Monday, June 30, 2008

ApolloCon Report

I'm mildly more coherent now, having had a chance to catch my breath and recover. Staying the extra night was definitely worth it, as I got a good night's sleep in an incredibly comfortable bed and now have the energy to drive home. Since I didn't have so many panels at Apollocon this year, I had a chance to go to more panels, which was highly educational. It's nice to listen to other people talk, for a change.

One panel I thought was interesting involved artists and an editor talking about what works on book covers. I may joke about the "shunning" covers where the characters have their backs to us, but I actually do like not getting a good, full view of the characters. I like the more impressionistic covers that convey the mood or tone of the book rather than something that's supposed to represent the characters. I like getting my own mental image of what the people are supposed to look like.

I also went to a spinning demonstration (as in wool, not exercise bicycles), which is something I've always been kind of fascinated with but haven't ever seen up close.

People came to my Kaffeeklatsch (and there was tea!), which was reassuring, though I suspect most of them were just in search of a chair and some coffee rather than a talk with me, but I guess they got more than they bargained for. (Mwa ha ha! All part of my grand scheme for world domination.)

The panels I did involved archetypes in speculative fiction and urban fantasy, two things on the "don't get me started unless you've got hours" list. You know how I can go on about archetypes. I even had one of those fun little mindblowing moments from something someone in the audience said, and now I shall have to do a little more research for a whole fun new theory. Look for a post to come.

The urban fantasy panel got pretty lively and turned out to be the occasion for my giggle fit for this con (but I was told I was provoked and not at fault for that one. And the thing that sparked it falls into the "don't go there" category, so it will have to remain a mystery if you weren't there). I've already posted my own rant about that and how most of what's published as "urban fantasy" today isn't what I look for to read as urban fantasy. That's pretty much what I said on the panel (more fantasy stuff in a modern setting, less vampires, werewolves and other "horror" elements, please). I guess it boils down to the fact that I want someone else who's better than I am to write more books that are kind of like what I write so I can have something to read without having to write it and so I won't know how it ends when I read it. I don't know if the fact that there isn't a lot out there that falls into my particular niche is a good sign or a bad sign. On the up side, it means I own that niche. On the down side, it could mean that there's not really that much of a market for it.

I was up really late both nights of the con going to various room parties, where there were lots of good conversations and a game of what got dubbed "volleyboob" (don't ask, please).

Now I'm actually looking forward to getting home and getting back to work. But first I guess I'd better get packed and on the road so I can hit Dallas before rush hour. And then I have Doctor Who and Robin Hood to catch up on. I think other than this post, today counts as a vacation day (though I suppose the drive time counts as work because it's transit time from a business-related event, and I was doing more than full-time "work" all weekend).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Note from ApolloCon

Well, looks like all my ambitions about posting from ApolloCon and having photos thanks to my nifty new digital camera were overly optimistic, as I was too busy doing the con to talk about the con, and the camera never came out. Ah, well, doing the con is the priority, right?

And right now I'm very, very glad I decided to stay that extra night, as I'm suddenly getting tired. I've been up rather late two nights in a row, then got up earlier than I needed to because the brain woke up (earlier even than normal), and I believe it's catching up with me now that I'm done with panels. I'll be at the Dead Dog party in a little while, and wouldn't miss that as the con suite food has been amazing, and then I suspect I will curl up in bed with a book and the TV on and chill until I need to leave in the morning.

I've had a lot of fun and will post a more complete update later.

In other news, I'm the centerfold girl in the Nebula Awards issue of Locus. Well, actually it's just a couple of little photos in the Nebula spread, but both of them are near the fold, and in one of them I'm wearing that slinky evening dress and doing a silly "model" type voguish pose. I didn't realize the person taking pictures was taking them for Locus and goofed off a little. So the result is very much "centerfold in Locus." I guess there are worse things than having a nice, sexy photo with my name (even spelled correctly) in a major industry magazine. At WorldCon, I'll be happy to sign copies of my photo spread. :-)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Reading Habits

I'm about to head off to ApolloCon, and as usual am running behind my estimated time of departure. If you're going, at my reading there may be a world premiere sneak preview of The Book In Search of a Good Home, and you'll be the first person other than my mom and my agent to hear anything about it. You'll even be ahead of the editors.

Now, before I head out, I've seen this going around, as apparently it's Celebrate Reading Month, so I leave you with a glimpse into a snapshot of my reading habits.

The Big Read, an initiative by the National Endowment for the Arts, has estimated that the average adult has only read 6 of the top 100 books they've printed. How do you do?

1) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Underline the books you LOVE.

Though I wonder how they came up with this list, I'm reasonably impressed by it because it's not all snooty high literature and has a decent mix of classics and recent books (though it's pretty weak on genre fiction). I seem to have done okay with a good variety of books I've read, and I'm kind of proud that very few of the classic/literary type works were things I read for class, or if I did, I had already read them on my own or ended up re-reading them on my own later. There were a few cases where they had several books by an author listed, and although I'd read a lot by that author, I hadn't read the ones listed. Making the "loved" determination was hard. I went with the definition of wanting to re-read it for the enjoyment of it (thus, the Bible didn't make the "loved" list because while I do re-read it, it's for purposes other than pleasure reading).

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (I loved it when I was 11, but was less enthralled when I re-read it in my early 20s)
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (maybe partial credit here because I read an abridged kids' version)
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (I've made decent progress, but there are a lot of sonnets)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier (it's on the TBR mountain)
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (I have tried repeatedly, but have never made it past chapter one due to extreme dislike of the main character. I know she grows, but I still want to slap that bitch.)
22The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (I liked it far more than I expected to, but not sure yet if it would make the "love" list)
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens (another one where I read an abridged kids' edition)
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins (I just bought this at the library sale. It's on my fall reading list)
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy (I know he's depressing, but I strangely find Hardy compulsively readable)
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (I honestly don't remember if I've read this one. I went through a Dumas phase in high school, and the plots of his novels do kind of blur)
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (another condensed children's version)
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (I've started it a few times, skimmed parts of it, but some day I aim to finish it. Really. It's a mission.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Goes to the Island

There really is something magical about rain when it comes to my creativity. I've spent the last three days struggling to plot a sequel to The Book In Search of a Good Home and have trashed every effort. Then last night around nine, I thought I heard a rumble in the distance and went out onto the porch to find out what it was. It was thunder, and as I was standing on the porch, it started raining and suddenly got cooler. I went inside, opened the windows so I could hear the rain, and scribbled out an entire outline for the book, with all kinds of ideas coming fast and furious. Unfortunately, the down side to a late-night burst of creativity is that I can't turn off my brain to go to sleep, and my brain also likes to use that energy to solve various problems in my life. So at one in the morning I was wide awake and mentally composing a politely worded note to someone I have business dealings with, explaining the problems I'm having with the way they do business. I hadn't even realized how upset I was about the situation, and I've been just saying that it's okay and I understand because I like to be easy to work with, but now I've realized I'm nearing a breaking point and it's better for me to be up front with the fact that I can't and won't do business that way and give the other person a chance to change than for me to just get fed up and sever the relationship because I can't take it anymore. Getting a good mad on about something I hadn't realized I was that angry about is not conducive to getting to sleep. I may be a zombie today.

So it's probably good that it's a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit day and I don't have to think of a coherent post on my own. Jenny O'Connell is back with two new books that make me want to go on vacation. Both are set on Martha's Vineyard during the summer and involve the differences between the locals who live on the island year-round and the tourists who come for the summer.

In LOCAL GIRLS, friendships are in danger of ending with the summer. Kendra and Mona are best friends, local girls who spend their summers catering to rich tourists and the rest of the year chafing against small-town life. Then Mona's mom marries one of the island's rich summer visitors, and Mona joins the world of the Boston elite, leaving Kendra and Martha's Vineyard behind. When Mona returns the following summer, everything is different.

Unlike his sister, Mona's twin brother Henry hasn't changed. He's spending his summer the way he always has: with long, quiet hours fishing. Early mornings before work become special for Kendra as she starts sharing them with Henry, hoping he can help her figure Mona out. Then Kendra hatches a plan to prove she's Mona's one true friend: uncover the identity of the twins' birth father, a question that has always obsessed Mona. And so she begins to unravel the seventeen-year-old mystery of the summer boy who charmed Mona's mother. But it may prove to be a puzzle better left unsolved--as what she is about to discover will change their lives forever...

In RICH BOYS, Winnie jumps at the chance to babysit for a wealthy summer family and earn some extra money—but soon learns that life in the Barclay’s beautiful vacation home isn’t as perfect as it appears. And what was supposed to be a carefree summer quickly becomes more complicated than she ever thought possible.

Now, the interview:
What was the inspiration behind these books?
The books take place on Martha's Vineyard, so first and foremost summer was the greatest inspiration. I've always felt like summer is a time when anything can happen, it's all about possibility. LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS have very different plots, but they're both about the opportunities and changes summer brings.

You've said Martha's Vineyard is one of your favorite places. Do you see yourself as more one of the "local girls" or a "rich visitor"?
Well, I'm definitely not a local girl, because I only go to the island in the summer, but I'd like to think I have a local girl's mentality - I hate crowds, would rather sit on a deserted beach than one filled with kids and activity, and after ten years of going there I'm over buying souvenirs every time I step onto Main Street. I actually spent some time on the island in October, after the summer crush, and it was so nice - like a normal place that just happened to be stunning.

If someone wanted to plan a trip to Martha's Vineyard, what would you suggest they do and see to get the best experience?
There are six towns on the Vineyard and each one has its own personality. From preppy and sort of cosmopolitan (Edgartown) to laid back and more earthy (Chilmark). LOCAL GIRLS and RICH BOYS take place in Edgartown, but the next book takes place in Chilmark. They're totally different back drops for stories. I'd tell someone to make sure they explored the whole island to find the place that fits them.

If you were going to have a summer job (other than as a writer) at Martha's Vineyard, what would you want to do?
Oh, good question because the characters' choices of summer jobs actually tell a lot about them (Kendra works at the Willow Inn and Winnie works at a camp and babysits). I've never waitressed. I don't like cold water, so lifeguard is out. I love ice cream, but if I scooped that all summer I'd end up the shape of a beach ball. Is unemployed a summer job? Because just hanging out on the beach sounds good to me.

What are you reading now?
I just started Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.

What are you working on now?
The third book in the Island Summer series.

For more info, visit Jenny's web site. Or visit her blog for a chance to win an Island Summer t-shirt. You can get Local Girls and Rich Boys at Amazon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Scattershot Wednesday

Warning: I'm not feeling very focused today, so this will be a scattered post.

Another note to self: Tuesday morning is a bad time to shop. That seems to be when stores re-stock, and there were more shopping carts full of stuff being taken off or put on shelves than there were shopping carts of actual shoppers. Plus, most of the things I wanted were out of stock.

On the up side, I don't recall a single screaming toddler. Meanwhile, Target's book selection continues to baffle me. They seem to have the "Bookmarked" rack, where books are only there for a month, and half that time they're out of stock because they only put out a few copies of each book at a time, then when those sell, the shelf sits empty for a week, and then at the end of the month, those books are gone forever. And then there's the regular book shelf, where they've had the same books for years. I was planning to buy a book to take for my trip to Houston this weekend, and the one I wanted was a "Bookmarked" book and was gone, and then I'd read everything that looked even remotely interesting on the regular shelves. I'm somewhat tempted to stick a colored Post-It to the inside back cover of the back book on the shelf for some of those books and keep checking to see if those books they keep in stock really are continuously selling or if the same books have been sitting there all this time. I did find that the library has just got the book I wanted to buy and now I'm on the waiting list (it's still "under staff review"), and I have plenty of books in the To Be Read mountain to take with me.

Speaking of which, since I've had some questions about it, I am going to ApolloCon in Houston this weekend (the con where you don't dare say that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do something in the running of the con, since it's very likely a rocket scientist doing it, and where half the cars in the con hotel parking lot seem to have "My other car is a space shuttle" bumper stickers). I'm treating this weekend as a kind of mini mid-summer vacation. I'm not too heavily programmed, and my programming doesn't start until Saturday afternoon, so I'm arriving on Friday and will be able to relax, enjoy myself and attend parties that day, and then since I really like that hotel, I'm staying over until Monday so I don't have to worry about being alert enough to drive home on Sunday. That means I can stay up late Saturday night, do my Sunday panels, and then kick back Sunday evening with a good book before making a leisurely departure on Monday. On Saturday, I have a reading, an autographing and a "kaffeeklatsch," though in my case it will have to be a "teeklatsch" (if I remember my German correctly) as I don't do coffee. The extra night is a bit of a splurge, since it also means I can't carpool with any of the other folk coming from Dallas, but since I never manage to take any of those vacations I keep talking about, this is the next best thing, and I'd like to come home from a con without being dead tired. Not to mention being able to stay up late without that nagging sense that I really should be getting some rest because I have a long drive ahead of me.

There must have been a "realities of the publishing industry" current in the air yesterday, as not only did I post on why publishers do (or don't) want subsequent books in a series, but Jeaniene Frost also posted about how authors get paid. No, we're not all rich. And, yes, those few cents per copy do make a difference because not only does it eventually add up to maybe earning out the advance, but that's also part of how publishers calculate whether or not they'll buy another book. I'm lucky in that, so far, I've been able to make a living as an author, but that's mostly because I had a big nest-egg cushion from careful savings over the years before I was kicked out of the rat race, because I still have a steady freelance project so I have some monthly income, and because I've had a lot of foreign sales on my books (I couldn't live on my US sales alone). Plus, I'm extremely frugal, live a very low-key lifestyle and don't have any debts other than my mortgage. I still don't earn as much money as an author as I did even when I was working 3/4 time at my old job, but I'm much, much happier. I'd rather eat lots of dried beans, get my books from the library and buy my clothes at Target than have a regular office job.

My summer dance class is now half over, but the fall session class will be on a night I can go (though it will require VCR programming), so I think I may continue it. I can feel a difference in my legs, and I think the muscles around my bad knee are getting stronger so the knee is more stable, There are some things in ballet I can't do, but after doing the ballet, I can now go down stairs without holding onto the hand rail, and I couldn't before because the knee wasn't strong enough to control that motion. They're also doing a musical theater program for the fall for kids, and when I said something about how that's something I would have loved as a kid, the teacher said I should do it, and I could go in the oldest class, which is 13 and up. But I'm not sure I want to be the weirdo grown-up in a class of teens with pushy stage moms. And I suspect that with the dance class and choir, one more class might make me feel over-programmed, and I'll have a freak-out. I have thought about taking the acting class at the community college, as that relates a lot to writing, and I do use some acting techniques for character development, so I kind of want to explore that a little more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Supporting a Series

My productivity has been fluctuating wildly lately. Last Thursday, I was a machine. But I must have used up all my brainpower because Friday I was practically useless. It was pretty much an ADD day, where I couldn't focus on any one project for more than a few minutes. Fortunately, I had three projects to work on, so as soon as I got bored with one and found my attention straying, I'd switch to another one. I made some progress on all three, but not very much on any one. Then Saturday I got all but one of them done and got a good portion done on that one. Sunday I try not to work, and I was out pretty much all day. Then Monday that killer headache hit like a Texas thunderstorm: it loomed for a while, then hit with a sudden, devastating fury, blew over in about an hour, but left everything reeling and unsettled. Anything that required too much focus or concentration threatened to trigger another round, so I just tried to deal with what I could and didn't try to push myself to think too hard.

I've been trying to deal with my reader e-mail off and on, and based on the standard questions I've been getting, I guess it's time for another "how you can help" post. The reason for no book 5 really boils down to spreadsheets and equations and isn't an editorial decision. For the most part, the decision of whether or not to publish a book isn't a matter of how good the book is, though the editors select the books to propose for publication based on quality (and the editor I had at the time loved the proposal for book 5). The real decision is based on whether they think the book will make money. They have all kinds of formulas for determining that. For a new author without a track record, they have to guess based on how comparable books have performed. But for an author with published books, they just look at the sales numbers, and based on trends, they project how the next one will do. They don't really care how much people want a fifth book. They way they determine potential demand for that book is by looking at how the third and fourth books sell, especially in comparison to the previous books. It's a difficult catch-up race, since that first book is selling about the same number of copies every year as it sold the first year of release. It's just plugging away steadily, and it has a two-year head start on book three.

So, how do we make book five happen? The obvious thing to do is buy the books and get other people you've hooked on the series to buy the newer books. Check back in with people and make sure they know there are more books available. Remember that only new book sales count. Used bookstore sales are utterly invisible to the publishing industry.

If you can't afford to buy new books (and I totally understand, as I'm in the same boat at the moment), request them at your library. Library sales are very significant. In fact, if every public library system in the country bought just one copy of books three and four, we'd probably get book five because they'd have to go back to print and the sales would surge. Plus, the book being in the library is like an advertisement -- people see it, so it's familiar, and they're more likely to notice it in a bookstore, and since the library makes you give the books back, if people who check it out love the book, they might then buy a keeper copy. Most of my book purchases are that way these days, both because of finances and because of clutter. I only want to buy books that I know I love and will want to re-read, so I'm mostly buying keeper copies of books I read from the library and need to own. Don't forget high school and college libraries. That's another big market. If you're a student, request the book at your school library.

If you're trying to buy the book at a bookstore and they don't have it, ask for it. Most bookstores will special order a book for you at the same cost you'd pay if they had it on the shelf. Plus, if you ask for it, that makes the bookseller more aware of it, and if enough copies are special ordered, the bookseller may make a point of ordering copies to stock. That increases the number of people who can find it by browsing.

Post reviews at Amazon and B&N or other online book discussion places. I think the number of reviews has more of an impact than the rating or content of the reviews -- as long as they aren't all bad. If there are 80 reviews for a book, no matter what the rating is, that means more to me as a reader making a book purchase decision than if there are five five-star reviews. A lot of reviews means people care enough to talk about it, one way or another.

Talk about the books in relevant forums, message boards, blogs, etc. Mention in your blog, or recommend if other people ask for reading suggestions in their blogs or on message boards.

Read the books in public. It's peer pressure in action!

And these things work on any book, author or series you want to support. If you like the first book of a series, it's important to keep doing these things for subsequent books if you want the series to continue to the end the author has planned. The cool thing is that with books, you really do have a lot of power as a consumer because every book you buy and every book purchase you influence gets counted. It's not like trying to get the Fox network to keep showing a series you like beyond the first three episodes, where even if you get a hundred people to watch, it doesn't count unless some of them are being measured for ratings.

I am still plugging away at doing my part. I've written articles for writing magazines, I'm speaking at conventions, I hand out bookmarks, and I'm still open for guest blogs or blog interviews. I've found a couple of books on marketing that I've got on reserve at the library, so I'll see if I can get more ideas there. For the most part, though, I'm trying to focus on writing right now. I need the income, I want to get something else out there, and if I can make something else successful, that raises the profile of everything else I've done. And then there's that film option, if anything comes of it ...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Finding Serenity (all over again)

Note to self: Do not go the library around 11 a.m. on Monday. That's when the toddler "Mommy and Me" story time seems to be letting out, and the library is full of screaming, whining toddlers. Not that I begrudge the idea of this program. I think it's a great idea to instill a love of books, and I fully support it. I just don't want to be there when I'll be surrounded by about 20 two-year-olds, all screaming, "Moooommmmmyyyyy!" I now have a headache. And then I got home to realize I don't have much of anything in the house to eat for lunch. I guess I need to go grocery shopping, but I'll be out of town this weekend, so there's not much point in stocking up. I suppose I could have had a sandwich at the library cafe, but then there was a very high risk of being surrounded by toddlers whining about wanting cookies. You know, maybe they should have teen summer sessions at the library that would coincide with the toddler group's session finishing. It might drastically cut the teen pregnancy rate.

I did go to the Can't Stop the Serenity event yesterday, and I did actually talk to Tim Minear. It turned out that they had it set up so that as you got checked in, you filed past his autograph table on your way to get in line for seating. I didn't know they'd have it that formalized, so I hadn't brought anything to be autographed, but at least since it was that formal, there was a structure in place for approaching him and I didn't have to worry about working up the courage to go over and talk to him in a mingling environment (in fact, while I was waiting in the lobby for the people I was meeting up with, I realized after a while that he was standing pretty much next to me, and then of course I totally panicked and couldn't think of anything to say, so I didn't even try). Fortunately, one of my friends was right in front of me in the autograph line, which helped as a bit of an ice breaker, because I could sort of chat with him through her before it was my turn, and she was far more coherent than I could be, introducing us as local authors while I laughed too loud and generally was a total idiot. I'm sure he was wondering how I managed to string two words together, let alone a whole book. When it was my turn, I mentioned the Angel newsgroup, and we got all nostalgic for Usenet. I had him sign the back of my badge, and he signed it to his "Angel newsgroup homey." He was also highly entertaining in his Q&A.

Then it was one of the better Serenity screenings I've been to. The first one was the rough cut with a temp soundtrack. Then the LA premiere had some sound issues, as did the theater where I saw it on opening day. It was okay the next couple of times I saw it in the theater, but this one had a really amazing sound system that got the most out of it (I'm just not enthralled with the movie grill concept because every time the wait staff come and go, the opening doors cast light on the screen and distort the picture for a while). And, you know, it's a really good movie. It's not so much that I've forgotten it was a good movie as it is that sometimes the source material gets forgotten in all the whirl of other Browncoat stuff. I've met so many people through Firefly fandom online and in person, and so much has spun off from that, that occasionally I almost forget that, yeah, there was a TV show and a movie behind it all, and then the show and the movie get so entwined with all the positive experiences I associate with them that I lose track of how much I really like the show and how much it's just all happy fun time.

But it's been a while since I've seen the movie or thought much about the show, and most of my Browncoat-formed friendships have developed to be about so much more, so I think this may have been one of the first times I just watched the movie as a movie, and I think that even if I didn't have all the positive baggage surrounding it, I'd still love this movie. It's a truly good movie that takes bigger risks than this sort of thing usually does, and it scratches all the same itches that the original Star Wars movies did that the prequels didn't. It appeals to whatever it is in me that went nuts over the original Star Wars back in 1977, but on a mature level (as I don't think I'd have loved Serenity when I was nine). Then again, as I like to say, Firefly was essentially the original Star Wars from Han Solo's point of view: a smuggling ship captain gets more than he bargained for when he takes on two new passengers -- a mysterious old man and a young man on a desperate mission to save his sister. Plus, the spaceships looked used instead of new and shiny (something that was praised a lot in the original movies and totally forgotten in the prequels).

A few months ago I was talking about that writing book that said you get better stories when the hero not only has a psychological need -- something he needs to fix in order to be the person he should be -- but also a moral need -- some way that his behavior is hurting people around him. I realized while watching Serenity that Mal very much has a moral need. He's doing what he thinks is right to take care of his crew, but in doing so he's tearing his crew apart. And a lot of that stems from his psychological need, which is that he doesn't let himself believe in anything. I may have to take the outline/checklist from this book and watch Serenity with that in mind to see how it works. And I need to do some refreshing on Firefly since I'm on the Firefly panel at WorldCon. And I guess that's something I should have mentioned to Tim Minear. Duh.

And now I think I need to go lie down in a dark room as that headache has suddenly exploded. I don't think I can entirely blame the toddlers, but they do deserve partial credit.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Missing: The Bermuda Triangle

I wrote almost an entire synopsis for the Wacky New Idea yesterday. I just need an ending and to figure out what the big, climactic event leading to the end will be. Some books, I have to work really hard to come up with a plot that works, but then there are situations like this one where it mostly just all comes together, and then I realize that I've instinctively structured it the way I usually struggle to structure plots, with turning points and climaxes at all the right places. And then I wrote more than 4,000 words of The New Project. I need to do some tinkering and a little research before I plunge ahead, as I didn't stop while I was working to do minor things like name characters who appeared without warning. I just typed XXX and went on. I think this book is working, so it may actually go somewhere.

WGN has started showing WKRP in Cincinnati from the beginning on Sunday nights, and it's amazing how well that show holds up. It's very much a product of its time, but now it works as a period piece, I think because there's something universal about the characters and the humor that transcends the situation. You could almost imagine that it was made in the present and was only about a radio station in the 1970s making the transition to rock-and-roll, except then it would probably be more obnoxiously "period" and self-conscious about being so very 70s than it is. It's also slightly revived my girlhood crush on Gary Sandy/Andy Travis (and I saw Gary Sandy on stage a few years ago playing the sheriff in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and he hasn't aged too badly. He can still wear those really tight jeans).

A line in of the episodes they showed Sunday reminded me of something I've been wondering for a while: Whatever happened to the Bermuda Triangle? Did it disappear into the Bermuda Triangle?

I don't know if it was just something I was personally fascinated with as a kid, so I noticed everything about it, but in the 1970s, the Bermuda Triangle was a staple of entertainment. There were theatrical movies about it. There seemed to be a TV Movie of the Week about it at least once a month. There were TV series about people who ended up in some mystical world when they got lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Almost any TV series involving science fiction or the supernatural had at least one episode involving the Bermuda Triangle, and if I'm not mistaken, some of the origin stories for superheroes in TV versions were adjusted so that the Bermuda Triangle played a role (like the hero's mysterious home was hidden in the Bermuda Triangle). Even non-supernatural shows (like WKRP) made references to it. Naturally, it was a staple of the tabloid press, which was full of theories about alien activity, alien abductions and even the lost continent of Atlantis being in the Triangle. It was a major part of the public consciousness, and anything that went missing might be said to have vanished into the Bermuda Triangle.

But how long as it been since we've heard about the Bermuda Triangle (other than in reruns of a 1970s TV series)? With all the truly awful monster-type movies on the Sci Fi Channel on Saturday night, have they done a Bermuda Triangle one? (It's possible that they have and I missed it, as I'm not strong enough to survive those movies.) I guess the Supernatural boys haven't had to investigate it, as you can't get there in an Impala, but I don't recall it being mentioned anywhere. The tabloid press is now more celebrity focused, so I guess we wouldn't hear about the Bermuda Triangle unless Britney, Lindsay or Paris disappeared there (pretty please?). You'd think with the popularity of stories about paranoia and government cover-ups, the Triangle would make good material. Maybe I'll have to come up with a story to revive it.

I guess it's a mystery about a mystery. If you've seen the Bermuda Triangle (or a recent reference to it), please report.

In other news, Sci Fi has adjusted its Friday line-up. After two episodes, Charlie Jade has been moved to 3 a.m. on Mondays (not sure what time zone -- I'll have to check the digital cable guide). I wasn't madly in love, but I was intrigued. I can work the VCR, but my concern is that this isn't something that would be good for someone who's awake at 3 a.m. on a Monday to happen to stumble across. That could have some serious impact on the brain. Instead, they'll be repeating the previous week's episode of Doctor Who in that slot. Normally, I wouldn't think that's such a great idea, but since I'll be out of town on Fridays a few times, it's a bit of a relief because even in the event of VCR failure, I'll still get to see the episode the following week.

In book news, I saw in the paper this morning that Tasha Tudor has died. I think she illustrated half the books I read as a kid. I had no idea she was such a fascinating person. It seems she rather earnestly lived a 19th century lifestyle for much of her life. Now I want to go flip through my copy of The Secret Garden.

There's also a new book blog in town, one that seems like it will have some pretty in-depth stuff from authors in a variety of genres. I'm all for anything that leads to more talking about books, so if you're into that sort of thing too, it's The Book Roast.

I'm still trying to figure out what to do with The Stealth Geek. I've got the FAQ up as a placeholder, but I need to come up with a mission statement and plan, whether to do it as a site for geek news (like the Internet needs another one), a place to discuss sf/f books, movies and TV, or maybe try to put together a group blog for sf/f authors.

This weekend's big event: the Can't Stop the Serenity screening, which I'm finally in town for. Yay! And Tim Minear will be there. I used to occasionally chat with him on the Angel newsgroup back in the day. We'll see if I get the opportunity or the nerve to speak to him in person.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Book Report: The Essence of Chick Lit

I've now written the first chapter and part of the second chapter of The New Project. Where I left off is a perfect chapter cliffhanger, but it's only five pages into the second chapter. There's a scene I've realized I need to add before it that might add a few pages, and then a bit more detailed description might add another page. I'm still not sure if that's too short for a chapter. I tend to be very regimented about chapter length in the first draft, aiming at 20-page chapters in manuscript format, but the book I'm reading now does chapter breaks instead of scene breaks, so each scene is its own chapter, and there are some two-page chapters. Maybe a mix of chapter lengths won't kill me. I'm terrible about wanting to rebel against externally imposed rules, but practically being a Nazi about my own weird little "rules" that only I care about.

Meanwhile, the law that the more you exercise your creativity, the more creative you become is still in place. As soon as I started seriously working on The New Project, a silly little idea floating in the back of my head that started as a wacky, totally unrealistic hypothetical example I was going to use in a discussion (but that I ended up not using because I decided it was a pretty good idea) fleshed itself out entirely just as I was trying to fall asleep last night. It's in roughly the same genre as The Book In Search Of A Good Home (as in, it would sell to the same editors), so I'm pondering writing up a quick synopsis in case my agent wants to try to sell it as a two-book deal. I have a sequel in mind for The Book In Search Of A Good Home, but this idea is currently a lot more vivid to me than the sequel, and it might not hurt to have a mix of things out there instead of putting all my eggs in the basket of a single series (as I learned the hard way).

On Tuesday when I was ranting about things I haven't liked about recent chick lit, it seems I totally forgot to talk about the two books I read recently that I liked and that made me realize what was bothering me. I think they both captured the essence of what I've liked about the genre without falling into the so-often-mocked cliches. I think the best chick lit at heart is a female coming-of-age story, which may be why the genre is so looked-down-upon, since female experiences are so often trivialized in cultural expression. If it's about stereotypically female stuff, like falling in love or raising a family, it's considered meaningless fluff (unless a baby dies, and then it's Literature). It's only Big and Important if it involves stereotypically male stuff like going to war or going to sea. The heroic journey is essentially about separation from society so the hero can find out who he really is. In male coming-of-age stories that tends to involve going to war or being kidnapped by pirates, but chick lit still fits that theme and structure because it's about a woman building her own life and identity separate from her birth family and figuring out who she really is and what she really wants once all those decisions are truly hers to make. I think in the recent backlash and market bust authors and publishers have been far too eager to distance themselves from everything traditionally associated with chick lit, but they've lost sight of that core essence that made it resonate, so some of the supposedly deeper, edgier stories being published now actually have less universal resonance than the supposedly shallow, cliched classic stories.

But I digress, and I can geek out about that topic for centuries.

The first book I read was actually one from the classic era, published in the US in 2002 -- One-Hit Wonder by Lisa Jewell. It fits that core coming-of-age theme into an unusual plot. Ana's much-older, estranged sister was a one-hit wonder pop star in the 80s, but has faded into obscurity. When she dies unexpectedly, Ana has to go clear out her apartment and settle her affairs, and when she does so, she learns that her sister's life was nothing like what she thought -- and she finds a few things that make no sense. She tracks down her sister's friends, who also knew nothing of those odd little mysteries, and together they set out to solve the mysteries of what went wrong in the sister's life and what she's been doing about it. Along the way, Ana starts to figure out who she really is and question some of the assumptions her family made. So, no shoe obsession, bad boss, gay best friend cliches, but it's still that coming-of-age story. Because of the mystery structure, it was a real page-turner. I'd read some of Jewell's other books, but I like this one best. She can have a habit of relying far too heavily on alcohol and drug use to further the plot, and that wasn't so much the case here. For Doctor Who fans, Billie Piper gets name-checked, but in her pop princess persona, as this was years before she showed up as Rose.

Then there was Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella -- that library wait list was shorter than I thought it would be. Oddly, I'm still waiting on a book where I was supposedly next in line, but I was number fifteen for this one and got it much faster. And Mom even got to it first, from their local library system. This one also had the classic chick lit essence within a mystery-like structure. One night, Lexi is out with her friends, and then she falls and hits her head. She wakes up in the hospital -- only she's not waking up after that accident. It's three years later, and she was injured in an entirely different accident she doesn't remember. She's lost three years of her life, and in those three years, things seem to have changed radically. She's had an extreme life makeover, with a better body, straighter teeth, better hair, a better job and a wealthy husband. On the other hand, her old friends all hate her. She can't figure out what happened to her, why, or how to get her in this situation, and it doesn't help that she can't entirely trust what people say to her, since they seem to be relying on her memory loss to paint those missing years to their advantage. While trying to fill in those missing years, she has to figure out who she really is and what's important to her. It's funny that most of Kinsella's non-Shopaholic books are about realizing that material things and the usual markers of success aren't what's important in life, almost like she'd finding some kind of karmic balance to make up for the shallow, silly materialism of the Shopaholic books (which I'm too frugal and practical to enjoy). I just about stayed up all night finishing this one, and it actually made me think about my own choices and priorities. It's not quite as funny as The Undomestic Goddess, but it was a real page-turner.

While I've been reading these, I've also been on a strange Star Wars kick, reading the tie-in novels I've found in the library, but I think that's fodder for another rant.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Conference Tips

Well, I got half of chapter one written, but I think I've found my groove, and I found myself daydreaming the next few scenes, which is good. But since I had my dance class last night, I didn't have the extra writing time, and I pretty much got home, hit the shower and collapsed (though the class was tons of fun).

Now, since it's writing post time, and since there seem to be a lot of writing conferences and various fan-oriented conventions with writing components coming up in the next few months, I thought I'd offer my handy-dandy guide to making a positive impression at a conference. This may be old news to any veterans out there, so you can just take a nap or tell the newbies you know to come check this out. Then again, a little reminder doesn't hurt.

In no particular order:
1) Make sure you have a sense of what the event is primarily about and what's expected or acceptable behavior there.
A writing conference tends to be more professionally oriented, with the assumption that everyone attending has some hope of writing professionally or being published, so it works more like a business meeting (though there may be some fannish-type events, like a booksigning). Fan-oriented conventions may have events geared toward writing as a craft or publishing as a business, but that's mixed among more events that are just for fun. Therefore, if you're at a writing conference, even if your favorite author of vampire books is the keynote speaker, you probably don't want to wear your fangs and cape, while costumes aren't entirely out of place at a fan convention (though I would suggest that if you're trying to make professional contacts in the publishing world, you might want to leave your Klingon outfit or Stormtrooper uniform for just the masquerade or other costume events and not wear it to editor panels).

2) Prepare an elevator pitch about yourself, your work in general or a particular book you want to promote -- about 30 seconds worth of the key selling points.
The "elevator pitch" gets its name from the idea that if you found yourself riding an elevator with someone you really wanted to reach, you'd need something to say in the amount of time it takes to go to the next floor to get that person to want to know more. You will be surprised at how often during a conference you'll use this elevator pitch. Especially at a writing conference, the first question asked when you meet someone is, "What do you write?" You need to be prepared to answer, but keep it short because 30 seconds of full attention is about all you can expect of someone who has only just met you and who is in a pretty busy and chaotic environment. Don't waste the 30 seconds hemming and hawing and mumbling, but don't waste the opportunity by starting with the epic backstory of your main character before getting to the main gist of the plot five minutes later after your audience has lost interest and gone into a coma. Think TV Guide listing -- just one or two sentences. If the person you're talking to is interested, they'll ask questions, and then you can have a conversation.

3) Have some business cards -- your name, e-mail and web site or blog address, possibly the name of your book.
That makes it easier to swap contact info, and you don't have to worry about people reading your handwriting (or their own) later. You can get these printed pretty cheaply. Be careful about the ones you print yourself on your laser printer. Laser printer ink tends to react with plastic and rub off, so if someone sticks a card in a plastic card case, it may become unreadable.

4) When you get a business card from someone, as soon as possible after the encounter, write a note to yourself about the context in which you met the person on the back.
This will be very helpful when you get an e-mail and don't recognize the name, or when you see something about that person and want to make contact. You will look brilliant if you can then refer to the conversation you had in the lobby bar, or whatever. You may think you'll remember it, but it's amazing how those memories slip away once you're home.

5) Remember that editors, agents and published authors are human beings, too, and they have lives beyond the publishing world.
This ties in to the Golden Rule of Networking: focus on what you can do for the other person rather than on what they can do for you. You're probably not going to have a productive encounter with someone if your entire focus is on getting them to read your manuscript. It may not seem like there's much an aspiring author can do for an editor, agent or big-name author, but just trying to think in those terms instead of having tunnel vision about what they can do for you will change your attitude and approach. It may be that what you can offer is allowing them to have a conversation where they can feel like a human being after they've been bombarded by people who only see them as manuscript-reading machines. Other things you could do: offer to take their picture with their client/author/editor; if they don't have a camera, offer to take one with yours and send it to them; help carry things to set up a workshop; bring water during a booksigning; show up for a panel discussion or workshop (especially if the room is fairly empty). You get the idea. Any of these will make you more memorable in a positive way than if you stalk them while trying to tell them every detail about your book. And do I even have to say no stalking? It's better to have one positive encounter than to make a pest of yourself.

6) Don't overschedule yourself. Leave room for spontaneity.
The first few conferences I went to, I was so determined to make the most of my investment that I very carefully went through the program book and picked what I thought would be the very best workshop or panel in each session, and I made sure I went to something in each session. I've since learned that I sometimes get far more out of those conversations that happen in the bar, the lobby or the con suite than I get out of formal sessions. Besides, the brain needs a break, and giving yourself some breathing space will make it easier to absorb information. On a related note, try going to at least one session that you think will be utterly useless for your career. I try to do that at every conference, and it usually ends up being the most useful session I go to because it makes me look at things from an entirely different angle.

7) This conference or convention is not critical to the future of your career.
Networking is good, and it can be helpful to meet an editor or agent in person before submitting, but you can sell without those personal contacts. The personal contact may move you up in the slush pile for a faster read or may get you a personalized letter if you get rejected, but it's still all about the book. If they wouldn't have bought the book without the personal contact, they're not going to buy it after meeting you. If they buy it, they probably would have bought it without meeting you. I'd done tons of networking and seemed to know half the publishing world, but I'd never met the agent I ended up signing with or the editor who bought my books. It is possible, however, to break your career through your behavior at a conference or convention if you demonstrate that you're likely to be a nightmare by being rude or pushy in an unpleasant way. My general convention behavior rule is to not say anything about another author, a book, an editor or agent that I wouldn't say to that person's face, or to the face of someone associated with the book or person. You never know who's listening.

If you've got an editor or agent appointment, you can find my advice on pitching in person here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chick Lit and Self Esteem

I didn't get all of The New Project plotted yesterday, but I've figured out enough to write the first three chapters or so, and from there I may have more ideas of where to go next with it. I will likely do a full rough draft (though possibly very, very rough) before trying to do a proposal because I want the proposal to really reflect what the book will be (and having something so good that publishers fight over it is part of my Grand Scheme For World Domination).

Plot has always been one of my struggles. I was usually good at coming up with interesting situations and fun characters, then didn't really know what should actually happen to those characters in those situations. Starting out writing category romance was good for me because there's such a specific plot structure, and I could figure out events to fit within that structure, which gave me a better sense of how to plot. Then I discovered the Hero's Journey framework, which totally makes sense to me. I was able to thoroughly plot my books, even before I wrote them. I wrote a synopsis for Enchanted, Inc. after writing three chapters, and the final book is very close to that synopsis. But since then, I've been getting further and further away from that, where I don't know for sure what the book is really about until I've written it, though I can't start writing without at least a rough outline. It's like I'm regressing. Or maybe my story ideas are becoming more complex, so they don't fit quite as readily into any structure. At any rate, today's goal is to write the first chapter. This is the fun/scary part of writing a book, when it's all pure potential.

Meanwhile, I mentioned when I was talking about my summer reading plans that I seem to have gone off chick lit lately. Since then I've read a couple of chick lit books, one very recent, one from the heyday, that I really liked, so it's a relief to find that I haven't soured on the entire genre. It's just that there's a lot being published now that I'm not crazy about (in other words, it's not me, it's them), and I think I've figured out what's been really bugging me. It's all about self-esteem. The recent books I've hated have all hinged on issues that demonstrated (whether the author meant to or not) that the heroines had pathologically low levels of self-esteem. The underdog heroine is a staple of chick lit, but ideally more in the Spunky Kid sense, where she's aware that she's not the prettiest or most talented, but she tries to keep her head high and overcome the situation. What I've seen is more of the "I'll just lie here in the gutter so the more worthy people can step on me without getting their feet dirty" variety.

There are two primary plots that seem to happen with these heroines, the "leaping to conclusions" plot and the "return of the lost love" plot. With the leaping to conclusions plot, the heroine is with a really great guy, but because of her horribly low self-esteem, she can't believe someone like him would really be into someone like her, so when a third party tells her that he's cheating on her (or cheating with her on someone else), she instantly believes them and breaks things off without discussing it or even explaining it (because she can't bear to hear him say he loves someone else). And then, of course, she finds out that the person who told her had their own agenda and it was all a lie -- something she might have learned in the first place if she'd even tried to talk to him. That's pretty much a book-meets-wall moment for me because there's no real coming back from that. Why would he take her back if she was so willing to believe he was a cheater that she didn't even do him the courtesy of verifying whatever she'd heard about him? And why would he want to be with someone whose self-esteem is so low that she can't believe he'd be into her in the first place? If he does take her back after she's realized she was lied to, then I have to wonder if he's on some kind of power/control kick, where he knows he'll always have the upper hand in the relationship, since she thinks she doesn't deserve him and she's having to atone for believing the worst about him earlier.

In the return of the lost love plot, the heroine has a pretty good life and is with someone who loves her and treats her well -- and then her bad-boy past (often first) love, who broke her heart when he dumped her, mistreated her in general, and left her in a downward spiral of despair that she's only just now starting to recover from, shows up, and she falls right under his spell again. It's actually painted as a real dilemma whether she should go with the bad boy who makes her whole body zing (even as he emotionally abuses her) or stay with the good guy. Her self-esteem is so low that she can't believe she really deserves the good guy and that she's willing to do anything to get the attention of the bad boy. It doesn't matter if he dumped her in a publicly humiliating way, slept with her sister and her best friend, stole her favorite CD, killed her puppy, burned down her house and drained her life savings. All he has to do is give her that look again, and she goes into "Yes, Master" zombie slave mode. Of course, she always ends up realizing that the good guy is the one for her, but, again, I wonder why he'd be bothered if she was so willing to rush off with the bad boy.

A related subset is the alcohol-fueled plot, where the heroine's response to any crisis is to have a drink or thirty, to the point she goes through a bottle of wine just reading her e-mail, and most of the major plot events happen because she's drunk enough to do things she wouldn't do otherwise. And yet the author doesn't seem to look at this as a problem. There's no "yikes! I'm drinking too much" realization. It's just a normal part of life to drink a couple of bottles of wine a day.

I somehow managed to get into a reading rut where every book I read had one or all of these plot elements. I don't know if that's what publishers are looking for, if that's what counts as "edgy," if the spunky kid underdog type heroine is considered cliche, or what. I guess this only matters to me as a reader now, as I'm not even trying to write chick lit. I'm full-on in fantasy for a while. But I do like reading these books, and it's getting harder to find chick lit books I can enjoy.

And, wow, it suddenly started raining, and it's so dark I may have to turn on a light in my office that has one wall of sliding glass doors and a skylight.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Project Transition Day

First, a couple of consumer reports-type public service announcements:
1) SFWA is not sponsoring a writing contest. Someone posted an announcement of one at Craigslist and some other places, but the organization is not involved, you will likely not win a cash prize, and your story will not be published by Random House. the Writer Beware blog has the details. This one's a scam, so stay away (and always check the organization's web site to get contest info if you see an announcement elsewhere about a contest being sponsored by an organization).

2) Some of you in fandom circles may have heard about FedCon in Dallas this weekend that turned out to be a total bust, where guests were advertised as confirmed and yet the con never actually made travel arrangements for them, and then the con was shut down mid-way through. I want to make sure there's no confusing this fiasco with FenCon in Dallas. The two events are entirely unrelated. FedCon (with a d in the middle) wasn't even run (and I use the term loosely) by Dallas people. They just used Dallas as a location because it was central and has a major airport. FenCon (with an n in the middle) is a Dallas fan-run convention that doesn't screw people over. The people who run it are all friends of mine, and I'm proud to be involved with it, so don't let rumors or talk of the fiasco scare you away from FenCon in October (when Dallas will be much more pleasant). (And, apparently, there are people getting the two cons mixed up, as FenCon committee members have been getting some nastygrams about how people will never come again.)

So, that bit of business done, today is sort of a project transition day for me. I need a new term for The Book That Will Not Die because it is truly done unless an editor wants revisions after buying it, and it's going out into the world this week (very likely today). So it's not "dead." I guess you could call it being born. I think it will now be The Book In Search Of A Good Home. Keep your fingers crossed that someone thinks my baby is pretty (because it would be nice to have some income this year).

Then today I will start serious work on The New Project. I've done my research and some of the preliminary brainstorming, but now I need to really focus on it. Today will probably still mostly be a pen-and-paper kind of day as I do some extensive character development and plotting. I had done some preliminary plotting, but I'm rethinking it, since there's a character who really gets me excited who I think will be the life of the book but who doesn't show up until the middle in my initial plot, and that seems like a waste. You don't want to delay bringing in your best character. Her becoming involved was supposed to be the big midpoint turning point, but I may need to find a way to bring her in earlier (maybe getting to her is a Test for the Tests, Enemies and Allies part of the story) and I need to find a new Ordeal event for the midpoint.

My weekend reading was a book I heard about just last week that sounded alarmingly similar to this idea, but it turned out to be wildly different, so that's good. Some people choose not to read similar-sounding books for fear of any spillover or accidental copying, but I seek them out so I can be sure my take is going to be different. If someone accuses you of similarities, it's nearly impossible to prove that you haven't read the book in question, so you may as well read it and then be conscious about steering your story in a different direction. The real worry is that you might pick up the other author's voice, but that just means you need to develop your own voice well enough that it sticks in your head and you need to read widely enough that you don't mirror any one author if you do happen to be influenced by the other voices.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

On the Rails

I didn't get around to posting Friday because I wanted to catch a reasonably early train, so I didn't have time before I left, and then once I got home I was utterly exhausted and just collapsed on the sofa for the rest of the evening.

I did learn that the published bus schedule has no relationship with reality. The bus from my transit center to the train station that was supposed to arrive five minutes after the train left actually arrived five minutes before the train. I don't know if it was late or early, and I wouldn't want to count on it being off-schedule enough to catch a train, but maybe one day when it isn't so hot (so in October or November) and I have no set schedule, I may just stick a book in my bag, buy a day pass on the bus behind my house and see where I can go in the system to see how it works.

The exact details of my mission will have to remain top secret, but part of the fun for me was taking lots of trains. I've always had a bit of a thing for trains, possibly because The Little Engine That Could was one of my favorite books as a child, and possibly because of the trolley on Mr. Rogers. Basically, I love streetcars, trolleys, trams, subways, els, trains and anything else that runs on rails. When I travel, I try to take public transportation instead of cabs, not just because I'm cheap but because riding trains is part of the fun.

Yesterday there was the big train:

That's the one that goes downtown. I like riding on the upper level where there's a great view.

Then there's the medium train (not such a great picture, but I took it as soon as I got off before it left again):

This is the one I ride to get around downtown, but it goes a lot of other places in the city. Depending on where in the system it is, it can be a streetcar, a subway or an el.

And then there's the small train:

This is the historic trolley line that goes to Uptown (I made a side trip to the Borders there). This car is Matilda, and she used to work in Melbourne, Australia, from the 1920s up to the 1980s, and then when she was retired she was about to be scrapped when Dallas snagged her and brought her here for restoration. She's also available for party charters, as the seat layout allows room for a buffet table. Maybe someday when I have the money and a suitable occasion, I'll throw a party on Matilda.

And now for the weekend.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Big Day In

I ended up changing my mind about going to the show and doing the big day out today, for reasons both practical and irrational. On the practical side, it's going to be hot today, really hot, and it would have involved a lot of walking and waiting outside. Plus, the priority was the location research, and due to various scheduling things, going to the show would have severely cut short the time I had to do research in the key location. And I've been working with my agent on some stuff to get The Book That Would Not Die (which now is about to be really born, so I guess it is "dead," but not in the usual sense, just in the sense that I'm through with it until an editor wants me to revise parts of it) ready to face the world, and for that I may need to be around the office today. Finally, it turns out there's an event downtown tomorrow that mirrors an event I've kind of planned for this book, so I can kill multiple research birds with one stone by going downtown for the event, then having plenty of free time for my main location research. On the irrational side, I suddenly had a bad combination of feeling overscheduled and feeling antsy. I've been going head-on all week, and I needed a day to catch my breath and collect my thoughts, but I also just didn't want to spend three hours sitting in a theater (as stiff as my legs are at the moment, I might not have been able to walk afterward).

On a slight tangent, word to the wise: no matter how much your muscles are aching, do not apply Ben-Gay right before bed. The menthol smell and the tingle will make you wide awake, even if you're tired. Actually, I'm not as sore as I was afraid I'd be, just a bit stiff. I'm thinking of hitting the swimming pool and hot tub today, and that should do the trick to really loosen me up, so by tomorrow I should be totally back to normal. And tonight maybe I can sleep.

I've discovered an odd little quirk with my library's reservation system: If you request a hold on a book that's on the shelf in the branch where you want to pick it up, nothing happens. This has happened to me twice, where I put a hold on, never get notified that they have it on hold for me, it's not on the hold shelf, and then when I go to the library, it's there on the usual shelf. I guess the result is the same if I can just check the book out, but the point of putting a hold on it is to make sure it's still there on the shelf when I get to the library. It's odd that I can request two books at the same time, one that's in-stock at my branch and one from another branch, and they'll call me to say the item I requested is in, usually about two days later, and they've managed to get a book all the way across town, but they haven't managed to walk over to the shelf, grab a book that's there, and then carry it twenty feet to the hold shelf. Yes, the book is there, so it's all the same, but there's nothing stopping anyone else from checking it out in the meantime, and I hate it when I check the online catalog, find that a book I want is there, and then go to the library that day, only to find out someone got to the book in the meantime.

I've also realized how few books I've bought this year (almost none other than at the library book sale). I think having a library two blocks away (that opened in the fall) has something to do with that. If I can walk two blocks to get immediate access to books, then that's far preferable to driving to a store to buy them. If it was a bookstore two blocks away and I had to drive to the library, then I imagine I'd buy a lot more books. So, note to the book industry: if you want to sell more books, open a bookstore within walking distance of me. Maybe we need more little neighborhood stores instead of a few superstores that are more scattered about.

Today's main work-related task: Start working on my "soundtrack" playlist for my next project and see what ideas that sparks. And maybe start answering e-mail.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

After the Dance

Wow, that dance class really kicked my derriere. If that's "beginning" then "advanced" must involve the Kirov. I could barely follow and keep up in spite of having taken ballet as a kid and again in college, and then doing the NYC Ballet workout DVD. I was able to figure out some of the steps by translating the French and then taking it literally. But it's exactly what I wanted it to be: a killer workout. I definitely was breathing hard and working up a sweat, and it may be my imagination, but I feel like my legs are already a little firmer. I'm not quite as sore today as I was afraid I'd be, given that I was already a bit sore and shaky when leaving the class. As soon as I got home, I did some pretty intense stretching, then took a hot shower, massaged my legs, and then rubbed them with Ben-Gay. Today I just have that kind of vague slight soreness that says I did a tough workout. I plan to walk to the library and then do a good yoga routine, and maybe I'll be mobile tomorrow (the second day is often when the real soreness hits). I'll try to do the ballet workout DVD a couple of times before the next class, and then maybe I'll be more able to keep up.

I do have trouble making my arms do something that's different from my legs. Outside a dance class, I'm generally pretty coordinated and graceful, as long as I'm not lost in la-la land, but I felt like such a klutz in class. However, I'm not the oldest in the class, I'm not the least experienced, and I'm not in the worst shape. I was the only one just wearing a leotard and tights without a skirt, shorts or sweatpants over them. I guess I looked like I had body confidence. But I got so hot in just the leotard and tights that I can't imagine putting anything over them.

I think most of the childhood obsessions that I pursued were inspired by books. I'd taken a "dance" class as a preschooler that amounted to wearing pretty costumes and twirling around -- more of a "creative movement" thing than real dance, but then when I was six I read a book about ballerinas, and suddenly I just had to take ballet. When we moved to a new place and the new school year started, I eagerly signed up for ballet class. And I hated it. Now I know that most of ballet class is essentially exercise to get your muscles to a point where they can do all the dance stuff, but when you're seven, you mostly want to twirl around on the floor to music. I don't know if the teacher explained the point of all the exercise or if it's even possible to explain that to seven-year-olds, but I was so disappointed that we never danced in dance class. All we ever did were leg lifts and plies. Now that I'm an adult, I want all that exercise and could take or leave the actual dancing part, though we did some of that last night. I think if we'd done even a little bit of the kind of center work we'd done in this class, I might have stuck with ballet a little longer as a kid. Then again, I might have read a book about something else and become obsessed, no matter what. I went from ballet to gymnastics, and then there was the horse phase (I read Black Beauty), though that didn't result in riding because there wasn't a place to take riding lessons without owning a horse (we did look).

On another topic, it's funny how much of a response I got to the mention of Gilbert. I had so many relationships like that as a kid, so that really resonates with me. I'd be hyper-competitive with a boy in school, but then that meant we also spent a lot of time together and it was this whole attraction/repulsion, push/pull thing going on. Sadly, none of mine ever grew into real romance, a la Anne and Gilbert (and I so need to get the first two miniseries on DVD. The third one Does Not Exist.). I may try to go to that show tomorrow. I had grand plans about catching the bus behind my house and not even driving, but it seems like the DART system is designed to keep people from using public transportation. I can catch a bus from my house to the transit center fine, and then it's a quick and easy connection to the bus that goes to the train station. But the buses that go to and from the train station are scheduled to arrive and depart five minutes before the train. So there's at least a 25-minute (sometimes longer) wait to catch the next train after the bus arrives, or to catch the next bus after the train arrives. The train itself is faster than driving downtown (especially at rush hour), but taking the bus to the train station means that a nine-mile trip takes an hour and a half (including waiting time). Then there's the fact that on the way home, I'd be cutting it close to catch the last bus back to my neighborhood, depending on how late the show runs. I could probably do the whole trip and just bring a book for the waiting if I had control of my schedule and could be sure I caught certain buses and trains, but without knowing the show running time and with that being late in the day, it's a bit risky. I think I'll drive to the train station and avoid the worst part of the drive while avoiding the worst part of the public transit route.

Now to the library before it gets too hot to walk.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Done! (Again. For now.)

I finished the revisions on The Book That Will Not Die last night. Now I'm just waiting to see if Mom spots any wacky typos or missing words before I ship it off to my agent so I can wait a month or so and then rewrite it again. I swear, I'll be rewriting this book for eternity. It's my fate. I even had a nightmare last night in which I was one of the characters in the book (although, strangely, this character was in the other main character's plot).

Now I plan to take a couple of days to switch mental gears and get caught up on my life, and then I'll get my head into the next project. My plan for today is to finally see the new Indiana Jones movie, since it's temporarily cool enough to walk to the theater. Then I've got my first dance class tonight. I've got some research reading I need to do for the new project tomorrow, and then Thursday I think I'll go downtown for a local research trip.

Speaking of which, have any of you other musical theater fans seen The Drowsy Chaperone? When it debuted on Broadway, it didn't really sound all that great (I know it won the Tony, but it didn't sound like something I'd enjoy), but the review of the touring production that's currently in Dallas was glowing (and they hated the New York production), and they've got some pretty big names in the cast, so I'm intrigued, and if I'm going to be downtown anyway, I could easily catch a bus over to the music hall and see the Thursday matinee (I dropped my season tickets this season because this is the only real show of the season, with the rest being mostly revue-type shows). I will admit that the thing that made me start considering this was finding out that one of the main roles is being played by Jonathan Crombie, who was Gilbert in the Anne of Green Gables miniseries. Big-time swoon. He and that relationship were pretty much my idea of romance (that scene on the bridge in the second series. Sigh). On the other hand, I have learned that it can be somewhat startling to see a former TV crush on stage if it's more than ten years after the crush was formed (though not always -- seeing John Schneider on stage around 20 years after the Dukes of Hazzard gave me a retroactive crush on whichever Duke cousin he played. The man is aging well and has a lovely voice). But still, Gilbert! In person! And he was just a teenager in the first miniseries, and I think he's about my age, so it would be appropriate aging instead of startling aging (I wouldn't want him to still look like a teenager). So, any thoughts on whether the show itself is worthwhile? It's reasonably expensive and would make this an all-day excursion, but I don't want to miss something that might be good.

And then I have a ton of plotting/brainstorming work to do before I plunge into the first draft next week.

Meanwhile, I've been getting the Bookscan figures on my books from my agent, and I've noticed some interesting patterns. My agent says these represent about half of all sales, which seems about right based on my royalty statements, but I imagine the ratios track. Enchanted, Inc. remains the best seller of the whole series, with the third book selling about half as many copies to-date as that first book, which is likely the reason they didn't want to do more books. If by the third book the sales are halved, then you can extrapolate that the fifth book would sell even fewer, so better to cut your losses. However, that third book sold more copies in its first year in print than the first book did (though fewer copies in the first year than the second book sold). But it's not quite on track to sell as many copies in its second year as the first book did, and there's little chance of it catching up. That first book seems to be The Book That Just Won't Quit, as it's still selling almost as many copies per week as the next two books. It's a little too early to know for sure how the new book is doing, as I only have numbers for the first month of release, but it's already sold more than half the total number of copies as the third book in just that month. It's already passed its peak sale time, but it does stand a chance of hitting that mark this year. I suspect that the people at the publisher just look at that total sales figure and notice that the third book sold half as many copies as the first book when they make decisions, without noticing that the first book is still selling so many copies per week that the newer books don't stand a chance of overcoming the head start. The issue seems to be, though, that all those people buying the first book don't seem to be getting the rest of the series, and that's why they don't think it's worthwhile to continue the series. So, if you're trying to find ways to make that fifth book happen, you need to not just get people hooked on the first book, but also make sure they pick up the rest.

And now it's Indy time.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Extracurricular Activities

I went this morning and signed up for that ballet class, so it looks like I really am going to make myself do it. Then I had to go get a new leotard and tights, as the ones I had I bought something like 19 years ago, and for some strange reason, the elastic and spandex had totally disintegrated. I must say that buying dancewear is bad for the ego. They haven't gone with the vanity sizing that prevails elsewhere in the clothing industry, for one thing. Thanks to vanity sizing, I've dropped two sizes in the past ten years while putting on about five pounds, so I'm used to having to buy the smallest of the small. Meanwhile, dancewear is also designed for the dancer's body. In other words, no curves. With my long torso and curves, and with the more standard sizing instead of vanity sizing, I suddenly found myself having to buy a size large leotard. The mediums kind of worked, but the one that didn't pull up and down to be very low cut in the front and very French-cut in the legs was the large, so I went with that. Back when I was taking ballet as a kid, I hated that we were required to go with the dance "uniform" of black leotard, pink tights and pink slippers, but now that's what I ended up buying, even though the adult students can wear anything. They didn't have much other than black for adults, and it's more slimming. Plus, that "uniform" makes me feel more like I'm taking it seriously. Now I have to see if I can find a way to make my hair stay in a bun without sending hairpins flying with every movement (my hair is too fine for pins to stick well) or if I should just stick with the ponytail.

In searching around for some kind of extracurricular activity to do this summer, I found that there's not a lot out there for adults. The community college has stuff for seniors, but there aren't a lot of the "fun" continuing education classes for people between the ages of 12 and 65. I guess with budget cuts, they're focusing on workforce education. They don't even have the conversational foreign language classes right now, just lots of ESL. Meanwhile, there are huge businesses dedicated to training your child to be some kind of hyper-talented super kid. There's one in the adjacent town, next to the ballet academy, that offers gymnastics (taught by a former world champion), all kinds of dance, drill team, theater, music, acting for film, martial arts, etc., all under one roof, but the only thing they have for adults is a fitness center for parents to use while their kids are being molded into performing machines.

I wonder how many of those parents are making their kids do all these things because it's what they always wanted to do, and now their kids have to live out their dreams for them. Maybe we'd have happier kids and parents if they offered opportunities for adults to explore their own dreams and the kids could be free to do their own thing without being scheduled to death. I know there are some kids who are ambitious in their own right, but I suspect a fair number of them have been forced or brainwashed into all this. Parenting is very competitive in this particular community. I was kind of weird as a kid (no, really?) in that I was fairly ambitious about wanting to do the things I got into, but I also was really resistant to being scheduled, so I was always starting things, then freaking out because of feeling too scheduled and dropping out. I also tended to flit from one interest to another. In a way, that was probably better for my overall development, since no matter how dedicated I was, I didn't have what it takes to be a champion gymnast or professional dancer of any kind (totally wrong body type for both), so it's not as though I limited my potential from being so sporadic, and that way I explored more options plus had free time to let my own creativity develop. I do wish I'd had the chance for more music instruction earlier in life, but back in those days, other than piano lessons, they didn't seem to have stuff like that for kids where we lived. I think finding a place to take serious voice lessons may be my next "live my own dreams" (since I don't have kids to force into them) adventure.

If I'm very, very good today, I will finish this round of revisions on The Book That Would Not Die this evening. Then I'll spend the rest of the week getting caught up on everything else and doing some prep work for the next project.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Still Not Procrastinating

The anti-procrastination measures seem to be working. That could be because it's all still new and shiny, and then they'll be forgotten as soon as I get distracted or bored. I did find that the best use for scheduling fun time isn't as a reward for work, but as a way of stopping the time wasting.

My biggest time-waste is the Internet. I do need to check my e-mail regularly, as I often get opportunities or queries I need to jump on or respond to. There's also a lot of valuable industry information online. And, there's fun stuff. But then there's a point at which it's no longer valuable and not even really fun. It's just something to do other than work, and it goes in a vicious cycle where it starts as useful and fun, then I find myself going back to check if anyone's updated or posted in the last five minutes, plus endless checking of the Amazon rankings, and soon I'm disgusted with myself but I'm still frittering away hours. What seems to be helping with this is scheduling a few slots of Internet time during the day, all of which are immediately followed by something on the schedule with a hard start time or else something I really enjoy. For one thing, there's the psychological effect of making it something I'm obligated to do. Having to spend half an hour online makes it less of a guilty pleasure. I'll find that I get all my business stuff done, have time to do the fun stuff, and then still have time in the slot to do things like answer e-mail. And then it's easy to step away to go do something fun like read, watch a TV show or do something else I want to do. Surprisingly, it's easier for me to transition from something fun to work than it is to stop checking message boards and just get to work.

In other news, it looks like we're closing in on the mid-season finale of Battlestar Galactica (next week, I think), so I really ought to do that planned character archetype analysis. I've come to the conclusion that every character on that show is a Lost Soul, which explains a lot. It also makes sense, given that they've all lost just about everything. A lot of them, though, were that way before the attacks. The issue is what else is layered in there. I'm still working on that, but seeing everyone as a Lost Soul has really altered my perspective on the characters. It seems like the only people who survived the Cylon attacks are the ones who were already pretty messed up, and now they're all traumatized, so they're even more of a mess. We earthlings are in big trouble if that bunch ever makes it to earth. Maybe we need the Doctor to show up with a good "It. Is. Defended." And Lee is looking more and more like the Owen who lives in my head, which is really freaky.

Meanwhile, a friend pointed out this incredibly cool collection of retro-futuristic t-shirts. I'm not sure which one I want most. There's Ask Me About My Death Ray! (scroll to the bottom of the page to see the full design), Certifiable Mad Genius or Ladies' World Domination Society. Or a few others. They are a bit pricey for t-shirts, as I seldom spend that much on nice shirts. Then again, I probably wear t-shirts more often than I wear nice shirts, and these might be nice conversational icebreakers for convention wear. Maybe one of these will be my reward for accomplishing something, writing-wise.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Beating Procrastination

If you've been around here for a while, you may have noticed that I have a wee bit of a problem with procrastination. I'm obsessive about deadlines, and I always meet them, but I tend to wait to the last second before starting anything. If there is no deadline, I can put things off forever. It's not just unpleasant things I put off. I'll procrastinate on fun things.

But I may have found a cure. I found a book on procrastination, called The Now Habit by Neil Fiore, and it makes so much sense. In his description of the problem, I almost felt like he was spying on my life. He said that chronic procrastinators don't accomplish much work, and they don't have time for fun, either. Ouch. That's so true. How often have I talked about that hypothetical vacation I want to take that I haven't had time for? How huge is the list of things I want to do that I don't have time for? It seems like I don't allow myself to do the things I want to do just for fun when there's work to be done, but I'm also not getting the work done. So I'm mostly just frittering away my time on things that aren't really fun but aren't really work.

I didn't need to do the time-tracking exercise to see how I spend my time. I know exactly what I'm doing. Thinking about why I'm procrastinating was interesting, though. The three reasons he gives for procrastination are rebellion, fear of failure and fear of success. The rebellion hits when there's something you have no choice about doing, so the only way you can feel in control is to decide when you want to do it. Like doing your taxes -- you could go to jail if you don't, so you have to do it, but feeling obligated makes you want to delay the pain as long as possible. I had to admit to myself that my big writing procrastination reason falls under fear of failure. Let's face it, writing can be hard, and we tend to put off doing difficult things. In the first draft, what you have in your head is always wonderful and perfect, and then you put it in words, and it's a weak imitation of what was in your head. During revision, you have to look at what you've written, and that's something to dread for fear that it's total garbage. But then there's the fear that you can't make it any better.

I don't think I have much fear of success, which is a kind of dread for what will happen if you do finish -- like finishing the book means you have to show it to someone, who might hate it, so it's easier to avoid finishing it.

But the real wow I got from reading this book yesterday was the approach to stopping the procrastination. The author proposes what he calls the "Unschedule," which is essentially a big mind-fake, but since procrastination is essentially a mindgame, it may take one to cure it. You do a grid for the entire day, all 24 hours. then you block off times for things that are absolutely essential to life -- things like sleeping, meals, getting dressed, etc. Then you block off the obligations -- scheduled appointments, events and meetings. And then you schedule in fun and relaxation -- exercise, reading, going out, favorite TV shows, etc. The rest of the schedule stays blank. The empty spaces are times when you could be doing those things you need to get done. The idea is that if you already know you're going to get to do the things you want to do, there's less of a feeling that work is taking you away from fun. Plus, there's less to rebel against because the things you're dreading aren't written on the schedule. It's also surprising to look at the schedule and see how much free time you have, even after you've put in all the fun things you want to do.

Then, once you see where you have a blank space, you commit to a 30-minute block of concentrated work. To start with, do that starting half an hour before an already-scheduled fun thing, so you know you only have to work half an hour, and you already know there's a reward at the end of it. When you've done half an hour of work, you fill that accomplishment in on the grid.

As I said, it's a silly little mind game, but it may be life-changing. Yesterday, I found that after telling myself I only had to do the half hour before I could read a while, I wanted to just keep working. Starting is the hard part. We'll see how this works over time, and I'll report back. I may buy a copy of this book because I suspect I'll need a refresher every so often. Plus, someone had written all over the library copy, underlining passages and putting brackets around parts, which made it difficult to read (I hope it was someone who donated it to the library rather than someone who checked it out).

Meanwhile, I hit the grocery store that's kind of like a farmer's market with all the produce and bulk goods, so I have tons of seasonal fruits and vegetables for nutritious eating. Now, according to my Unschedule, I need to go to the post office.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Better Writing Through Discussing Television

I completely forgot to mention that Romance Junkies has named Don't Hex with Texas a Blue Ribbon Favorite -- one their reviewers liked best for the month. I even get a nifty little ribbon icon that will go on my web site when I get around to updating it. (If I were my publicist, I would fire me.)

On the last writing post, I talked about things you could learn about writing from watching TV. I think there are also things you can learn from talking about television. I'll admit that the main reason I first waded into the Internet was to talk about and analyze my favorite TV shows. I'd read an article about all this great conversation taking place on the X-Files newsgroup, and I had to be there, even if that meant finding a way to get the VAX system we had at work to let me read newsgroups. TV discussion is still one of my favorite procrastination techniques, but I think I've also learned a lot from it that I apply to my writing. Some of these are actual writing lessons, but others are about what really gets audiences excited.

1) Talking about the things you enjoy and what you enjoy about them is a good way to get a sense of what really speaks to you. If you find yourself talking more about certain types of stories or certain types of characters, then maybe those are the kinds of stories and characters you should be writing about. Even if you don't get into a discussion group, try being conscious of the elements that really get you excited and make you want to talk.

I think this is one of the biggest benefits of discussing television. It's very easy to fall into "shoulds" when you're writing or even discussing books because your brain can get stuck in that industry place where you're always analyzing what's selling, what editors are looking for, etc., and you can lose track of what you really like. Since television is removed from that, it's a little easier to focus on what appeals to you. In discussion, you talk about what struck you and what didn't, what gets you excited, which characters you love and why, and you have to defend your positions. That gives you a good insight into what elements you might want to use in your writing so you can break away from the "should" mindset.

2) Awesome is as awesome does -- This is one of those "showing" vs. "telling" things. If you want to make audiences hate a character, tell how awesome that character is without letting that character actually do anything awesome. If all the other characters talk about how sweet and smart the character is, but her behavior is bratty and stupid, then the hate squads will form. It's far better to let the actions speak for themselves without the on-screen fan club telling us about it. Even better, if you want to make audiences become fiercely loyal to a character, let the character act in truly awesome ways while the other characters don't seem to notice or appreciate it. We can't help but pull for the underdog, so telling us someone is useless and then showing them rising above that to save the day is a lot more fun than having the person we all know is brilliant and awesome save the day. Plus, when it feels like no one in the universe of the show is on the character's side, it makes us want to rally around him all the more.

3) Character love is often strongest when it's really earned -- A character who's clearly on the side of the angels and who has her act together from day one may make a great heroine, but if you want to build a character who has a fan club, let that character start out as annoying, antagonistic, even a bad guy, and then let him redeem himself by struggling to do better and working to earn our love (and the love of the other characters). It can be difficult to do that with a main character since this kind of character usually isn't the protagonist at the start, but it's a great way to build a star out of someone who starts as a secondary character. Who doesn't love a reformed bad boy, or even just a jerk who's seen the light?

4) A session of online nitpicking is a good way to learn to spot plot holes -- or what audiences perceive as plot holes. You'll get a sense of what people are willing to buy, and what sets off their "no way!" alert. Characters doing things out of character is a big one. If you need to make a character do something he would never do, you'd better provide really strong motivation or audiences will scream.

5) People like to be kept guessing, whether it's about the feelings between two characters or about what's really going on in the story -- as long as it isn't dragged out forever. I would guess that there are more discussions (and more fanfic written) about characters who are not overtly romantically involved than there are about established couples. While there is a faction that would like nothing more than to see their favorite two characters entwined in each other and expressing their devotion, for the majority, it seems like having plenty of touches, glances and gestures that require reading between the lines to figure out what their feelings really are is a lot more fun, up to a point. It's the same with the big plot -- unanswered questions keep us interested, but you do have to answer them eventually. The X-Files is probably the best example for both of these (how to do it for the first few seasons, how not to do it for the last few). This also works with individual characters -- having some mystery about them is a good way of keeping them interesting.

Of course, all this talking about TV is a good way to put off writing, so it's best to remember what your real priority is. But if you find yourself creatively stuck or so mired in the "shoulds" that you've lost touch with what gets you excited, this can be a fun way of inspiring yourself.