wrote the whole book. In fact, I was having so much fun that when all the stuff I'd sent out that summer after my conference meetings was rejected (or else revisions were requested that I couldn't live with), I didn't care. By the time I was done with the book, I had a feeling I had something special, so I started looking for an agent. I queried and got a request for the first 50 pages in January 2004, then that agent offered to represent me in March. Around that time, I got a big freelance job that would take up the first half of the year, and that kept me distracted while the waiting game went on. That was also around the time I first saw the Infamous Red Stilettos at Nordstrom and swore I'd buy them when I sold the book. Rejections poured in all summer -- including one from that initial publisher who'd spurred me to write the book (though, oddly enough, not from that editor). And then I got the book deal at the end of July.

I guess I'm currently more on a downward slope again, as I'm not under contract and not even under option, and because I've been focusing on the fiction writing, my freelance contacts, except for one ongoing project, have mostly dried up. In a way, I'm back where I was in the fall of 2003, when I was writing a book that wasn't contracted, having no idea of where or how it would be marketed, just because it was fun. But a few factors make things a little better now than it was then. I already have an agent. I have a decent publishing track record. My earlier books are still selling to foreign publishers and doing quite well overseas, so money keeps coming in. If none of my next few projects sell, then I suppose I'll have to reconsider a few things, but I'm nowhere near giving up on anything. I'm still firmly convinced that I'll hit the tipping point with my series somehow and get a big enough sales boost to get book 5 published.

As an aside, in case you're interested in the timeline in the life of a book, from idea to publication, here's how Enchanted, Inc. went (this isn't necessarily typical, but from what I've heard from other authors, it's not atypical, either):
January 2002: Initial idea
July 2003: Initial publisher interest in idea
September 2003: Character development, plot outlining and research trip to New York
October 2003: Wrote and submitted book proposal, continued writing first draft.
December 21, 2003: Finished first draft
January 2004: Revised book, queried agent, got request for partial manuscript
March 2004: Got agent request for full manuscript, got offer for agent representation
April 2004: Did revisions with agent
May 2004: Agent submitted book
July 22, 2004: Got book deal (yay!)
September 2004: Copy edits
October 2004: Got cover art
December 2004: Galley proofs
May 2005: Book was published

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My Layoff Memoir: Part 2, Struggle

I hit the 190-page mark last night, so I've got around 100 pages to go for my target length. Woo hoo! I did kind of throw off my mental timing by doing something silly: I reset my computer clock. Clocks in general that are around me for any length of time tend to gain time. My watch and alarm clock are usually around five minutes fast, and my computer clock really gains time. I was used to just mentally subtracting fifteen minutes from whatever time my computer clock said it was. It was like my computer clock was the warning about the time it would be in fifteen minutes. For whatever reason, Tuesday night I reset it to the real time, and that's really messing me up because I keep mentally subtracting those fifteen minutes and forgetting that it's the real time. I hadn't realized the impact of that mental time cushion. I may have to go back and set it to the way it was because instead of feeling ahead of the game and prepared, I feel like I'm just a bit behind and trying to catch up.

Now, since I left you with a cliffhanger (I'm evil that way), the story continues ...

Things went great in my newly restructured job for a little more than a year, and then things started to change in early 2001. First, my immediate supervisor transferred to another office. She and I had a great working relationship. I became a kind of confidante and consultant to her since I was outside the normal office politics loop. I guess I gave her a peer in the office so she didn't show weakness to the people under her or to her boss, and she could discuss things with me like the creepy client who invited her to lunch for what she thought would be a business meting, but then he hit on her. She also was really good at figuring out how to use me as a resource. Unfortunately, her replacement was the exact opposite. We were about the same age and experience level, and she seemed to see me as a threat to her position, I guess since I'd been there longer and was so firmly entrenched with our major clients. She didn't seem to realize that I had absolutely zero interest in her job. I just wanted to be left alone to write Angel fanfic work on my novel. If you read the comic strip Dilbert, you might recognize her as "Topper," the one who has to top anything anyone else says. She did it to everyone, even the interns (and, I later found out, to clients), but it seemed particularly bad with me. For instance, we were going after a healthcare client, and I mentioned in a meeting that I did have some healthcare experience, having worked five years at a medical school and freelanced for them longer than that, so that I spoke Conversational Doctor (which I figured would be relevant). She immediately had to bring up the fact that she once did a project with a medical angle during her internship. She not only didn't really know how to use me, she seemed afraid to use me, so I started being shut out of things. She wouldn't include me in crucial client meetings or in the process of planning things for clients.

Fortunately, the general manager of the office did like to use me. I started working more on his accounts than on the accounts in my own group, which meant I got a lot more variety and learned about some fun industries. But then he took a job at another company. We went several months without a manager, with the regional president just doing general oversight and the group VPs running their own groups. That meant I got zero to do. I was bored out of my skull. I got to the point I was dreaming up wacky consumer tip news releases for Home Depot, just for fun, even though I technically didn't work on that account (I learned all about gardening and home improvement). It was during this period in January 2002 when I really got into the Harry Potter books, and then one morning as I dragged myself up the stairs to my office to check my e-mail and see if there was something -- anything -- for me to do I had this funny little idea pop into my head when I caught myself daydreaming about getting a fantasy job offer in my e-mail.

Around this time, things started happening. The new general manager they hired was someone I'd worked with before -- the one person in my entire professional career I'd ever had a hallway screaming match with. I warned the regional president about the kind of person he was and what my experiences with him had been, but they disregarded my input (and then a couple of years later he went down in flames of scandal, so HAH!). Meanwhile, our biggest account, the one where I wrote speeches for the CEO, was up for review, so we had to re-pitch it, and my immediate supervisor actually shut the conference room door in my face when the team that was supposed to work on the pitch was meeting. I was totally shut out of it, other than proofreading the proposal, and they didn't take me to the meeting. I could see the writing on the wall and started working on my escape plan. I had all that money in savings, and I figured I could live on that and freelance for a while. I just wanted to make it past my next dentist appointment two weeks away, so my insurance would cover it, and then I'd quit. But then we lost the big account (duh), and that meant staffing had to be cut, and I was on the list. On the last day of January, while I was eating breakfast, I got a phone call telling me to bring my laptop and any pending work, along with my office keys, to the office ASAP. It was the biggest relief, really. There was some worry, but I'm not sure I would have had the nerve to quit on my own, no matter how much I talked about it. Being pushed out made it feel like this was meant to be. Other than the dental insurance (all benefits ended the day they dropped the axe), it worked out better for me because I got severance pay and the sympathy of all my former clients, especially that big one. They called me immediately (the benefit of working from home -- all my clients knew how to reach me) to complain that my company had kept on the person who was the reason they went to another agency while firing the people they liked. And they wanted to know if I was interested in freelancing. That was when I decided not to look for another job. I was too spoiled by my working conditions to go back to working in an office, and I really wanted to write, plus I had all that money in savings. So, I decided to go for it and concentrate on my writing, with whatever freelance work I could pick up, instead of searching for a job.

It was kind of scary, especially at first. I'd calculated an hourly rate and figured out how many hours I'd need to work a week to pay my living expenses, and I started to panic when I didn't have a project to do. It took me a while to get used to the ebb and flow of freelance income and the way it tended to be feast or famine, and I had to keep reminding myself that I did have money in the bank, so that anything I earned just spread out the time I had that I could go without a job. All my work over the years paid off, as former clients found out I was available and hired me as a freelancer, and my former supervisor took a job at a new company and hired me to freelance instead of hiring a new person in her office. I still had to dip into my savings for major expenses like taxes and health insurance, but I made enough money for the day-to-day stuff.

Meanwhile, the book writing wasn't going so well. The last book I'd written had been out in the market for more than a year with no response, even though an agent had submitted it (I actually doubt she ever did submit it, since I know now from experiences with my current agent that an agent can at least get a no in that time, plus I later submitted the same book on my own to some of the same editors, and they acted like they'd never heard of it). My agent suggested that maybe it needed some revision, so I started rewriting it (that should have been a clue, since if it was a problem with the book itself that could be solved by revision, then the book would have been rejected. It wouldn't have just sat around with no response).

Other than the financial and career uncertainty, this was actually a pretty good year for me in a lot of ways. I finally had a lot of free time, and when I wasn't thinking about money I was a lot more relaxed than I'd been in ages. I had good friends to hang around with, and since they were in their own career lapses, we had time to spend together. That summer I felt almost like a teenager out of school because we went to afternoon matinee movies and hung out at the mall. We also went to just about every ethnic food festival in the area. And then Firefly came on the air and I made a lot of online friends (many of whom went on to become real-world friends) discussing it.

That winter was probably my lowest point. My closest friend finally found a job after months of being out of work, but it was in another state. After all that time rewriting that book and then hearing nothing from my agent for months, I got a package on my doorstep. It was the manuscript being returned to me, with a terse note about how it was entirely unmarketable on top. After I'd made changes she suggested, my agent didn't even call me to discuss it. Another proposal I'd written and submitted on my own had gone nearly 18 months with no response, and when I contacted the publisher to ask about that, they just returned it to me. And then Fox cancelled Firefly. I kind of started flailing around at that point. Some of my freelance work was drying up, and it seemed like every time I picked up a new client, pretty soon that company would go out of business or my contact would get laid off. I finally figured out that my agent wasn't being much help, so I sent the official break-up letter, and although I got the certified mail receipt to prove she got it, she never so much as said a word about it. I guess she'd considered us broken up long before and just hadn't bothered to tell me. I then started submitting my own projects all over the place, to publishers and to potential new agents. I probably would have done better if I'd started a new project (like, oh, maybe that quirky little fantasy idea I had), but since I was in a panic, I just kept going with things I already had because I didn't want to wait to start something new. I needed to sell something NOW, not take several months to write a new book and then try to sell it. I think I'd even forgotten what it was like to have a new idea and develop it into a book. Needless to say, I was getting rejected left and right.

I got to the point I wasn't really writing, just tinkering with old things, and I didn't even enjoy it anymore. Writing had become business instead of fun, and I was even on the verge of considering giving up. The only problem was that if I gave up, I'd have to get a job, and there weren't really any jobs in my field, not to mention the fact that I'd hated most jobs in my field, but I didn't know what else I wanted to do with my life, so I couldn't give up. And then some of my Firefly friends came up with a funny challenge to try to work these silly Chinese phrases we'd found into a Firefly story, so I got an idea, wrote the story, and then got more ideas and wrote more stories, and from that, I remembered why I liked writing. I looked forward again to sitting down at a computer and playing with characters. Plus, I got some lovely feedback from people for all those stories when I posted them online, and when I was constantly getting rejections from agents and publishers, it was nice to get a lot of comments to the effect of "I love this! Please write more!" I can safely say that fanfic saved my sanity and my career.

That summer, I went to a big conference in New York, and then things started looking up ... (To be continued)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My Layoff Memoir: Part 1, Financial Stability

I'm more than halfway through the new book and making steady progress. Normally, this is the phase where I stall out and lose interest, but I'm even more into it. Because SciFi is doing their usual obnoxious thing and not showing new episodes of their current shows on the Friday night of a holiday weekend, I've set a target goal at which I'll let myself order those Doctor Who DVDs from Amazon as my book completion reward so I can have them by next Friday -- and then I have to be good and stay on target to actually finish the book. I'd like to be able to take all of Labor Day weekend off. I have my Second Annual Rosa Vargas Memorial Chick Lit and Chick Flick Weekend already planned (it's actually the third time I've done it, but the first time, which kicked off the tradition, wasn't memorial, as much of it was conducted via telephone with Rosa). This year, I'm going with a Pride and Prejudice theme, as there are a number of books out that play with elements from P&P, and I haven't watched the whole BBC miniseries in ages.

So, as I promised/threatened, here's my riches-to-rags-to-riches layoff story, only in my case it's more like financial stability-to struggle-to doing moderately okay but still not entirely secure. See, that's why my story wouldn't make a good book. Not only did I never need to file for unemployment, I don't even own a Prada bag to take to the unemployment office. Even when I had a steady job, I bought my purses at Target or in the handbag outlet at the mall.

My day job career was in public relations, and during the height of the tech boom starting in the late 90s I worked in technology PR for one of the big, worldwide agencies. And I hated it. Hate, hate, hate, hate haaaaaate. It was a definite case of having the right skill set and the totally wrong personality for the job. Yes, I was good at communicating, I could find the heart of the story in just about anything, I could explain complex things in a vaguely interesting way, and I could write, but I have a telephone phobia and I am an extreme introvert. I also wasn't particularly ambitious, as this job to me was the equivalent of waiting tables while trying to land an acting job. I just needed to pay the bills until I could support myself as a novelist. I'd had some books published, and I even had an agent, but I was nowhere near that goal.

What I think I hated most of all was the weird sense of masochism that permeates the entire American corporate culture, that idea that you win points for working the most hours, regardless of what you actually accomplish during that time. There was this weird competition to demonstrate your commitment to your job by coming in early, working late, taking work home with you, working on weekends or even putting a futon in your office and spending the night there. If you came in at eight and left at five, you were a slacker, even if you actually got more and better results. "Working smarter, not harder" didn't really mean anything in our industry. And it wasn't as though we were like a law firm, billing hourly, and therefore all those extra hours were more profitable for the company. Most of our clients were on retainer, so they paid the same, regardless of how much we worked. A little overservice was good, to show the client that there was a value in being on retainer (and the retainer helped us determine staff and budgeting), but the workaholic masochism meant that our clients were generally getting twice the hours they were paying for, and I really don't think they were getting that much more work. I never really figured out what all those people were doing in that time. Unless I was in the middle of a big crunch or a major project, I could get everything done that I needed to do in a few hours, and then I got bored. I spent a lot of time chatting about Broadway shows with the Army intern whose office was across the hall from me (and yes, he was straight -- very interesting guy). In that business, being quick and efficient only seemed to get you accused of not being committed to your career, so I got in the habit of staying later and padding my projects just to fill up the time. And there's nothing more frustrating than feeling like you have to hang around the office until after seven even though you don't really have anything to do.

During this time, I was trying to write a book. I'd had some category romance novels published and had written a single title book that landed me an agent, but then it got rejected with nice comments by the publishers she sent it to, who asked to see something else from me (never mind that she sent it to only two publishers, but that's a whole 'nother story). I just couldn't seem to find the time and energy to write the something else, and it didn't seem to occur to me to try writing it at work while I was padding my hours to look like I was part of the team. I think around that time I actually got pretty busy, as I was doing trade show media relations for a major company, and I spent most of the fall of 1999 traveling, then had to pick up the rest of my work when I was actually in the office. During this whole time, I was socking away money in savings, having a chunk of each paycheck direct deposited into my savings account. All money I made writing went into savings, and when I got a raise, I just put the difference between the old salary and the new salary into savings. So when we were projecting hours for the coming month and the plan had me nearly doubling the amount of time I would work, I kind of had a meltdown and turned in my resignation. I figured I could live off my savings while I wrote for a while.

Fortunately, I had a very cool new boss who didn't really buy into that corporate masochism thing and we were in a real hiring crunch because we couldn't find enough qualified people, so my boss worked out a compromise with me. My specialty was writing, and I was the one who could handle the really heavy-duty technology stuff, so they created an editorial director position for me, let me telecommute, and let me drop back to part-time. At 30 hours a week, I took a pay cut, but I still got full benefits. I probably did the same amount of work as I did at full time, but by calling it part-time, that meant I got to call a hard stop on it. I couldn't work more than 30 hours a week, and if I did during a crunch, I got to take comp time later. It was my dream job (other than being a novelist).

But then I discovered that being happy in my job was actually bad for my writing. When I hated my work, I was more determined to write diligently because that was my escape plan. When I was okay with the way things were, I wasn't quite as driven. I was also really enjoying having free time instead of working full time and then coming home and writing. I think most of my extra time ended up going into discussing Angel on Usenet. But hey, that was where I first started playing with all the archetype stuff, so it wasn't totally wasted time. And I think most of my writing time ended up going into Angel fanfic. Again, not a total waste of time as that was where I first tried writing multi-character scenes and action scenes, and the first time I ever wrote in first-person, it was in an Angel fanfic story. I did eventually get the book done, and my agent (supposedly) submitted it. I also wrote a couple of other book proposals, and I even got a promotion and a raise at work. I still traveled a lot, as I'd more or less become the technology writing expert for the whole company, and I had one major client where due to a mix-up, I ended up having to write a speech for the CEO at the last second, and he liked it enough that he started having me write more of his speeches. When the CEO at your biggest client likes you, things are really going your way.

Of course, something that good can't last forever ... (To be continued)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Book Report: Layoff Memoirs

Note to self: Writing a big fight/action scene right before going to bed isn't conducive to relaxing and falling asleep. Then again, trying to go to bed with a big fight/action scene in my head but unwritten probably would have resulted in weird dreams and not getting much rest, anyway, so it's kind of a wash.

I haven't done a book report in a while, mostly because July involved re-reading/reading Harry Potter, and I hardly needed to do book reports to tell people about those (I would like to eventually discuss book 7 -- has everyone read it yet?). In August, I've mostly been writing, so I've been avoiding a lot of reading. However, I have let myself read non-fiction, and I stumbled across a couple of humorous memoir-type books that were a lot of fun (I discovered them while bored out of my skull at a booksigning when I resorted to reading off the nearby shelves). These are in the genre sort of being called "blooks," or books based on/spinning off from a blog.

Bitter is the New Black (or Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office) by Jen Lancaster is the riches to rags story of a high-flying professional surfing the dot-com wave who then lost it all when both she and her husband were laid off in the post-9/11 bust. She went from shopping for designer labels to selling everything on eBay in order to pay for basic necessities. It's not nearly as bleak as it sounds because it's all written with a kind of catty humor that practically invites you to enjoy her misfortune. She doesn't hold back about what kind of total, raging bitch she was and how she really got a comeuppance. I found myself relating a bit to the story, since I, too, was caught in a post-9/11 layoff and ended up with a book deal. I do allow myself a bit of a moral high ground because I think I handled my layoff much better without a lot of hardship or drama since I was never a big spender and therefore had money set aside so I never missed a mortgage payment or had to worry about how I'd buy groceries, even though I had a much, much lower salary to begin with -- and I never even filed for unemployment. Then again, she got a much bigger book deal out of it all and her book sold a lot better than mine did, so I guess she got the last laugh.

The follow-up book is Bright Lights, Big Ass (or Who are These Idiots and Why Do They All Live Next Door to Me?). The first one reads almost like a novel, as it does tell a story with its own plot arc. The second book is more like a bitchier 21st century Erma Bombeck, so instead of having a plot line it's more of a series of essays about modern life in the big city and how those Sex and the City girls were totally full of it. Parts of this book are laugh-out-loud funny, to the point of having to put the book down for a while to recover before going on with it.

I will admit that when I first started reading these books, I had to double-check to make sure they weren't actually written by my freshman-year roommate from college, under a pen name, but I'm pretty sure now that they are two different people who may or may not have been separated at birth (they were in different sororities, however). On the one hand, she sounds like the embodiment of all the character traits I hate, but on the other hand, she's aware of that, has a sense of humor about it, and I bet she'd be a good friend to have in your corner. Plus, she likes chick lit, the Sci Fi Channel and Television Without Pity, so she can't be all bad. (And I just know this chick Googles herself on a regular basis, and I may be a little afraid of her, so I want to make sure I say something reasonably nice.) For a taste of the style of these books, you can read Jennsylvania, the blog that started it all.

You know, maybe I missed the boat by not blogging my way through my whole layoff-to-book-deal experience. That might have paid off better than writing quirky fantasy novels. Then again, there really wasn't all that much drama to it. I went from modestly paid PR job to being laid off, freelancing and living off my savings, to modest book deal. The day-to-day details didn't have a lot of room for conflict or humor. I could probably tell the whole story in three blog posts. Hey, maybe that's what I'll do for the rest of the week.

Monday, August 20, 2007

What Not to Wear

I had a supremely lazy weekend during which I barely moved from my sofa. I just had no energy. Unfortunately, it seemed to be the one weekend when there was absolutely nothing on TV and not much on OnDemand even for me to watch, but I didn't feel like doing anything else. I ended up rewatching some Coupling episodes on BBCAmerica OnDemand and then found a tape that contained some Doctor Who episodes from last season that I'd recorded while I was out of town and hadn't taped over. There was a marathon of What Not to Wear, but I'd seen the episodes they were showing and didn't watch that, so I'm not sure why I dreamed last night that I was nominated for What Not to Wear. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity, but at first they thought I was just being argumentative when I insisted that I did know how to dress (all their subjects say that) and that I thought the clothes they'd picked out for me were totally wrong for me (again, all their subjects say that). But then they saw me in the clothes they picked out, which were the wrong size and color, and realized they had the wrong person. The big clue was that they said my co-workers had nominated me, and I said, "What? My plants?" I'm not sure if I should take this dream as a sign that I need to clean out my closets or a sign that I need to go shopping.

But after I woke up, I amused myself by pondering what might happen if I did get nominated for that show. If they spend two weeks secretly filming you, then I could picture them having to lurk in the bushes outside my house for two weeks, waiting for me to leave the house so they could film me (and even then barely getting any footage). And then unless it happened to be two weeks in which I had to play "author" or actually had a social calendar, all they'd see is me going to the mailbox in shorts or a sundress and going to the grocery store in jeans and a t-shirt, so they'd have a totally wrong impression of me. I could picture them having decided I was a total slob, and then once they started digging into my wardrobe they'd see that I do have cute clothes and know how to dress, but I'm just not going to spend an hour getting dressed for a half-hour (including driving time) trip to Kroger.

Oddly, I currently have practically zero interest in shopping or fashion. I've read all the phone-book-sized September issues of the fashion magazines I have subscriptions to (that will probably be allowed to lapse) and haven't been even slightly tempted. There is the no money issue, but also a big, huge dose of not caring. Who gets to decide what's "in" and what's "out," anyway, and who gave them that power? Well, I'm taking it away by continuing to wear what I like, what fits, and what looks good on me, regardless of whether or not it's "in." And since I'm deep in writing mode, I have a feeling what I'll be wearing is mostly shorts and t-shirts from 5K races I did five years ago. If the What Not to Wear people come knocking on my door, I'll fend them off with a red stiletto shoe.

Maybe this is a sign that I've mentally transitioned from being a chick lit writer to being a fantasy writer.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Mary Sue Dilemma

I'm nearing the 100-page mark on the new book, which means it's about 1/3 of the way done! And thanks to the tropical storm/depression/whatever they're calling it now, the heat wave broke and we're back to normalish temperatures for this time of year, plus rain. I know we spent most of June building arks, but I love me some rainy weather (how I ended up settling in Texas when I'd be happy with a daily rain shower, I don't know). And best of all, it's Friday, and I'm at home. I get to settle down on the sofa tonight with pizza, root beer and Doctor Who. I'll watch Flash Gordon, but the pilot last week left me kind of meh. It seems sort of mundane for Flash Gordon. Shouldn't he be running around the galaxy in a spaceship, or something? And when he goes to another planet, it looks way too boring and earth-like. Since the pilot is when they supposedly pull out all the bells and whistles, that has me worried about the future of the show. I don't expect the modern version to have him wearing metalllic spandex, but there should be at least a little something modern and futuristic in the picture. Still, there is Doctor Who, and I've decided my reward for finishing the book will be the series 2 DVD set so I can watch those episodes without the Sci Fi Channel's butchering. They seem to be making the commercial breaks using a chainsaw.

Back to the Mary Sue topic from yesterday ... fanfic writers (mental and otherwise) aren't the only ones who get accused of writing Mary Sues. That term gets thrown around a lot in reference to just about any character who seems too good to be true or who appears to be the author writing herself into the story, even in original fiction. My friends who write the kind of chick lit that doesn't have magic in it (and therefore isn't obviously total fiction) are always having people think that their books are true stories about their own lives. There's that whole first-person thing that makes people think it has to be autobiographical, and God forbid there's any element in the book that in any way resembles something in the author's bio, because then readers often assume that it's one of those thinly veiled autobiography novels (see The Devil Wears Prada or The Nanny Diaries as examples of the real thing). I'll admit that I've wondered how much is truth and how much is fiction when reading books by people I know when I recognize elements I know happened in real life. In my earlier books, the ones without magic in them, I did often have people assume that the books were about me. My grandmother was convinced they put my picture on the front covers (never mind that the first two pictured a woman with stick-straight hair, though the third one did look suspiciously like an old driver's license photo of mine).

Because of this, I'm probably a wee bit over-paranoid about writing a character who might be taken to be a Mary Sue. Though Katie in the Enchanted books does seem a bit like me and has a lot in common with me, I've gone out of the way not to give her the kind of traits that might make her sound Mary Sue. For instance, I made her be totally unable to carry a tune (a gorgeous singing voice is one of the often mentioned hallmarks of a Mary Sue, and then there's the fact that I do sing). In spite of being a very proud Curly Girl, I've never written a curly-haired character because with that being my most instantly noticeable physical feature that shows up in author photos, I've worried that any curly-haired character will be instantly assumed to be based on me.

Well, I'm biting the bullet on the book I'm working on now and making the heroine have curly hair. We need more curly-haired heroines, especially curly-haired heroines who manage to be seen as pretty without straightening their hair (my big pet peeve). In this story, the hair actually makes things rougher on the heroine, since she's in a situation where it rains a lot and she has no hair gel (and now I'm hearing that movie trailer announcer guy intoning "In a world without hair gel ..."). Anyone with curly hair will tell you what a potential crisis that is. But I want to make this clear: this character may have some physical features in common with me, but she is not me nor is she based on me.

Here's the thing, though: Every character I write is in some way based on me, and just about every character ever written is in some way based on the author. That's because I'm the only person I know from the inside out. I've only ever experienced life in my own skin. To create a character, I largely take little bits and pieces of myself so I can understand the character, then mix them in with other bits and pieces that come from outside myself, rearrange it all, and then throw into a situation and see what happens. A villain may be more of my negative traits and a hero more of the traits I'd like to have, but there's a little bit of me in all of them. Some characters are closer to my heart than others, but that doesn't really mean they're more like me or even my representatives in the story. I try as much as possible to keep there from being an obvious Shanna in the story.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mary Sue and the Mental Fanfic Adventure

I was so very, very good yesterday and met all my deadlines. Yay, me! Now that means today I have to get down to work.

But first, more on the mental fanfic topic. That was pretty much how I played as a kid, either alone or with friends. I was an only child until I was six, and there weren't a lot of other kids my age in the neighborhood where we lived until I was almost seven, so I had to amuse myself during the early part of my life. That meant I pretty much lived in various fantasy worlds. Back in the Dark Ages before home video, you couldn't just pop in a movie and watch it over and over again. The only ways to see movies were to go to the theater or watch them when they happened to come on TV. The closest equivalent I had were the Disney story albums. These weren't the little "turn the page when Tinkerbell chimes" read-along books. They were LPs with books in the album cover, and the content of the books wasn't a word-for-word narration of what was in the album. The album told a story of a particular Disney movie, with a narrator and sometimes character voices acting it out, and then songs from the movie inserted. Sometimes the narrator was a character in the movie, telling us the story, so it became like a first-person narration version of the movie's story, very much from that character's perspective (and it was usually a secondary character instead of the main character telling his/her own story). In some of these albums, they didn't use the actual movie cast voices or even the songs from the soundtrack, but I didn't realize this because, for the most part, I hadn't seen the movies themselves. A few had been re-released at theaters or shown on the Wonderful World of Disney, but otherwise, the album was all I had. For the animated movies, the illustrations in the accompanying books more or less matched the films, but for the live-action movies they didn't use photos from the movies. They had illustrations that sometimes had nothing at all to do with the movie.

One of my favorite story albums was Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It had all the elements that really push my buttons -- magic, World War II, a more "contemporary" fantasy setting (as opposed to the standard medieval-like fairy tale setting), and a hint of romance. Though, I guess since I was pretty young (5-6) during the phase of that obsession, maybe this was where I developed many of those interests. This was one of the albums where the illustrations bore no resemblance to the movie. Instead of drawings of Angela Lansbury in the main role, the album storybook showed a pretty young woman with short, dark hair and glasses. I really liked this character and was very disappointed when I finally saw the movie and the role was played by Angela Lansbury, who was more prim than the slightly kooky character in the album, and who was blonde, which seemed all wrong to me. I had a whole dress-up outfit based on the album version of Eglantine Price and spent many hours playing out my own stories that spun off from the movie/album story. I think I've read the novels this was based on, but I don't recall enough to know if maybe the album illustrations were more based on descriptions given in the books. Otherwise, I have no idea why they illustrated the album based on a movie starring Angela Lansbury with drawings of a younger dark-haired woman.

At any rate, here's my version of Eglantine Price, from when I was about six (rediscovered thanks to my dad's recent sorting of family photos). And yes, that is a wig. I really liked that wig, apparently. It also shows up in a lot of Halloween costume photos.

At the next place we lived, there were plenty of kids in the neighborhood, and we generally played what you might consider group live-action fanfic, as we were always playing "make-believe" in which we acted out our various favorite TV shows and movies, like M*A*S*H, Bewitched, Gilligan's Island, Star Trek, Charlie's Angels and later Star Wars. Sometimes we did do original stories, where we played pioneers or World War II without basing it on any existing story or characters. I guess this was my first experience with a "Mary Sue" situation, since if there weren't enough roles in the original story for the kids playing, we had to make up new characters to add to that world so we could all play, and, of course, you always made up the kind of character you'd want to be in that setting. (As an aside, in case there's someone -- like Mom -- who doesn't know the term Mary Sue, that's generally used for a character who's inserted into an existing world to represent the author. It's often used with a negative connotation because it's generally very obvious wish fulfillment, as Mary Sue has all kinds of wonderful talents, saves the day, and gets romantically involved with the character the author has a crush on.) Charlie's Angels was about the only thing we played where there were enough girl roles to go around (I was always Sabrina, the Kate Jackson character), so the girls had to make up their own characters to play anything else. I did usually get to be Princess Leia when we played Star Wars, and my best friend was usually Darth Vader's wife (who was a much more interesting character than Padme turned out to be, mostly, I guess, because she was evil instead of just boring and wimpy).

In my own mental fanfic that I played with before going to sleep or during long car trips, I don't recall doing too much Mary Sue until I was older. I generally identified with one of the female characters, and in my mental stories, that character was the one who represented me. It was only when I started to find the men more interesting that I would create a Mary Sue to throw into the story if there wasn't an interesting woman I related to who had the potential to be involved with the man I liked. If there was a female character I liked, I just stuck with the one in the original story. For instance, there's no point in me trying to throw a Mary Sue into the Harry Potter universe, as Hermione is already more of a Mary Sue for me than I'd create if I were going to try to create one (though it would be fun to decide what Hogwarts professor or other adult role I'd play if I tried to stick my current self into that universe).

I actually have a standard "Mary Sue" character that I use when a mental story needs a role for me to play in it. This character actually first appeared in a dream, and I really liked her, but I've never known what to do with her. I audition her for a role in just about every book idea I come up with, but she hasn't quite fit yet -- she's more of a science fiction or action/adventure character than she is a good fantasy character. Because she gets bored sitting in my head with no story of her own, I let her out to play in other universes that need someone like her. She's not really a true Mary Sue as she isn't basically an idealized version of myself, but she does have enough in common with me to serve as my representative in other universes. Someday, though, I hope her own story will come to me and I can really bring her to life.

But enough with this trip down memory lane. I need to get to work.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Perfect Deadline Storm

I guess I still have some residual tiredness from the Summer on the Road, since I was in bed asleep by 11 last night and still slept until past 9. I must be really getting into the story I'm writing now, as I dreamed about those characters and that world (one of the main reasons I slept late, as that was the last dream of the night and I was trying to hold onto it). Oddly, though, the dream also involved elements from Doctor Who, which just doesn't fit in any way, shape, or form. Still, it's not as freaky as the time I dreamed the gang from the Enchanted, Inc. books on board Serenity with the cast of Farscape.

It was nice to hear that I'm not totally out of the norm when it comes to mental fanfic, and I have more to say on that topic (plus, photographic evidence!), but I'll have to get to it tomorrow, as I have a sort of perfect storm of deadlines today with lots to get done that hasn't been done, thanks to me not allocating my time wisely.

I got royalty statements for the first two books yesterday, and it seems that the second book is only behind the first book by about a thousand copies, while the first book is still selling pretty steadily, even two years after publication. That tells me two things: The reasoning behind not buying book five was kind of bogus, and I need to find and shake down the people who bought the first book but haven't yet bought the second book and get them with the program. But then I also want to keep recruiting new readers with the first book, so it creates a vicious cycle. With a series, I don't see how you can grow the numbers so that more people read the later books than read the earlier books. It should be more about velocity, selling more of those copies faster. I wonder how the lifetime sales figures for the first Harry Potter book compare to the sales figures so far for the last one, for instance. The last one may have sold like a zillion copies in the first hour of release, but how many has the first one sold over ten years? I'm afraid that the book business has taken too many cues from Hollywood, and they're far more interested in that zillion copies in an hour than they are in a zillion copies over ten years.

But I don't have time today to dream up fabulous new marketing schemes, so that will go on tomorrow's to-do list. Today I have to write three radio scripts, write a column and judge a short-story contest (I've read the entries, but now I have to try to rank them). And I've now plotted the new story so I can get back to writing. I've decided to write the whole book instead of just a proposal, since I'm moving into a slightly different genre, so having a whole book gives me a little more leverage. Plus, I think having the whole book will make the first part of the book better, since that's what editors read first (duh!).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mental Fanfic

I think I'm back to being moderately coherent. To give you an idea of how tired I must have been yesterday, I turned out my light and went to sleep by 10:30 last night and slept until 8 this morning. The heat isn't helping. Summer hit us hard and fast. After a summer of below-normal temperatures (I barely used my air conditioner before July), we suddenly got the 100+ temperatures without a lot of transition. The heat wave is supposed to break and get back to "normal" for this time of year this weekend, which will be a relief. Before now, it hasn't really felt like summer. I haven't even been to the swimming pool yet (though a lot of that is because they're renovating it now -- but even so, most of this year it wouldn't have been warm enough for me to brave an unheated pool).

So, the convention. I had a good time, got to meet some very cool people, spent some time with other people I knew and don't see often, and I even learned a lot. It was one of those cases where everything just fell into place so that the information I needed that was relevant to what I'm working on was all there for me at exactly the time I needed it. I love it when that happens. It gives me the sense that I'm on the right path. I got to moderate a panel on character archetypes, which was fun and interesting to hear what the other authors thought about it. I found out later that James P. Hogan was in the audience, which would have been kind of intimidating if I'd known.

Of course, I also came home with a long list of things to read, right at a time when I don't dare start reading things I'm likely to get into. You see, I have this mental fanfic problem. I'm sure I'm not alone in this, and from what I've heard, this goes on with a lot of writers because it's sort of what kicks off the writing bug. Whenever I get really into a book, TV series, movie, or whatever, my brain gets involved and isn't satisfied with what I've been given, so it starts mentally writing more stories about those people -- further adventures, previous adventures, what was happening between scenes, etc. That was how I amused myself as a kid when I was bored on long car trips, when I was having trouble sleeping and couldn't turn the light on to read, when I zoned out in class, etc. Later I found myself branching off so that I was thinking more about the new characters I'd created to interact with the characters I was borrowing, and then I realized that if I wrote those stories down instead of just daydreaming, I'd have a book.

But just because I've written my own books, it doesn't mean the brain has stopped with the mental fanfic/daydreaming. I can't seem to help myself. I just want to create more and more adventures for characters I like. That's why I have to be careful about what I read and watch when I'm in the early phase of developing a book. It can be counterproductive if I'm more excited about dreaming up adventures for someone else's characters than I am about dreaming up adventures for my own characters. I've been trying to analyze what it is about some books that tends to inspire the mental fanfic -- because I want to put whatever that is in my own books so people will get them stuck in their heads. But there isn't that much of a pattern. I find that it doesn't happen with chick lit novels, as much as I love them. I never find myself dreaming up more adventures for Bridget Jones (aside from thinking of how she'd describe certain events that happen to me -- so I guess that kind of counts). I'd say that I mostly do it for series because that gives you the sense of ongoing adventures and there's stuff that could happen between books/movies/episodes, but it's not always the case. I've done the mental fanfic thing for a few standalone books, or for first books in a series when I don't even know there is a series to come. Most of it tends to fall in the fantasy/science fiction realm, but I have done it with mysteries or war stories, too.

The common elements seem to be that it requires a world I want to play in and people I want to spend more time with. When I was a kid, I tended to latch onto female characters about my age, but now I'm more likely to focus on male characters (with a few exceptions). Sorry, folks, but I'm generally not imagining the smutty stuff. It really does tend to be more adventures that wouldn't be out of place in the actual series/books, or else the quiet scenes that wouldn't make it into the series/books for reasons of pacing more than content -- what I call the "doing laundry" scenes that show what these characters' normal lives are like when they aren't having adventures. I may occasionally get 'shippy if a relationship intrigues me, but the part I then play with mentally is the development of it rather than the sweaty part.

So, I guess the crucial ingredients include a world where more things can happen, characters I don't want to let go of and want to learn more about, intriguing developing relationships (or the potential thereof), and the sense that there is room for more stories to happen (which may be why I don't generally do this for romance novels, except maybe for minor characters I find interesting, since those stories are usually pretty much tied up neatly at the end of each book). And right now, those are the kinds of books I can't allow myself to read. I'm supposed to be doing that kind of thinking for my own characters.

I'm curious, does anyone else do this (or am I insane)? And what are the kinds of things that tend to capture your imagination like this so that you're still thinking about the characters long after you finish reading the book? Any particular books and series that most inspire the daydreaming?

Monday, August 13, 2007


I'm now back from my last convention trip of the summer, and I'm insanely glad to be home, although this was a really good trip. I'm just dead tired. I will now be able to be home for more than a month, which I haven't done since April. I went to the grocery store today and bought milk and produce that I will actually be home to eat before it goes bad.

I have lots I want to talk about, but I'm not so much with the forming coherent thoughts at the moment. But after a couple of weeks ago when people worried when I didn't post, I thought I'd let everyone know I was home. I will talk later about lots of stuff, I'm sure, but for now, I'm going to go collapse for a while.

But first, a public service announcement: Go see Stardust. Really. It's been about a year since I read the book, so I couldn't say how strictly faithful to the book the movie was, but nothing struck me as horribly wrong, and it gave me the same feeling the book did. It's sweet, charming, fun and magical and very swoonworthy. When Hollywood somehow accidentally manages to produce something fresh and original, for a change, we need to really support it if we want to see more things like it. If movies like this fail at the box office, then the executives will just shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, they say they want good, fresh, original stuff, but then they don't go see it, so why should we bother? Now, are there any more old 1970s or 1980s TV series we can turn into movies in a quasi-ironic way?"

Anyway, the movie inspired me to want to write something that makes people feel the same way -- that excitement/laughter/end with a sigh and a tiny tear in the eye. So ... Go. See. It.

Besides, if this funny, quirky fantasy does well at the box office, that raises the odds for other funny, quirky fantasy novels to be made into movies. Just sayin'.

Friday, August 10, 2007

On the Road Again

Just a quick note before I hit the road. I'm off to Austin for ArmadilloCon. This one will possibly be as much college reunion as it is a con, since some of my college friends are running it and there are likely to be more in attendance. That just occurred to me last night (duh!). I guess I should have had my hair done, or something, but these people lived in a dorm with me, so it's not like there are a lot of secrets or illusions.

This is my last trip for a while, and although I'm looking forward to the trip, I'm also looking forward to it being over because then I can be home for a while.

Now I need to go finish getting ready to leave.

Mom, if you're reading this, remember that Doctor Who is on at 7 tonight, an hour earlier than usual.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Regrouping Time

I forgot to mention yesterday when announcing the new release date for Don't Hex With Texas (aka book 4) that when you're marking the calendar for the release date, go ahead and mark your calendar for about a month ahead of that to go by or call the bookstore where you plan to buy it and ask if they're going to be carrying it. If they aren't, ask to special order it. Even if they are going to be carrying it, you may be able to ask them to reserve you a copy or special order it. It might not hurt to explain how with the last book you had to go around to ten different bookstores to find it, you've been waiting way too long for this book, and you want to make sure you get a copy on release day this time (or whatever applies to your situation).

This will have multiple benefits. For one thing, it increases the chances that the store you go to will have the book for you on release day. You won't have to drive from store to store if you've special ordered a copy. This may not work with all stores or chains, but the special ordered books are sometimes ordered through a different system and shipped differently from the regular stock, so you might be able to get a special ordered copy even if there's yet another distribution mess-up or if the store just hasn't gotten around to opening the latest shipment and getting it on the shelves. Meanwhile, if a store that wasn't supposed to be carrying a book starts getting a number of customer requests and special orders for it, they may try to get some copies in their store, and if a chain starts getting lots of requests and special orders throughout the chain, the chain my up its order and distribute it to more stores. Plus, whichever person you talk to at the bookstore may be intrigued by a book that customers are enthusiastic about, and they may then pay more attention to the book. So, win-win-win! And don't worry, I'll remind you as we get closer to the end of March.

To answer a few questions that came up in comments:
Writing protest letters won't do any good. The catalog for books coming out in fall/winter (that goes to booksellers so they can order stock) has already gone out, so it can't be moved back to an earlier season. The book also hasn't yet been copy edited, the cover hasn't been designed, and the promotional info for the catalog hasn't been written.
The delay, however, does not mean I can rewrite the book to incorporate what I planned for book 5. Book 4 was completely written and turned in last October, long before the book 5 decision was made. In fact, back then, they were telling me how well my books were doing and how very excited they were about the whole series. The book has been through a couple of rounds of editing and is going into copy edits. The stories for books 4 and 5 are very different -- even in different settings -- and I can't possibly imagine a way to stick them both into one book, even if they'd let me have a book that long. I do think book 4 has a good ending that will still be satisfying if that's the end of the series, but I haven't given up on a stroke of magic that will allow the series to conclude the way I want it to (most of my daydreams do include some small degree of groveling and begging for that book, and I'm already thinking of irrational demands to make before I let them buy it from me).

In other news ... I may have reached the point in this new book where I need some structure. I ran out of steam last night, mostly due to sheer physical exhaustion, and I realized this morning that one of the scenes I wrote last night will have to be entirely scrapped and rewritten before I can move on with the book because I made a very basic beginner-type mistake that derails the plot. That, to me, is a sign that it's time to step back and really think about what needs to happen. I'm right at about the 1/4 mark for the targeted length, so it makes sense that this is the point where I need to do some planning. It's also good timing because I'm heading to ArmadilloCon tomorrow, and that means today is going to be busy with stuff like laundry, organizing and packing. I can think about the book while I drive back and forth to Austin, see if I can pick out theme songs for characters and scenes from the music I listen to, and maybe do some pen-and-paper outlining and brainstorming in my hotel room in my spare time.

I think the first thing I'll do is analyze my characters. Normally, I figure all this stuff out before I start writing, but since I mixed things up this time, I'll go back and look at what I've got. I'll figure out what archetypes I'm working with, what major things each characters has to learn or accomplish, what their goals are, etc. I'll figure out what their dominant traits are and some action tags to demonstrate these traits. And then I'll look at how the characters interact -- where they might mesh, where they might clash, what influence they might have on each other. That then will help me figure out some of the major plot elements and turning points, since a lot of plotting is really just about putting characters through the wringer. Knowing the characters means knowing what will be a challenge to them, and plot is mostly the challenges that keep the characters from their goals. The interaction is important because that creates conflict and it will also influence the outcome. I have a few different romantic pairing possibilities, and the outcomes will have a major impact on how the story ends, so I need to know up front who goes together and how that will work out. I don't have a lot of research to do since most of the info for this book draws from my existing knowledge base, but I do need to look some things up and plan some settings, which may mean roughing out maps and floorplans. Once I have all that figured out, I can come up with a plot outline that covers the major turning points and the resolution, and that will then help me be on target for writing the rest of the book (or, in this case, writing a synopsis and polishing enough pages for a book proposal to, hopefully, sell it before I write it. But I may write more just because I'm having fun).

Of course, all that is subject to change if I come up with a new way to work that works for me.

The weird thing I've noticed is that when the writing is flowing, the rest of my life also tends to fall into place. Yesterday, I actually exercised and did some housework. I'm still not sleeping well, though, but that tends to happen when the brain is on full-speed-ahead.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New Date for Book 4 (and other stuff)

First, a bit of news. They've changed the release date on book 4. Again. If you care to mark your calendars (but do it in pencil), the release date is now April 29. Apparently, the decision was made months ago, and they thought they'd told me, but they didn't. I'm very sorry about this, and I want everyone to know I had absolutely nothing to do with this decision (which was made by the same person who decided against book 5). Remember, my original plan that I worked out with my former editor was to do the third and fourth books as close together as possible, with book 3 coming in March or April and book 4 coming in September or October of this year. With that plan in mind, I just about killed myself writing two books last year, then found out when I asked if it would be a crisis if I was a week late with book 4 that they'd changed the publication date to January, so I had plenty of time. And now it's the end of April, which totally defeats the original plan and which means that I killed myself last year getting that book written for no good reason. Ugh. I would not have ended book 3 the way I did if I'd known at the time that it would be this long between books.

On the other hand, though this totally sucks for the readers who are anxious to get the next book, it is kind of good for me (if I can't have the publication date we originally planned). January is a terrible month to have a book out, and it likely would have never been shelved and would have been forgotten in the post-Christmas aftermath. There are also all kinds of weather issues that can come up that would possibly interfere with booksignings. People are used to me having books out in late April/early May, and that gives me more time for promotion and publicity. It means the new book will still be kind of new during the summer convention season, including WorldCon, and that means I can recruit new readers and boost sales overall, which could mean the chances improve for getting book 5. Plus, the book will be coming out at right around the time of year it takes place, so the season will match, for a change!

Aside from that bit of news, I had a pretty good birthday and didn't get my usual bout of birthday depression. I made a quick shopping trip to Borders and spent some quality time listening to various CDs at their listening stations. I ended up using my coupon to buy the soundtrack from Order of the Phoenix, not because I'm a big nerd (though I am) but because when I listened to it in the store, it sounded like the soundtrack to the book I'm working on. Instead of seeing images from the movie in my head, I saw my characters in my settings, in scenes I hadn't even written yet. So, of course, I had to buy it. If they make a movie out of this book, this would totally have to be the temp track. Now after I spend all this time listening to it while writing and seeing my characters and my scenes with this music, the next time I see the actual movie, it may be a real jolt to me to see Harry Potter images with that music. I guess it's kind of like the way the music from Battlestar Galactica now makes me think of Damsel Under Stress. Not that the music is any kind of soundtrack for that book, but it was sort of my self-hypnosis trigger to get me into the writing zone for that book when nothing else worked.

I wrote 25 pages yesterday, so I slowed down some, but hey, it was my birthday. I'm still having a blast. I've never written this much of a book before without doing any of the pre-book development, and I'm finding that there are some benefits to playing with my characters before I try to define them. I find that I discover some interesting things I never would have planned. For instance, I suspect one of my main characters is shaping up to fit the Spunky Kid archetype, and if I'd really planned that all out, she probably would have ended up being a clone of Katie. But without planning, some little details are coming out that make her very different. There's one scene that's kind of a crisis, and she finds herself focusing on what the villain is wearing. Later, I needed her to have a needle and thread on her and know how to use it. If I'd planned it, she would have just been hyper-prepared and practical, like Katie, but with that earlier tidbit of her noticing the fabric and design of the villain's outfit, I realized that she liked to design and make clothes. She's not a label-conscious fashionista, but she is a creative person who would carry a needle and thread and scissors so she could totally remake her outfit if inspiration struck. That gives her a very different outlook on life from Katie, and now I've got a totally different Spunky Kid, one who is creative rather than practical. Now that I know all this about her, I can consciously layer in these details.

I guess maybe all those years of working very hard on character development and plotting has trained my subconscious, and now it's doing it all on its own, and my subconscious is generally a lot smarter than I am, so I may as well put it to work.

I still have to decide what to get for my birthday. I'm just not really in a shopping mood right now.