Saturday, August 30, 2008

What Day is It?

Friday I took advantage of having a flexible schedule and switched my Friday and Saturday so that I could do some Labor Day weekend stuff before most people with real jobs were off work, and thus I could avoid the crowds. I suspect that will really mess with my mind throughout the weekend, as I woke this morning thinking it was Sunday because Friday felt like Saturday. Now I'm going to be treating Saturday like Friday, which will really confuse me. I have some work I need to get done and ten more pages on the book, but I'm excited about those pages as I'll get to "meet" on paper (well, computer screen) a character who's been taking over my brain for a while. I also have motivation to get my work done without serious procrastination because when I'm done, I get to really start my relaxathon weekend. I have movies to watch, books to read and plenty of easy-to-fix food.

Now, off to work, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Melissa Walker

I think I've really had a writing breakthrough. The part of The New Project I'm working on now involves revising bits I wrote earlier in the summer to fit with the new plan, and I keep seeing ways to really get the full impact out of scenes. Yesterday, I was re-working a scene that my notecard said was a major turning point in the book, the event that would change the main character's life forever and change his perception of himself and everything he thought was true. As written, it was more like, "Oh, my, that's odd," and then he went on with his business. On this revision, I knew I needed to really show how much this affected him, and when I was through writing it, I actually was a little dizzy and shaky, like the character was supposed to be, so I think it worked. I'd worried that outlining to the extent I did would sap the fun out of writing and limit my creativity. When I've seen workshops on storyboarding, it gave me a panicky feeling. But what I'm finding is that if I have the major plot stuff for each scene planned in advance, it seems to free up my creativity for everything else in the scene. I keep coming up with really fun twists on the fly. Before, with my creativity having to focus on what happened next to move the plot forward, it didn't seem to have the time/energy to go any deeper.

However, all this creative work is strangely draining, and I have a massive case of Book Brain. Fortunately, I have another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit entry, so I can let someone else be clever for me. This week's guest is Melissa Walker, the former fashion magazine editor who now writes a series of novels about a teen model. Her new book, Violet in Private, is the third in the series that began with Violet on the Runway.

Everyone knows her as Violet Greenfield, the supposedly cultured and worldly nineteen-year-old with sky-high confidence because she’s done fashion weeks internationally. But the truth is, modeling has done little for Violet’s self-esteem. And now that she’s finally headed to college, she’s terrified that she’ll turn back into that girl who blended into the walls all throughout high school…

Now, the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
As soon as I started peeking behind the scenes of modeling and fashion as a magazine editor, I knew that I wanted to put a "real girl" in the middle of this crazy world, a girl who would see it from the outside and be like, "Holy crap!" It's an insane environment, so there's lots of fodder for adventure, humor and drama, especially from the point of view of a small town girl who's not yet jaded.

Describe your creative process.
I start with a chapter-by-chapter outline that's pretty sparse--just a few sentences of summary for each one. When I have a book due (I've never finished one and THEN sold it, though I know people do that too), I eat breakfast, then write. I don't allow myself to have lunch until I have 1,000 words on the page--straight through with no revisions. They don't have to be good words, but they have to be there. I do that five days a week; afternoons are spent working on magazine stories. When I finish a draft, THEN I go back and revise, but not before.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I like to start with an iced coffee. It has to have enough cream and sugar in it to taste like coffee ice cream.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
Hmm... quite a bit, honestly. Movie theater job in high school: Check. Hometown of Chapel Hill, NC? Yup. Overwhelmed, at first, by the NYC fashion crowd? Yes! But I was never a model.

So, now we want the inside scoop on the fashion world. For those of us who are somewhat fashion-impaired (I, personally, prefer the term "classic" to "still wearing 20-year-old clothes"), what one item do we need to add to our closets this fall to at least pretend to be in style?
It sounds cliche, but a black dress that fits you well and is flattering is really key! I have six. Is that weird? As far as an accessory for the season goes, I'm really into scarves. French women do it well, and I'm going to experiment a lot this fall. Also: Deep purples are a key color this season. Yay--Violet on the Runway!

Maybe you can answer this burning question: There are model-size models (tall and skinny) and there are plus-size models. Why aren't there any normal-size models who are neither skinny nor plus-sized?
Good question! I think the idea is that "models" originally were normal sized. Over the years, "pin thin" has become such an obsession in the fashion world that the body ideal has been distorted. Truthfully, though, plus size models aren't really very big--a size 8 is easily considered "plus." It's insane!

We hear a lot of the negatives about modeling these days, like eating disorders, drug abuse, short shelf-life, and all that. Are there any positives, aside from the money and international travel? Or did I just answer my own question? :-)
Money and international travel are big draws, but so are the creative people you meet. They are just INSPIRED. I can't think of another word that's more apt. The chance to see that part of the world--both geographically and socially--is priceless.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark! Oh man, I love a little bitterness.

What are you working on now?
I just turned in a draft of a summer teen romance called LOVESTRUCK SUMMER that will come out next summer from HarperCollins.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Just that I think it brings up a lot of really relevant issues about superficiality and image in today's world, and we're discussing all that on this month on their myspace forum, so come chat!

For more info, visit Melissa's blog. Or buy the book from Amazon.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Archetypes: The Threshold Guardian

I think I made it past the paralysis point, and I really got a lot done yesterday. Mind you, most of it was from my first attempt at a draft, so there wasn't a lot of new writing, but I didn't hate it all. It's still not gold, but maybe it's fresh, green leaves instead of dead, dry ones.

But that came after I spent a fun hour on the phone fighting with AT&T. I haven't used long distance in years, since long distance is free on my cell phone. I think I sent a fax long-distance a year or two ago. But I suddenly got this bill for long distance and thought there had to be a case of identity theft. It turns out that without me knowing it, AT&T changed their long distance service so that you now have to be in a "plan," which is charged monthly, and they were charging me for several months. I spent a lot of time on hold and arguing with nice young men with Indian accents and suspiciously all-American names that make them sound like soap opera characters (I'm guessing the offshore customer service reps have to take on an "American" identity), who seemed to have no power (or clue beyond a script). And, apparently, you can't have long-distance service anymore without being in a "plan." There's no such thing as just being charged when you make a long-distance call. So I cancelled the long-distance service entirely. I figure I can either buy a pre-paid card in case I need to send a fax, or maybe I can find a long-distance service that operates on the radical concept of only charging you when you make a call. Even if the per-minute rate is higher, it's bound to be cheaper than paying several dollars a month to make maybe one one-minute call per year. It's really annoying, given that I have so many services from AT&T, and now they're doing this. I will be writing a strongly worded letter to corporate HQ. I'm sure I have a contact somewhere from my telecom PR days. Anyone know of a decent long-distance provider that will let me send the occasional fax without making me pay monthly for the privilege (and that will let me know before they start charging me monthly)?

Now, picking up on the discussion of archetypes from the hero's journey, this week I'm looking at the Threshold Guardian. If the Hero is something of a blank slate and the Mentor is prone to stereotype, the Threshold Guardian tends to come dangerously close to plot device. I picture a flat plywood cutout that springs up to say, "None shall pass!" and ask the hero the airspeed of a laden swallow before the hero passes the test and moves on into the story.

The main story function of the Threshold Guardian is testing the hero. Basically, the Threshold Guardian is the first person who stands in the way of the hero. The idea is that being a hero is supposed to be hard. If everyone could do it, then we wouldn't bother telling stories. Only those who are worthy can pass into the "special world" of the story, and it's the job of the Threshold Guardian to weed out those who are unworthy. Yeah, we know if we're reading a story that the hero will pass the test, otherwise there wouldn't be a story, but it's important to the development of the hero to see how he faces the first real challenge of the story. You may also have a series of Threshold Guardians, at various stages of the story as the hero gets closer and closer to the real villain and the real trial. That's a way of maintaining tension and conflict before the big confrontation.

In my Star Wars example, we have two Threshold Guardians. The first is Uncle Owen, who's trying to keep Luke on the farm instead of letting him go off to where he can have adventures. The second is Han Solo, who sets a price for transport so high that Luke has to sell his landspeeder in order to go on his mission. That forces him to commit to his mission and face his priorities. In fairy tales, this is often the old beggar man or woman that the two oldest brothers ignore, but then the youngest stops to help and gets magical assistance that helps him win. He's the cop who tells the heroine that she didn't see what she thought she saw, or the superior officer who tells the detective to drop the case.

The Threshold Guardian is almost never the main villain. He may be an agent of the villain, but he may just be an unrelated antagonist. He can also be a neutral party who doesn't care one way or another about stopping the hero on his quest. He's just a part of a difficult landscape. Or he can even be an ally. He may be trying to stop the hero for his own good, thinking he's being helpful. Luke's Uncle Owen thought he was protecting Luke by keeping him on the farm where his evil father wouldn't find him (and where Luke stood a smaller chance of taking after his father). The Threshold Guardian can turn into an ally once the hero has passed the test. Often, the Mentor also serves as Threshold Guardian, and if the hero proves worthy, then the Mentor takes him under his wing. We often meet sidekicks and allies first as Threshold Guardians, as with Han Solo. Think of The Princess Bride, where Inigo and Fezzig both initially try to stop Westley on his quest, but then they later all join forces. In a lot of the Robin Hood legends, Robin first meets Little John when John won't let him cross a bridge, and they fight, but then they end up becoming friends.

You can still see this kind of archetype in non-quest stories, though it's a little less obvious than an armed guard shouting "None shall pass." The Threshold Guardian can be anyone in the hero or heroine's life who resists their attempts to make changes. In real life, whenever any of us try to make positive changes in our lives, there's often someone trying to tell us we don't need to lose weight, don't need to look for a new job, don't need to go back to school, don't need to get more serious about that relationship. On the surface, that sounds like someone who accepts us the way we are, which is a positive, but that also can keep us from taking needed steps toward improvement. These are people who are threatened by change, and us changing will end up changing their lives or keep them from having an excuse not to change.

And that brings us to the psychological aspect of the Threshold Guardian. The Threshold Guardian represents our internal demons, all the things inside ourselves that are holding us back and keeping us from being the heroes of our own lives. They keep us from reaching our true potential.

With that in mind, you can use this character to demonstrate the hero's weaknesses early in the story (so you can show instead of tell). The Threshold Guardian can be a manifestation of the main weakness that is likely to hinder the hero on his journey. If his weakness is greed, then the Threshold Guardian may demand some kind of payment or may appeal to the hero's greed as a way of trying to turn him off the path, for example. The Threshold Guardian may also be a minor reflection of what the hero will face in the main villain. Seeing the hero pass that early test is a sign that he might eventually have what it takes to face the Big Bad.

In myth, the hero often has to, in a sense, become the Threshold Guardian in order to pass -- using deceit, disguise or magic. The hero may dress up as something like the Guardian in order to be allowed through as an ally. The hero may absorb the energy of the Threshold Guardian as a way of becoming stronger. That can be literal, if, say, the hero gets a magical item from the Guardian or takes his power, or more metaphorical, if the Guardian becomes an ally and a sidekick or mentor and adds his strength to the quest.

In a reluctant hero story, the hero himself may be his own Threshold Guardian, where he's the one resisting all the forces that try to make him change and he has to be almost forced into taking action. Then, this archetype is literally the hero's internal neuroses.

As with all the archetypes, you can't stop here in character development. This needs to be a real character with at least a hint of goal and motivation, even if his role in the story is small. You want to avoid that plywood cut-out pop-up.

Next time: The Herald. And if you enjoy my characterization discussion, I've got an article on the subject in the current issue of The Writer magazine, now available in stores (most likely at places like Borders and Barnes & Noble).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Words Like Dead, Dry Leaves

I'm back at home after a relaxing long weekend. I even got to do one of my favorite things: stand on the back porch and watch a storm blow in. It started with a sunny day, and soon the wind was howling around and dark clouds were rushing at us, and then the temperature dropped suddenly. Very cool. I stood on the very edge of the porch, facing the wind, and let the wind whip my hair around. It was kind of like the Generic Epic Fantasy Book Cover, circa 80s-early 90s, where the hero/heroine stood dramatically on some craggy tor, hair blowing in the wind, while dark clouds swirled dramatically overhead in a way that was either an Omen of Impending Evil or a sign of Evil Magic at Work. All I needed was a sword to raise over my head, though with the Swirling Clouds of Potential Evil, that doesn't sound like such a smart thing to do, and you might not want to stand high on a craggy tor with Swirling Clouds of Potential Evil while wearing armor. Unless there's no lightning involved in the Swirling Clouds of Potential Evil. Or maybe the Magical Specialness is activated by lightning strike and the hero means to turn himself into a human lightning rod.

Hmmm, plot bunny ...

There's not a good similar place to do the storm watching at home, other than maybe the balcony off my office, but then that's elevated, which doesn't seem quite as safe (besides being visible from a major street). And storms don't seem to roll in here the way they do at my parents' house.

But now I really have to settle down and get to work. I've realized that I've been suffering from Fear of Failure procrastination because the very act of writing feels kind of like failure. In my head, this story is absolutely wonderful. It's atmospheric, transcendent, meaningful, clever and richly layered. Then I start to write it and it turns into just a bunch of words. It's like fairy gold in folklore -- you think you've got a bunch of rich treasures, but then in the light of day it turns into nothing more than dead, dry leaves. When each word you write turns this amazing story into dead, dry leaves, it's really hard to make yourself write. You want to keep that story in your head where it can remain perfect as long as possible.

However, since we don't currently have ports that allow people to plug directly into my brain to experience the story in purest form, I have to translate it into words, and this is just an initial draft. I've had to do a lot of tinkering with chapter one so I can lay a foundation and get the book going in the right direction. I still have a little bit more tinkering to do, and then I plan to buckle down and spend the rest of the week writing enough pages for a proposal. I'll let it rest over the holiday weekend, and then next week I'll do all the polishing and tinkering so I'll have a proposal for when my agent gets back from vacation. I've done most of my errands for the week already, I only have a couple of other work things that I have to do this week, and there's nothing on TV to watch for the rest of the week, which means nothing to discuss, which should limit the time wasters.

I did find Friday that disconnecting from the Internet doesn't limit the time wasting, but even time wasting can be valuable. I started playing iTunes roulette, where I tried to figure out if the song that came up on shuffle could fit in this book's soundtrack and how it might fit, and I came up with some really cool plot twists that raise the stakes in a big way and that flesh out the weak parts in the middle and end of my outline.

On the other hand, those ideas made the story in my head even cooler and more challenging to translate into words. Arrrgggghhh.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Haunting of Villa de Swendson

My house is not a likely location for a haunting. It's a Spanish Mediterranean-style townhouse built in 1984. It's basically an 80s bachelor pad, complete with wet bar in the living room. I suspect these houses were originally designed with airline employees in mind, as it's very close to the major airport and there are two master bedrooms in separate parts of the house instead of the more usual family cluster of bedrooms, so it seems like it was designed for adult roommates instead of a family. So, yeah, not really the kind of place you expect to be haunted. I just can't imagine a place with a wet bar in the living room having a ghost.

And yet ... I live alone and there's almost never anyone else in my house. I have the only key to the place. But things always seem to be moving around or disappearing. CDs in particular seem to vanish for long stretches of time, only to reappear in random places. And there's that curse on my romantic life. I've realized that I've never had a relationship last beyond two dates since I bought my house. I've met a number of people who seemed promising, but they utterly vanished without a trace after two dates, in spite of talking about things that we could do in the future. Hmmm ...

I've decided that my house is haunted by the ghost of an airline pilot named Stan. He was a real ladies' man bachelor type, and when he was in town, he was always having wild, swinging parties, making good use of that wet bar. He never had a relationship last more than two dates because he was always moving on to the next chick. But then he fell in love and even considered making a commitment. He tragically died in a crash while showing off in a single-engine plane to his girlfriend who watched from the ground. Instead of pining for her lost love, though, she figured she made a lucky escape from a guy who was stupid enough to kill himself while trying to do stunts to impress her, and she found a great guy and married him not long afterward. Now Stan haunts his old bachelor abode, trying to relive his party days. My CDs move around either because he's borrowing them or because he's disgusted with how staid my musical taste is. And he's put a curse on my love life (though he thinks he's doing me a favor because it was wanting to have a lasting relationship that killed him). If I have to share my house with a deceased airline pilot, I'd like him to be really cute, but I keep imagining Stan as having a bushy Magnum PI mustache, which I don't find at all attractive, and he insists on wearing his pilot's cap in the house.

Now, I know that instead of my woes being the fault of Stan the pilot, it's more likely that I lose or misplace things because I'm not very organized, I'm the world's worst housekeeper, and I frequently suffer from Book Brain. I quite often pick something up to put it away or do something with it, get sidetracked along the way, then I put it down in whatever random place where I was when I had the new thought, and then later I don't remember moving it. My love life wasn't wildly successful before I moved into this house. All that happened was I got older, which affected my odds.

But then there was Friday night.

I settled down to read a little before going to sleep. While I read, I was distracted by this skritch, skritch, skritch sound. I had the ceiling fan on, and there was a piece of paper that had been blown off my nightstand, and now the fan was blowing it so that it rubbed back and forth against the nightstand. I moved the piece of paper back where it belonged, where it wasn't rubbing anything, and went back to my book.

Skritch. Skritch. Skritch.

It was a creepy little sound that sent chills down my spine. It distracted me from my reading, and I knew I couldn't sleep with that noise in my room. It sounded like it was coming from my nightstand, so I checked the drawers, made sure nothing was rubbing anything and made sure the scratchy sound wasn't static coming from my clock radio. The sound went away while I was looking, so I figured I'd found whatever it was and taken care of it. I went back to my book.

Skritch. Skritch. Skritch-skritch-skritchhhh. Skritch.

Now I was really annoyed. I looked around some more for whatever must be making that sound. I noticed that there was a wrapper in my bedside wastebasket made from that quasi-plastic/quasi-foil stuff, where you can crumple it up, and it will gradually uncrumple itself while making irritating noises. Ah, mystery solved. I got up, took the wastebasket to the kitchen and emptied it into the kitchen trash can. My room was blessedly quiet again, so I went back to reading.

Skritch. Skritch. Thump-thump. Skritchhhhhh. Skritchskritchskritch.

That was the point when I almost called out to Stan to cut it out. Something other than me was living in the house, and while Stan is mostly a joke (and a good scapegoat for my own messiness), I was starting to wonder. I got out of bed to look around. While I was kneeling on the floor behind my bed, I noticed that a tissue box had been shoved underneath, back against the wall, where I wouldn't have seen it with the bedside wastebasket in the way (the very spot where Katie hid Owen's box o' magic stuff in Don't Hex With Texas). It must have been a remnant of my bout with the flu, when I was going through tissues too fast to be able to fit the empty boxes in the wastebasket. And the sound was coming from inside that box, I was pretty sure. I figured it was one of the geckos that lurk on my doorstep and dash into my house whenever I open the door. I used to try to chase them out, but then I learned they're harmless and eat bugs, so as long as they don't try to sell me car insurance, I just co-exist with them and let them out when they lurk near the inside of the door. The poor thing must have fallen into the box and then couldn't get past that plastic dispenser slit on the top. So I pulled out the box, looked inside, and then screamed.

Instead of a cute little gecko, I found myself looking into the beady, malevolent eyes of this thing. I think it was maybe some sort of bug -- huge, with a hard shell, wings, long legs and long antennae. I didn't look at it long enough to study it, but I hadn't seen anything quite like it. It's entirely possible that it was an armored advance scout of an alien invasion force. If that's the case, you can thank me for convincing them that this planet is far too hostile to be a good invasion target. And to think, I always thought the monsters under the bed were a childish phobia. But they're real!

I think I'd rather have the ghost of a sexist, playboy airline pilot living with me, even if he does try to watch me in the shower. I guess I'll have to make up a story about the monsters that live under my bed.

Now I need to pack to head home from my parents' house. And no, I didn't run here to stay away from the evil alien things living under my bed. It's a belated birthday celebration.

Friday, August 22, 2008

WorldCon: The Firefly Panel

I knew it was too good to last. Our false fall is over, and we're back to summer, though, mercifully, a "normal" summer and not the 100+ temperatures we had earlier. Meanwhile, taking a ballet class with a bad case of Book Brain is, well ... interesting. I'd get a random idea or thought and completely forget the entire combination I was supposed to be doing while I was busily writing in my head. Today, I think I'm going to disconnect from the Internet for the whole afternoon, without even taking e-mail breaks (since e-mail breaks tend to stretch out into other things) and really dig into the book. The publishing world shuts down on Friday afternoons in the summer, so I don't have to worry about any urgent notes from anyone.

I'm going to start doing some rundowns/summaries from WorldCon panels. I think I'll start with the ones I moderated, since I wasn't able to take notes and am therefore more likely to forget what was discussed (if I haven't entirely already). And since it's Friday and I don't want to think too hard, I'll talk about the Firefly panel. The official title was "Firefly: What Would the 2nd Season Have Been Like?" and the panelists were me, Dani Kollin and Rebecca Moesta. I was drafted at the last second to moderate, but as I've put just the teensiest bit of thought into the subject, that wasn't exactly a challenge for me. I think this panel may have been the most fun I had in the whole convention. It was a highly energized hour and fifteen minutes with the audience really into it, and I suspect we could have gone on for quite a bit longer.

These recollections are pretty stream-of-consciousness and may focus the most on what I said because that's what I remember. I did start off trying to get us talking about how we think the series might have continued if Fox hadn't cancelled it, and that transitioned into talking about what might happen if some miracle occurred and they decided to start another Firefly series picking up after the movie, and from there we talked about the rumored possibility that the movie was kind of what was originally planned to be the second season arc, just compressed into a movie. I'd thought about how that might have played out over time. My theory is that the Operative would have been introduced as the season one finale cliffhanger. The pattern on both Buffy and Angel with season-ending cliffhangers was never with the characters all in immediate jeopardy so that the next season picked up right away. The seasons tended to end with the characters defeating the Big Bad and feeling pretty good about things, and then at the very end we'd see something new pop up that the characters might not even be aware of (think Darla in a box). So I suspected that at the end of season one, Our Big Damn Heroes would have had some moment of triumph, and then the very last scene of the season would involve the Operative being introduced, so that we'd know they were going to be in huge trouble, and it would be midway through the next season before they became aware that he was chasing them. Apparently, there is a fan project that has written "scripts" for a season two that does break down the events in the movie into a season, so maybe I'll have to check that out.

Storylines people wanted to see picked up or dealt with included Book's past (Dani thought that seeing the Operative in the movie was seeing a mirror of Book's backstory), what decision Inara would make after the movie (stay or go back to the House), the crappy town where Wash is a hero, and what Jayne's mother would be like. Dani had a fun scenario worked out for that: Jayne would be frantically gathering all his weapons out of his quarters and then dump them on Simon in the infirmary, telling him that they were all his. Then this teeny, tiny woman would come on board and greet Jayne, and our big, tough guy would be utterly terrified of her. She'd notice the stockpile of weapons, Jayne would insist they were Simon's, and then she'd whisper to Jayne, "I don't want you associating with him." There was some discussion as to whether or not the tiny-but-tough mother was a cliche, and I pondered the idea of a more Jayne-sized woman, but I have to admit that this scenario is entertaining to ponder. I didn't seem to get a lot of support for my assertion that the "If I ever kill you, you'll be awake, armed and facing me" line in the pilot from Mal to Simon was foreshadowing. Not that I expected Mal to ever actually kill Simon, but I did imagine that at some point they were going to get into a showdown.

For more speculation, I brought up the fact that Joss's shows tend to have massive cast expansion as they progress, as they keep adding more and more characters. How would that have worked if Firefly had continued to five or more seasons? There's a finite amount of space on the ship, which limits the number of regular characters (unless they start setting up cots in the cargo bay), so perhaps we'd just have a larger cast of recurring characters they run into on a regular basis, with familiar faces at any places they visit regularly. Dani mentioned that the other pattern was turning a de-fanged (mostly) enemy into part of the gang, so one of the new people would probably be something like a vegetarian Reaver -- one who didn't fit in or was an outcast from his people. That sparked some brainstorming, so I suggested that Simon would come up with some kind of chemical or drug that would help the vegetarian Reaver stay somewhat sane (since the vegetarianism only rules out cannibalism) and safe to be around, and there would have to then be a situation where the Reaver crew member was cut off from being able to get his medicine, with time running out before he started going nuts again and became a threat.

We pondered whether there was room to do a musical episode. My suggestion was that it would take place in River's head (I guess this would have to have gone before the movie or disregarding the movie, since she seems to be more or less well now). We'd see the crew going about their business in a normal way, but then we'd see it from River's point of view, and she'd see it all as a big musical.

There was so much going on in that panel, with suggestions flying fast and furious from the audience and panelists, that I can't begin to capture it all. If you were there and want to chime in with something I missed, be my guest!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Stephanie Kuehnert

I wrote my first scene yesterday, and contrary to my worry that extensive outlining would remove the sense of surprise, I had a brainstorm while writing that added that special extra layer to the scene and really kicked off the plot, and I didn't even see it coming. I did, however, realize that I still don't have the self-discipline to write while my computer is connected to the Internet. It's too easy to stop and check e-mail the moment I'm the least bit stuck.

While I'm in a fog of Book Brain, I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit blog tour guest, Stephanie Kuehnert, author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone, a novel about punk rock and family. Punk rock is in Emily Black's blood. Her mother, Louisa, hit the road to follow the incendiary music scene when Emily was four months old and never came back.

Now Emily's all grown up with a punk band of her own, determined to find the tune that will bring her mother home. Because if Louisa really is following the music, shouldn't it lead her right back to Emily?

Now, the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
My love of music, specifically punk rock inspired I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE. Punk got me through my teenage years, and I was always particularly drawn to female musicians. I was raised by a feminist mother and always looked at things through that viewpoint. Even in the 90s, I saw that female musicians were still be marginalized and that even when some progress was made, mainstream rock 'n' roll always seems to revert back to being this macho thing. For example, the whole "grunge" scene was very female friendly and then five years later we had Limp Bizkit and a whole frat boy rock mentality again. I wanted a woman to destroy all of that, so I created my rock goddess character, Emily Black.

Describe your creative process.
I write by the seat of my pants at first and then plot. I tend to start with some basic ideas about my story and jot down a bunch of notes in my journal, but I don't worry about figuring out the whole story at that point. I just need enough to go on to envision that first scene. The first scene may or may not be the first chapter of the book. In the case of IWBYJR it was. Then I continue on writing the scenes that take may attention, which may or may not be in order. In IWBYJR's case they were not. Eventually, usually by about halfway into the book, I have an idea of the full arc and I outline, though of course I don't always stick to the outline because I follow where my characters take me. I try to write a draft straight through, but I always end up doing some minor revisions. When I get stuck, I revise because it keeps me in the story and makes me feel like I'm accomplishing something. Also I do have to say as I start my third book, that it seems like my process is a little different for each book.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I work best as a binge writer. I wrote IWBYJR in grad school so I had a more flexible work schedule where I had entire mornings to write (I'm best in the morning, but morning to me starts at 10 am, not 7) and entire days of where I didn't need to do anything but write. For my second book, I went to a writer's retreat for 10 days and wrote 8 to 10 hours each day. That's my ideal scenario. Unfortunately for the past two years, working full time has not allowed that. I'm quitting my office job and going back to bartending though, so I hope I'll be able to get a better groove.

Strangely, since my writing is so music-based, I cannot listen to music while I'm writing usually. There have been some occasions, like that writer's retreat where I was just so in the groove, but usually I listen to music while I'm brainstorming and to get pumped before I write, and then I write in silence.

No caffeine for me. I have serious insomnia problems so I can't consume it. I know, I'm probably gonna get kicked out of the writing club for that one.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
The only thing Emily and I have in common is our love of music. The first paragraph of the book about flipping through records came straight from my journal, I just changed the setting from Chicago to Wisconsin. But that is about where the similarities end. I have no musical talent and I'm not nearly as outgoing and witty as Emily. I wish I was more like her (minus the probs with her mom and her penchant for bad boyfriends) and I created her partially so I could live vicariously through her.

Was there a particular musical movement/genre/whatever they call it that you really identified with as a teen? And why do you think it spoke to you that way?
I fell in love with music in 1991, the year that punk broke according to Sonic Youth. It was the year that Nirvana got big and they were my favorite band. So I guess I would say "grunge" though that's not quite accurate because while I love Nirvana and Alice in Chains, I'm not a Pearl Jam fan and I only like Soundgarden's early stuff. I do love Mudhoney and the Screaming Trees, the lesser known grunge bands. But mostly my discovery of Nirvana led me to discover other "indie" bands like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr and my discovery of Hole (which I didn't discover in tandem with Nirvana. I had no idea about Kurt and Courtney until I got my Sassy magazine with them on the cover) led me to find the female bands like Babes in Toyland, L7, The Gits, and Heavens to Betsy (which included Corin Tucker who would go on to form Sleater-Kinney, whose song IWBYJR is named after). And at the same time I was discovering punk, Social Distortion, the Clash, the Ramones, and more modern bands like Rancid and Green Day.

Anyway, so it wasn't really one movement/genre, I guess. But it spoke to me because I'd felt like an outcast since third grade. In third grade, I moved from a very working class neighborhood and school in St. Louis to the middle class/ upper-middle class town of Oak Park, IL. The kids at my new school (the "popular girls" at least) were really snotty and put me down because of my clothes and because I was bookish. By junior high when I discovered Nirvana, I was kind of an angry and sad kid who thought she'd never have a place. I thought my voice would never be heard because who wanted to listen to a weirdo nerd like me. Nirvana gave us weirdo nerds a voice. I started to express my creative side, writing poetry, then 'zines, then short stories. That music I listened to back then inspired me and gave me confidence that nothing else could. That's why it matters so much to me to this day.

If you started a band, what would you call it?
I kept trying to start a band in high school and all I really had was a name, "The Morning After." I wrote some great lyrics, but never learned to play guitar well. I still would want to name a band that, though, as a little tribute to my 15 year old self.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark because I'm vegan so I don't eat milk products, but I've always loved dark chocolate the best anyway.

What are you working on now?
Right now I am anxiously awaiting the revision notes on my second book, BALLADS OF SUBURBIA, which is a novel about a teenage girl who finally finds a group of friends at this park where all the misfits hang out , but she and her friends are all dealing with some serious issues and without adults to turn to, life begins to spiral out of control. I know that's vague. I'm horrible at elevator pitches, but you can read more (including the first chapter) at

While I await those notes, I'm toying with third book ideas. I have one proposal finished, but now another idea is taking my attention, about a teenage girl who runs away with one of her best friends only to learn that he is dealing with schizophrenia.

For more info, visit Stephanie's web site. Or, order the book from Amazon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The False Fall Continues

Oh, I am so spoiled by the ongoing cool weather. It's supposed to go back to normal at the end of the week, and that will be painful as my body has already decided it's fall. But then, the weekend after this one is Labor Day, and that means it is almost sort of kind of fall (though, weather-wise, we usually have at least another month to go in Texas). I guess I need to figure out my theme for that weekend's entertainment. I may go retro for the fourth annual chick lit and chick flick weekend, as there's been a shortage of good chick lit available lately, and ditto chick flicks, though I did get the DVD of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

I have lately developed an odd little sleeping pattern/quirk. I'll wake up or be awakened from a really deep sleep and think that it must be almost morning or almost time to get up because it feels like I was sleeping for hours, but then when I look at the clock I'll find that it's only been half an hour to an hour since I went to sleep. That's very disconcerting. I guess it's kind of like spending hours or even years in Narnia and coming home to find that you haven't been gone for any time at all. So which fantasy kingdom have I been spending hours in, only to wake up and find that it was only half an hour?

This in-depth outlining thing seems to really be working for me. It's cutting out my usual meandering and thinking on paper. When I revise a book, I find that there are often whole scenes I can cut out where I just used them to think things through, or else I have to totally rewrite a scene because for most of it, my characters were doing my thinking for me. My thought process in trying to decide what they should do made its way into their dialogue. But in writing a couple of paragraphs about what each scene will be about, I'm getting that thinking done. The idea is that when I go to actually write the scene, I can just write it the way it needs to be instead of doing all that thinking and meandering. Doing things this way would probably irritate a "pantser" who loses interest in the story after figuring out how things go, but I'm finding that it's making me eager to see how the scenes actually play out. My outline is only about the big picture of what happens and why, and how that relates to everything else in the story, in both theme and plot. It doesn't drill into every specific action or event or into the dialogue. So I think there will still be a sense of discovery. I suspect there will also be scenes that appear as I write. Some of what shows up as "scenes" in my outline is really an overall sequence, and the individual scenes that make up the sequence for that stage in the story are still vague.

I may even get to writing narrative today, though I have to finish my outline. I quit last night because, for one thing, a massive electrical storm was coming (one of those where you could practically read by the lightning and the thunder was almost simultaneous with the lightning and went on and on for ages with each strike) and for another, I was getting to the "sure, fine, whatever" stage and skimming over things with impatience as I got near the end. Jumping into that section with a fresh start this morning may help.

I think I may also have solved the mystery of "The Rainbow Connection" and why it's been running through my head. There's a line in the last verse that kind of sums up the theme of The New Project, so maybe my subconscious was smarter than I am and dredged that up.

Now I think I'm going to try to get back into my regular exercise habit so I can be more productive this afternoon.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


We're still having unseasonably cool and damp weather, and I'm afraid I'm getting spoiled. When summer returns, it's really going to hurt. My body is already thinking fall. I even baked muffins this morning because cool, damp weather turns me into Betty Crocker.

Some random things, in no particular order:

Why do I have the song "The Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie stuck in my head? I don't remember the last time I heard it, other than maybe a punk rock sort of version I swear I heard once on the radio. The really annoying thing is that I've forgotten an entire verse, so I can't even sing it properly to myself to get it out of my head. I had it on a 45 RPM single, so maybe next time I'm at my parents' house (they still have a turntable), I can listen to it, learn the missing verse, and get it out of my head. But that still won't solve the mystery of how and why it got there in the first place.

I think I've achieved Olympics burnout. I no longer care. I guess one person can only cry so much before numbness is achieved. It does provide a pretty constant source for background noise, though, which means I've been getting some annoying, nagging tasks done.

I'm making real progress on The New Project in following that screenwriting process. I started by writing a three-sentence summary of the book, then expanded that into a three-page outline. Then I started on the notecards, with one scene per card, and then added the emotional consequences of each scene on the back. And then I did the scene analysis, figuring out the purpose of the scene, the story question raised in the scene, the point-of-view character's objective for the scene and what the stakes are if the character doesn't achieve that objective. And then I figured out the emotional pivot -- where each scene is supposed to either change from positive to negative, negative to positive, or else move way up or down the scale within negative or positive. I think there may be a few scenes I'll need that haven't come to mind yet, but that may come to me today when I do the more complete outline based on all those cards. I'll be able to see where some cause and effect pieces are missing.

Then I might actually start writing narrative! We'll see how much massaging needs to be done on the outline. I suspect there still will be scenes that occur to me while writing that aren't on the outline, but my main point in doing all this outlining is so I won't go through the agony of not knowing what the book is about until I've already written it. The really detailed outline should tell me what the book is really about. Theoretically. We'll see how it works. I think it is helping me to do all that analysis for each scene because they're all really coming to life, and I'm having fun mentally playing with them to make them have action and conflict in them.

Why is it that when someone improves something to serve me better, it usually ends up being more of a pain? I used to have all my e-mail addresses conveniently mapped to each other, but now they've separated the e-mail address associated with my ISP from the addresses associated with my domain name, so I have to go to two different places to check my e-mail, and I can't use my e-mail software to retrieve the domain name mail (because I need to upgrade it). And this is serving me better. Yep.

And now I should go to the post office while it's not raining, then it's time to work!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back in Love With Love

That morning person thing that afflicted me throughout WorldCon didn't last long. I suspect the fact that it's been fairly overcast the last few days has something to do with it, as it doesn't look like morning. Plus, considering I've been going to bed relatively early, I think I may also be tired and finally recovering from the con.

We had a reasonably cool (for Texas in August) weekend, and I was a total slug, just lying around and reading, and I seem to have come to an epiphany. I may not be as hard-hearted as I'd started to think I was. Perhaps because of my own spectacularly unsuccessful love life, I'd found myself souring on fictional romance. I used to read a lot of romance novels. I used to write romance novels, but I couldn't remember the last one I finished reading. My bookcase is full of romance novels with bookmarks stuck in at about the chapter three point. I roll my eyes at sappy commercials for Valentine's Day or how utterly critical it is to spend a lot of money on an engagement ring. I'm the anti-shipper on TV shows, not wanting any of the main characters to become romantically involved with each other. My heart seemed to have compressed itself to a cold, hard diamond. I was out of love with love.

But then I found the Georgette Heyer stash at the library, and I found myself anxiously turning the pages, desperately hoping that our heroine would find true love, and grinning like an idiot when it finally happened. And then I read The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, which didn't even mention the possibility of romance on the cover, and when the romantic interest came on the scene, he didn't even register to me as a possible true love for the heroine, but when I saw it all coming together, my heart sang.

So I wasn't dead inside, after all. I just have fallen out of love with capital-R Romance as it's published today. I think the big difference between the old-school romances (like Georgette Heyer) or the non-genre love stories and what's being published as romance today is subtlety. I like the relationship that builds organically, where the hero and heroine fall in love through the course of other activities, where the love interest can come on the scene at any point in the book and not just in chapter one, where they don't even have to be attracted to each other at first but can discover each other along the way. When I was writing for Silhouette, my editor kept insisting that there had to be a strong, instant attraction between the hero and heroine, but then they couldn't get together until the end of the book, so they had to have a serious conflict between them to keep them apart.

But it seems to me that if the attraction is that strong, they'd be inclined to overcome almost any conflict in order to be together. Or if the conflict is strong enough to really keep them apart, then they might as well find someone else they're attracted to who's easier to be with (I guess that's me being unromantic). What you end up with is essentially "I hate him, but I'm so drawn to him, but I hate that I'm drawn to him," and that leads to what I've heard referred to as "Two-Fs books," where they spend the whole book either fighting or ... doing origami (folding -- what did you think the other F was for?).

Yesterday I read Heyer's The Grand Sophy, and there the hero and heroine really clashed and got on each other's nerves, and they did fight, but they didn't lust after each other that whole time. They just plain annoyed each other at first, then gradually built a mutual respect that turned into love. I think that's similar to Pride and Prejudice, where Lizzie just plain dislikes Darcy until she gets to know him better. She's not acting like she hates him while he really turns her on. Or there's the situation like you get in Heyer's The Corinthian, where they have no real interest in each other at first. He's just helping her out as a way of escaping his own problems. She's grateful to him, but her affections are elsewhere at first, and he finds her amusing but doesn't really see her in romantic terms. But then they draw together during their adventures. Which, I guess, is similar to Austen's Emma where Emma and Knightley are just friends until they draw together.

And then there's the non-genre stuff where there are no romance rules, which means the romance can come as a total surprise, can take several books to develop, can be a subplot and can not be the major source of conflict in the story. I seem to prefer it when the issue keeping the couple apart isn't that they dislike each other or have problems with each other, but rather that there's something else going on that has to take priority.

So maybe I'm not out of love with love. I'm just out of love with Romance the way it tends to be done today. A lot of those "rules" are the reasons a substantial part of the readership reads the genre, so I don't expect it to change. I'll just find my love stories elsewhere. I will continue scoffing at the ads, because I think they commercialize and cheapen the real thing. And I'll probably remain an anti-shipper, because it so very seldom goes well when they try to do love stories on TV series. I suspect I'll remain a cynic about my personal life, until I meet the person who can change my mind.

Now we're having a nice, cool, rainy day, so I hope to get some serious outlining done on The New Project. Which does contain a sort-of romance (I think), but definitely not what would be considered genre romance.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Megan Kelley Hall

I have a bad case of gymnastics hangover today, as I not only stayed up to watch the all-around, but I also watched the local news afterward for reports from Nastia Liukin's gym and then the interviews during the overnight coverage. A big congratulations to our local gal for making it two gymnastics all-around golds in a row to North Texas (and, come to think of it, all three American all-around golds have gone to Texas. We could field a pretty awesome Olympic team as a state). I also loved that one of the Russians used the floor exercise music I always mentally choreographed my dream routine to. Of course, I was too big a chicken to be much good for gymnastics. I mostly just liked dancing with less restriction than we had in ballet class, and I loved doing poses on the balance beam. Ironic, isn't it, that all these years later, I ended up back in ballet class.

I have to confess that I cried quite a bit last night. I'm quite the Olympics weeper. I cry when someone loses. I cry when someone wins. I cry for medals ceremonies. I cry when they show parents in the audience. The Phelps family is going to dehydrate me. I cry for the sappy athlete profiles. I was a big, weepy mess last night. I pretty much have to watch the Olympics with a big box of tissues handy.

So, while my bleary, red-rimmed eyes are recovering, I've got a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit interview with Megan Kelley Hall, author of the young adult modern gothic suspense novel Sisters of Misery. This novel tells the story of Maddie Crane and her quest to unravel the mystery surrounding her cousin Cordelia’s disappearance.

Hawthorne, Massachusetts, a seaside town born in the shadow of the witchcraft trials, has not changed much throughout the years, and persecution and ostracism are still an active way of life within this cloistered community. So, when Cordelia LeClaire and her quirky, free-spirited mother, Rebecca arrive, the community’s brief curiosity over the newcomers quickly turns to disdain and jealously.

It is no surprise that The Sisters of Misery—a secret clique of the most popular, powerful girls in school, with the vindictive Kate Endicott at its helm —trick Maddie and her cousin into spending Halloween night on Misery Island. But when Cordelia disappears, questions arise as to what happened. The town would like to believe that Cordelia, always impulsive, simply ran away. But Maddie knows that more is at stake and others have something to hide. Now Maddie must choose between the allure and power of the Sisters of Misery and her loyalty to her beloved cousin.

Now the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
I live right next to Salem, Massachusetts and I’ve always wanted to write something that captured the essence of the gothic undertones of growing up in a place that had such a dark history. Plus, I wanted to show how people really haven’t changed all that much—that persecution and ostracism are still alive and well in today’s society.

The book actually grew out of a recent local legend. There’s a stone wall in a neighboring town that supposedly was the site of a car crash not too long ago. Three kids were killed in the car crash and some say that if you shine your headlights on the wall at a certain time of night, you can see their faces in the wall. I’ve never actually seen it, but I decided to build my book around that haunting image.

Describe your creative process.
I’m the anti-thesis of the disciplined writer. I try to squeeze in writing whenever, wherever. With a five-year-old, a writing career and an independent literary publicity company, it’s a tricky thing to do. I’m not one of those people that can fight through writer’s block and just write to get something onto the page. I let thing percolate in my mind until things come out in an explosion. The only problem is that it could be in the middle of the night when all of the words are trying to get out and I need to let them. I just channel my days of all-nighters that I spent in college finishing term papers the day before they were due. Some things never change.

The best way to describe me as a writer (and as a person) is chaotic. Due to the fact that my daughter never wears matched clothing and often goes to school in a tutu over jeans and her various collection of tiaras and the fact that I’m always late, scatter-brained and living in a state of confusion, my husband could write the book on living with a free-spirited, creative, chaotic, procrastinating, chronically late for everything writer. That pretty much sums me up.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I write in an office in our house (really a third bedroom—if we ever have more kids, I’ll have to find another spot) that serves as a catch-all for toys, clutter, files, books, stacks of magazines, games, and other random objects. I have the Writer’s Desk calendar and I’m always so envious of other writer’s offices. My office always looks like it was hit by a tornado. Completely crazy and haphazard. My office is piled high with magazines, clutter, papers, folders, toys, books, mail, and all the spillover from the other parts of the house. I look at Martha Stewart and Real Simple magazines and drool over the clean, uncluttered work spaces. My workspace is in a perpetual state of confusion and chaos.

(Ah, sounds like I have a kindred spirit here! -- SS)

The only thing that is an absolute necessity is a cup (or many cups) of coffee.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
I’m not as cool as Cordelia, not as wishy-washy as Maddie and definitely not as mean as the girls in the Sisters of Misery. I’m probably somewhere between Cordelia and Maddie. Like Cordelia, I was never a follower and I’ve always stood up for myself and others, but I was similar to Maddie in terms of being a bit shy and quiet at times.

Did you have any experiences with high school cliques -- on either side of the equation?
Like Maddie, I often got stuck in the middle. When I was younger, I knew things that certain girls did were wrong or unfair, but I was always afraid of being on the receiving end of some of the horrible things I’d witnessed. Girls can be very cruel. Boys can punch each other, get into a fight and it’s done with. Girls stretch things out and torture each other mentally, emotionally and psychologically. I tried to stay out of those traps as much as I possibly could (but I witnessed enough to write a book about it!) But, don’t be fooled by sweet, innocent demeanors, some girls (and women) can be terribly cruel.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark, of course. All those anti-oxidants and free radicals. It’s the healthiest thing out there (that’s what I tell myself as I chow down on Godiva chocolates)!

What are you working on now?
I’m working on the second book in the SISTERS OF MISERY series. It’s called THE LOST SISTER and will come out in August 2009. I’m also playing around with a nonfiction memoir describing how I overcame major health setbacks (open heart surgery two years ago) to fulfill my dream of being a published author. Additionally, I am a partner in Kelley & Hall Book Publicity, an independent literary publicity company that I started with my mother and sister. It’s a challenge to keep authors (especially fiction authors) in the news, but we’ve worked with some great authors – NY Times bestselling authors to self-published debut authors – and it never gets boring.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
I like having control in a world that at times feels completely out of control. I enjoy creating characters and places and relationships. What makes me happiest about writing is entertaining people with my stories and giving them a little escape from their own lives. That’s what reading has always been for me. An escape. Writing has always been a form of therapy for me as well. When I was recovering from my recent open-heart surgery, the only way that I got through those difficult and painful months was to work on my novel and to write on my blog (as well as in my personal journals). I also wrote a lot when my daughter was a 2.5 pound preemie and I had to spend 8 hours a day with her for sixty days in the NICU of Mass General Hospital. Writing has always been a way for me to get through difficult times in my life. It’s been my life saver.

For more info, check out Megan's web site, or buy the book from Amazon.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Much-deserved Down Time

I made all my deadlines yesterday, and now I have a couple of things that need to be done today, and then I can relax for a little while. Actually, those things are due tomorrow, but I've decided I'd rather get them done today and then take a long weekend. Considering that I like to give myself my birthday as a holiday, and then I "worked" on my birthday and all weekend, I think I deserve a little comp time. I won't be completely slacking off, as I want to do some development on The New Project, but scribbling ideas in colored pen on notecards while watching movies or reading related books while listening to music that reflects the mood of the project feels more like play than like real work.

I think The New Project may be almost ripe and ready to go, as I actually dreamed about those characters last night. Characters invading dreams is a very good sign. In this case, they were in a scenario I hadn't even considered or imagined, but that I think would really work, so I guess I need to make a note on one of my cards.

Now, for a little more WorldCon wrap-up, including some things I learned:

Bringing a lot of shoes is not frivolous. It is, in fact, very practical.
I guess I'm just a delicate flower because there really is no such thing as comfortable shoes for me, and yet I'm also not comfortable barefoot. Any shoes I wear for any length of time, especially for a lot of walking, will become uncomfortable, even if they previously have never caused discomfort. And that means that I really shouldn't wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. I need to have enough shoes with me to be able to rotate among very different kinds of shoes, with different heel heights and with designs that hit my feet in different places.

I have more of an internal clock than I realized.
I've always thought of myself as not having a very accurate internal clock. I usually don't jet lag too badly, I have no sense of time passing without seeing a watch or clock, and I don't generally get into schedule habits that aren't dictated by outside influences (I tend to eat meals at the same time, but that's because they coincide with the TV news). However, that seems to have changed for me lately, as I've been getting up without an alarm, yet always at around the same time, for months. I didn't need an alarm clock at all the whole time I was in Denver. I usually woke up at least a half hour before my alarm was to go off every morning. I had suddenly turned into a morning person, mostly by virtue of being one time zone away from home. The annoying thing was, this wasn't a "morning person" event. Things didn't start until 10. At writing conferences, things usually start around 8, or 7:45 if you want an early start at breakfast, so I'm always having to drag myself out of bed.

I've often thought that there tend to be two kinds of writers, the get up at 5 in the morning and write the day's page count before breakfast types and the stay up all night writing types. And it's generally the early birds who do things like volunteering to put on conferences, so the conferences are all geared to people who like to get an early start. In the SF world, though, the cons are generally run by fans, and they're fans who are used to late-night movie marathons or gaming sessions, so events start late and then run into the wee hours. Now, if only I could convince my body that I should be a morning person at writing conferences and a night person at SF cons.

Someone out there didn't want me to be a morning person, though.
The last couple of days of the con, I started to suspect a vast anti-sleep conspiracy. Saturday afternoon, I decided to take a nap before the Hugo ceremony so I could maybe stay up a little later. Of course, that was the day the housekeeper hadn't shown up by the time I got back to my room just before five, and of course she knocked on the door at 5:30 when I'd just managed to get sound asleep (I didn't see any "do not disturb" signs in the hotel, and there certainly wasn't one in my room, so there was no way to indicate that I didn't want a knock on my door). Then that night when I declared pumpkin time shortly after midnight and had fallen into bed, I got attacked by a Bridezilla. There was a bachelorette party staying in my hotel, and about an hour after I fell asleep, I was awakened by a shrieking laugh that sounded like it was right outside my door. I sleep with ear plugs, so that tells you how loud it was. The laughing went on for a while, and I'd been so deeply asleep that I thought it must be morning and almost time to get up, until I looked at the clock and realized that I'd only been asleep for an hour. Eventually, the laughing went away and I finally got back to sleep. Then in the morning when I left my room, there was a telltale tuft of purple feathers right in front of my door, matching the purple feather boa I'd seen on the Bridezilla in the elevator earlier, which was how I knew who the culprit was. Then Sunday night, I had another sleep interruption an hour after getting to bed. I was setting up a flight notification alert to my cell phone (which turned out to be utterly useless), and when nothing happened after I hit the test button on the United site, I decided to e-mail myself a test message. Nothing happened there, either, so I went to my carrier's site to see if I was using the right address, since my carrier has changed hands back and forth a few times since I've been with them. So I then set test messages for another possible address, and nothing happened. Yep, the phone (which I was using as an alarm clock) buzzed with a message alert about an hour after I gave up and went to bed. Then it was like waiting for the other shoe to drop because I knew I was likely to get at least one more message, so I didn't dare just go back to sleep.

So, a nearly two-hour delay on text messages? What's up with that, AT&T? And United, I got your test message, so why didn't you notify me about the gate change? That didn't even show up two hours later.

Other than those things, I had a blast, and my mysterious Bridezilla with the horse laugh and the feather boa gave me a funny story to tell the next day. But all those things are my justification for giving myself a break this weekend (Mom, I'm talking to you. No nagging allowed.).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Archetypes: The Mentor

I read somewhere that the reason people often get sick after stressful or tiring situations isn't so much the stress itself, but rather the body's reaction to the sudden absence of stress in the aftermath, when all the stress-related chemicals suddenly go away, and that leaves the body vulnerable. If that's the case, then I guess I'm doing things right this week, as I don't have time to collapse. Yesterday was errands day, today I had to go to the library (books due), plus I have a couple of deadlines and I'm a guest at a book club meeting tonight. Tomorrow, ballet class starts again and I have yet another deadline. This weekend I may reach total collapse after a gradual stress ramping down, so maybe I'll be safe from the post-WorldCon crud. The B&N next to the grocery store was having a big DVD sale, so that the specific ones I really wanted were all less than $10, which means I have viewing material for my weekend retreat, and now I have books, so I'm set.

As for the every-other-week writing post, I'm still working my way through the archetypes in the hero's journey. Last time, when talking about the hero, I mentioned that it can be difficult to deal with that archetype because there isn't really a character type associated with it. With the mentor, there are actual traits and duties, so the archetype has a slightly stronger character. The danger is that it's way too easy to slide into stereotype. When someone mentions the mentor, what comes to mind is the wise older man with a white beard -- Merlin, Gandalf, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dumbledore. Joseph Campbell even refers to the type as the "Wise Old Man" or the "Wise Old Woman." The standard job of the mentor is to train the hero or give him some advice, get him started on his journey and then die or otherwise disappear from the scene, since the hero does need to lose the training wheels and find out if he's really learned his lessons without his tutor by his side.

But there really is more to it than that. Dramatically, the mentor archetype serves a number of functions. The mentor is a teacher to the hero, helping him gain the skills he needs to prevail on his journey. He may be a gift giver, passing on the items the hero needs, such as swords, magical armor, the secret password, etc. The mentor may serve as the hero's conscience, providing moral training along with the more worldly training (Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio). The mentor can be a source of motivation for the hero, prodding him on when he's ready to quit. And, in some stories, the mentor can even provide sexual initiation (think Susan Sarandon's character in Bull Durham).

Psychologically, the mentor represents the hero's higher self, the idea of the god within -- the very best part of the person. In other words, the mentor is what the hero can grow up to be if he follows the right path and prevails in his journey. Since the mentor often dies or goes away, the hero might be on the path to taking his place and taking on the mentor role for a new hero at the end of the story. In the Star Wars saga, Luke Skywalker could very well grow up to be like Obi-Wan Kenobi if he trains to be a Jedi Knight and learns to overcome his rash and impulsive tendencies. We saw in the first of the prequels that Obi-Wan himself was once a Jedi in training who could be rash and impulsive and who had to step up and continue his own mentor's work after his mentor was killed.

Thinking in these terms is a good way to avoid the usual stereotypes. Your mentor may have been the hero of his own story at some point and may have gone on his own heroic journey. What was that like and how did it shape him? How will it affect the way he deals with his hero in this story? You don't necessarily want to dump all that into your book, since this is, after all, your hero's story, but knowing that will help you create a real character, even if he is an older man with a white beard.

Or there are twists on the usual role of the mentor. The mentor can be a dark or fake mentor who leads the hero down the wrong path -- but still teaches valuable lessons, as the hero has to learn to discern whom to listen to. The mentor himself may still be on a journey, so he's not quite as prepared for his role and still has some learning to do (like Obi-Wan in the Star Wars prequels, who isn't quite ready to take on the training of someone like Anakin). Comic mentors show up a lot in romantic comedies. These are the best buddies (often siblings) of the hero and heroine who give advice on their love lives that may or may not be good advice, and their interference may almost keep the couple apart but may also help bring the couple together.

Some non-white-bearded-older-man mentors I can think of include:
Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz
The little Amish boy in Witness who teaches Harrison Ford's character about life among the Amish
Kyle Reese in The Terminator, who teaches Sarah Connor about life in the future, how to be a soldier, and sets her on the right path
Jack in Titanic, who teaches Rose how to live. There's also the element of sexual initiation, and the pan across her photographs at the end shows that, in a sense, she did become like him.
The fairy godmother in fairy tales
The Sigourney Weaver character in Working Girl might be considered a dark mentor, as she's working against and undermining the heroine, but the heroine is able to achieve what she does by learning from her and using her tools (her wardrobe and her Rolodex).
Inara in the television series Firefly essentially has the "crone" role in the cast, even though she's young and beautiful, as she offers advice and wisdom to the crew (in the movie Serenity, though, Shepherd Book is in a much more traditional mentor role, complete with white beard).
John Casey (the Adam Baldwin character) in the TV series Chuck seems to be a mentor figure for Chuck, reluctantly teaching him about being a secret agent.
Carrie Fisher's character is a comic mentor for Sally in When Harry Met Sally, as at first she shows what not to do in her ongoing pursuit of married men, but then when she gets into a good relationship she's more able to offer good advice and provide a role model for Sally.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Home Again

My on-the-spot WorldCon coverage sort of fizzed out, as things got truly crazy on Friday and didn't really let up. Even my planned Sunday evening of rest and recovery before returning home on Monday turned into a fairly late night of Olympics watching in a hotel bar with a very eclectic group of writers, artists, editors, booksellers and others from all over the world.

I took detailed notes on panels I attended, and those will inspire many a post over the next few weeks. The panels I moderated may be sketchier because it's nearly impossible to take notes while running a panel.

Right after my last post on Friday, I met my new editor for lunch. I think I'd enjoy working with her, as we seem to be kindred spirits. In other words, we spent much of lunch discussing things like Buffy, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, etc. Now I guess I just have to write a book she can publish.

Friday afternoon was my Firefly panel, and since there was no designated moderator, I got elected. I can pretty much run a Firefly panel in my sleep, given that I've put a wee bit of thought into the topic. Fortunately, I'd run into one of the other panelists, Dani Kollin (who has a book co-authored with his brother Eytan coming out next year) earlier in the week, and we'd had a chance to brainstorm a little on the way we thought the panel would go. And it was truly an awesome session. The audience was really into it, and the energy in the room was so high that it was almost a letdown when it was over.

That evening was my volunteer shift as hostess in the SFWA suite, so I got to play Martha Stewart while helping set up for the Clarion alumni party. Then I hit some of the other parties and ended up doing some party hopping with people who, if I'd ever even thought I'd be hanging out with, my head would have exploded in disbelief. And then, my Convention Morning Person curse kicked in.

I am not a morning person. I think I'm getting up really early if I drag myself out of bed at eight. But I was up before seven almost every morning of the convention, which meant I'd get tired really early. So Friday night, when a couple of the people I was party hopping with and I decided to head back to our respective hotels, I thought I was dragging myself in at around one in the morning. It felt that late. Then I got back to my room and the clock said 10:45. I had to verify in a couple of places to make sure the maid hadn't just reset my clock while I was out.

Saturday was kind of a blur, to be honest. I had an autographing session that wasn't a complete failure, but I was sitting next to Stephen Baxter, who had a non-stop line and people having to get in line over and over again because of the three-item limit. It didn't help that only one dealer in the dealers' room had my books at all, and they sold out on the first day. Then I went to the SFWA business meeting, and then got a nap before the Hugo Awards. After the Hugos, I hit a few publisher parties and was actually out after midnight!

Then I woke up at seven the next morning. But at least on Sunday morning, they had a church service at the convention, so there was something to do that day (that's the annoying thing, being up bright and early when nothing starts until ten). The sermon even incorporated science fiction references, and gave me some food for thought for writing.

In general, I had a fabulous time that went beyond my wildest best-case-scenario, "wouldn't it be cool if ..." daydreams for what the con would be like. The only hitches came on my trip home, and those were mostly my own fault, though United Airlines could stand to improve their communications. I got to the airport really early because the bus from downtown to the airport was timed so that I'd either be really early or cutting it dangerously close for my flight, and I went with early. But it was so early that they had time to move my flight to a different gate after my boarding pass was printed. Only they never announced that they were moving the flight. They didn't make an announcement at the old gate, where I was sitting, and I'd set up to get a text message on my cell phone if anything changed, but I'd received no such message. When it was boarding time and the monitor at my gate didn't mention my flight, I went to the overall monitors and saw that it was at a different gate on the other side of the airport. So, yeah, I had to run for a flight after getting to the airport two and a half hours early. Then when I got home, I got on the wrong bus at the airport. There's only one bus route serving the airport, so I thought it was a no-brainer, but it turns out that in late afternoons, the bus comes to the airport, loops around that part of town, then comes back to the airport before going to the transit center where I could catch the bus home, and I got on the bus that looped around town, so I ended up spending longer on the bus from the airport to the transit center than I spent on the plane from Denver. If I'd waited about ten minutes, I could have caught a bus going straight to the transit center. Ah, well, at least now I know. It turned out to be good decompression time. I just read a book the whole way. If I'd been at home, I'd have felt like I should be doing something.

Now I have a zillion and a half things to catch up on. In spite of having my computer, I'm ridiculously behind on reading e-mail, I have some work projects to deal with, and I need to pick up some groceries. I may give myself this week as something of a "retreat" to inspire myself and so some thinking and research before plunging full-steam into The New Project. There was a great panel on Shakespearean themes that got me started thinking, so I may need to do some reading there.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Best Birthday Ever

Another quick note before I have to make myself presentable for lunch with my editor.

I had a truly remarkable birthday, including being serenaded twice. I showed up for my panel, and the brother of one of my readers then sang Happy Birthday to me, getting the people who were in the room to join in. Larry Niven showed up around that time, so he then turned to me and sang the SCA birthday dirge.

So, yeah, I was serenaded by Larry Niven for my birthday. How awesome is that?

Photographic evidence:

I had a lot of fun with the two panels I moderated, even though the first one could have been answered with the word "yes." But I still managed to come up with enough topics for discussion to fill the full slot. Then it was standing room only for the second panel (though it was in a tiny room).

I went to dinner with my agent and some of her other clients, then came back to my room and collapsed. That meant I was up bright and early for the Stroll With the Stars event, a one-mile walk through downtown Denver with various luminaries of the field. Artist John Picacio was one of them, and we've become buddies from being at various cons together. And one of the others was Paul Cornell, who writes for Doctor Who. It turns out that John is friends with Paul, so I got introduced and managed to not be a total gibbering fangirl. In fact, we had quite a nice conversation about writing as we walked, then there was some teasing John about being behind on his TV viewing, and then John and I were teasing Paul about being Mayor of the walk by working his way through the group and introducing himself to absolutely everyone, making sure no one was left out.

Photographic evidence:

Now I have to hurry and make myself look presentable, and I hear the housekeeper nearby in the hallway. It never fails that they knock on the door when I'm half dressed, and this hotel doesn't seem to have a Do Not Disturb sign to go on the door to prevent the knock.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Goes to the Movies

I am now less intimidated by having Larry Niven on a panel I'm moderating, since I had a nice chat with him last night in the SFWA suite. Another person and I were explaining the romance genre to him, and then we started talking about mystery novels. We agreed that the topic for our panel is difficult, so we suspect we'll veer off-topic when we run out of things to say from a topic that pretty much has a one-word answer.

Before I run of for the day, I need to post a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit visit. This one's a little different. The book More Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet by Lola Douglas (aka Lara Zeises) is now out in paperback, and a movie version of the previous book, True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet premieres on the Lifetime network Saturday night, starring JoJo (I get the impression she's a big singing star) and Valerie Bertinelli (and as a child of the 70s, her in a "mom" type role makes me feel rather old).

First, a chat about the new book:
Was there anything in particular that inspired this book?
MORE CONFESSIONS OF A HOLLYWOOD STARLET is my second installment in a series about Morgan Carter, who's loosely based on a young Drew Barrymore (and not Lindsay Lohan, as most readers assume). At 16, Morgan ODs outside of L.A.'s notorious viper room and almost dies. So her mother and agent ship her off to rehab for six months. When she emerges, she can't get any work. So her agent cooks up this scheme in which Morgan will go live with a family friend in Indiana and attend high school undercover, then emerge a year later and write a tell-all novel that will re-launch her career. This is all in the first book, TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A HOLLYWOOD STARLET, which was adapted into a TV movie that premiers on Lifetime August 9th at 9 p.m.

So MORE CONFESSIONS picks up a month after Morgan's been outed and has decided to stay in Indiana to finish out her school year. Only instead of constantly worrying about her secret identity getting exposed, now she's faced with a whole new set of problems: the paparazzi stalking her on school grounds, her love interest feeling insecure now that he knows he's involved with a famous actress, her mother pressuring her to lose weight and clean up her image, and an old co-star claiming to be involved with her because it makes for good press.

I've been a fan of Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries series since its inception, and I'd really wanted to try my hand at a diary format novel. So I tried to think of whose diary I'd want to read. Drew was the first person who popped into my mind. I chose Fort Wayne as the setting because I lived there for several months after college and it was a total culture shock. I thought, what better way to throw a teen starlet out of her element than to send her to a mostly land-locked state that's a good three-hour drive from the nearest big city?

If you had to choose Hollywood fame or true love, which would you choose?
True love wins every time.

What are you working on now?
The next Lola book, actually. It’s tentatively titled FORGET YOU and was inspired, in part, by the Goldie Hawn ‘80s romp OVERBOARD. That’s about all I can say right now, except that it’s a totally fun project and I’m psyched to be banging out the first draft.

Now, some talk about the process of turning a book into a movie (something in which I have a mild interest!):
Have you had a chance to see the finished product yet, or will you be watching Lifetime to see it for the first time with everyone else?
I've seen the final cut, but I'll still be watching Lifetime on Saturday because hello! It's the first time I'll be watching it on TV. With, like, commercials. I'm even DVR'ing it. Our Comcast guide's info for the movie ends with the line "Based on the book by Lola Douglas." I squee every time I see that!

How well does the casting match what was in your head when you wrote the book, and now that real faces have been put to your characters, does that change the way you now see your characters?
I have to say I absolutely adore the casting, even though not a single character is how I pictured them. Like, I'd always seen Morgan as Hayden Panettiere, her best friend Marissa as Maggie Gyllenhaal, and her Aunt Trudy like the ditsy blond aunt from the Disney Channel Xenon movies. But JoJo is awesome as Morgan, Shenae Grimes kicks ass as Marissa, and Valerie Bertinelli ... well, she's just fantastic. But no, it doesn't really change how I see the characters in my head. Like, if I were going to write a third STARLET book, Morgan would still look like she did when I was writing the first book ... and even then she's not exactly Hayden. She's just this person that lives in my head.

Were you at all involved in the process of turning your book into a movie?
Elisa Bell wrote the teleplay, and while I had absolutely no involvement in that part of the process, I was pretty happy with the script. She used a lot of my dialogue, which I found flattering, and stayed fairly true to the plot. Anytime a 250+ page book gets turned into an 80-minute TV movie, things get cut - and they did here, of course - but the essence of the movie is the same. But also, they were editing the movie during the writers strike and they needed some new voice overs. Elisa refused to do it, because she's in the union, so I actually got to help out. A lot of my lines made the final cut. It's one of the coolest things I've ever gotten to do.

What's the one aspect of your book that you hope remains the same in the film version?
One thing I was sad about was the cutting of Janet Moore, Morgan's high school guidance counselor and trusted confidante. I totally understand why it had to be done, but I loved Ms. Janet Moore. I was also bummed to see Emily, Morgan's best friend in Fort Wayne, reduced to a bit part. That I don't completely understand. Also, it's the one casting choice I was baffled by. Movie Emily is NOTHING like Book Emily, but then again, Movie Eli (Emily's twin and Morgan's love interest) went from a geeky yearbook photographer to a black leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding, philosophizing James Dean. One good change that came about was that they expanded Aunt Trudy's storyline beyond how she related to Morgan. It felt very organic, even though it was vastly different from how I'd written her.

Do you get the least bit of a geeky thrill out of the fact that some of these famous people must have at least the slightest idea that you exist? (Or do you think the actors even know it was a book first?)
Oh, they knew it was a book. At least, JoJo did (we talked about it and she signed a few copies for my friends' tween-age kids). She was really fun to meet, because she seems way older than her 17 years. I didn't get to meet Valerie Bertinelli, because my one day on-set she was in Chicago watching her son Wolfie perform with Van Halen. But, in one of the Lifetime promo clips she does say something like, "It's based on this fantastic book by Lola Douglas ..." and I completely freaked. She was actually born in Delaware, where I'm from, and when I was in kindergarten I'd watch her on TV and just want to BE her.

What are you doing to celebrate the movie's premiere?
Originally I'd wanted to throw a red carpet party somewhere with a big-screen TV, but the economy is SO crap I just didn't have it in the budget. So instead, I'm going to be watching it at my mom's house (because she's the one with the 60-inch high def TV) with her, my fiance, my two best girlfriends, and our dogs. I'm actually going to be blogging live while we watch the movie, giving some behind the scenes info and my reactions to the movie itself. I can't wait; while my mom and Joe (my fiance) have all seen the final cut, Candace and Wendy haven't seen a single minute. So watching them watch it for the first time is going to be like Christmas morning for me!

She'll be blogging live during the premiere.

And now I'd better get dressed and face the day. My legs certainly feel a year older ...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

WorldCon Day One

A very quick note as I pause for a few minutes to give my legs a break (there's a lot of walking) before I head to the evening events.

First, I've had a few people ask if I'll be doing any public appearances outside the convention while I'm in Denver. My schedule is really packed solid during the convention, but there's a possibility of maybe doing something Sunday evening after the convention ends. Closing ceremonies seem to be at 2:30, so how about the Barnes & Noble cafe on the 16th Street Mall at 4? If I let myself go back to my hotel and rest, I might not leave, so I might as well do it while I'm still running on adrenaline. It won't be an "official" bookstore event, but I love meeting fans and will be happy to sign books.

I won't get into discussing panels in detail right now, but I am taking notes for the panels I'm going to, and they'll inspire posts later on. I'll treat them as inspirations, and work quotes from the panelists into a post that includes my own thoughts. Today I went to a panel on readers as writers that included Lois McMaster Bujold, Connie Willis and George RR Martin. I also went to a panel on science fiction villains that included LE Modesitt and Paul Cornell (who has a lovely accent).

I also had lunch with my agent and spent an hour helping at the SFWA table. I'm gearing up to head to the evening parties. I still have tons of energy because I went to bed at 9 last night and got up at 7. I guess I was tired.

I've run into a lot of people I know and met lots of new people. Now to put on different shoes and head to the parties.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Live From Denver

I made it to Denver, and the fun really starts tomorrow. In the category of "world is coming to an end, film at eleven," I was ready to leave early this morning. Usually, I plan out the time I absolutely must leave, then back off from that about ten minutes, and that's my target departure time. This morning, I was ready fifteen minutes before the target departure time. That's a danger zone because it's too much time to just sit around or to go ahead and leave, but it's not enough time to really do much of anything because then I'll end up being late. I got some tidying done, not quite to the level of company clean or even of not being embarrassed if I die in a plane crash and someone has to clean out the house, but pretty much to the level of being able to tell if someone ransacked the house while I was gone.

Then leaving at the target departure time, which not only allowed my usual cushion but also aimed at being a little early from a cautious estimate of the time the bus was likely to come, meant I was at the bus stop more than twenty minutes before the bus came.

Yep, I got wild and crazy and took the city bus to the airport. I'll be gone long enough that airport parking would get expensive, plus I have new car paranoia and don't want to leave it out in the airport lot for a week. Cabs get expensive, and I had a bad experience with SuperShuttle. However, I can catch a city bus across the street from my house, and with one transfer get to the airport for three dollars. It did make something that's about a fifteen to twenty minute drive take an hour, but it was still relatively hassle-free, especially given the cost. Unfortunately, this service isn't available on weekends. Believe it or not, the bus that goes to the airport only runs on weekdays.

Then I took the city bus from the Denver airport to downtown, where there's a free shuttle that runs by most of the hotels. The convention center is relatively close, but all the WorldCon events are at the opposite end of the convention center, so it's still a hike. I may have to rethink wearing the Infamous Red Stilettos to the Hugo Awards, but it does seem like I should be able to take the shuttle to a light rail stop, and the light rail stops at the convention center, very close to the place where the WorldCon events are, so I may do that Saturday night.

I probably won't do my usual con thing of hanging out in the con suite because that's at a hotel that's a good hike from the convention center. There's no ducking in for a quick snack between panels. I don't yet have a good sense for how huge this convention is because the only thing open today was registration. The fun giveaway was a "fan hydration device" (aka water bottle) to make sure we all stay hydrated and don't succumb to the altitude.

I have already been recognized, though. When I was walking away from registration, a guy from Sweden came up to me and mentioned having read my books. Then he referred to my essay on "fans in hiding," and it took me a second to realize he meant the Stealth Geek FAQ. So I've already had my celebrity moment.

Tomorrow's agenda: lunch with my agent, plus panels, opening ceremonies and the "Barrayar Summerfair" (as in the Lois McMaster Bujold books). Oh, and manning the SFWA table in the dealers' room and probably helping with the SFWA hospitality suite.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Counting Down

The WorldCon departure countdown clock is ticking, and I'm at the point where I have a ton to do in one day. To a large extent, I'm pretty much ready to go. I'm mostly packed and have a detailed list of the things remaining to be packed. The laundry is done. I've worked out ground transport logistics. All the shopping is done. I even have one of the projects due this week done. But on the other hand, I have one major thing that needs to be done before I leave that I had planned to do way in advance, but I'm being hampered by someone else not quite feeling the urgency of my timetable, and I can't finish this project without that input.

That brings me to a minor rant: The word "no" is your friend. And although it may not feel like it, it's also a kindness to other people. When you say no to something because you either can't or don't really want to do it, that gives the other person the chance to make other plans. When you say yes, that creates an expectation that you will actually do what you said you'll do, when you said you'll do it. If you say yes and then realize that it won't work, you should say no as soon as possible. It doesn't work to say yes, and then give a long guilt-trip moaning about how crazy your life is when you don't do it in the time you said you would and the person nags you. After all, you were the one who said yes, knowing what your life was like. It only makes matters worse when you then promise you'll get to it (in spite of being offered an "if it's too much trouble, I still have time to find someone else" out) and then don't do it. So now I'm in the position of having to quickly find an emergency source to answer a few questions and then write an entire article at the last minute, all because someone three weeks ago said yes when she really should have said no. If she'd said no then, I could have found someone else and my article would be done now. Yeah, I'd have been mildly peeved to be turned down then, but not as incandescent with rage as I am now. I'd been planning to volunteer to help with this person's efforts, and this article was a first step toward helping them get the word out, but not anymore. By the way, while this applies to just about any circumstance, it's definitely something to keep in mind when you're working with a journalist of any kind and want to get any kind of publicity. Then if you say no up front but suggest someone else who might be able to help, you can make a good press contact, while if you say yes and then don't follow through, you've made an enemy. That's media training 101 (which I used to teach to executives at multinational corporations, so I'm extremely sensitive to this). Not that I'm a regular member of the press, just an occasional magazine contributor, but I contribute to magazines directly within the target this person's cause is trying to reach.

Ah, well, while I'm waiting for my emergency back-up source to respond, I guess I can tackle everything else on my to-do list. I'm finding myself extremely paranoid about my luggage weight. I'm fairly certain the weight restrictions haven't changed, just the amount they charge you for going over (which is ridiculous), and I know I've never been over the limit with this suitcase. I'm not sure you could even go over the limit with this suitcase without filling it with bricks, and I don't think I could lift it with one hand if it was more than 50 pounds. But still, I find myself trying to weigh my suitcase on the bathroom scale, just in case. I happen to think that in all fairness, they should just assign an overall weight for each passenger, and you can make up that weight however you want to -- with your body, your checked bags and your carry-ons. Of course, I think that because I'm rather small, so I could get away with a lot of baggage. But if it's all about fuel cost, then I should get to have the same amount of weight on board the plane as an NFL linebacker if I paid the same for my ticket, even if my weight is in shoes instead of muscles. (Yeah, I know, the linebacker is probably in first class and therefore did pay more for his ticket, but I was creating a strong visual instead of using a more generic "very large man.")

I'm taking the computer with me, and if I remember to pack the camera cord (next item on the to-do list), and if I remember to actually get out the camera and take pictures, I'll try to post updates and photos throughout the week.