Thursday, January 31, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Karen Neches

Still sick. Ugh. I'm on my fifth day of fever, which may drive me mad. I'm still wondering how I even got sick, since I hadn't left the house for a week before I started having symptoms. Maybe my mailman was sick and coughed on my mail. I thought being a hermit would shield me from germs (unless I go to a hermit convention and swap stories about caves). I may attempt to venture out today because I need soup, more drugs and, most important, I have a five-dollar coupon at Borders that expires today. I can pull myself off my deathbed for five bucks off a book. I think I need me some Terry Pratchett, even if laughing does tend to set off coughing fits (as I learned when making the mistake of watching a Doctor Who episode with David Tennant's audio commentary).

So, while I remain fever-addled, coughy and sniffly, I'll fill space with a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit entry (no interview this time because I'd have to think to come up with questions, and that ain't happening any time soon). Our book this time is Earthly Pleasures by Karen Neches (aka GCC founder Karin Gillespie).

Welcome to Heaven. Use your Wishberry to hustle up whatever you want. Have an online chat with God. Visit the attractions such as Retail Rapture, Wrath of God miniature golf and Nocturnal Theater, where nightly dreams are translated to film.

Your greeter might just be Skye Sebring who will advises her newly dead clients on what to expect now that they’re expired. “Heaven is like a Corona Beer commercial” she assures her charges. “It’s all about contentment.”

So different than Earth where chaos reigns. Unfortunately for Skye, she’s been chosen to live her first life. She’s required to attend Earth 101 classes, which teach all of the world’s greatest philosophies through five Beatle songs.

Skye has no interest in Earthly pursuits, until lawyer Ryan Blaine briefly becomes her client after a motorcycle accident. Just as they are getting to know each other, he is revived and sent back to Earth.

She follows his life via the TV channel “Earthly Pleasures” but discovers he has a wife as well as a big secret. Why then does he call a show for the lovelorn to talk about the lost love of his life?

In Earthly Pleasures (Simon and Schuster, February 2008, $14) great love can transcend the dimensions, narrowing the vast difference between Heaven and Earth.

For more info, visit Karen's web site. Or, you can order from Amazon.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I have the flu, or something flu-like -- aches, fever, chills, cough. You know, happy fun time. I don't much feel like sitting at the computer or even reading, so there may be radio silence for a while until I can think coherently enough to have something clever to say and the energy with which to say it. In the meantime, I'm putting the DVD player to good use. Yesterday was an Angel marathon. I may do Doctor Who today.

And now I'm going to go crawl back under my blanket with some tea.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mean Girls

Our promised ice storm came to nothing much because the temperatures were just a few degrees warmer than they forecast, so it's just rain. Is it bad of me that I set my clock radio alarm an hour earlier so that I could lie warm in bed and listen to how awful the traffic would be -- and gloat to myself that I didn't have to be out in it? In spite of my early start, I got to work even later than normal because the usual cold weather Betty Crocker curse kicked in and I found myself making waffles for breakfast. Which takes forever.

I've come across another problem with the book (and at least this one I spotted before my agent did). In the secondary plot, the main character is essentially the female version of the "fortunate fool/foolish Hans/lucky Hans" character from fairy tales -- the good-hearted person that good things just seem to happen to. Everything goes her way, and she's so used to things working out for her that she thinks that's just the way the world works. This plot balances the main plot where anything that can go wrong for those characters does go wrong, and there is some tension in the secondary plot for the readers because we know that things working out right for the secondary character only mean that she's blissfully heading toward trouble. It would actually be better for her if she did run into a huge roadblock. But still, it means those scenes themselves are without conflict.

And then I realized I'd built potential for conflict into the situation because there's a character who makes a good "mean girl" kind of rival, the sort of woman who gets insanely jealous of anyone she sees as a threat and who turns it all into a competition. She's not the outright, confrontational kind of bitchy, more the subtle, undermining kind -- the one guys think is actually being nice and wonder why other girls hate her. And because the main character in that subplot is so naive, she wouldn't recognize the bitchiness, but the reader needs to.

I'm lucky that I haven't really had to deal with that kind of situation. We didn't have the "mean girl" queen bees in my school. The popular girls were popular because they were nice and pretty. The ones who were bitchy and conniving were the ones who wanted to be popular, but they didn't have the power to really carry out the full-on mean girls treatment. I did have one situation that was very similar, but like my character, I was blissfully ignorant until years later when this person was working with my mom and confessed. She was two years behind me, so it wasn't like we were in competition for class rank, awards, scholarships, or anything else. We were just in Spanish class together. But she apparently saw me as a threat and tried to undermine me. Most of it was just silly pranks that I never even noticed. The one thing I was aware of was that on a band trip, at night she put toothpaste on my pillowcase. I didn't know who did it, and when I noticed it during the night, I just got up and rinsed out the pillowcase and then dried it with the hotel blowdryer. I thought it was one of my friends in my room playing a fun slumber party prank on me, so I took it as a compliment, not knowing that it was an act of bitter revenge by someone in the connecting room. I never even reacted or said anything about it, so I'm sure it was maddening to her. I had no idea any of this was going on until she was out of school and back there as a teacher. I have worked with a few people who might have qualified, but they were kind of boring and conventional in their bitchiness, and we were in a toxic environment to begin with.

So now I have to come up with some devious tricks for my mean girl to pull, and I find getting into that mindset even more disturbing than understanding my real villain. Maybe it's because I know I'd never be tempted to plot murders or to try to take over the world, so I know that plotting is purely hypothetical. But I might be tempted to sneakily undermine someone, and it's a little alarming when I let myself think that way.

Anyone have any good suggestions for sneaky bitch inspiration? I'd thought about some old Buffy episodes, but Cordelia was always pretty open and up-front about her bitchiness. She didn't bother with subtle. Or any personal mean girl horror stories? You really don't want me tapping too deeply into that part of my personality. There's no telling what kind of damage I might do if I unleashed it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

More on Resonance

First, a public service announcement: I know there are a lot of Chuck fans around here, and for whatever reason that makes sense only in the mind of a network programmer (who may actually be a crack-addled squirrel with a dartboard), NBC is showing the last two episodes of Chuck that were produced pre-strike tonight. One episode is at 7 Central time and the other is at 9 Central time, with some reality show in between (a good time to switch over to the CW for a pretty good rerun of Supernatural).

It's cold and sunny today, and I really hate cold, sunny days. They just seem wrong to me, somehow. Maybe it's the cognitive dissonance -- it looks like it should be warm, so it's a real disappointment to find out it's cold. I think there's also something about the blue sky that gives the feeling of cold and emptiness, while clouds give the feeling of a blanket. On a cold, cloudy day, it feels right to curl up under a blanket with a pot of tea and read or write, but on a sunny day I feel like I should be doing something more, even if it is cold. We're supposed to have freezing rain tomorrow, so I guess I only have to put up with one day of it. I hope it doesn't totally throw off my productivity. Then the weekend is supposed to be warmer and sunny, so I may even leave the house.

Meanwhile, last night I managed to continue my ongoing quest to add more interesting scars to my hands and wrists when I had a minor dispute with some hot oil while cooking (it didn't like having cubed meat dropped into it). It's only first-degree burns -- redness but no blistering -- but you can see where each little drop of oil hit. Last night it was really stinging, but today it doesn't hurt unless something rubs against the burns. Unfortunately, they're just at the spot on the side of my wrist where the cuff of my sweatshirt sleeve hits. I normally wouldn't cover burns like this, but I doubt that the constant abrasion of a sleeve is good for them. The challenge is that it's a spatter pattern, and there's no one Band-Aid big enough to cover all the burns without the adhesive hitting one spot (ouch), and even with smaller bandages, the adhesive from covering one burn would cover another. I resorted to several of those little spot bandages and then one bigger one that covers the biggest burn, with the adhesive going over the other bandages. It looks funny, but it doesn't hurt. I don't know if it will scar since there aren't any blisters, but if it does, it will be a really funny-looking scar and will join the IV scars on the backs of both hands, the jagged little lumpy scar on one wrist from a childhood playground mishap and the puckered arch across the pad of my thumb from a dispute with a can opener (really, the fight was more with the can -- the can won -- but it was started by an ineffective can opener). On the up side, with burns on one hand, I probably shouldn't plunge my hands into hot water, so I can put off doing dishes with no guilt.

Back to yesterday's topic, the list of things that resonate with me in stories ... I want to make it clear that this isn't meant to be a value judgment. This wasn't a list of things I think are "good," and things that aren't on this list aren't necessarily "bad" (and my one little rant that sounded like a "this is bad" thing was about a hugely bestselling book that people gush about and that really seems to resonate emotionally with huge numbers of people, so my idea of "bad" certainly isn't universal). This is just a list of things that are likely to make me grab a book, watch (and maybe even become obsessed with) a TV show or go to a movie, and they're the aspects of stories that I seem to really get into, and this isn't my complete list. There are plenty of other things I could enjoy perfectly well that aren't on this list. They just aren't elements where the very idea of them gets me excited. Everyone is going to have a different list, and there is no right or wrong. Since most of you are here because you either like my books or you like my blog, we're probably going to have more elements in common than you'd find if you did this exercise at a multi-genre writing conference, but there will still be individual differences.

I was asked what you're supposed to do with this list once you've made it. The point the author of the book was making with this exercise is that the best story ideas come from the inside out. A lot of would-be writers make the mistake of trying to develop ideas from the outside in. They set out to write the Great American Novel or Screenplay -- something Deep and Meaningful they think they should write -- or else they come from the other angle and try to write something in a hot genre that's likely to make the most money. The result is something soulless. Even picking a genre because that's what you like isn't a great idea. You'll get a story that you're more likely to put your heart and soul into if you work from topics that mean something to you and that get you excited. You're also more likely to get something that feels original when you're working from the inside out because the things that speak to you are going to be different from anyone else, and the ways they speak to you and the reasons they speak to you are also going to be different.

I wasn't doing it consciously, but that's sort of how I came up with the idea for Enchanted, Inc. I'd been reading the Harry Potter books, really identifying with Hermione and wishing there was something like that about grownups instead of school kids. From the outside in, if I'd set out to write the next Harry Potter, it might have seemed derivative. I might have been stuck mentally in the school setting, with the trio of friends, etc. But what I found myself doing was thinking of the things I wanted to read about -- I love New York, so that was my setting. I'd dealt too much with the corporate world, and there was much I wanted to mock there, so that got me totally away from the school idea. Meanwhile, I loved how chick lit books always seemed to offer up a menu of potential love interests, with some of the suspense of the book being which guy she'd pick. All the little things I put into that idea were elements that grabbed me as a reader, so it was distinctively my book and not something I was trying to fit into any particular mold. If I took this approach of looking at the things I love, I bet I could even write a book about magic set in a school that would be entirely unlike Harry Potter because even though those books contain a lot of the things I'm drawn to, there are a lot of other things that matter more to me.

Most writers do this instinctively, but it doesn't hurt to have the occasional reminder of why you write in the first place. I know from experience that when you get worried about your next contract, it becomes way too tempting to work from the outside in and try writing something because it's hot in the market.

When I finish reading this book and working through the exercises, if I like the rest of it I'll talk about it in more depth.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stuff I Like

I just did a phone interview for a magazine article, so I'm feeling all mildly famous today. Good thing videophones aren't common because it's a cold day and I was wearing my fuzzy pink bathrobe over my clothes.

I've been reading a book on writing (I'll discuss it more later if I end up finding it helpful), and one of the exercises suggested for coming up with a premise that really matters to you is to make a list of all the things you enjoy seeing or reading about. I thought it would be fun to share some of my list. These are elements that will make me more likely to pick up a book or go see a movie, and while some of them also tend to show up in my writing, not all of them have. I'm leaving out the really obvious ones, like nice characters, humor and magic.

The unlikely or reluctant hero who takes on the mission or quest out of duty or need rather than because he/she wants to be a hero -- I'm actually a little suspicious of people who want to be heroes and go looking for adventure. I think you get a more interesting story with a hero who doesn't want things to change, or if he does want change, he doesn't necessarily want adventure or danger. In my books, Katie wanted a new job without a psycho boss, but she wasn't looking for magic or to be involved in saving the world from bad magic. Thinking about this has made me reevaluate a long back-burnered project. I'd had my heroine daydreaming about adventure and getting more than she bargained for, but it might be more interesting if she wants knowledge but would rather get it from books than from real life and then has no choice but to face the world.

The slowly building romance -- If it takes seven books or an entire TV series for a relationship to develop, I'm all over it. That doesn't mean lots of back and forth, will-they/won't-they, get together and break up repeatedly, "we were on a break" stuff. Just subtle, organic development, starting from some initial sparks in the early going that you might not even notice until later after more has happened and you look back and realize that's where it started. It may have ebbs and flows, because relationships do, but they aren't contrived. I actually think I got Owen and Katie together too soon, but that had a lot to do with the realities of the business. In my original plan for the series, the story with the loss of magical immunity so she could be affected by a spell was supposed to be in the third book, but my agent suggested that it made a better proposal for the second book in trying to get that initial contract if I combined the ideas for books two and three. Then all the stuff that happened with the loss of immunity and that kiss would have resulted in a lot of awkwardness that led to Katie going back to Texas. But when I was writing the second book, I had no way of knowing if that would be the end of the series or if there would be more books, so I felt like I needed to at least hint that they were getting together. Then when they wanted more books, I had to come up with another book 3 that would lead into my planned books 4 and 5. I guess that's why there are so few good, satisfying slow-build relationships. Most book writers and TV writers don't know how long they'll get to make the series, so they can't develop the relationships in a natural way. Either things get left hanging, or they get dragged out if the series is unexpectedly successful.

I'm also kind of fond of the impossible/forbidden relationships, but only if they don't talk about the difficulties too much and if there's other stuff going on that gives them a reason to be together instead of cutting their losses and ripping the Band-Aid off. That would be physically impossible things like ghosts in love with humans, men whose touch will kill their girlfriends (Pushing Daisies), or captains in love with sentient spaceships (like Anne McCaffrey's Ship Who Sang books); logistically challenged relationships like all the human/vampire stories (and why is it that the human is always the woman and the vampire is always the man -- is it that women are the ones who fantasize about vampires while men don't?) or Time Lord/French aristocrat; or the forbidden relationships, of the "oops, my presumed-dead husband is alive, after all" or "oops, did I neglect to mention the crazy wife in the attic?" variety. Just suffer in silence, please. Longing looks are okay, and in a book a few interior monologues are fine. I just don't want hundreds of pages of "We shouldn't be together" "But I want to be with you" "But that could be dangerous for you" "I don't care" "But I do" "But I don't care if it's dangerous" "You could get hurt" "I don't care." Though that could just be backlash from the book I just read.

Worlds crossing or colliding -- I like stories that juxtapose different worlds, as you get with urban fantasy, time travel and other culture clash stories. I do like traditional fantasy set entirely in a fantasy world, but I much prefer the Narnia model, with main characters from our world visiting the fantasy world because I like the contrasts. I love stories that involve hidden magical worlds existing within the "real" world. While I do like time travel stories, I prefer them in the Connie Willis or Doctor Who vein rather than like time travel romances, so that the time travelers are deliberately traveling in time as a way of studying or exploring rather than randomly transported to some other time.

Characters overcoming serious set-backs, including physical injuries -- Lest I sound sadistic, let me explain. In an ongoing series in which the characters are having wild adventures and theoretically in serious danger, if none of the main characters ever get hurt, it weakens the story because it makes it look like what they're doing isn't that dangerous, after all (especially if there's a high body count among unnamed extras). And there should be consequences to those injuries rather than a reset button. Battlestar Galactica has done that well, like when Kara busted up her knee in a crash, and for the rest of the season she was on crutches or having to use a cane. I also like the way Dick Francis uses physical peril in his books. It used to be a way to show just how tough steeplechase jockeys had to be, but now that he's using "ordinary" men as heroes, it's a way of the hero learning exactly what he's made of and what he can overcome, and it means that he pays a personal price for his involvement in the case.

Random other things that don't require as much explanation:
World War II (and the eras leading up to it and away from it)
the Victorian era
Medieval times
men in glasses
old houses (I am a sucker for "weekend party at the manor" stories)
weather (but not weather disasters -- more in the sense of mood setting)
snappy dialogue
dancing (social ballroom dancing, not production numbers)
pursuit or road trips

It might be a fun challenge to try to come up with a story that uses every single one of these elements, but I think the idea was just to look at what appeals to you and why. Sometimes, the why is more important than the element itself.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Sneak Peek

I have discovered that Monday seems to be my most productive day. I guess it's all that gung-ho, get the week off to a good start energy. Therefore, I think I'll try to schedule my weeks accordingly, with no errands to run on Mondays. Or maybe it was the fact that it was a cold, rainy Monday that helped. At any rate, I managed to finish a scene and rewrite another, plus getting some research reading done.

Oddly, it seems to be much quicker to just rewrite a scene than to try to take what I've written and revise it to fit something new. Still, I keep feeling like I don't want to trash what I've already written, so I go through the exercise of copying and pasting, then rewriting around it, only to end up deleting the old stuff, anyway. Ah, the games we play with our own minds ...

It now seems that Don't Hex With Texas has its page up at Amazon, complete with cover (but without any plot info). And you can get an extra discount when you pre-order books. In case you want to do that, here's the link.

But if you don't want to do that without seeing plot info, well, I can do something about that. Here's the preliminary cover copy:

Everything’s bigger in Texas—including romance, magic, and danger!

Katie Chandler has fled fast-paced Manhattan and returned home to a simpler life, working at her family’s feed-and-seed store in Cobb, Texas. Leaving the sexy wizard Owen Palmer to battle his demons in the magical realm may have been a selfless gesture—after all, Katie seemed to attract evil, which only made Owen’s job a lot harder—but now it seems like trouble has followed her home. And despite the fact that Merlin, Katie’s old boss at Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc., has assured her that Cobb is free of enchantment, magically speaking, Katie begins to notice curious phenomena.

Soon Cobb is being plagued by a series of unexplainable petty crimes and other devilish mischief, and after her experiences in Manhattan, Katie knows "unauthorized magic" when she sees it. As this new dark magic strikes deep in the heart of Texas, Owen appears (literally) to investigate. Now Katie’s friends and family must show the bad guys why it’s bad luck to hex with Texas, while Katie and Owen combine their strengths like never before to uncover a sinister plot before evil takes root in the lone star state.

Only a little more than three months to go!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Catching Up

Time for some catching up, updating and revisiting past topics.

My crazy neighbors with the yapping dogs and possible drug selling moved out not long after I griped about them. The house remains empty, but a weird little plastic Easter bunny figure has appeared on their front porch. The latest way for Realtors to hide keys? A mysterious secret signal? At any rate, quiet has returned to my little corner, except that the formerly good dog next-door to them picked up very bad habits from responding to the constant barking and now barks a lot more often than she used to.

After complaining about how hard it is to find something to do around here, I've now learned that the coffee shop at the library will start having live entertainment occasionally. They said they'd probably start when the weather's a bit warmer so they could do it on the patio. That does mean there likely will be smoke, but a few people smoking on the patio is better than being in a room full of smoke. So that means there may be something to go out and do just two blocks from my house. I'm not sure I'd walk it at night, but it's not an epic drive.

My mom has pointed out that if I ever was teased about being a bookworm, I've always had a very bad (and annoying, I'm sure) habit of taking things as compliments when they're meant as insults. I would have seen being a bookworm as a good thing, so it might not have occurred to me to think I was being insulted. If someone said it, they probably got a sweet smile and "Oh, thank you!" in response. And in high school, apparently I was seen as very intimidating, so most people were too afraid to insult me. I would say that I'm a bit baffled that anyone could be intimidated by me, but then I have to remember the enormous football player trying to date my roommate my senior year in college who told her that her roommate was "scary." (Of course, that could explain the quality of the UT football team during that era if the offensive line was scared of petite women.)

And following up on Friday's pizza rant, I was reminded that there are at least a couple of iconic pizza places in the area, and I've even been to them, just not in a while. I've also learned of some other places, and plans are even in the works for a pizza night with friends, so yay! It's also occurred to me that Mexican food seems to serve the purpose that pizza used to. A lot of the time when people meet up at a restaurant to celebrate a birthday, before or after doing something else, or just to eat, it seems to be for Mexican food. Some of that is because that's really our regional specialty and every neighborhood seems to have a locally operated Mexican restaurant (or more). I think it's also because it's easier to accommodate multiple dietary needs with Mexican than with pizza. A vegetarian, an Atkins dieter, someone with gluten sensitivity and even someone who's lactose intolerant can generally all find at least something to order from a Mexican menu, and most places even have a "gringo" section of the menu with plain old steaks or grilled chicken for those who don't like Mexican food. Plus, margaritas!

Finally, I really fell behind on posts about books on the Out of the Blogosphere tour (for paranormal books). I'll just do a quick blurb and provide a link if you want to get more info.

Twin sisters Bri and Elizabeth Drystan each have a special gift for healing, but they've taken very different career paths. While Elizabeth has pursued a medical degree, Bri has taken a more unorthodox and holistic path. Both of their gifts are sorely needed in the world of Lladrana, as the Dark has launched a deadly new plague.

Abruptly summoned to this alien world by desperate sorcerers, Bri and Elizabeth discover they are the fourth such summoning of Earth-born women, or Exotiques. The situation in Lladrana is dire, and Bri and Elizabeth are immediately thrown into the fray. To save the lives of many, one twin may place her own life in dire risk.

Connor Bruce is the realization of every woman’s erotic fantasies. Existing in the Twilight between sleep and consciousness, Connor brings them decadent pleasures, fueled by their sexual energy. But violence and strife now tear apart both worlds, and Connor must embark on a perilous quest into the mortal realm … and into the arms of one intoxicating enchantress.

Stacey Daniels has always been attracted to the wrong type of men – and the muscular, Viking-like champion on her front doorstep is no exception. She can hardly believe the wounded warrior is from another world, a world where erotic dreams are needed to survive, a world of terrible danger that has followed him to her home. Connor finds solace in her passion, but only time will tell if he can defeat the dark foe who hunts them … and if Stacey can surrender to the promise he offers with every electrifying touch.

SAVOR ME SLOWLY by Gena Showalter
Mishka Le’Ace was created to be an undercover operative . . . literally. Her beautiful body has been mechanically augmented to give her superhuman strength -- strength she’s going to need. Her latest mission sends her to rescue Alien Investigation and Removal agent Jaxon Tremain from torture and death. With him, she discovers a passion unlike any other. A passion she was forbidden to know. . .

From the moment they meet in a darkened cell, Jaxon craves her touch. But the machine half of Le’Ace forces her to do things she doesn’t always want to do. Even betray him . . . and ultimately destroy him. Now Jaxon must battle the man controlling Le’Ace and even Le’Ace herself to at last claim the woman he’s come to love.

Okay, I think I'm caught up on everything. Well, blog-wise. My e-mail has recently exploded to the point it may take days of solid work to dig down into it, I have lots of little admin type things to do, and I have to do some writing, but I no longer have nagging unfinished blog business (that I can remember) hanging over my head.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Pizza Nostalgia

When I got up this morning, I thought the sky looked the way it did when I lived in Oklahoma and it was about to snow, but no snow had been forecast, and it wasn't mentioned in the radio weather report on the clock radio. But then the noon news showed light snow on the radar, heading right toward me. I had errands to run, so I hurried out and now have groceries, but I haven't seen a single flake. I suppose it was good for me to have the incentive to just get out and go because I have a bad habit of getting sidetracked and goofing around until it's late. Plus, there was a tea emergency. How could I face possible snow without loose tea? However, even though I'd planned to treat myself by buying some of the good stuff, the only loose tea in the whole store was Lipton. Even the British section of the import aisle only had tea bags. I suppose if I want to treat myself in the future, I'm stuck going to a gourmet or import shop. I could have sworn that last time I bought tea in that store, they at least had some Twinings. Ah, well, I'm stocked up on Lipton for now.

And now for a pretty random topic. For whatever odd reason, the other night I suddenly desperately wanted pizza. I do eat frozen pizza (Red Baron only, which is pretty good if you bake it on a pizza stone) from time to time, and I even make pretty good homemade pizza, but I wanted really good pizzeria pizza, because you can't get quite the same effect with a home oven, even with a baking stone. And then I realized that what I wanted even more was to go out for pizza. But it doesn't seem like that's done much anymore. Pizza is something you order for delivery and eat at home, not something you go out for.

Ah, but back in my youth, pizza was an event. Going to Shakey's was a big deal, and at the one in Lawton, they even had a window where you could watch them toss the dough in the air to make the pizzas. That was a favorite place to go for birthday parties, and we didn't even need fancy videogames or animatronic animals. It was just pizza and root beer served at wooden tables in a sort of Olde English atmosphere with a touch of Dixieland (I have no idea why or how that related to each other or to pizza). The only "entertainment" was a player piano.

When I was in high school, delivery wasn't an option, as there was no pizza restaurant in town. You had to go out for pizza, and going out for pizza was a favorite thing to do. I'm sure some of that had to do with the fact that two of my best friends in high school were vegetarian for religious reasons, so we weren't exactly going to be hanging out in a burger joint, and pizza was something we could all enjoy. They had a Pizza Hut -- one of the old-fashioned kind with the red roof -- in the town north of ours, and that was a big family treat to go there, or I went with friends. Or if we went to the nearby city, there were a couple of good pizza places, one near each movie theater (one of them also near the mall). Going out for pizza and going to a movie or hitting the mall was our standard night out. Going out for pizza was also a standard church youth group activity. In college, there was actual pizza delivery, and we did a fair amount of that at the dorm, but for Sunday-night dinners (when they didn't serve dinner at the dorm), we'd occasionally trek over to Conan's pizza on the Drag. When I was right out of college, we used to have several Pizzeria Unos in the area, and that was where I often ended up with friends when we went out.

But now, it doesn't seem like there are too many places to go out for pizza anymore. The Unos have gone (except maybe the one in downtown Fort Worth), and even California Pizza Kitchen seems to have vanished (not that it ever counted). The last red-roofed Pizza Hut I knew of closed down when a group of employees was murdered there during a robbery. Now they pretty much just have takeout and delivery storefronts. Or there's fast-food pizza, with the "by the slice" or buffet places. There is a neighborhood Italian restaurant that has good pizza, but it's that ultra-thin crust type without a lot of cheese, not the kind you really sink your teeth into. The last time I went out for pizza in a way that felt like going out for pizza used to when it was a real treat was on a trip to Chicago a couple of years ago. It was cold and starting to snow, and we went to this incredible, perfect pizza place. I don't know of a good, real, old-fashioned pizzeria around here.

I think part of the appeal of going out for pizza was that it's something of a communal experience. Unless you're at a place that offers single-serving pizzas, you have to agree on what to order, and then you share the food from a common platter. The atmosphere is usually warm and cozy, often with booths, which adds to the sense of intimacy. I have so many great memories of good times spent around a pizza.

So, does anyone still go out for pizza anymore? Or do you just order it in these days?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Book Report: YA Fantasy

Going back to the reading role models topic, I've since remembered that we have seen Sawyer on Lost scavenging the airplane wreckage for books and hanging out on the beach with his nose in a book. It does seem like (based on what I recall from when I watched the show and the screencaps I've seen) there was a surprisingly large amount of classic literature or books on that unspoken "approved" list on that plane. Based on what I've seen people reading on planes in my travels, I'd have expected there to be more Nora Roberts, James Patterson and the latest Oprah pick than things like Watership Down, The Fountainhead and things by Charles Dickens. Unless maybe a flight from Australia to the US is when people try to catch up on those books they feel like they should read, so it's a different mix from domestic flights.

After reading the comments on that post, I feel very fortunate that I don't recall ever being put down or mocked for being a bookworm. If I was, it must not have sunk in at all, possibly because books have always been something I enjoyed and are so much a part of the way I live my life, so I wouldn't have given much credence to anyone who didn't feel the same way. While I do think that the way literature is taught in our schools has a lot to do with why so many people don't read for pleasure, I have had teachers who found their own way of encouraging reading. My fourth-grade teacher calmed us down after recess by reading a chapter of a book to us each day. That was where I discovered the joys of Roald Dahl. My sixth-grade English teacher had us spend a certain amount of each class day reading, had a shelf of books in her classroom to check out, and the way we got credit for reading was to privately give her a summary of the book in six sentences. That's where I learned to sum up books, and it's a skill I still use in query letters and promotional materials. My seventh-grade social studies teacher started each class with reading time, and there was an approved list of magazines we could read during that time, or we could read any book. Therefore, almost every seventh grader brought a book to school every day, so I wasn't such an oddball for doing so.

And speaking of reading during those years, I've been kind of on a young adult kick lately, so here's the book report:

Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes -- this was a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit feature a couple of years ago, and I finally read it. It gives a paranormal twist to high school cliques, as our heroine can see people's auras and how they interconnect. That ability also helps her see that there is something seriously dangerous going on in her school, but it's kind of difficult to tell people that she thinks there's danger because someone's aura looks wrong -- and it would definitely be the kiss of death for her social life. Even though this is a "teen" book about high school life, I almost think that people who have survived high school might find it even more interesting because of the perspective you have looking back on that. It also had me imagining what people around me would look like if I saw their auras.

Then there were two by Shannon Hale. The Goose Girl is a novelized retelling of the classic fairy tale about the princess who resorts to tending geese when her lady-in-waiting steals her identity on the journey to wed a neighboring kingdom's prince. In my library, it was shelved in children's fiction, not even young adult, and while it's totally kid-safe and the kind of thing I was reading at about nine, it could totally fit on the adult shelf. It didn't feel like a YA book to me, and it had fairly complex language and imagery (I guess it's the way that the supposed "children's" show Doctor Who seems way more mature to me than the supposedly "adult" Torchwood -- sex, violence and language aren't what defines maturity). This was a really lovely book, and as it's the start of a series, I now want to read the rest.

I also read The Princess Academy by the same author. It's probably aimed at younger readers and the type in the edition I read was a bit larger, but once I got into the book it was just a story, and I wasn't conscious of the classification. It's about what happens when the king's prophets say the prince's bride will come from a particular remote mountain village, so all the girls of the village are forced to attend a school to teach them to be proper princesses before they attend the ball where the prince will choose his wife. But educating the girls of this poor, remote village has unintended social consequences. This was a fun book that's very sweet. It might also make a good read-aloud book for younger kids.

On a darker, edgier note, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr was a big bestseller last year. It's about a teenage girl who has always been able to see the fey as they move around the world, and she knows it's dangerous to ever let on that she can see them. But then they start stalking her, and she learns that the Summer King has chosen her for his queen, which makes it all very hard to ignore, and she faces some huge choices. I loved the use of folklore in a modern setting and the darker, scarier, less-cute version of fairies. It was also a real page turner.

And now, even though it's quite cold outside, I'm contemplating a walk to the library because I'm midway through the last book from my last batch, and I now have three books I put on hold that are waiting for me -- and this branch is closed on Friday. What would I do if I ran out of books while the library was closed? Horrors! Not that I don't have tons of unread books lying around the house, but I really want all the ones I'd put on hold, and since a couple of them were on a long wait list, I don't want to risk missing out.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Clarifying Plagiarism

Today is shaping up to be delightfully dreary, so I should get a lot of good reading and writing done. Yes, I'm the oddball who is strangely energized and productive on cool, cloudy days.

There's been a lot of attention to plagiarism in the writing world lately, and while I don't want to get into the specific allegations in the latest case, some of the comments I've seen lead me to believe that it wouldn't hurt to talk about the topic in general because there seems to be some confusion about the whole issue.

Mind you, I am not a lawyer and have not been to law school. I did take a semester of media law and ethics, but most of this is based on practical application and observation of a number of these cases.

In general, plagiarism is stealing someone else's words -- taking their words and representing them as something you wrote. Plagiarism is a violation of copyright, but it's not the exact same thing as copyright violation. With plagiarism, you aren't giving the original author credit, while you can give credit and still violate copyright, and it is possible to plagiarize something that's in the public domain so that it's not a copyright violation.

Some things to keep in mind about fiction:
1) There's no reason or excuse to lift material from a fictional work to use in another fictional work, unless you're specifically quoting from that work -- such as, say, your character is reading or quoting from a book. Doing that may require permissions, and each publisher may have a protocol on how that's acknowledged (you may see something like "excerpt from Book X on page X used by permission"). The bad thing is if you in any way imply that you wrote the stuff you didn't write. You definitely don't want to use passages from another novel in your narrative. This is bad, bad, bad and can lead to lawsuits and ended careers.

2) However, there is such a thing as coincidence. There may be multiple authors who unknowingly use the exact same words to describe something, whether because it's just so obvious or because there's something in the air. I once went through a month-long phase in which every single book I read mentioned someone having her toenails painted the color of the inside of a seashell. Either there was something in the air, or pale pink was the big color in nail polish when those books were written. We've also all seen common phrases or descriptions, like describing the heroine's underwear as "a scrap of lace," or referring to "a bright slash of lipstick." When I was describing one of the characters of the new Terminator TV series in my blog this week, I called her "The Rivernator," because of a character that actress played previously. It came to me while watching, and then I later saw that term popping up in other blogs and message boards. I don't think people are copying me. It was just an obvious way to describe her that a number of people came up with independently.

A couple of phrases in common can be chalked up to coincidence, but people will get suspicious if there are dozens throughout a book. This doesn't mean it's okay to borrow a really good description as long as you only take a couple of words and only do it once in a book. It just means that you shouldn't freak out if you run across something that uses the same wording you've used.

3) You don't need to footnote a novel. I can't think of a single novel I've read that used footnotes to attribute the sources of facts. When footnotes are used in this way, it's usually with the pretense that the book itself is meant to be a history, and the footnoted references only exist within the world of the book (and this is usually done in a humorous or satirical way). While doing research on a book, you will gather facts, and you can use those facts (but not the words expressing them) at will. You will learn that your setting was primarily settled by Germans, that a historical event happened at a certain time of day, or that a particular Native American tribe practiced certain crafts, and you can incorporate those facts into your novel. If you've made extensive use of certain sources, especially if the author's unique opinions or approach to the subject were critical to the development of your work, it's a good idea to mention these sources on your acknowledgments page. Not only is that courtesy to these authors, but it's handy for readers who might want to learn more about the reality behind your story. Remember, though, that you're still just using the information, not the words.

4) Not only is plagiarizing reference sources morally wrong and grounds for legal action, it's also bad writing. If you're taking several sentences of reference material and copying them into your novel, that's an info dump, and it's boring. It's far better to incorporate the necessary information as it relates to the story. Using that example from above about a town settled by Germans, you wouldn't want a paragraph about the German settlers who came in such and such a year and brought with them foods from their homeland, such as sausages and bread. Instead, you could convey that same data by giving many of your characters German last names, having them grill sausages at neighborhood cookouts or visit the bakery to get German pastries -- if those things are important for your story.

Plagiarizing also breaks your narrative voice. Incorporating something written by someone else into your novel means that this part is not going to fit, unless your narrator talks like a reference book. It's practically impossible for a passage from a reference source to describe the things your viewpoint character would notice, in the way he would notice them, and in the language he'd use to describe them.

To make it all a little clearer, I'm going to give an example. My source here is real, but the examples are hypothetical. Since many of my books are set in New York and I don't live there, I use guidebooks as references when I need information on a location -- things like where a restaurant might be. Here's a passage from one of my guidebooks, The Let's Go City Guide 2003 for New York City. In a sidebar on page 146, John Trinidad says: "For curry-in-a-hurry, stumble along 6th St., between First and Second Ave. and into Little India. All of the block's restaurants are fairly similar -- the neighborhood myth is that they all share a secret underground kitchen."

If I were to use this information in a book, I might have a character say when a group is making dinner plans, "Let's go down to 6th. I'm craving curry." I don't need to footnote, credit or acknowledge where I got the basic fact that there are Indian restaurants on 6th Street.

As the scene continues, when a character asks which Indian restaurant on the block they should go to, another might say, "Oh, they're pretty much all the same. I think they even have the same kitchen." That doesn't use this author's words, but I'm not sure how unique his joke about the shared kitchen really is. He does credit it to neighborhood myth, so it's probably okay, but I'd check a few other sources to make sure that really is a neighborhood myth rather than just taking that from this one guide book. You're treading on dangerous ground, though, if this is phrased as, "Oh, they're pretty much all the same. In fact, I think they share a secret underground kitchen." The idea of a "secret underground kitchen" isn't so wildly unique as to raise red flags, and it's entirely possible that you might have come up with that description for the concept on your own, but it's a bad idea to use it if you know that's how it was described in your reference.

I probably wouldn't list this book as a valuable resource on my acknowledgments page unless I'd used it as my primary source for finding things my characters might do and relied heavily on the way they describe places for helping me set the scene (again, without using their words). It would take more than just using the fact that there were Indian restaurants around 6th and First.

You've got plagiarism if the passage in the book goes something like: "We wanted curry-in-a-hurry, so we stumbled along 6th St. to between First and Second Ave. and into Little India. All the block's restaurants were fairly similar -- the neighborhood myth was that they all shared a secret underground kitchen."

This is the kind of thing that came up in the more recent plagiarism scandal. It wasn't the lack of crediting or footnoting of the sources that was the problem -- and footnoting or crediting wouldn't have made it okay -- but rather the fact that wording directly out of the sources was incorporated into the narrative of the book. There is an expectation in a novel that the author was the person stringing words together and that those words didn't come from anywhere else.

So, clear as mud?

On an entirely different topic, for the jazz geeks out there, on this day in 1938, Benny Goodman and his orchestra played their historic Carnegie Hall concert. On my "music for old people" radio station that my clock radio alarm is set to, they played the live recording of "Sing, Sing, Sing." It's an extended version with lots of longer freestyle solos, and holy cow! I don't think I'd heard it before. Goodman got sounds out of that clarinet that I didn't think were possible. I now must have the CD of this concert. (And I love the fact that the most scorching music on the radio this morning, up and down the dial, was likely that one recording on the "music for old people" station.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Reading on TV

Yesterday's new year reboot seems to have worked, as I got everything on my to-do list done, in addition to getting some exercise. And I finally have the Section From Hell revised and just about ready to send to my agent, after about three weeks (oops!).

One of my regular soapboxes is about how reading is treated in our society. Every so often, one of those surveys about how little people read comes out, and everyone starts wringing their hands and rending their garments about how awful this is, we're going straight to hell in a handbasket, etc., etc. But then there's not a lot of respect or support for pure reading for pleasure. Even the supposedly pro-book people have a nasty tendency to be only pro-the books they think you should read. None of that frivolous stuff -- no romance, chick-lit, science fiction, fantasy, and God forbid (gasp!) graphic novels. Just worthy Deep and Meaningful books (usually involving death and/or injustice, no happy endings allowed). There is an effort to encourage children to read, with all those "Reading is Fun!" campaigns, and trips to the school library being a treat. The books at that age are about cool things like Oobleck and magical chocolate factories. Then you get to high school, they throw a copy of The Scarlet Letter at you, tell you to give an oral report on what the author really meant (way to link the most common fear with reading!) and then say, "Ha! And you thought reading was fun, my little pretties! Mwa ha ha ha haaa!" Even the attempts to encourage reading in adults feel like high school all over again, with book clubs to discuss Deep and Meaningful books that are often about death and injustice, and yep, more oral reports and "but what did the author really mean?" discussions.

But it occurred to me last night that another problem is that we don't have too many cultural role models for reading for pleasure. Over at the Television Without Pity forums, there's a thread for posting mock motivational posters using images from TV series. Someone's been doing a series of posters showing TV characters reading, with the caption: "Books: Not all Writers are on Strike." Except when I looked at the pictures, they're not of leisure reading. The books are things like textbooks, tax preparation guides and even a dictionary. Then it occurred to me that I couldn't think of a TV character who really read for pleasure. Even the supposedly "bookish" characters just go to books for information. Brainy, nerdy Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer did a lot of reference reading, but in all that time we saw her in the school library, did we ever see her check out a novel? Over on the spinoff, Wesley always had his nose in a book, and Fred was a former librarian, but I don't recall ever seeing them read when it wasn't some reference book. On Doctor Who, the Doctor gave a rousing speech when they were trapped in a library about books being the best weapons of all, but have we ever seen a book in the TARDIS? (He does get partial credit for mentioning having read a novel when he talked about the last Harry Potter, but that book was more of an event than a book, so it doesn't necessarily indicate a love for pleasure reading, and it was more meant to show he was a time traveler, since he'd gone to the future to read it early -- and even further, it was likely meant as a kind of inside joke because the actor had been in a Harry Potter movie.) Supposedly brainy Sam Winchester never seems to read anything but reference materials.

I do have a vague mental image of Agent Scully curled up on her couch with a book, but I'm not sure if that was actually her watching an old movie (which I know she did in one episode). Rory Gilmore on the Gilmore Girls loved to read and read novels, but she was mostly reading the required reading list of approved Deep and Meaningful novels -- and reading the college list when she was in high school -- so it seemed more like they were showing how driven and accomplished she was and how far above the other kids who were still reading high school books she was rather than showing that reading is fun or a good way to spend leisure time. Ditto Julie on Friday Night Lights. The characters on Bones seem to read the main character's novels, but it doesn't sound like they read much else. The only pop culture figure I can think of who really and truly read fun books for pleasure is Belle from the Disney Beauty and the Beast, who seemed to be addicted to romantic adventure/fantasy stories (and even she was considered "odd" for her habit rather than it being just a way to entertain herself).

Authors may be a little better about weaving reading into their characters' lives, since we are bookworms, ourselves, but, come to think of it, did we ever see supposed bookworm Hermione Granger reading something that wasn't a reference book? I make a conscious effort to mention that my characters read for fun, even if there's no room for reading scenes in the books, but when you're showing characters in books reading, that's sort of preaching to the choir because anyone reading a book knows about reading for fun.

Granted, it's hard to depict reading in a visual medium because it's not too exciting to watch someone sitting still, and the parts of the characters' lives we see aren't the times when they have time to sit still and read. Still, I think there are subtle ways they could incorporate the idea of reading for fun into TV and movies. If they could do a whole Green Week on NBC, why not use the medium to encourage reading? (And, no, I don't think people will suddenly stop watching TV if they discover books -- no more so than encouraging people to go green would make them turn off the TV to save electricity. I read a ton and still watch way too much TV.) So, in case any TV people are out there, here are my suggestions (some are generic, some are specific to certain characters):
1) Show bookcases in characters' homes and books out as though they're being read, like on nightstands, coffee tables, end tables, kitchen tables, etc.
2) When a character digs through or spills a tote bag or purse, have a paperback novel be one of the things that comes up.
3) The cops/doctors/FBI agents could be shown at home reading a book when the pager/cell phone goes off to call them to action (it seems like they're usually having sex now). When arriving at the station, crime scene, hospital, etc., they could complain about being in the middle of a good part, so this better be important. (Or characters could be at a library or bookstore when paged.)
4) Characters could be holding a book, with their thumb marking their place, when they answer the doorbell.
5) When a character pulls the "I can wait" stunt while trying to get to a person avoiding him, have him pull out a novel to read to demonstrate that he's willing to wait a while.
6) Cops on a stakeout, or any other characters in a waiting situation where they chatter about random things, could talk about what they just read.
7) When a character visits another character's home for the first time, he could look at the bookcases and books lying around and comment as a way of making conversation or trying to analyze the person.
8) That end of episode montage of characters going about their lives to a current pop song they love to do on drama series could include some of the characters reading.
9) Sam Winchester could be sitting in the passenger seat, reading a book, while his brother drives, and that could trigger an argument when Dean picks on him for reading and Sam tells him to shut up because they're about to catch the bad guy or solve the mystery.
10) There could be a book shoved into some nook or cranny on the TARDIS control console (maybe near the sledgehammer).
11) Someone interviewing a crime victim or witness in the person's home could bond and gain the person's trust by noticing a book and mentioning having read it.

And it doesn't have to be the show's designated brainy person/nerd/computer hacker type who is shown to enjoy reading. Even non-nerds can read fun things for pleasure.

Any other ideas? Enough TV writers these days have blogs that I'm semi-tempted to start leaving comments to this effect and see if we can get a campaign going. Or I could e-mail a big book blog to see if they want to take this up.

I was planning a trip to Borders today, since they've sent some good coupons that are only good today, but at the moment I can't think of anything I'm dying to have right now, and I have a stack of library books to read. They always end up sending more coupons, week after week, so today's outing may be limited to the post office, and then back to work.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Monday Grab Bag of Geekery

After having been more or less a slug the past couple of weeks, I've decided to reboot the new year today. I dragged myself out of bed at a semi-reasonable hour (for me), have already done a load of laundry, and am more or less on schedule for the things I want to accomplish today. We'll see how long it lasts.

I have no single, unifying topic for the day, so it's going to be a grab bag of sorts.

We'll see how the series plays out, but I am intrigued by the Sarah Connor Chronicles. I'm especially digging the Rivernator. Yeah, we saw Summer Glau kick all kinds of ass in Serenity, but they gave her that stringy hair, wild-eyed, crazy look. Here, she's so very, very pretty, with cute hair and makeup, totally doll-like. And then she kicks ass. I'm trying to ignore all the timeline woes and inconsistencies with the movies. They seem to be negating the existence of the third one (which I actually liked more than I liked T2), and it does make sense that the events of T2 would totally change the future timeline. Of course, thinking about the timelines and time paradoxes in the movies was always a good way to give yourself a headache. Note to self: I really need to get the DVD of the first movie, and I guess the director's cut of the second that actually includes the scenes with Michael Biehn (the actor James Cameron loves to kill -- I'm still surprised he didn't get a cameo as a doomed passenger on the Titanic). Oh, and did anyone else think that Sarah's fiance at the beginning looked disturbingly like Robert Patrick? Would she seriously have gone for a guy who looked just like a Terminator? That distracted me through the whole scene. Maybe there's supposed to be some kind of kinky Freudian thing at work here.

Meanwhile, for something as far from science fiction as Jane Austen, the adaptation of Persuasion on PBS last night was like a big geek explosion. We had Gillian Anderson of The X-Files hosting, then Anthony Head of Buffy and Doctor Who, we had the Borg Queen in period attire (but still looking enough like the Borg Queen to be thoroughly creepy). Plus Larry from the Doctor Who episode "Blink." We could even sort of count "the new guy" (Not!Tom) from MI-5 in the role of our hero. Those BBC costume dramas always have me playing "Hey, it's that Chap!" (the British version of "Hey, it's that Guy!"), and a check of IMDB usually reveals that the actor who looks vaguely familiar has guest starred in Foyle's War, Doctor Who, Robin Hood, or any combination of the above.

Speaking of MI-5, why did A&E quit showing it? They aired one episode of the then-new season last year with no fanfare at some godawful inconvenient time, had the next one in the listings, but then never showed it, and then it dropped off entirely. You'd think it would be enough in the spirit of their current lineup of crime type shows to make the cut (terrorism is a crime, after all), but I guess the fact that it's British made it too classy for the "new" A&E.

It was interesting seeing Gillian Anderson because she's two days younger than I am and therefore makes a good celebrity aging barometer for myself. Of course, it's hard to judge, since she has professional makeup and lighting, but I think I'm doing pretty well. She looks good, too, but she's got a kind of gaunt, severe look that I think ages her. I watched The Last King of Scotland yesterday afternoon and was surprised to see her in it, and she looked much better there (it took me a while to figure out who she was). The self-esteem boost there was that James McAvoy's character had the hots for her. I'd thought he was cute, but way too young, so it was rather fun to see him going after a woman my age.

And now in order to stay on schedule, I must wrap this up and prepare to move on to the rest of my work day.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Favorite Actors

First, a television listings public service announcement, since I know a lot of y'all get jazzed by the same things I do. This weekend, Masterpiece Theater on PBS (I think they're calling it "Masterpiece" now, but that sounds stupid so I will stubbornly refuse to change) is starting a whole series of Jane Austen-related movies, hosted by Gillian Anderson. Sunday is an adaptation of Persuasion, with Anthony Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and one of the best Doctor Who villains ever) as the heroine's father. Check your local listings because PBS stations can get wonky with days and times (mine has a bad tendency to delay the shows I actually want to watch so they can repeat that Doo Wop special or some Celtic Woman show for the 3-zillionth time as part of a pledge drive).

Last week when I mentioned that even though Hugh Grant wasn't on my list of favorite actors but I'd realized I really enjoyed him in just about everything I'd seen him in, someone asked me who my favorite actors were. I've been mulling that over, and I'm not sure I really have a list of favorite actors. I learned a while back that who I really liked were usually the characters, not the actors themselves, and if I really liked a character and transferred that to the actor, I was very often disappointed in the actors themselves or in other characters they played. The kind of characters I'm drawn to tend to be the nice, good guy, down-to-earth types, and that's pretty much the opposite of the personality that's often drawn to acting and the lifestyle actors lead. Actors are more likely to be a wee bit egotistical, exhibitionist and into a countercultural lifestyle (though I know not all are like that and a number start acting in an attempt to cure shyness). It's kind of like in Bridget Jones's Diary when she's obsessing over Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and gets a little bothered when she reads an article on Colin Firth because the real Mr. Darcy would never do anything so vain and frivolous as become an actor, and yet Mr. Darcy is played by an actor.

Then there's the issue that because I'm more of a TV person than a movie person, I'm used to my favorite characters/actors having an edited-for-TV vocabulary, and then it becomes rather disconcerting to me to hear them swearing in a big-screen movie. And sometimes, I'm disappointed that an actor I liked would take that role or be involved with that project. There's no point in me developing a crush on an actor because even if a miracle happened and I managed to meet that actor (and I got over my shy attack enough to actually speak to him), I probably wouldn't be very compatible with him or get along with him.

So, I stay well aware that my interest is in the characters rather than in the actors, and if I really, really like a character, I may actually avoid seeing that actor in anything else so it doesn't ruin the character for me, though that varies depending on what I've seen the actor in before or if he's one of those more chameleon-like actors who so disappears into a role that other roles don't affect the way I see the character I like. Or if an actor has proved himself over time to be a decent person and a good judge of material, I'm more willing to follow him from role to role (and I'm saying "he" here because, well, I like men, and those are the ones I'm more likely to be paying attention to). So I'm really not being the stereotypical geek who can't accept that the actor isn't really their favorite character. I just hate watching an actor in something else very different when I can't shake the feeling that I'm actually watching that other character do very weird and wrong things, if that makes sense.

I certainly don't have any list of actors I'll see in anything or who can "open" (as they say in Hollywood) a movie for me. I'm closer to having a blacklist of people I refuse to watch in anything. My viewing choices depend entirely on the subject matter of the movie or TV show rather than who is in it, though on TV there are some people who can tip the balance toward me choosing to watch something that might not have made the list otherwise. I can't think of any actor for whom I'll automatically go to a movie theater, regardless of what the movie's about. I doubt I've seen every movie that anyone's been in, unless maybe there's an actor who was in one thing and I happen to have seen it. I'm more likely to go see a movie because the movie sounds interesting, and then be pleasantly surprised to find an actor I like in it than I am to go to a movie because an actor I like is in it.

There are a few "classic" actors who might be on a favorites list. Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn would be in my hall of fame there. For current actors, I guess that list would be people whose craft I enjoy. Mind you, this is not a crush list, as I reserve the crushes for the characters. I find Ewan McGregor fascinating because he is such a chameleon that he completely changes in each role, and he he throws himself head-on into every role, though I know there are definitely movies he's in that I have no desire to see. I know I'm kind of late to the game, about a decade after Pride and Prejudice, but I'm really starting to enjoy Colin Firth more and more. I think in a sense he might have become this generation's Cary Grant, where he can be both suave and funny. I don't know if they realized how funny he could be before, or if he owes his current career to Helen Fielding for using him in the Bridget Jones books, which led to him being in the movies, which showed everyone that he could be really funny so that now he's one of the go-to guys for romantic comedies. For women, there's Emma Thompson, who is always so very brilliant. There's also something about Kate Winslet that I find appealing in most roles (though I know she's done some that are a bit more out there). Both of them have something about them that makes whatever part they play seem very real. Amy Adams is on her way up the list, since I've adored her in everything I've seen her in and I've found her very likable in interviews.

On TV, I'll generally give any series Adam Baldwin is in a try, mostly because I've had a chance to get to know him through all his online activity and he's a cool guy (which reminds me, I haven't been on the Firefly boards in a while). And, as with Colin Firth, they finally realized how funny he can be instead of typecasting him as the stern, silent type. I've liked Jamie Bamber in just about everything I've seen him in, from Horatio Hornblower to Battlestar Galactica, and a few costume dramas in between, so I'll probably check out whatever he does next on TV (and I do kind of hope he goes back to being blond and British for his next project). I haven't followed Damian Lewis to the movies, but his presence in a TV series or miniseries will make me more likely to watch it (and, oddly, I prefer him playing American to playing British).

Of course, as soon as I post, I'll think of dozens more. I guess you could say I don't go around with a list of actors I like in my head, but if I see someone, I may find myself remembering that I really like that person.

Incidentally, if you have a question for me along these lines, feel free to ask. I'll try to answer.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fairy Tale Lessons

I don't know if it's the fact that I did my first post-New Year's grocery shopping this week, which involved optimistically buying lots of fruits and vegetables so that I've been eating better, or if it really was that my brain lacks the power to do much of anything else while it's generating an idea, but I was actually reasonably productive yesterday, for the first time in about a week. I've now fixed the parts of the book affected by the driver's test info. Incidentally, I may never drive again and will avoid sidewalks near streets, thanks to those who answered my question and to additional research I've done. Teens in Texas who have taken driver's ed don't have to take a driving test to get a license -- and the driver's ed can be "parent taught," so that the parents just have to sign a form saying that the kids have done certain things and have logged a certain amount of practice time. Given what I've seen of some parents who give their kids whatever they want and who see nothing wrong with lying and cheating to give their kids what they want, I suspect that means there are parents who just sign the forms, whether or not the kid has actually done the work, and those are the very kids who really need to learn they aren't the center of the universe or the only people on the roads. Who thought this would be a good idea? I'm officially frightened. However, that kind of "driver's ed" may not get an insurance discount, and there are still certified courses that require students to take the driving test as part of the course before they get the certificate that will get them a license, so for purposes of my book, I can still show a driving test as a rite of teenage passage that could come with a sixteenth birthday, but it's given by a driving teacher instead of a DPS trooper.

The only thing I have to do today is return a library book, and then I can really settle in and get to work. The book is the complete Grimm's Fairy Tales, which took me a while to plow through, but I figure if I'm going to play with fairy tale concepts, I needed to read the original (or as close to it as has been captured) source material. As tends to happen when you read straight through something that involves a lot of little parts that are meant to stand on their own, I noticed some patterns. So, here's what I learned from Grimm's Fairy Tales:

1) Fairy tale men are shallow.
Story after story involves a man seeing a woman (or even a picture of a woman) and instantly falling madly in love with her because of her beauty -- to the point he's willing to take on an impossible task to win her, even with the understanding that he gets his head cut off if he fails. Now, I'm not opposed to physical attraction, and it takes some degree of physical attraction to notice someone so you can get to know them as a person, but you'd think a man would want to know a little more about a woman before putting his life on the line to win her. What if they turn out not to like each other or have nothing in common? It's also generally looked at as a positive thing that a man is so into beauty, and he isn't condemned for being turned off by ugly women. There was one story where the beautiful princess was disguised as an ugly old woman, and the hero was openly repulsed by her, but the story didn't condemn that in any way, and he was later able to free her without having to first like her at all in her ugly form.

2) Fairy tale women are not allowed to be shallow.
On the other hand, women are expected to look beyond appearances to what's inside. They're the ones who have to be pure and kind enough to fall for the hideous beast or allow the frog to sleep in their beds. If an ugly, dirty stranger shows up and expects to marry one of three daughters, the older two who reject him because he's ugly and dirty don't just miss out on the rich, handsome man he really is, but they're actually punished for being so superficial. Though I really don't see that you can be called shallow for being turned off by a man who hasn't washed, shaved, or cut his hair or nails in seven years. Ewwww.

3) Fairy tale men are fickle.
After they complete all those impossible tasks at risk of their lives, these men show an alarming tendency to head home to tell their parents about their upcoming wedding, then forget entirely about the chick they just won and make plans to marry someone else, so that the woman then has to go through all kinds of hardship to reach him and remind him of their former wedding plans before it's too late. I guess that's sort of payback for the hoops he jumped through to win her, but still, you'd think if you put your life on the line to win a woman, you'd remember doing so. If he does remember to marry the woman he won, he's then frighteningly willing to believe anything anyone says about her, regardless of the evidence, so that he then is willing to have her executed or shut up in a tower. I suppose that's what happens when you marry someone for her looks without knowing anything about her as a person.

4) Always bet on the youngest son or daughter.
The older ones never win. The youngest is the kindest and usually the most clever, even if he's labeled foolish. The youngest daughter is the most beautiful.

5) Beautiful is good, ugly is bad.
The beautiful woman is lovely on the inside, while the plain or ugly woman is mean, jealous and selfish. Beautiful women can also be evil, as in the queen in Snow White whose primary motivation is to be most beautiful, but the girl who's plain but desirable because she's pure in heart doesn't exist in the fairy tale world.

6) "Cinderella story" is a misnomer.
We tend to use the term "Cinderella story" to mean "rags to riches," with the idea of someone from the lower classes rising in rank when she catches the eye of an upper-class man, but Cinderella wasn't a servant or peasant. She was from a wealthy family and was just being made to do work that was beneath her in the house that was rightfully hers. There are actually stories in which a true peasant girl wins a prince because of her beauty, skill and pure heart, but "Cinderella" isn't one of them.

7) Of all the stories that fit the Cinderella pattern, the least interesting is the one that has become the most famous.
There are several stories involving a woman working beneath her station who secretly attends a ball and isn't recognized because she's glammed up and who is later discovered because of a specific clue. I'm not sure why "Cinderella" became the one that was a classic. My favorite is "Allerleiruah," which was dramatized on the Jim Henson "The Storyteller" show in the late 80s. In this one, the girl is a princess in hiding, and because of her coat made of the skins of each type of animal, she's mistaken for a mysterious creature and taken to work in the castle kitchen. When the king has a ball, she sneaks away from work, puts on her princess dress and dances with him, and he doesn't recognize the kitchen creature who makes his favorite kind of soup. There is an ick factor in this story that makes it difficult to Disney-ize, since the reason she's in hiding is the fact that her father intends to marry her (her mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, and when she died, he vowed he wouldn't remarry unless he found a woman as beautiful as she was, but he couldn't find one until his daughter grew up to look just like her mother, so she was the only bride suitable for him -- see, shallow!). That aside, the story is really quite intriguing, and it deserves more attention.

The weird thing about the misogynistic bias in so many of these stories is that women were the sources for much of the collection, according to the notes at the back of the book on the Grimms' methodology. It was mostly women who told them these stories (and one of the brothers married one of their sources).

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Overcoming Impatience

I now know why I've been in such a fog for the past week. I've been gestating an idea! Last night as I was getting ready for bed, all the daydreaming I've been doing lately solidified into a real story idea, complete with worldbuilding and characters, even scenes and bits of dialogue. Oddly, that then shut off the worst of the daydreaming because it focused it into planning and cut off all the odd little tangents that had sprung up. This one is going to take a ton of research, so it may not be the next thing I write. I may have to set up my working schedule to do research on this story for a couple of hours a day and write on something else for a couple of hours a day. It's also going to be a real challenge because it hits at one of my main points of weakness as a writer: my impatience.

I think some of that comes from my broadcast journalism background, where the priority was to get it done on time, and then you made it as good as you could in that timeframe. It was a badge of honor to get back to the station less than half an hour before airtime and still be able to get a story written and the tape edited in time to get it in the newscast. You got more praise for being able to pull that off than you got for having perfectly written prose. And I think it also comes from my tendency to go all or nothing, where the story just pours out of me, and that part is fun, but then making it the best I can be requires more detail-oriented work than I usually enjoy. On the book I'm revising now, while some of the changes I need to make came as a complete surprise, some of them were nagging doubts in the back of my head, but I ignored them because I just wanted to be done. One thing that's taking me so long on the section I'm revising is that the impatient part of my brain thinks it should be done, but my internal editor knows it's not what it should be and needs to be fixed.

Incidentally, I met my internal editor in a dream last night. She lives in a tower filled with books, and she banished me to an unfurnished dungeon until I get the book done.

So, anyway, I know my impulse is to just forge ahead on this new idea because I'm excited about it and impatient, but in order to make it what it really deserves to be, I'm going to have to do a ton of research in history and literature. Researching this book will be essentially a liberal arts education. That may actually be fun, in a way. But what I'm excited about is that it's the idea that fits the feeling I wanted. A while back, I had this odd flash of the kind of book I wanted to write, with no plot idea at all, just a feeling I wanted to get out of a book, and this is it!

Meanwhile, going back to that thing that's been going around various writers' blogs about common elements in our books, I finally managed to distill a list, and the new idea definitely fits. So, here are the top ten ways you can tell you're reading a Shanna Swendson book:
1) The main character is spunky and resourceful -- not really going after trouble, but rolling with the punches when the trouble comes.
2) The leading man may look "beta," but when I really think about it, most of mine are actually so alpha they come back around to beta because they're so sure of themselves and what they can do that they don't feel any need to flaunt it or act aggressively. They have extreme potential for power and authority that they use only when necessary. The result is a nice, mellow guy with the ability to take over the world, if he really felt the need to (but that would get in the way of other things he'd prefer to be doing).
3) There will be humor. Even tragedy may be reacted to with dark humor. Characters who find themselves acting in a melodramatic way will end up laughing at themselves.
4) The language will be mostly suitable for network television. I don't swear, so it never occurs to me to make my characters swear all that much.
5) There will likely be some element common in fantasy or folklore that is twisted or inverted in some way.
6) There won't be a lot of detailed, flowery description. Sometimes I have to remind myself to describe things at all.
7) If there's a romantic subplot, the romance will be a very, very slow build, the kind that takes several books to resolve.
8) My characters are usually religious, but not really in a plot-related way. It's just part of who they are as people. They go to church on Sundays and in a jam they may pray, but the story isn't about their faith journey or a spiritual crisis.
9) There won't be much sex, and if there is, it won't be described because I'm really not very good at writing it and don't enjoy doing so.
10) The secondary characters will be a quirky bunch. I like taking types you expect and then throwing in some oddball trait or feature.

And, finally, in other news (yeah, you can sometimes tell I used to write newscasts), I'll be speaking next month at the DFW Writers Conference in Grapevine, Texas. If you're interested in hearing me talk about mythology and psychology in characterization or the other slate of speakers, here's the info.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"That Girl"?

I have not yet measured to see if my desk chair really is directly over my dining chair, but I've noticed that the chaise on my loft where I sit to read and often write is directly over the spot on the sofa downstairs where I sit to watch TV. I would say that I'm drawn to particular locations in my house, but I think it's more that the layout of my house doesn't leave a lot of options for arranging furniture. My bedroom is in the part of the house that's one-story, and I've yet to find myself with a strange urge to lie down on that part of the roof.

While procrastinating yesterday, I decided to research a particular factual point in the book, just in case. It was something I'd gone through myself, but things may have changed in the past 20 or so years, so I thought it was best to be safe because it's the kind of detail that most wouldn't notice but that would throw some people who did notice right out of the book. Unfortunately, even going to the official source didn't clear things up. So, if you got a Texas drivers license as a teen (under 18, as it's a different system) within the past five or so years (or know someone who has), help me out here: to get a license (provisional) at 16, do you still have to take the driving test -- the one where you go to the DPS office and have to drive a scary state trooper around? The DPS web site makes it look like you just have to complete driver's ed, and apparently pass some kind of driving test in driver's ed, and then you just take that certificate to the DPS office to get your license when you turn 16. It's not a major point in the book I'm working on, but it will affect one scene and the set-up for the rest of the story, so I might as well do the tweaking now.

My house is now pretty much de-holidayed (I tend to hold out to Epiphany), with everything put away. I still need to vacuum up the fake pine needles and bits of garland. Normally, I feel like my house looks very naked once all the garlands are gone, but now it just looks right. While I was working, I had on a Dr. Phil show about "Are You That Girl?" talking about dating mistakes women make. Considering that I am absolutely terrible at dating, I thought it couldn't hurt. Unfortunately, although I am apparently not "that girl," I still don't know what my problem is. Unless I'm entirely deluded about myself, I'm exactly what the men on the show say they want, but I still have that pattern (when I actually do have a date) of having two really great dates with a guy I really think I might like, during which the guy talks about things we ought to do together in the future, and then I never hear from him again and he doesn't respond to my attempt to contact him (I mean, one friendly, casual e-mail or phone call specifically following up on something we discussed, not in a stalker type "why haven't you called me????!!!" sense). I would think that if I turned him off completely, there wouldn't be the second date, and if the second date made him change his mind, he wouldn't be ending the date by saying something about seeing that movie the next weekend. Unless, maybe, they've realized that we've figured out that "I'll call you" is code for "I'm not interested and you'll never hear from me again," so they had to escalate to making specific plans to give the brush-off that doesn't sound like a brush-off. There must be something about me that allows a guy to be enthusiastic in my presence, but then that either bothers him later when he thinks about me or else makes him totally forget about me. Or maybe it has nothing to do with me, and it's just that every man I go out with meets his ideal woman immediately after our second date, and that's why they forget about me.

Incidentally, in case you're curious, the "That Girls" who turn men off they mentioned on the show are the one with the obvious "I want to get married, NOW!" agenda, the insecure doormat, the desperate "I'm nothing without a man" girl, the career girl who can't talk about anything but work, the one who loses herself when she gets into a relationship, and the one who just wants attention. It was all from some book this guy who was once The Bachelor and who is a doctor wrote. He seemed reasonably sane, and I did recognize the types, though it was a bit of an overgeneralization. Plus, those are the women I usually see having boyfriends, so apparently it's not a huge turn-off. I'd love to write a "don't be that guy" book, but I have zero credentials for that kind of thing. I'm not a doctor, have never been on a reality show (probably the most important factor in getting that book published), and I haven't had a date in years.

Ah, well, enough deep thoughts on that subject. I need groceries.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Finding My Voice

I had a reasonably productive weekend, though not quite as productive as I had planned. I cleaned off my computer's desktop, which was kind of a procrastination maneuver but which still needed to be done, and I finished revising the section I was working on. I'm not sure I like what I've done, and I'll have to go back and probably revise the revision, but there's also the possibility that it seemed flat to me because I was feeling flat at the time and that it's actually perfectly fine.

I got over the hibernation fog and am now in a totally different kind of fog. Today's fog is of the "who turned the gravity up to 11?" variety. There's a front coming through, of the sort that makes my head feel very heavy. I'm afraid to bend over while in my office, for fear of falling straight through the floor and landing in my dining room.

Weird, I just realized that my desk chair seems to be located almost exactly on top of where my usual chair at the dining table is. Now I have the urge to go measure, just to be sure. And then maybe adjust things so they are in the exact same spot.

The above paragraph should serve as an indication of my current brain function. For another sign of the fog, a little while ago, I went to open Firefox. I have my applications folder listed by icons, but somehow instead I opened the documents folder, which is shown by a list of file names, and I still scrolled through the file names, looking for Firefox, until it occurred to me that I was in the wrong folder. I need to walk to the post office today, so I'm hoping that will clear my head. Then again, it's another Mary Poppins kind of day, wind-wise, so it could just make matters worse. On the bright side, I'll have a tailwind for the walk home.

On another note, I've seen that there's a thing going around in various author blogs where they list ways you know that a book is written by them. I've been trying to think of any distinctive quirks or stylistic elements I have that carry through everything I write, and I can't come up with much other than a spunky main character who kind of goes with the flow of whatever's going on in her (or his, sometimes) life, no matter how weird, a "nice guy" leading man, and a bit of a quirky sense of humor that comes through even in more serious stories. I think I do have a distinctive voice, so that you could read a paragraph or two and recognize me as the author, but I'm not sure I could describe what that voice entails. Perhaps that's something I need to think about: What makes a Shanna Swendson book a Shanna Swendson book?

And on that note, off to the post office.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Buried in a Bad Story

I'm still in quasi-hibernation, but I have found some coping mechanisms. For one thing, that tip about exercise really does work. When I was dozing off in the afternoon, I got up and made myself do an OnDemand exercise video, and after that I managed to get some work done. I did turn off the heater last night, and I found that it's not entirely the heater's fault that my room feels too hot. Apparently, all that down on my bed, with the down-topped featherbed below and the comforter above, traps body heat pretty well. Still, it was a lot more comfortable, and I slept better without the sound of the heater. I did find myself waking up every so often out of habit, but it's not supposed to get really cold again for a while, so I can safely turn the heater off and maybe get back into a decent sleep pattern. I still stayed in bed pretty late, but I was thinking about the book and even came up with some new ideas, so it wasn't technically oversleeping. It was productive daydreaming.

I think one of the saddest things in all kinds of entertainment is when the seeds of a good story are trapped in a bad one. That's when you read a book or watch a movie and find yourself thinking that it would have been a lot better if it had focused on that other character instead of the main one, or if that quirky subplot had been the main story. We also see that in TV, but there they have the chance to correct themselves as they let that supporting character who leaps off the screen move up to a bigger role or make that fun subplot more important.

One example I found from last weekend's HBO viewing was Music and Lyrics, a pretty lame romantic comedy with the seeds of a brilliant pop-culture satire buried inside it. That's the one where Hugh Grant is a washed-up 80s pop music has-been, essentially "the other guy" in a WHAM!-like group, whose bandmate and former friend went on to stellar success as a solo artist while his career was only revived in a wave of retro nostalgia that has him performing at class reunions and theme parks. Then the current Britney-like pop tart, who loved his old group as a child, asks him to write a song for her that they can perform as a duet. The only problem is, he was never the lyricist for the group, but then as he struggles to write a song, his fill-in plant waterer (Drew Barrymore) starts spouting brilliant lyrics. And that's when it all goes downhill as it focuses on the developing relationship and her issues, which make no sense whatsoever. Then we get what has become the standard romantic comedy resolution, in which all the issues are resolved by one member of the couple making a big, public (and potentially humiliating) declaration of feelings. Can someone please tell screenwriters that standing up in public and saying (or singing) mushy things does not miraculously undo all the stuff that has gone before, and it takes more to resolve relationship conflicts? (Maybe that's why the writers' strike is dragging on -- neither writers nor filmmakers know any actual conflict-resolution skills beyond standing up and making a speech.)

Oh, but there was the potential for brilliance. The first maybe ten minutes or so of the movie are hilarious, with the opening credits done to a note-perfect parody of an 80s pop song video (that still manages to be a pretty good 80s pop song video -- and they do the Pop-Up Video version as the closing credits) and then Hugh Grant's character's introduction as part of a pitch for a bad reality TV comeback show, followed by his dazed and dryly sarcastic response to meeting the pop tart, who seems to have discovered Eastern spiritualism mostly as something that has a beat she can writhe to. I'm a big romantic comedy fan, when it's done well, but what the opening to this movie really made me want to see was a pop culture satire (maybe This is Spinal Tap style) of this 80s has-been's attempts to make it in the 21st century music industry. In addition to teaming with the pop tart, he could have tried for a week of being the guest judge on an American Idol type show and had to listen to the contestants butchering his old songs, then he could have done a Dancing With the Stars kind of thing, and meanwhile, we could have seen what was going on with his former bandmate. If they managed to carry the tone of the opening sequence through the whole movie, it could have been hysterical.

I realized something else vaguely disturbing while watching this movie: I really like Hugh Grant. Not in a crush-type way -- while I did think he was cute when he was younger (he's totally my type -- dark hair, fair skin, blue eyes), with age he's developed a creepy sort of dissipated look that's almost reptilian. I don't even always pull for his character. But I can't think of a single film I've seen him in where I didn't enjoy his presence in the film, whether he's playing goofily charming or sleazy, even if I hated the movie. I wouldn't have listed him among my favorite actors, but I'm not sure I can say that of any of my favorite actors. I'm not sure why this is, but I just enjoy him. I still won't be rushing out to see all his movies, but if I'm bored and looking for something to watch on TV or something to rent, it does seem like picking something with him in it is a safe bet because I'll likely enjoy it on some level.

Anyway, back to the whole concept of a good idea buried in a bad story, that makes me want to go back and look at my failed ideas to see what good ideas might be buried in there. The book might not have worked, but is there a character or subplot that might be a good starting point for something else? Not that I'm desperately looking for something to write at the moment, but I think it is a worthwhile exercise to do on stories or ideas that have gone cold, where I have enough distance that I can evaluate them objectively.

But first, I really need to work on that book. I was planning to take a walk today since it's warmer, but it's windy enough that I could probably use an umbrella as a form of transportation, so I guess I'll find another exercise video to do, and then I'll get to work.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Hibernation Time Again

I have now reached the time of year when I start to seriously wonder if I am part bear (or some other hibernating animal). No matter how early I try to go to bed, I end up sleeping incredibly late, and if I sit still for more than a few minutes, I start dozing off. I'd be perfectly content spending the entire day snuggled under a blanket and daydreaming as I drift in and out of actual sleep. It doesn't help that all this sleep isn't necessarily restful sleep. It's been cold outside, which means my bedroom has actually been uncomfortably warm. That's because the thermostat is in a cold spot in the house, but my bedroom is on the first vent from the heater, so the air blowing into my room is hotter and more forceful than the air that makes it into the room where the thermostat is. Even at the lowest possible setting, if the heater comes on, my room gets way too hot. When it's less cold out and the heater doesn't come on, my room stays cooler. Then there's the fact that the blower motor sounds like a 747 preparing for takeoff when it kicks on. So on nights when it's cold enough for the heater to come on, I don't get much sleep between the loud fan and having to wake up and kick covers off every so often. It's not supposed to drop below freezing tonight, so without the danger of frozen pipes I may be tempted to turn the heat off entirely, snuggle under a pile of blankets and see if I sleep better. However, that then might make it incredibly difficult to get out of bed in the morning if the house is cold and I am warm and snug.

Once I know what kind of income I can expect this year, one of the first things I may do to upgrade my house is replace the heater and air conditioner with something more efficient and quieter. And maybe with a programmable thermostat.

Anyway, as I discovered last year when I declared January my writing month, it can be really hard to write at this time of year, especially when I'm in revision mode where the daydreaming isn't quite as helpful. It would be, I admit, a lot more helpful if I were better at channeling the daydreaming so that it was actually about the book I'm working on. Instead, my brain seems determined to finish that dream I had New Year's Eve night. It can't seem to handle an unfinished story. I finally gave up last night and let my brain play, so I think that mental story is now more or less finished, and I might be able to make it focus on the story I'm writing. If I can stay awake, that is. It's time to go jog in place as I make tea.