Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Roller Coasters

Yesterday was quite the roller-coaster day, as most book release days seem to be. I hit a number of stores on my way to the signing, and that was all up-and-down. At my neighborhood B&N, the bookseller there recognized me as a customer but hadn't realized I was also an author. They had a TON of books. Then I went to a Borders that had two copies shelved spine-out -- and Borders has always been my big seller, where most of my sales have come, where the order for the last book went up (but not up enough to counter the down order from B&N). Scary. But then the next Borders had a number of copies, plus some of the older books, and the new ones were on a front table. The next B&N had a ton of books, the whole series minus Once Upon Stilettos, which remains the forgotten stepchild book, but again they were just back on the shelves instead of in any kind of new fiction display.

Then I had an AMAZING signing. People were there! People I didn't even know! They asked questions, and we had a nice discussion, then I signed lots of books. I think that may have been my biggest turnout that wasn't part of some other event or where I didn't beg all my friends to come. So here's a shout-out to all the TCU Horned Frogs (yes, that really is the school mascot) and other Fort Worth-area folks who showed up. P.N. Elrod, editor of My Big, Fat Supernatural Wedding, came, and afterward we went out for dinner and shop talk.

It does look like I'll have to cancel my blood vendetta against B&N because they seem to be the one stocking the book in large quantities, after last year when they barely carried the last book. It does appear that they've seen The Error of Their Ways. I think that's the largest number of copies I've seen stuck in the shelves without any kind of front display. Normally, when a chain orders that many copies, the publisher coughs up some co-op money for front-of-store display (or, quite often, the store places a huge order because the publisher agrees to cough up co-op money for front-of-store display). This looks like B&N has more confidence in the book than the publisher does. Meanwhile, my area Borders other than the ones I visited yesterday still aren't showing the book as in stock -- including the one where I have a signing next week. Any reports from the field on that? Where are you finding books? I need to know where to throw my book-buying loyalty for the year. Borders has better coupons, but B&N is practically next door. Wouldn't it be cool if both chains got into a book at the same time?

Now for one more FAQ that came up in comments yesterday but that I'll answer here so everyone can see it:
What are these "numbers" this book needs to hit in order to get book 5?
I honestly have no idea. I have not been given a target. The reason given when they declined to buy book 5 was merely that the numbers didn't warrant it, and that the sales of each book were lower than for the previous book, so they saw it as diminishing returns. A big part of it was the fact that B&N really slashed their order for the third book, which meant the print run was drastically lower, which meant sales were likely to be lower.

However, the earlier books were still selling steadily rather than dying off, which made it nearly impossible for the newer books to catch up to the head start. My agent checked Bookscan, which reports book sales at certain stores, and found that my numbers were comparable to those of other books similar to mine from other publishers where the publishers were continuing the series or doing mass-market reprints. All of my books have gone into multiple printings, even months after release, and the sell-through numbers seem to be what I've generally heard qualify as "success." That muddies the waters somewhat. My unsubstantiated guess is that my particular imprint wanted to move away from chick lit, and nothing short of huge bestselling status would change matters (and bestselling status is a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is the subject of its own rant), so what I can hope for is that the fact that Amazon listing my books as urban fantasy (last I checked, the new one was the #6 urban fantasy) seems to be helping sales, plus the fact that my new editor is on the sf/f side of the house might help get the series new life with a new classification if sales are strong enough. But I don't know what "enough" is.

In short, this is a funny business.

And now I have to work on an essay that's due tomorrow. I should never accept a project with a deadline in a release week, but I sometimes have issues with the word "no" when something sounds fun.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Release Day!

So, the book is out there now. Just from a quick online availability check, it seems like things are still hit and miss with B&N (oddly, stores located in shopping malls don't seem to be stocking it, even when it's a full-sized store in a mall). Only one of the nearby Borders stores has it listed as in stock, and that's the store that doesn't seem to have any of the other books in the series. So, unless their inventory system hasn't been updated, it looks like we're where we were last year with trying to find it. Ah well, I'm not sure I'd know how to cope with smooth. But remember, I have absolutely zero control over distribution. I don't even have a way of contacting anyone who has any control over distribution. If I had any control at all, every store in America would have a pile of books just inside their front door when they opened for business this morning. Based on early reports, it would seem that most stores are just shelving books in the general fiction section and are not displaying them on front tables (since the publisher didn't spring for any co-op money). I have a whole rant ready on that particular aspect of the publishing industry.

I think I've figured out what to wear to the signing tonight. I'm not sure if I should prepare for a reading or a talk. I e-mailed the store contact several weeks ago to suggest some ideas for the event and never got a response, so I don't know what to expect. Picking a reading excerpt out of this book will be a challenge because the really good scenes all contain big spoilers. You wouldn't want to hear that part of the book without having read the parts up to it. I guess I'll wing it and be ready to do whatever they want me to do.

There's a sort of Easter egg in this book. Katie's hometown is inspired by and loosely based on an actual Texas town. Can you figure out which one it is? What you'll need is to read the book, which includes some rough location information, then know about a few of my obsessions (which you'd pick up from reading my blog on a regular basis), then you'd need a Texas map, and you might be able to put it together. The source of the name of the town in the book should be reasonably obvious, and that's a clue to the name of the real town. No prizes. This was just something I did for fun.

Now, since I'm already getting e-mails, here's a quick FAQ:

Is this the last book in the series?
It's not supposed to be. I have a fifth one planned and partially written, but at this time the publisher isn't interested in publishing it. That could change if this one sells well enough. I'm stubborn and optimistic and haven't given up hope yet.

Why can't I find the book in my store/why is it taking a long time to get to me after I ordered it?
I don't know. I don't have any control or influence over that part of the process. This is a question for the bookseller because I can't do anything about it other than get frustrated.

Will this book be available as an e-book or for the Kindle?
Again, I don't know because I'm not the one who makes that decision. However, the previous books were all available as e-books and for the Kindle, so it stands to reason that this one will be, too. I don't know when the electronic edition will be available. That usually seems to come at least a few days after the print version.

Where can I find the book shelved?
In most stores, look in the General Fiction or Fiction and Literature section. Yes, I know it's fantasy, but the publisher doesn't think so, so it's general fiction. If you can't find it, ask someone who works at the store. They can look it up on the computer and tell you if it's in stock, and they can order it for you if they don't have it.

Will there be an audiobook or a graphic novel version of any of these books?
Not that I know of. Those are expensive to produce, so they have to expect to sell a lot more copies than my books usually sell before they invest in audiobooks or graphic novels.

Should I wait for the mass market edition?
Don't hold your breath. My agent and I have been campaigning for a mass market reprint to be marketed as fantasy, but the publisher doesn't think that's worthwhile.

When is the next book coming out?
Right now, there is no next book. I have written a book, but my agent is still looking at it to see if it's viable, and it hasn't been sent to publishers. I've just started playing with a new idea, but I don't know if it's an idea that will turn into a book. Stay tuned for more news.

And now I need to start looking for something to read, since I plan to head out early and sign books at stores along the way to the signing.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Tale of the Nebula Awards

In which Our Heroine reveals herself to be, yet again, a raging fangirl dork and experiences life at The Cool Table for perhaps the first time ever.

So, I'm back from the Nebula Awards weekend, and I'm both tired and inspired. I'm mostly tired because there seems to be a conspiracy against me ever getting any sleep. I was up very, very late on Saturday night and planned to sleep in Sunday morning before driving home, but they were doing some remodeling work on the hotel, which meant there were people hammering in the room above me starting at eight in the morning. I mentioned that at the desk when I checked out, and they just said it wasn't supposed to start until ten. Then this morning, when I was able to sleep, I got yet another one of those probable telemarketing scam calls, where there's a long pause, a click, and then the sound of a phone ringing on the other end. I don't know what it is, but I'm getting them on a daily basis and it's driving me nuts.

But enough about the no-sleep conspiracy (I plan massive napping this afternoon). The weekend was incredibly cool. There were so many authors there I've read over the years, and it was amazing to not only meet them and interact with them, but also be there as a professional peer. Standing in the middle of the hospitality suite, I felt like I was watching my bookcase pass by. There was Joe Haldeman complimenting my dress, Nancy Kress playing pool, Connie Willis being one of the first people I ran into and greeting me as someone she knew (squeeee!). You get the idea.

For the awards dinner, I was at the Del Rey table. Part of the time, I felt totally awesome for being at the Cool Table, and part of the time I felt like a five-year-old getting to sit at the grown-up table for the first time. I was sitting next to Elizabeth Moon, who is amazing and fascinating, and I think I want to be her when I grow up. Then there was Michael Moorcock, who was being given the Grand Master Award. Directly across from me was Michael Chabon, who's won the Pulitzer Prize, and who won the Nebula that night. And then there was Bruce Sterling. I was initially a little intimidated by being anywhere near Michael Chabon, but he turned out to be very sweet. A lot of authors who are hailed by the more literary set would be insulted if you called their work science fiction, but he seemed to take an impish glee in the idea that the literary world hasn't yet figured out that what he really writes is science fiction, while the SF world totally gets it.

Meanwhile, I spent some time hanging out with YA fantasy authors Sarah Beth Durst, whose Into the Wild I've mentioned (it was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award) and Elizabeth Wein, another Norton finalist with The Lion Hunter, which puts an interesting spin on Arthurian legend by mingling it with African and Middle Eastern cultures. In one of my dork moments, I spent at least an hour talking to her without it clicking in my head to connect her with the book, which I had read. My other dork moment came when I got into a conversation Friday night about the differences between the romance world and the sf/f world and their respective organizations with a man whose name sounded really familiar, but I couldn't place him. Then that night I was reading a book of Neil Gaiman short stories before going to bed, and in the notes explaining the background on each story, he mentioned writing one for his friend, this big, important editor in the field. Yep. That was the guy I'd been talking to.

In general, I came away inspired to want to write better. I want to be able to live up to the legacy of all these people. I also went to my first SFWA business meeting, even though I'm allergic to organizational politics. We'll see if this spurs me to more involvement in the organization.

And now for some photographic proof of what I was up to this weekend (please note when judging relative heights that I was wearing 3 and a half inch heels, so I'm much taller than normal):

"The Curly Mafia" meets up -- Sarah Beth Durst and me.

My dinner partner, Elizabeth Moon

And maybe the award vibes will rub off! Michael Chabon and me:

Oh, and there's something happening tomorrow. :-) Plus, if you're in the Fort Worth area, I'll be at the TCU Barnes & Noble at 6 Tuesday evening, so please drop by and say hi.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Sara Hantz

I'm running late leaving (as usual), but before I go, I'll leave you with a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit post on the new book The Second Virginity of Suzy Green by Sara Hantz.

Suzy Green used to be one of the coolest nonconformist “almost-Goth” party girls in Australia. That was before her older sister Rosie died and her family moved to a new town. Not even her best friend would recognize her now. Gone are the Doc Martens and the attitude. All she wants is to be like Rosie—perfect. The new Suzy Green makes straight As, hangs with the in-crowd at her new school, and dates the hottest guy around. And since all her new friends belong to a virginity club, she joins, too. So what if she’s not technically qualified? Nobody in town knows . . . until Ryan, Suzy’s ex, turns up.

As the past and present collide, Suzy struggles to find her own place in a world without her sister.

And now the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
I’d been writing chick lit, and noticed a lot of authors I knew were moving toward young adult. I kept suggesting to my crit partners that they tried it. In the end I tried it myself and wished I’d done it sooner. It’s a perfect fit for my voice.

Describe your creative process.
I am a plotter. Once I have the idea for a book (starting with plot not characters) I write a sentence, then expand it to a paragraph, then a page, then 4 pages. This gives me my outline. Then usually I will do a scene spreadsheet, so I know exactly how it’s progressing. I always revise and edit as I go through. So by the time I’ve got to ‘The End’ there isn’t a lot left to do, other than some final edits and read through.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
We own a motel, which means I get interrupted all day (and night)! So I tend to open my manuscript first thing in the morning and then dip in and out of it as and when! At the moment I’m trying to curb my diet coke intake, so I drink loads of ginger beer.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
There are parts of me in Suzy. At least, old Suzy. I used to get into trouble at school for being disruptive and messing about.

Which were you more like as a teen, the almost-goth version of Suzy or the perfect girl version? Or maybe something else entirely?
I definitely wasn’t perfect as a teen. I wasn’t too wild either. Somewhere in between, I guess. I was very social and would enjoy going out clubbing with my friends.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
In recent years I’ve had a dairy intolerance, which means my preference has changed. I used to be milk, but now I look for dark chocolate with no dairy.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a middle grade series.

For more info, visit Sara's web site. Or order from Amazon.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Getting the Hang of Thursday

I've had my days mixed up all week. Yesterday felt like Thursday all day, and then today turned out to be Thursday. I think part of the problem is that Fox moved its Tuesday lineup to Monday, so after watching House on Monday, Tuesday felt like Wednesday, and so forth. You'd think that would make me even more prepared for Thursday when it really arrived, but it didn't work out that way. This is when the "eek, I've got a book coming out!" stress starts to hit, as I realize there are a lot of things I need to be doing or should have done.

Meanwhile, another deadline has crept up on me and now I'm going to have to go into crunch mode. I think I have most of it written in my head, but I need to organize thoughts and do a little research, and I need a better framework. I wasn't going to take my computer with me to Austin, but I may try to get a little work done in the down time this weekend.

We had another round of storms last night. There doesn't seem to have been quite the same level of damage in my neighborhood, but I need to remember that it's probably best not to be reading Neil Gaiman short stories very late at night when the wind is making that particular howling sound. That is, if you want to sleep at any time during the night. When I walked to the library yesterday, I saw just how bad the damage from the storm a few weeks ago was. There were houses missing chimneys, lots of tree stumps from trees that were blown over or uprooted, and lots of tarps on roofs. Yeah, that was the one I slept through, and then the minor one last night kept me awake. Go figure.

And then tomorrow I head to Austin for the Nebula Awards. Remember, there's a public booksigning Friday evening. I will have to remind myself the whole weekend that I'm there as a professional peer, that I'm also a member of the organization and deserve to be there as much as anyone else, and I am not a teenaged fangirl who has managed to sneak in. Even if that is the way I feel. This weekend is also a chance to impress upon the head honcho at my publisher's sf/f imprint that my books really should be considered fantasy, and they could maybe do more with them than the mainstream side of the house has. I'm still working out the strategy for that. If I go in full geek-goddess mode and impress the fanboys, will that show that I should be marketed better to that audience segment, or will it just reinforce the chick lit image? Yeah, I know, be myself and all that, but the problem is that my true self really does straddle that line. I'm a big-time geek, but I also like being glamorous.

Now I need to go run the pre-travel errands. I've figured out that with the right cable, I can plug my Walkman into my car stereo and have a cassette player, so I don't have to scramble to find driving music for this trip before I get around to getting an iPod. I can use my existing tapes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Finding Legitimate Agents

It turns out that my hairstylist did vanish off the face of the earth. Apparently, she left that salon soon after my last haircut, and they have no idea where she went. But a salon just opened practically across the street from me, so I wandered over there to check it out yesterday, and now I have freshly done hair. They also have full day spa type facilities and do facials and massages, so that could be cool to have nearby. The place is run by an Indian woman who's very into natural stuff and doing things that fit your body's energy, which I admit sounded kind of weird, but that's how she matched my haircolor perfectly, so I guess it works. The vibe was sort of an Indian Steel Magnolias. My hair's maybe a little shorter than I expected, but it was way, way too long, so I think I'm just reacting to the difference and this is the length it really should be. It's still well past my shoulders, but it was down almost to my waist. And I got my eyebrows threaded for the first time, which was quite the experience. It was fascinating to watch them do that on other people, so when they offered to do it for free, I said why not. In general, I love the idea of going to neighborhood businesses I can walk to.

I'm dealing with a reader question in this week's writing post. How do you know whether a publisher or agent is legitimate?

On the one hand, the Internet has made answering that question a lot easier because you can do so much research about agents and publishers and even, in some cases, submit online. On the other hand, the Internet has made it easier than ever for people to go into the publishing and agenting business and promote themselves, and it's introduced some new business models. That means there are more agents and publishers out there, and not all of them are competent or honest, and that makes it harder to tell which ones are for real.

This is an epic topic, so I'll split it in two. This week, I'll talk about agents. Next time, we'll get into publishers.

When it comes to agents, one thing to remember is that a web presence or lack thereof doesn't say anything about how legitimate that agent is. Some of the biggest, most respected agents in the business have no web presence at all because they don't need it. Meanwhile, plenty of scammers have gorgeous web sites. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you shouldn't have to pay an agent, period. The agent makes money by selling your work, and gets a commission based on that. If the agent sells nothing, she makes no money from you. Some agents do charge for expenses, but that money is taken out of sales, and, again, the agent eats the cost if the book doesn't sell. Avoid agents who charge any kind of up-front fees for reading, representation, marketing, etc. An agent should be making money by selling books, period. If she makes money in other ways, then she has less incentive to sell books.

When checking out a prospective agent, look at the client list. Have you heard of the authors? Are the authors published by legitimate publishers? If you go to a bookstore (and not just Amazon -- anyone can get a book listed on Amazon), do you find those books? Check the acknowledgments page. Authors often thank their agents and editors. Is the agent thanked the same one who lists that author as a client? Google both the client name and the agent name, and see if those names come up together anywhere other than on the agent's web site. Have they done panels together at writing conferences? Does the author talk about her agent on her blog or have a link to her agent's web site on her site? (Yeah, I know, it sounds paranoid, but I have heard of scam agents listing authors as clients when they weren't.)

What are the agent's credentials? The agent doesn't need to have been in business long to be legitimate (when I signed with my agent, she'd only been in business a short time), but she should have experience in the publishing world from working either as an agent in a larger agency or in a publishing company in some capacity. This is a business based on personal connections, and you want an agent who knows the publishing houses and their personnel.

I would suggest doing this research before you query. Why waste your time on someone you aren't sure about? You certainly don't want to put your work (or your contact information) in front of a scam artist. A good place to check before you contact an agent is Writer Beware. If an agent does offer you representation, take a little time to do even more homework. Ask for some client references. A legitimate agent should be willing to give you a list of clients you can contact. Be worried if she acts like that's a state secret.

You shouldn't have to pay a service to find agents for you or submit for you. From what I've heard from agents, that's a huge waste of money. You can do better research and get better results on your own. Most of these people just spam every agent around with a generic query, and the agents simply delete them. Likewise, you shouldn't pay someone to put your work on a web site for agents and publishers to look at. Agents are buried in queries, so why would they go searching the web to find material? I would be leery of any agent who advertises in writing publications. Again, good agents are swamped with material, so why would they spend money to advertise to get even more?

In two weeks, I'll look at how you can tell if a publisher is legitimate.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Permission Marketing

We're now at the one-week mark -- one week from today, and Don't Hex With Texas is released into the world. In past years, I'd be having anxiety attacks, but I'm pretty zen about it this year. I think I've learned by now that there really isn't much I can do at this point. All the things I've stressed out over have been more to make me feel like I'm doing something than to really and truly have an impact on book sales. So I haven't been frantically mailing bookmarks to go in conference goodie bags or sending them out to booksellers. I've only got a couple of local booksignings scheduled instead of spending a month driving around Texas. I haven't done any kind of major media push (though I have done several interviews). I haven't even bought any ads in anything.

Now, watch this book be the one that sells better than any of them. I'd then feel extraneous, except for the fact that I am the one who wrote it, which should count for something.

I guess part of the reason I haven't been stressing is that I've been sidetracked by the new idea. Then there was buying the car. And then this weekend I'm going to Austin for the Nebula Awards. Plus there was new stuff for Sci Fi Friday. That all adds up to, "Oh yeah, I've got a book coming out, don't I?"

Normally, I really do enjoy the marketing and the strategy behind it, as that's one of my comfort zones, so it's a big switch to not focus on that. I'm still reading a lot on the subject and trying to glean ideas, and a few things lately have started me thinking. I'm just not sure what I'll do with the thoughts. One of my favorite blogs to read is the one by marketing guru Seth Godin. He talks a lot about what he calls "permission marketing," which is what happens when customers give you permission to contact them by giving you contact information like an e-mail address. What you do with that information and permission can make or break you.

Amazon uses this rather brilliantly. If you buy a book from them, or a TV series box set, you'll get an e-mail from them when the next book by that author or the next season is ready to pre-order. That's a service that benefits customers as much as it does Amazon, since they've already shown they like that sort of thing, and they might be interested in knowing that the next thing they'll like is available. With this service, you never have to miss out on the next book in your favorite series. You don't mind getting a marketing e-mail like this. I saw another great example of this yesterday, when the hotel where I'm staying this weekend in Austin sent me a confirmation e-mail that contained a handy link to get directions to the hotel, a list of nearby restaurants, a list of local events during my stay, information on parking and the weather forecast for the days I'll be staying there. Everything I needed to know to plan my trip is all there in one e-mail. I didn't mind getting that e-mail because it made my life easier.

And then there's the dealership where I bought my car. They've started spamming me with info on their current dealership incentives, whatever sale they have going on, and lists of used cars they have available. Hello! I just bought a car a couple of weeks ago. Am I likely to be in the market for yet another one so soon? Meanwhile, letting me know what deals are available now is likely to trigger buyer's remorse on the car I bought from them, because it makes me wonder if I missed out on something by buying when I did. They got my contact information, took that as permission to contact me, and then had no idea what to do with it. It doesn't work like books, where if I've read one by an author I might be interested in another one by that author, even if it's only a week later. If they want to stay in touch with me, what they should do is not contact me for a few months, then when it's time for my first oil change, they should send me a coupon for something like a free car wash when I get my oil changed, or some other nifty little thing that would give me a reason to go there instead of to my neighborhood place. But don't try to sell a new car to someone who just bought one, just because you happen to have their e-mail address. Saturn did a cute thing where they sent your car a birthday card every year. It was a fun reminder of buying the car and a good way to reinforce their brand without being obnoxious.

I probably err on the side of caution in my "permission-based" marketing. I try to focus on the things I'd want to know about an author, so that means my mailing list and Amazon blog (which I think is a little intrusive) is pretty much limited to important news about when a book will be available and where I'll be appearing. If anyone wants to know more about me, they can come to any of the places where I post a regular blog or to my web site. I don't really want more than that in regular e-mails from any author, and I also get more than a little irked when I get subscribed to some author's mailing list, just because I've had some communication with her in the past. There's a current trend that's about to make me unsubscribe from every writing-related e-mail list I'm on. It's all the "I'm blogging here" or "I blogged about this" posts. If you're on a writing-related list, especially one related to a writing organization, it's for the purpose of discussing writing, so if you've got something to say, say it and discuss it on the list. Don't post a link to where you're blogging and ask everyone to go there to discuss it. It's one thing if you're in a debate about something and want to drum up comments to support your side of the argument (say, getting the people on a chick lit loop to come help when you're being attacked by obnoxious lit fic people). But I'm on digest for most lists, and the topic list at the top these days is mostly just a list of "I'm blogging here today" posts. It's getting to be kind of like putting out a news release to announce that you've put out a news release.

That said, if you're interested in doing a blog interview with me or having me (or a character) do a guest blog, let me know. I promise not to spam the universe with posts about what I'm blogging about and where. However, I can't promise prizes this time because I don't know what my next book will be and therefore I haven't been able to beg advance copies from anyone. I guess the prize might be that if enough people read about the books, enough copies might sell that we might get book 5. Yay?

And now I need to track down a MIA hairstylist. I am WAY overdue for a haircut, and now would be a good time, with the Nebulas this weekend and the new book next week. I'd finally found a stylist I ADORE who can work with my very difficult hair. And now she's vanished on me. The last time I saw her, she was setting her own appointments, so you called her cell phone and left a message. I got her voice mail last week, and it was definitely her, but I still haven't heard back from her. Panic time. I don't want to have to find and break in a new stylist at this crucial point.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Saving a Name

The parental units came over this morning, so I've been off shopping and having lunch, and therefore have a very late start on my day.

I'm working on developing the backstory for the book I'm playing with. It's one of those situations where I need to know the entire history of the society I'm dealing with in order to coherently write about what's going on now, even if 98 percent of that stuff never shows up in the book. And that means timelines, family trees and that sort of thing. Most of my major characters have some kind of connection to each other, even if it's way back in the past. I'm cheating a little bit by somewhat basing it on an actual historical situation and borrowing a few other bits and pieces I like from other parts of history. That means I spent the weekend reading about long-lasting dynastic wars.

I think that character who jumped from my mental fanfic into this book may get a name I've been saving for a long time. There's a name I've always wanted to use for a character, but I haven't found quite the right character. It really would be good for her, just perfect, and she seems to be right for it. But there's also a part of me that's reluctant to use it because if I use it now, that means I probably shouldn't use it again later. And what if I come up with an even better character who needs that name? I've already started thinking of her by this name, so it looks like it will stick. For now.

And now I'm either going to get to work or take a nap. I have a feeling that once I start trying to work I'll end up napping ...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Daydreaming Pays Off!

I've had a minor (major, possibly) distraction attack going on lately because of some of the characters who live in my head, but it looks like something might come out of this one. I have already confessed my tendency toward daydreaming in terms of "mental fanfic" and inserting my own characters into the story. Sometimes, this is a big game of "what if," where I come up with a new character just for the purpose of bringing out something in the existing character. If there's something in the existing character I think would be interesting to explore, then I mentally create a character to insert in that universe who would bring that out. There are times that by the time I'm through playing with it, it's not too hard to file off the serial numbers and have my own story idea.

Earlier this year, I came up with something like that -- a scenario and a new character in a "mental fanfic" that I think could easily transition into my own universe and become totally unrecognizable from the source material. It's a pretty complex story requiring a ton of research, so it will be a while before I outright work on it, but I still play with it mentally.

But then I found myself going back to that original scenario with that same inserted character, only I changed a thing or two, and it ended up shooting off into an entirely different direction. This time, it definitely wasn't a mental Mary Sue, but was rather the kind of character I might play if I were an actress cast in this series. When I was doing drama in high school, taking acting classes in college and afterward and doing some community theater, when I wasn't being cast for a specific skill (like the ability to memorize pages of monologue or turn cartwheels and do splits), I always seemed to be cast as either the quietly damaged character or the disruptive character who upends everyone's lives with her presence. In Tennessee Williams terms (although I haven't played either role), I was always either the Laura type in The Glass Menagerie or the Blanche type in A Streetcar Named Desire (I know that the loud, disruptive types were because my teachers were trying to shake me out of my usual reserve, but I'm not sure what the quietly damaged typecasting says about me). This character I found myself mentally developing somehow managed to be both, in weird and fascinating sorts of ways. I found myself dreaming up and even acting out in the bathroom mirror scenes for her, and I'd try to capture the nuances of her expressions and body language. It was a shame, I thought, that she was so specifically associated with the universe I'd put her into and getting specific reactions out of those characters, because she was such a fun character.

And then I realized that she actually was perfect for the story I'm just starting to develop. I had a major character who wasn't coming to life for me, and now I realize that this character is who she should be. Some details will have to change, but the core of her will be the same. I can even use one of the scenes I came up with almost in its entirety, and it works better in this story than it did in the mental fanfic. This was the spark I needed to bring this whole story to life.

So, all that daydreaming wasn't a waste of time, and the fact that I can have two divergent versions of the same story, plus what I just wrote, plus what I'm working on, plus what I'm brainstorming for the future, plus Owen, Katie and company all running around my head at the same time could explain why I sometimes have trouble remembering what day it is.

However, I do remember that today is Friday, and my Sci Fi Friday is back fully in force (though not quite exactly on its regular schedule -- Doctor Who starts a half hour early this week), with Sarah Jane, Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica. Three hours of geeky bliss. Now, though, I need to see if NBC has put last night's episodes of My Name is Earl and The Office online, since last night we got to watch hours of "there's a storm on the way, let's look at the radar again, and now let's go to this reporter so she can tell us it's not yet raining where she is."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Megan Crane Returns to the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit

I'm about to do a newspaper interview (and, wouldn't you know it, just before the reporter is supposed to call me, they start up with the lawnmowers and leaf blowers right outside and I can't hear myself think), so instead of writing a long rant, I've got a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit interview with Megan Crane, author of Names My Sisters Call Me.

Courtney, Norah, and Raine Cassel are about as different as three sisters can get. Norah, the oldest, is a typical Type A obsessive who believes there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything. Six years later she has not forgiven Raine, the middle sister, for ruining her wedding day. Raine is Norah's opposite - a wild, follow-your-bliss hippie chick who flees to California after the wedding fiasco. The only thing the two sisters have in common is their ability to drive Courtney, their youngest sister, crazy.

When Courtney's longtime boyfriend proposes, she decides it's finally time to call a family truce and bring the three sisters together. After all, they're all grown-ups now, right? But it turns out that family ghosts aren't easily vanquished, and neither are first loves. Reconnecting the sisters also means reexamining every choice Courtney has made in the past six years, right down to the man she's about to marry.

What was the inspiration behind this book?
Inspiration is such a funny thing.  I can tell you that I wanted to write about the difference between first love and true love.  And I can tell you that I was driving around town and saw a woman crossing a street, carrying a cello.  And it is probably true that those two things sparked the rest of the book, but how that turned into sisters and San Francisco and dragon tattoos, I just don't know.  

Do you have sisters? If you do, how much do the relationships in this book reflect your relationships with them? If not, what imaginary sisters would you create for yourself?
I have one sister, who is not like any of the women in the book.  But I think there's a certain built-in tension in sibling relationships, or there can be.  There's the familiarity of a long relationship, but the possible drama of the fact no one actually chose to be part of that long relationship.  I think families can spend a little too much time working out their identity issues on each other.  It's hard to be so close to people who behave in ways you cannot begin to fathom.  It can drive you crazy.

Do you see yourself in any of your three main characters?
I'd bet my sister would see me in Norah, the bossy type A sister!  But I probably relate the most to Courtney, the youngest sister.  The truth is, I can see myself in all of the sisters, and their mother, too.  It would probably be hard to write a female character I didn't relate to on some level.

Congratulations on your recent marriage. Now that you're married, are you going to do what a lot of other chick lit writers seem to do when their lives change and write about married life, or are you still interested in writing stories about single women? (Notice that I didn't ask when you'll start writing mom-lit.)
Thanks!  I have no plans to start writing about marriage, unless the story calls for it.  I've had married (or about to be married) characters in my last three books, along with the single characters.  None of my books have been autobiographical in the past, so I can't imagine that they'll suddenly become so now!

What are you working on now?
I'm working on another 5 Spot sort of project, and am toying with another book-- something that's more of a departure.  Both fun, I think!

Anything else you want to say about this book?
I think it's my best yet.  I hope readers agree!

For more info, you can visit Megan's web site, or you can order the book from Amazon.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Name Game

I'm getting a late start on the day, thanks to yet another fun mix-up with the car dealership. Apparently, all the paperwork was done with the wrong VIN, so I had to go back this morning and sign everything again (I did make them check the VIN against my car). And then soon after I got home, they called again and said there was one more form, but this time he drove to my house to bring it for me. I think they got the feeling I might have lost it if they'd asked me to drive there again. It seems that one reason for the issue with them not having the car when they said they would was that they couldn't get the exact car they sold me, so I got an identical car, but that meant the paperwork was all wrong. Ah, well.

You know how I said when posting my rant on Monday that there were times when the universe seemed to move in themes? Well, the same day I ranted, Breakup Girl posted this cartoon on a similar topic, and even mentioned the lovely no-win situation where women are made to feel like freaks if they don't want to get married and have kids, but they're setting women back if they do.

And now, apparently, there's a whole new demographic term coined for the women who aren't pining about being single but who are living their own lives: freemales (not sure I like it, but I like the concept). There's an article about it at Salon. I guess that proves the other author wrong that anyone who said she wasn't desperately longing to get married and have kids was in denial or lying. By the way, that was the part I was complaining about. I'm fine with whatever choices women make in how to live their lives. I just don't like someone trying to justify her own feelings by claiming that everyone shares them and that anyone who says she doesn't is in denial or lying.

On another topic, I was asked last week how to go about naming characters. It's not a very scientific process for me. I have one of those "what to name your baby" books, and I flip through it until a name jumps out at me as right for that character. The book I have seems to have a British bias, so there are a lot of Scottish and Welsh names that aren't used in the US, which is good when you write fantasy, and there are a lot of surnames that can be used for first names, which is good for coming up with surnames. I make a little list of names that strike me, then put them together with possible last names and see how they sound. I also like looking at the meaning and origin of names. This book has lists in the back for the most popular names by decade, which is good if you want a character to have a common, ordinary name that fits his/her age. Lately, I've started Googling the names I want to use (first and last together) to see what comes up. If it's a common-enough sounding name, I don't worry about getting a few matches if none of them are really famous, but there are times that the reason a name seems to click is that you've heard it before, and someone reasonably well-known has the same name. Then I come up with something else, especially if it is a unique or unusual name.

Some naming tips:
Avoid having too many characters with names starting with the same letter or that are similar in another way. You don't want readers to have to keep a score sheet to keep track of which character is which. The exception would be if that's part of your story or world-building -- say if it's a family thing that everyone in the family has a name starting with the same letter, if the characters are from a culture where certain letters are used often (like with the Vulcans on Star Trek, where it was a thing to give "S" names), or if it's something like a religious order where people take a new name upon joining, and those names all have something similar about them.

Look out for names you'll be using often that end in "s." No matter what you do, making it a possessive looks awkward.

Avoid names that are really hard to pronounce or where the pronunciation isn't clear from the spelling. Yes, people will likely be reading silently, but they still mentally pronounce words, and if they stumble over the main character's name, they'll have trouble getting into the book and connecting with the character. Plus, if readers aren't sure how to say the main character's name, that makes it very hard to talk about the book, and word of mouth is the way most people hear about books. You need for people to be able to talk about your characters, starting with an agent, going through the whole publishing company, and then on to readers. If they feel stupid because they aren't sure how to say a name, they're going to be less enthusiastic about talking about it. If you do use an odd name, try to work in a pronunciation guide, such as the character correcting someone else who mispronounces it. I know this sounds like a silly, trivial thing, but I've heard way too many people talk about giving up on a book because they couldn't say the names of the main characters. Fantasy and science fiction writers are particularly bad about giving weird names to make their characters seem exotic, but remember, "weird" or "different" doesn't have to mean "impossible to sound out in your head." If your main character is named Gryxxli'wc, don't expect people to talk about your book in great depth with anyone else. I'm just saying.

Beyond that, I really can't say much. I use Welsh-related names for a lot of the magical characters in my series because Merlin started the company, and depending on which bit of folklore you're looking at, he was supposedly at least part Welsh and I figured that would have permeated the magical culture. But I tried to give Katie and her family more folksy, common, even slightly old-fashioned names. Some characters are born with names already in place, like Sam the gargoyle. There was no naming him. He just was. Strangely, the main female character of every book I've had published has had a name ending in -y or -ie. I keep trying to break that pattern, but every book I try to write with a main female character without that kind of name doesn't seem to get off the ground. Maybe I ought to just go with it.

Generally, it all comes down to sound and feel. Can I picture the character when I say the name? Does a character come into full view suddenly when I assign a particular name (sometimes there's a near-audible click)? How does the name look in print?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Two Weeks

It looks like I should avoid reading inflammatory articles on subjects that already irk me on the day I'm doing my taxes because it gets me all riled up. Yes, all those stories about guys I've dated were true, and I wasn't even exaggerating. I've joked about having "I haven't met anyone I wanted to marry who wanted to marry me" printed up on cards to make it easier to answer the inevitable question, and maybe I should add the URL to yesterday's post. Between those oddballs and all the Incredible Disappearing Men, it's pretty easy to see how I've managed to remain single.

We're at the two-week countdown on Don't Hex With Texas. More reviews are starting to come in, and they're positive, which is nice. You'd think by now I'd have more confidence, but this is always a really tense time for me, knowing it's out there, I can't do anything to change it, and waiting to see how it's received. I'm no longer quite as anxious with anticipation as I was with the earlier books, but that could be in part due to the fact that I've been busy and distracted with a lot of other things, so it's just now starting to hit me that, yikes!, the next book comes out in two weeks. I haven't done nearly the same level of pre-publication publicity that I have with other books. Now, watch this one sell best of all. It's still ranked pretty high at Amazon for pre-orders. I don't know yet what bookstore orders were like, if that other chain that begins with B is continuing to barely stock the books or if you might actually find it there.

After doing my taxes, I've made my annual pledge to be more organized in the future. I was a little better last year than I was previously, and that helped, so maybe I can improve bit by bit. Now I need to clean my house before my parents come over later in the week, and then I want to start a gradual decluttering/overhaul of my whole house, taking everything out, sorting through it, tossing/donating things I don't use and then putting the things I'm keeping back in an organized fashion. In June, I will have lived here ten years, so I think it's high time. As an army brat, I'm used to just doing that sort of thing every time I move, but without moving, things tend to pile up. I've broken it down into lots of little areas and made a checklist, so maybe I won't fizzle out midway through, as I so often do with projects like that. I've also made a list of some remodeling and repair work I want to do whenever I have money, but before I can do that, I need to have the house in order.

And it's occurred to me that I have an essay due in a couple of weeks that I've got partially written in my head, but I need to do some research for it. Then a week from Friday I've got to head to Austin for the Nebula Awards weekend. And then the book comes out. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to hear back from my agent about that book I finished. I'll likely have more revisions to do before it goes out on the market, and I'm working on developing something else to get out there, since at the moment I'm essentially unemployed without a contract. The next three or four weeks may be a little psycho as I try to take care of all that while doing the things that come up around the release of a book.

So, that was all pretty random. But at least I wasn't ranting.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I had the kind of weekend I almost need a weekend to recover from. Saturday was a social day, which was a ton of fun. Then Sunday I did my taxes. I suspect it was the latter that left me drained. The actual work of it isn't so bad, but I find it very emotionally draining. Plus, I don't like being reminded that I'd make more money and pay less in taxes if I got a real job. "Salary"-wise, I'm right where I was ten years ago. But I think I'm a lot happier. It's a lovely day, so when I walk to the post office to put the forms in the mail, I think I'll take a nice, long walk around the neighborhood, which should help me unwind and re-energize me.

It's funny how the universe so often works in themes, where bits and pieces of a certain topic all seem to pop up at the same time. I saw the first episode of the Sarah Jane Adventures Friday night, and I think I'm really going to like that series. One thing I love about it is that our heroine is a woman "of a certain age" who is considered glamorous, who looks great, who is independent, intelligent and active. She has a great house and a cool car, lots of neat tech toys, and a wardrobe that is neither grandma nor "mutton dressed as lamb." Normally, women in that age range (and I was surprised to find out exactly what her age is, and damn, girlfriend's looking good) are depicted as either shriveled, predatory cougar types or grandmas. Of course, they did have to bring up what seems to be frequently asked question number one for any single woman over about 35 who remains unmarried: "You mean you never married or had kids?" Sometimes they vary this and ask why you didn't marry. I know it's generally meant as a compliment, with the other person expressing surprise that someone as seemingly great as you are wasn't snatched up right away, but still, grrrr. I hate that it implies that a) great people will naturally be married and b) marriage is automatically better than being single. At least in this case, they weren't saying that her current life was sad because she wasn't married. The sadness was that she didn't have any real relationships of any kind in her life because she couldn't share the coolest things that had ever happened to her with anyone. I imagine that would rather put a damper on any relationship. She certainly couldn't have a conversation about how she spent her twenties, and people might get suspicious about her if she never talked about a big chunk of her life.

Unfortunately, I don't have that excuse. I didn't spend my twenties traveling around in space and time with an ancient alien in a little blue box. When I get asked the question about never being married, I just say that I haven't met anyone I wanted to marry who wanted to marry me. I'm not even sure that I've met anyone who wanted to marry me. If they did, they didn't try too hard to make me aware of their feelings. I may have met a few I think could have been compatible, but they weren't into me, and that's a rather important part of the equation. Trying to evaluate whether someone who wasn't into me might have made a good husband is like trying to decide if a chocolate cake recipe is any good if you make it without the chocolate. (Funny, most of my similes and metaphors seem to involve chocolate.)

Then in Sunday's newspaper, they ran an excerpt of this article about how women nearing forty or in their forties should settle rather than holding out for an ideal husband, otherwise they might end up (gasp!) alone. Here are some choice quotes: "Ask any soul-baring 40-year-old single heterosexual woman what she most longs for in life, and she probably won't tell you it's a better career or a smaller waistline. Most likely, she'll say what she really wants is a husband (and, by extension, a child)." For the record, um, no. What I think I want most in life right now is a bestselling book, or at least to have a publisher give a book the treatment it takes to become a bestseller. That would lead to a little more financial security that would allow me to do more of the things I really want to do with my life. Everything else I really want in life, I already have. Then there's: "If you say you're not worried, either you're in denial or you're lying." Actually, I felt like I was in denial about my ambivalence toward marriage for a long time. I knew the clock was ticking, and I felt I ought to do something about it. I even (gasp!) read Dr. Phil's book on finding relationships, and he said something that struck me. Paraphrasing, he more or less said that you don't really have to be looking for a relationship, that if you're not in one and you're not doing a lot to find one, then maybe you don't really want it, and that's perfectly okay. That was a major lightbulb moment for me. I was happy with my life the way it is. I don't really enjoy dating and all the stress and emotional upheaval that comes with it. I wasn't out there trying to meet Mr. Right because I was happy without him. So then I didn't need to read the rest of the book about how to do it, and I was much happier when I was no longer pretending to myself that I wanted a boyfriend just because that was what was expected of me.

Besides, I'm not sure who I'd pick to "settle" for if I were going to settle. Looking back on the men I've dated that I rejected (because it's kind of hard to settle for someone who rejected you), we've got:

1) Sir Galahad -- the guy I'd been friends with for several years (and even had a huge crush on for a while) who'd finally noticed me. We'd gone out a couple of times when I had knee surgery. It wasn't quite two weeks after the surgery, and I was still on crutches. My knee was still swollen badly, so I couldn't really bend or straighten it much. I had a third-floor apartment, so once I got home, I was home until I absolutely had to leave. I was back at work, but still not able to make it through a whole day, and then I had physical therapy twice a week. And this is when this guy calls to ask me out on a date. Then gets huffy when I decline and says, "When I'm dating someone, I like to go out with her." I'm not entirely sure what I said next because the pain pill I'd taken before he called kicked in about that time, but it must have been good because he didn't speak to me for months. It apparently didn't occur to him that he could pick up some takeout and a video and come over if he wanted to see me. He definitely didn't offer to come over and help me around the house (I might have married him if he'd just taken my trash out). And no, he didn't send flowers or so much as a get-well card when I had surgery. (Then again, none of my other friends at that time did anything, either, which is why I have different friends now.) Now, really, would being married to someone like that be better than being alone? I can just imagine, hours after giving birth, and him griping that a real wife would support her husband and go to his office party that night.
2) Lingerie Man -- oh, there was so much that was so very wrong with this guy. There was the fact that after only a couple of dates, he bought me this hideous thing from Frederick's of Hollywood for Christmas (I was pondering whether our relationship was far enough along for me to give him a card) and then claimed that he did it just to see my reaction. But the final straw was that, after only a few dates, he got in the habit of calling me at work around 3 on a Friday and asking what we were going to do that weekend. One week, I'd already made plans with friends, and he acted like he didn't believe that I had people in my life before I met him, and that I wanted to keep them in my life. The next week, I'd gone that morning to the doctor for a bad sinus infection and wanted nothing more than to just go home, take medicine and sleep, and he accused me of avoiding him. Of course, that made me want to avoid him. He snarkily said that when I wanted to see him, I could call him. I hope he didn't hold his breath while waiting. Again, another charmer who was more concerned with wanting to go out than he was with my well-being.
3) Sleeping Bag Guy -- I met this one at an out-of-town conference, and we'd been e-mailing a bit when he announced he'd be coming through my area on vacation and wanted to get together. So I invited him over for dinner while he was in town. He arranged to take me to lunch and then do some sightseeing before coming back to my place for dinner. By the end of lunch I was tired of him because he'd already managed to criticize much of my life (he talked about what a mess my house was -- when it was freshly cleaned for company; he criticized what I was writing because it wasn't worthy; he'd criticized the way I lived), but I didn't feel like I could take back the invitation for dinner. After dinner, he complained that I didn't rent videos and instead watched the ones I already owned that I'd seen already. I started in on the hints that it had been a lovely day and it was nice to see him, but bye-bye, and then he said, "I brought my sleeping bag. Mind if I crash here?"

So, which one of these would have been better than being alone? Most of the rest, I'd have had to file a missing persons report with the FBI to find, as that's what tends to happen with my relationships. If I think things are going well, I will never hear from him again.

I think the difference between me and that author is that having a husband isn't a goal for me. I'm not opposed to marriage at all, but it's not some kind of box I feel I have to check in order to have a good life, and therefore, I'm not going to grab somebody just so I can say I've been married. My approach is more that if I meet someone I really enjoy being with, whose presence enhances my life and with whom I do want to spend the rest of my life, and if he feels the same way about me, then I'll get married. If not, well, that's okay, too. And I don't think I'm lying or in denial.

Oh, and the end of this article is totally classic. Her proof that being married is better than being single is the fact that when her friends complain about their husbands and say she's lucky to be independent, she says if they don't want their husbands, they should just give them to her, and no one has taken her up on the offer. Or maybe, you know, they've made a commitment and don't treat their husbands like a piece of clothing that's no longer in style, even if they're not always totally happy with him at every single moment.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Wardrove Over-Function?

Yay! It's Friday! And that shouldn't matter to me, since it's not as though I have a normal work week, but I still like Fridays, especially now that my Sci Fi Fridays are almost complete. Oh, and for a programming note, tonight's Sci Fi prime time starts a half hour earlier, at 6:30 Central Time. I'm trying to decide if I want pizza or fajitas for tonight.

I have been pondering something Battlestar Galactica-related that's really bugging me: Where did Lee Adama get these civilian clothes he's been wearing, especially his perfectly tailored suits? He came on board with what he carried in a Viper, which was pretty much the uniforms he'd need for the various events he was having to go to. I seriously doubt he had a civilian suit, too, just in case, and that's not a body that can buy clothes off-the-rack or borrow them from just about anyone and have them fit. He's got a tiny frame with a lot of muscle packed onto it, so a suit would have to accommodate shoulders and biceps, but also a very slim waist and probably short arms and legs. And yet they seem to have found him a perfectly fitting suit in no time at all. I guess there's a textile ship in the fleet and a really bored tailor.

Yeah, I know that this is a weird thing to strain my ability to believe in a show that involves robots that are indistinguishable from humans and who can download their consciousness into another body in a vat of goo when they get killed, but that's part of the premise of the show, and shortages and awareness that this is all they've got has also been part of the premise of the show. They made a point of Roslin saying she had only three outfits for the rest of her life, of showing the search for food, water and fuel. Previously, Lee had to resort to what were obviously ship-issued sweats for off-duty wear, and when he did get some civilian clothes in a later season, they didn't quite fit -- his shirts fit across the shoulders but were obviously too loose around the middle. They've been so good with that kind of detail, so now it's jarring enough that I find myself totally distracted by wondering where he got those clothes.

In other news, it turns out the storm I totally slept through hit my neighborhood harder than I realized. My neighbor's fence got blown over, and according to the newspaper, there were trees knocked over and roofs damaged. I was very, very lucky to have no damage.

Meanwhile, I now have the first copies of Don't Hex With Texas. My editor sent me a few, hot off the press. I'm glad they do this because it takes a little time to get used to the way a book looks when it comes to life, and I wouldn't want to have to make that adjustment in the bookstore. We are back to the matte cover (the gloss last time was a mistake). It's very pretty, but still doesn't feel real.

And finally, apparently I am a "cool nerd queen," but I've always preferred the term "stealth geek goddess." However, I may be even nerdier since I found myself wanting to correct some of the questions or suggest some that might give a more accurate outcome. The quiz certainly seemed to reflect the interest and biases of the author. I'm surprised I wasn't that nerdy in social skills, given that I don't date. says I'm a Cool Nerd Queen.  What are you?  Click here!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Wasting Time

I had a massive procrastination attack yesterday. It seems that I am physically incapable of being both organized and creative at the same time. When my brain is in the early stages of gestating a story, I can't seem to manage to do much of anything else, so I ended up pretty much frittering away the whole day and barely got done the things that absolutely had to be done (though I think some ideas for the new story were generated in the subconscious).

And then in the evening, I got a huge smack in the face. I turned on the TV early before the late news because there were all kinds of storm watches and warnings and I wanted to see what the situation was before I went to bed. You know, it's good to know if there's a tornado heading your way before you go to bed. And I caught the end of Prime Time (I think -- one of those news magazine programs). It was about that professor who is dying of cancer and whose "last lecture" became a huge Internet sensation, and now there's a book coming out, too. Before long, I was bawling, but it also made me think about the way I spend my time, thinking I have so much of it, but really, you never know because there are no guarantees. I look back at the way I spent yesterday, for instance, and though I did accomplish some things, most of the way I spent the day was utterly pointless. It didn't bring me much joy, it didn't help me achieve any of my goals. It was just something I did to put off doing something else.

Today, I looked up his actual lecture. Here it is. It's more than an hour long, and I've only watched part of it, but the lecture itself (at least up to about the halfway point) isn't really about dying. I suspect there will be some tearjerking stuff toward the end. But mostly it's about going after the things you want and then helping others get what they want in life and how that comes back to help you. It's all very cool and inspiring (and often funny), and this guy is so incredibly, delightfully geeky.

Now I think it would be interesting to write a character who knows he's dying and is okay with that but just wants to do something with the rest of his life.

The real question will be, will this keep me from wasting the day checking to see if someone has added a new post to a Television Without Pity forum? Or will I make the day count?

I think I will need to take a walk today, as apparently there were gusts of 92 mph winds overnight (according to the weather reporting station at the school two blocks from my house), and I've seen at least four city trucks loaded with tree branches go by. I'm curious about what level of damage there was. It does seem like they've fixed the traffic signals, which were blinking red all morning (that made for some entertainment). And, somehow, I slept through the whole storm.

Oh, and new episode of The Office tonight! Finally! Yay!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Improving a Scene

I only got about five pages written before I realized I needed to do some more planning, and then I knew I was really in book mode when I couldn't sleep last night because I kept dreaming up characters and scenes. That's good when that happens, but it also leaves me feeling like a zombie the next day, especially when we get a couple of waves of thunderstorms overnight that wake me up after I finally get to sleep and start the mental writing cycle all over again.

And it's another Writing Wednesday. Since I've recently finished revising a book, I thought I'd continue on a theme related to those darlings that deserve to die I mentioned a while ago. One of the major doomed darlings is the scene that doesn't really go anywhere or matter to the book. But how do you know if the scene works, and how do you make it better if it doesn't?

A scene needs to serve some purpose in the book -- showing or developing a character, furthering the plot, foreshadowing, giving important information. Ideally, it should do more than one thing. A scene that exists only to illustrate what kind of person a character is becomes much stronger if the actions that define the character are related to the main plot. That means you really can't justify your "doing laundry" scene on the basis of defining character, unless there's no other way you can convey that character information.

When you're analyzing a scene, first consider if it needs to be there at all. If you could cut the scene entirely without affecting the story, it needs to go. If there's just one bit of information that's necessary, find another scene where that information can be conveyed.

If the scene is necessary, ask yourself what purpose it serves. If it only serves one purpose, consider working that purpose into another scene so you have one strong scene instead of two weak ones. That would be like what I mentioned above, with using action that furthers the plot to illustrate character.

Is there action in the scene? If it's mostly people talking or thinking, is there something else they could be doing while that's happening to give the scene movement? Preferably something that serves a purpose to the plot. And, as I have been forced to learn, walking doesn't necessarily count as action. That conversation or internal monologue could be combined with an action scene so you don't have talking or thinking heads. That doesn't mean making up meaningless stage business like making coffee or tea, but rather action that moves the story forward.

Is there conflict in the scene? What is the viewpoint character trying to do in this scene, and what's getting in his/her way? Is there an opponent in the scene? Mind you, conflict doesn't have to mean arguing or fighting. It could just mean that the character is thwarted. There should be some tension or conflict in every scene.

Have you exploited the scene's full potential? Is there something that the characters talk or think about that you could make actually happen? Again, that's moving from talking heads to action, from telling to showing. I learned how much of an impact that can have when revising Enchanted, Inc.. I wrote a scene involving my heroine and her new co-workers doing a girls' night out. They talk about meeting men, and the heroine makes an off-hand remark about how you have to kiss a lot of frogs -- a remark that her magical friends take literally and say that's not very effective. In the initial draft, that discussion ends there, and they go on to have the usual night out. My agent suggested that there was a whole scene buried in that bit of dialogue, and they should actually go out to kiss frogs. That became one of the better parts of the book. (To see the difference that made, you can read the before and after on my web site. The before is the original girls' night out scene at the bottom, and the after is the excerpt listed higher on the page.)

That list of 20 things I mentioned when talking about creativity boosters is a great way to mine the potential in a scene. Try making a list of 20 things that can happen, and you might find one or two that take the scene to the next level. If you can't come up with a list of 20 things that could possibly happen in a scene, maybe you need a different scene. Most of the things that happen in the scene need to be related to the story. A busy scene that has a lot going on isn't necessarily a good, active scene.

Finally, what changes in the world of the story because of this scene? Have the events in the scene changed the situation or the characters in any way? Are there consequences? Did the scene make things better or worse for your characters? Ideally, every scene should change the status quo in some way.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Admin Type Stuff

I've got a bunch of little catch-up things I keep forgetting to tell everyone about, so this will be kind of an admin post.

If you're into e-books, Diesel e-books is offering 20 percent off my books to my readers. Here's the "store" with my books. Enter coupon code SWEN1c069 to get the discount. This offer is good for the next 45 days. Looks like a good way to load your e-reader for summer vacations or to review before the new book comes out if you don't have your own copies already.

Then, if you want to discuss Enchanted, Inc. with other readers, there's a book club discussion at What Women Read.

Meanwhile, did you know there's a LiveJournal Enchanted, Inc. community? It's pretty quiet there, but it is open for discussion of the books. I may even pop in from time to time.

I'm starting to get to the bottom of my list of writing topics to discuss, so does anyone have any questions about writing? (The how-to craft angle.) I'm also open to answering questions about the publishing world and how that works. Leave comments if you've got questions.

I think I'm about ready to start drafting another book. I've hand-written the first few paragraphs because they just came to me, and even though I haven't thoroughly developed characters or outlined a plot yet, I think I'm going to start writing and see what happens. After about fifty pages, then I'll have a better sense of the story and can do more development work.

Now I need to go vote in a runoff election. Wouldn't you know, the polling place for this one isn't the rec center a few blocks away, but rather the middle school on the far end of the neighborhood. It's too close to justify driving without another errand along the way, but far enough to be a long walk. However, I need the exercise.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Ah, Monday

I do finally have my car, after some hassle and frustration. Now I'm in the adjustment phase of getting used to driving something different after nearly eleven years. I know I said color wasn't that important to me, but I really do like this color. In addition to making it my "little blue box" it's my absolute favorite shade of my favorite color, which is nice.

Getting the car Saturday evening was the cap to a really nice Saturday. It was a perfect spring day, and I went with some friends to the botanical gardens in Fort Worth. This is one of the best times of year in Texas, and one of the reasons is the bluebonnets (yeah, blue again). They're all along the sides of highways, in a kind of bluish/purple carpet, but this is at the botanical gardens.

Meanwhile, we found ourselves plotting a Saturday-night movie for the Sci Fi Channel. They have koi in the pools at the Japanese gardens, and they definitely prove that the Pavlovian response works in fish, too. If people so much as stood in a place where people often stand to throw fish food in the water, the fish would all rush over there, their mouths wide open, and then if food did get tossed, the waters would soon be churning. Thus, our planned film Koi: The Feeding Frenzy (because you know they're going to run out of creatures and monsters before long).

We've finally ended the Jane Austen-fest on Masterpiece Theater, and, alas, next is a remake of A Room With a View. Why? The movie is just about perfect, so why does it need to be re-made? There are a lot of other books out there that haven't been made into movies, so why keep remaking the same ones? Especially when there's already a version that has to be definitive? Though, I must admit I kind of felt that way about Sense and Sensibility, but I quite liked the miniseries that was just on, though I suspect my appreciation for that story is waning as I become old and cranky. Or maybe I just over-identify with the Elinor story. Not only am I the reserved, practical one, but I've been through a few too many Edward-like situations, where I finally manage to convince myself that a guy might actually like me, and then I find out that he's had a girlfriend all along (though at least Edward didn't cause Elinor to think that he might like her while getting her to help him with his trigonometry homework). It's probably because of the Edwards in my life that I'm so romantically challenged now. If that happens to you enough times, you lose faith in your own judgment and you become even more terrified of showing your own feelings, in case you end up being wrong again, and you don't want to make a fool of yourself by showing that you like someone in case he's already taken. At least at my age, most of the taken ones are wearing wedding rings, which helps, but I'd probably have to get an outright declaration of feelings, possibly signed in blood, before I'd let myself believe that a man really did have an interest in me and before I'd be willing to express an interest. So, yeah, I kind of wanted Elinor to smack Edward upside the head. If they can add kissing and wet shirts to Jane Austen adaptations, why not a little violence?

Now to make my first grocery store trip in the new car.

Friday, April 04, 2008

My New Blue Box

So, I now have a new car. Or I will sometime today, if they ever call me to let me know it's ready to pick up. I called yesterday to ask about their inventory, and they swore they had what I wanted. Then I got there and found they didn't (they claimed they'd just sold them). That actually got me in a better bargaining position. They tried to sell me something that was similar but not quite right (an automatic transmission instead of manual, and I hate driving automatic), and I very sweetly refused, saying that wasn't what I wanted, and if they didn't have it, then I was very sorry, but I wouldn't buy it. They found a manual in another model for me to drive and see if I really did like it better, and I did. And then, miraculously, they found just the car I wanted on another lot owned by the same company. It's supposed to be delivered today. I think I managed to get a pretty good deal because I low-balled them on the number I gave them of what I was willing to spend (based on the research I'd done -- I gave them pretty much the lowest price I'd seen without tax, etc., but said that number was all I would spend, including tax, etc.), expecting to have to negotiate upwards, and I ended up getting it. The other sign it was a good deal was it shocked my dad.

Go, me! But the whole experience left me utterly exhausted. I pretty much collapsed on the sofa for most of the evening, and my hands hurt this morning because I seem to have slept with them clenched into fists. The salesman wasn't too bad. He was pretty nice, which I know is partially part of the job, but he didn't give me the creeps, and he didn't patronize me. That's my number-one pet peeve. I HATE being patronized, and I get it all the time. I'm fairly petite, and while I'm pretty slim, I'm also rather curvy, and I have that long, curly hair, plus I look younger than I am. Almost everything about my physical appearance is girly, and for some reason that seems to translate to a lot of people as stupid (especially now that I'm out of school and I'm not known for my academic performance). I get a lot of the pat-on-the-head, you're too dumb to understand this, so don't worry your pretty little head about it treatment, and that works me into near-homicidal rage (In addition to getting it from doctors, mechanics, car salesmen, etc., I even get that on dates, which is one of the many reasons I'm still single). But this guy never patronized me. I think he was sharp enough to know that would be fatal, and he was also incredibly impressed with me being an author.

I ended up getting a bright blue Ford Focus, so while I never did find that TARDIS dealer, I do have a blue box that seems to be somewhat bigger on the inside (especially the trunk).

My other accomplishment of the week was clearing out my e-mail in-box. Mind you, that doesn't mean I've dealt with the backlog. But I read something on the Unclutterer blog about getting e-mail under control, and they suggested that if you have a huge backlog (like, oh, about 4,000 messages), you should create a "backlog" folder and move everything from your in-box into it. Then you're starting fresh with a clean in-box and it's easier to keep it clean instead of just adding to the pile. Then you start working through the backlog folder, a little at a time. So, if you've e-mailed me in the past year or so, you might suddenly get a response in the next few weeks. One of the hazards of an overflowing in-box that sorts by date sent is that I've found messages buried below that I never saw if the calendar on the sending computer was off, since the message was put in order way down in the backlog. I hope to avoid that in the future.

But the very big news for the day is that Battlestar Galactica returns to us tonight! I'm making pizza and opening a bottle of chianti. The two-part season finale from last year kicks things off (so I can remember what happened), and then new things begin. Ah, quality sofa time.

While I was lying in bed all tensed up last night, I came up with the opening for the book I've been playing with in my head, so now I just need to figure out who my people are (I need a name for the main character).

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Book Report Roundup

The car shopping I did yesterday was online. I found a fun feature at the Ford web site where you could build your ideal car and then search local dealership inventory for it. I put in the same parameters as at the comparison shopping web site that led to all those pointless dealer contacts, and it turns out the dealer contacts were even more pointless than I thought. None of them had what I wanted in their inventory. It seems that they said they had what I wanted because they had cars that color -- but I had just gone with the default color on that form. I'm far more concerned with stuff like engine and body type. But I guess if you've got the right color, minor details like the engine and body type don't matter. I'm trying to decide whether I want to keep that appointment today and then make them squirm about not having what I want or just cancel it entirely. The weather is looking icky, so I may just cancel and tell them why.

I've been reading a ton lately but got sidetracked, so I'm way behind on Book Report duty. I was going to wait until I had some thematic clusters, but if I keep that up, then I may not get around to talking about some of these while I still remember them. So, here goes:

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie -- My neighborhood library has one of those book club (the kind where they send you a special collector's edition once a month, not the kind where you drink wine and chat) type sets of all the Agatha Christie books, with just plain covers, so there's no hint of what each book is about. I admit that I picked up this particular one because I'd heard there was going to be an episode of Doctor Who this season involving Agatha Christie, and I'd seen some speculation as to whether it might have anything to do with this book, as we do know a certain man in a (usually) brown suit. I don't know about that, as this particular man in a brown suit is supposed to have a dark tan and light eyes, while the Doctor is quite the opposite. As for the book itself, it was very different from any other Agatha Christie book I've read (though that was a junior high phase, so I could have forgotten). It's more of an adventure story than a traditional mystery, and it reads almost like chick lit (and I don't mean that as a put-down). Our heroine witnesses a mysterious death, decides to investigate it because she wants adventure in her life, and soon she's on a boat to South Africa, where danger and intrigue ensue. This book was written in the 20s, but it still sounds very contemporary, aside from some slang and, of course, the level of technology.

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde -- I think I liked this one better than the first in the series, but now I want to go back and re-read that one because I was in a rush when I read it and I think I missed some things. LOVED this book. In a weird, oddball way, my relationship with books is very similar to the way things happen in this world. I want to crawl into books I love, and I imagine the characters doing things behind my back when I'm not watching them. I suspect I'm going to end up devouring the series, but I'll try to pace myself.

Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst -- This is one of those books that had me kicking myself because I didn't come up with this idea. The fairytale characters have managed to escape the Wild and build lives in our world -- Rapunzel is a hairstylist and the mother of our heroine -- but then the Wild makes a comeback and starts to encompass the town. Our heroine has to make sure not to get trapped in any one story because if she reaches the Happily Ever After, she'll be reset to the beginning and forget everything. So she tries to jump from story to story on the way to getting things set right again. Loads of fun, especially if you know your fairy tales. (And I'm not biased because the author reads my books and is part of the Curly Mafia.)

The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson -- I read this one because it was on the Nebula ballot, and it's probably not something I'd have thought to read otherwise, but I really enjoyed it. I'd probably classify it as closer to magical realism than fantasy, and it's a difficult book to describe. It involves life in the Caribbean, some seals that don't seem to belong in these waters, some people who are a bit too at home in the sea, and a woman who has a strange knack for finding things that have been lost for a long time. The writing is just lovely, and if you want to try to write something in which the characters speak in dialect, this is a good book to use as an example. The entire book has the flavor of the Caribbean without going overboard with clunky dialect. It's very subtle and it works.

Flora Segunda (Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog) by Ysabeau S. Wilce -- If you're looking for something to read after Harry Potter, this would be a good contender (I think it's the start of a series). A young girl is meant for the military, like the rest of her family, but she really wants to be a Ranger (a sort of magical secret agent). Unfortunately, the Rangers have been disbanded. Meanwhile, the magical butler associated with her once-great house has been banished and wants her help being brought back, and a famous pirate (her best friend's hero) has been captured. Guided by paperback novels about her favorite Ranger heroine's adventures, she sets out to prove herself worthy of being a Ranger by carrying out her missions -- but things aren't quite what they seem. Some truly fun world building with fabulous detail and characters I just loved. It also made me nostalgic for my childhood as an army brat.

Quirkology by Richard Wiseman, Ph.D. -- This is kind of a Mythbusters of psychology (the book even refers to a Mythbusters test). The author defines quirkology as "the quirky science of everyday life," and he looks at psychological studies into all sorts of things. Some of the research is his own, which he's conducted through TV shows in England, and some is research that's been done in these areas over the years. The book looks into such subjects as how your birth date and your name affect your life, how to tell someone is lying (it's not what you've always heard -- body language is actually pretty useless), the best things to talk about (and the worst) on a first date, and the search for the world's funniest joke (yes, a scientific experiment inspired by a Monty Python sketch). And the afterword describes yet another study, in which he tested the factoids in the book as dinner party conversation, so he lists the top ten factoids rated as most likely to generate good conversations at even the dullest parties. If you're at all interested in psychology or human behavior, this is a fun book. There's also a quirkology web site that has some of the info from the book, as well as videos relating to the studies mentioned in the book.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Blaming George Lucas

I got myself all geared up to go car shopping yesterday -- makeup and all -- and then after I'd run the errands that forced me out of the house, I changed my mind and just went to Target (too bad they don't sell cars). Today, though, I may force myself out there. I've caught myself brainstorming silly answers to the standard car salesman question "What can I do to sell you this car?" I'm trying to think of the most ridiculous things I could demand that they do for me. Any suggestions? Keep it clean, and it needs to be something I wouldn't mind if they called my bluff and did it. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to actually make any weird demands, since I don't do diva very well, but it's fun to contemplate.

To help gear myself up, I've got another minor rant. I was brainstorming a story idea, came up with a plot twist, then realized I probably couldn't do it, thanks to George Lucas. The whole "Luke, I am your father" thing has totally ruined the plot where the hero and the villain turn out to be related, and that's such a fun thematic thing to play with because it gets into father vs. son struggles, the enemy within and nature vs. nurture. If the hero and the villain are found to be related at all, and especially if the villain turns out to be the hero's secret babydaddy, then the automatic response is an eye roll and some comment about Star Wars.

But is this plot really dead now, or is it the unique combination of elements in the Luke and Darth Vader story that makes it worthy of an eye roll? We've got:

1) Hero thought his father was a hero killed by the villain. (Oops!)
2) Villain didn't know he had a son until the hero started making a splash (and wouldn't it have been smart to give Luke another last name so he wouldn't be quite so obvious if he did make a splash? I mean, keeping his last name and sending him to step-relatives his father knew wasn't exactly "hiding" him.).
3) Villain revealed their relationship in a big, dramatic moment while they were trying to kill each other.
4) Villain wanted hero to turn evil and join him in the dark side.
5) Then there's that whole secret twin sister thing.

I think the biggies are numbers 1 and 3 (though number 5 does kind of elevate the situation to the silliness level), so perhaps if the hero doesn't have any preconceived notions, illusions or lies about who his father was and if he learns the truth in some way other than the "Luke, I am your father" moment, and maybe if he figures it out before the villain does, it's not quite so Star Wars.

Of course, now that I start thinking about it, I can't recall any pre-Star Wars plots that specifically have that villain dad/hero son relationship. Dickens did like the surprise relationships (and unrelated identical doubles), but I don't remember a Star Wars-like situation. There must have been something in the Greek classics, but when I read those it was for world-building rather than plot. In mythology there are the various offspring of the gods who ended up in conflict with their fathers (which may be where Lucas got the idea, since he drew upon Campbell's work in mythology).

I still don't know what I'm going to do with this story (as if I'd tell!). Maybe I'll be brave enough not to worry about the Star Wars comparisons and know I'm doing the right thing for my story in the right way. Or maybe I'll wimp out, and that will force me to come up with something entirely different that will be even better.

I may have to go car shopping just to get away from my telephone. I keep getting these weird calls where there's dead silence when I answer, and then a phone starts ringing, like I called someone. In my more paranoid moments, I imagine it's some three-way calling scam that will have me on the phone with a foreign country to run up a phone bill. Then there are the recorded calls that generically refer to my credit card without naming the company or that warn me that the extended warranty on my car is about to expire (gee, at 11 years and 103,000 miles, you think?). I'm on the no-call list, so theoretically the only calls I get should be from people I'm doing business with, who would identify themselves. And gee, I just got another one of those warranty calls, and I stayed on the line to talk to a live agent. When I asked the name of the company before I would give them any info, they hung up on me. So, yeah, scam. But maybe that will flag my phone number and they'll quit calling me. (Can I blame this on George Lucas, too?)

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Countdown Begins

I want to state up front that this post is not an April Fool's joke. Seriously. Someday I'll have the creative energy to come up with an elaborate April Fool's prank, but that would require realizing ahead of time what day it is, and I sometimes have difficulties with that.

However, it is now April, and now I can say that Don't Hex With Texas is coming out later this month. Since there was such a fiasco with book availability and distribution on release day with the last book, now would be the time to visit the store where you plan to buy the book on the 29th and ask them if they're going to be carrying it. You could even special order it so that even if they're slow to shelve it, they might have your special-ordered copy waiting for you. With any luck, if a store wasn't going to be stocking it and got customer requests, then that might influence them to stock it, and if orders go up, then that looks good to the publisher.

Meanwhile, I've finally updated my web site to include info on the new book and a sneak peek at the first few pages. Here's the Don't Hex page.

I'm not doing as many events this year, but here's what I have scheduled so far:
I'll be part of the mass autographing at the Nebula Awards weekend in Austin. That's April 25, 5:30-8 at the Omni Hotel downtown. I don't think they'll have the new book early, so my plan is to hook unsuspecting new victims, but you could drop by and say hi while getting books from the dizzying array of SF/F authors who will be there (seriously, I'll be suffering a fangirl overload the whole weekend). (Plus, I was invited to this event by one of the honchos at Del Rey, so this is a good chance to prove that, yes, my books are seen as fantasy, and I have rabid fans, so having people around me would be nice.)

On launch day, April 29, I'll be doing a talk and signing at the B&N at TCU in Fort Worth at 6. Then on May 7 at 7 I'll be at the Borders in Plano. Beyond that, I'm going to ApolloCon, Conestoga, Worldcon and Fencon. (You can get the full schedule at the news page of my site.)

Car shopping update: At one of those car shopping/reviews web sites, I went ahead and filled out the form to get dealer quotes. I specified that I wanted to be contacted by e-mail only, but you still had to enter a phone number for the form to be accepted. Yep, very soon my phone was ringing off the hook. And, wouldn't you know, none of them, not even the ones who responded by e-mail, actually gave any quotes or offers. The closest I got was one sending me the window sticker info. So, yeah, that was a waste of time. I guess I'll have to visit to get offers, and then play them off each other. I really don't have the personality to do this sort of thing. I have a character lurking in my brain who might be good at it, though, so maybe I'll use this as a writing exercise and go car shopping as this character (but using my own name, of course). It doesn't help that I don't really care much about cars. They're a necessity in this part of the world, but I wouldn't mind at all giving up my car if I lived in a place where they weren't needed so much. What I really want is a TARDIS so I wouldn't have to worry about the physical point A to point B travel and instead could just hop instantly from one place (or time) to another, but they don't have a dealership in this area.