Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Spoiling it for Everyone

I'm making real progress on the rewrites now and actually enjoying myself. Most of what I've done so far is compress events, change viewpoint characters (which has been really fun, seeing things from a different perspective) and move events to different places in the book. Today I get to the part where I move some of the plot in an entirely different direction.

I've experienced another weird case of blogosphere brain unity. I'd planned my post today around a topic for a panel I'll be moderating this weekend at Fencon on spoilers. And then on my morning blog surfing, it turned out that The Park Bench had a post on spoilers and whether or not to seek them out. So I guess today is spoiler day!

For those who don't do a lot of online discussion (Mom), a spoiler is information that gives away what happens in a book, movie or TV show. What actually constitutes a spoiler depends on who you're talking to. On one extreme are those who don't even want to know the episode titles, who don't watch the promos, who don't want to know who the guest stars or characters are and who don't even read the TV Guide episode descriptions and who consider any of that information a spoiler. On the other extreme are those who only consider it a spoiler if it gives away a major plot twist or the ending of the story. Then there's all kinds of disagreement on when something should be considered spoiler information -- how long after the book or movie is released, when the episode is shown in its country of origin, a delay after the first airing, when the episode has been shown in the United States, when the episode makes it around the world, when the series is out on DVD, etc. And does it only count if it's words that specifically tell you what happens, so pictures (as in LiveJournal icons) are okay, even if they give away a major plot twist? (The moment the season finale of Doctor Who aired in the UK, LiveJournal was swamped with icons depicting a major plot twist from that episode, and they appeared in personal journals that had nothing to do with Doctor Who, not just Doctor Who forums. And, ironically, there were even people who normally screech about people spoiling them using these extremely spoilery icons with entirely unrelated posts. So I suppose the definition of spoiler is often "something that spoils me.")

The global entertainment market and the global nature of online communication make it all more complicated. Release dates for movies and books vary around the world. The same TV series may be shown in multiple countries, but at different times, and when they are shown at different times, the really devoted can usually find them soon after the time of origin online, so not everyone in the same country even sees the same episode at the same time. Then with Tivo and other means of delayed viewing, as well as legal online availability, people may shift their viewing times to watch not when the episode originally airs, but when it's convenient. Quick release of full-series DVD sets means that some people don't even bother watching series on television and instead wait to just watch the DVDs. And then there are people who discover series years later via DVD. How far do you have to go to preserve the fresh viewing experience for people in all this?

So, just out of curiosity and to help me develop some good talking points and questions for the panel discussion, I have a few questions for all of you out there in blog land:
What's your stance on spoilers? Do you avoid all information, look at officially released information, or seek out every scrap of information you can get?

What do you consider to be a spoiler?

What issues do you run into in trying to avoid (or find) spoilers?

Any other thoughts you'd like to share on what you think proper spoiler etiquette should be?

(And feel free to direct people to this if you know they have strong feelings on the topic that they might want to share.)

Tomorrow I think I'll talk some about my own spoiler journey and personal spoiler policies.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Revision Method Madness

I think the worst of the ragweed might almost be sort of over. I was able to get outside this weekend for the Greek Food Festival at the big Greek Orthodox Church. The church members make the food, so it's basically Greek home cooking on a massive scale, and I must say that whoever invented baklava was divinely inspired.

I also managed to get about 20 pages rewritten, and so far I think applying the notecard and scene-by-scene outline methodology to revisions has been a huge success. The main benefit is that it separates the scenes themselves from the words that make up those scenes. That helps in several ways. For one, it's a lot easier to tell if there are too many scenes that hit the same story notes or that serve the same story purpose when you look at sentences on index cards than when you read the actual scenes. I realized in this book that half my scenes in the middle of the book were really about the same thing. They just all took different forms. The scenes themselves seemed very different, but once I wrote down the gist of what the scene was about, I realized I'd been repeating myself. Then it's a lot easier to throw out a notecard with a sentence on it when you realize that the scene doesn't need to be there than to throw out the scene itself. The scene itself may be a good scene -- it could have all kinds of action, tension, conflict and emotion -- but it might not need to be there, and it's very difficult to look at a good scene and then throw it out. But if you look at that sentence on the notecard and realize that the scene doesn't need to be in the book, it's easier to toss it aside.

But where I think it's really helping is in getting away from the scenes on the page for rewriting. When I'm revising by looking at the manuscript, the tendency is to just make what's there better. For a hypothetical example, say I've got a scene in which the hero is being pursued by the bad guys, and he makes a narrow escape. If I'm doing revisions by going through the manuscript and I don't think that scene works, I'm probably going to make it a better scene about running away and making a narrow escape. There may be more obstacles to his escape and he may come closer to being caught. He may even learn something about the villain that moves the plot forward or creates an additional complication. But running away and narrow escape may not be what the book needs at this point, and it's easier to see that when I just look at the main point of the scene instead of at the words. Looking at that main point, I may realize that what the book needs is for the hero to stand and fight instead of running, or maybe even that he should be caught. Or, to get really radical, it might not even be time for him to go anywhere near the bad guys and he should be doing something proactive on his own instead of running away from bad guys.

Here's how I'm working the process right now: First, I went through the whole book and made a card for each scene, writing a sentence or two to describe the gist of the scene. I could already tell that I had a lot of redundant scenes just from doing that, so I started throwing out cards, replotted the middle, and then made new cards for new scenes. Then I went through those cards and analyzed each scene, figuring out what the main story question for the scene was (what I hope will keep readers turning the pages), my purpose for having the scene in the book, what the primary scene character's objective is and what the stakes are. If I can't answer those questions, I have to reconsider the scene. Then on the back of each card, I wrote in a different ink color what the main emotional component for the scene should be -- for both what the characters are going through and for what I want the audience to feel. I had to take a lot of breaks during that phase because when you've been doing that kind of deep analysis for a while, the temptation is to get lazy about it or not care.

Next, I made a detailed scene-by-scene outline, with a short paragraph for each scene on the major events, followed by a short paragraph on the emotional through-line. During this, I reorganized some scenes to get a better through-line, deleted scenes and added scenes that occurred to me based on the outline flow. I also tried to group the scenes into arcs to get a sense of rising and falling action. I even did a little chart to show the high and low points of the book to make sure there was a lot of mood variety. Once I was happy with how the big picture of the book worked, I went to the manuscript, chopping out the deleted scenes (whimper) and writing new scenes. After I'm through with that major surgery, I'll do a pass through the whole book to make sure the new parts mesh with the old parts.

I've seen a lot of writers advocate doing a really fast draft, just blowing through the initial draft to capture all that energy, but I've found that my biggest weakness as a writer is impatience, so the more processes I put in place to slow me down and make me think, the better I seem to do. I'm hoping that doing it from square one will mean fewer rewrites and revisions later, so that the overall process of writing the book from start to finish will be faster, even if the first draft takes me a little longer.

Now, a big TV update (being the TV Guide service): The season premiere for Chuck is tonight. That is such a fun show that manages to spoof spy shows even while being a pretty good spy show. Too bad it's opposite the Sarah Connor Chronicles. I'm not sure which one I will watch and which I'll tape to watch later. And then the season premiere of Life is on after Heroes, with another episode on Friday night. Pushing Daisies starts up again on Wednesday, and then I think my fall season will be complete. I may have to get more videotape because it seems like most of my TV viewing is either opposite something else I watch or on a night when I'm out. Someday I may splurge on getting the converter box with DVR (and maybe even the High-Def service to go with my HD TV) from my cable company, but I'd have to sell a book or two first. Which means I'd better quit playing online and do some work.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Reading-Triggered Obsessions

If I were a superhero, ragweed would be my kryptonite. Or maybe Ragweed Man would be my nemesis. The ragweed levels in the pollen count yesterday were "very high," which pretty much meant my day was shot. It makes me a little sniffly/sneezy and makes my eyes burn, but the main effect is that it saps me of all strength, energy and coherence. And since the medication to fight the effects also saps me of all strength, energy and coherence, there's not much I can do about it. I dragged myself to ballet through sheer force of will, but then had to lean on the barre to rest after each exercise and wheezed after every floor combination, especially when we did jumps.

I was okay for brainstorming, but when it came to actual writing, I just found myself staring into space and unable to string words together. So I gave up and let myself daydream the scenes I'd just brainstormed. Maybe if I can pull my head together, I'll be able to write those scenes today, and they should be pretty vivid after watching the movie of them in my head a few times.

One highlight of my day was My Anchorman filling in for the noon news (since the allergies have meant I'm definitely not awake for his usual shift). There was some minor snarking with the weatherman, but the really good thing was that it was the "adopt a pet" segment day, so I'd get to see him with a cute little animal. It turned out that this week's pet was a little dog that was fairly shellshocked (from a shelter on the coast, where she was during the hurricane, which meant she was the quietest Jack Russell terrier I've ever seen), so the SPCA guy just held her in his lap instead of letting her run around on the floor and try to make friends with the anchor like they usually do. I'd been kind of hoping to see how he'd react to that, but then I might have been a puddle of goo if he'd been too adorable with a dog. I did notice that while the SPCA guy was talking about the dog and the camera zoomed in for a close-up of her, this hand appeared from the side to let her sniff, and then she wagged her tail and licked the fingers, which was cute enough. It's important that a man be good with dogs. Not that I currently have one, but the way a man interacts with dogs can tell you a lot about him.

Anyway ... Something I ran across when I was digging up my Trixie Belden books reminded me that the obsession/reading habits thing can go both ways. While a lot of my reading choices were made because of the latest obsession, there have been a lot of times when something I read made me obsessed with something that I carried over into real life. Sometime around late first grade, I got a book that was a collection of bios of famous dancers, which, put together, gave a kind of history of dance. The cover is falling off, so I must have read and re-read it, and that was largely what spurred me desperately wanting to take ballet in second grade -- where I promptly became disappointed with how boring it was that ballet class was more about exercising than dancing. I'd taken a summer preschool dance program when I was three or four -- something my mom signed me up for when the growth charts indicated that, based on my height at that age, I would end up being something like five-foot nine, and so she wanted me to learn some grace to carry that height (I didn't quite make it to five-foot four). At that age, they may call it "ballet" but it mostly involves skipping around and waving scarves and stuff like that, so a real ballet class came as quite a shock. I re-read that book this week, and I'm amazed that I found it so inspiring that it triggered such a deep desire to dance. It also contained plenty of references to the fact that the first few years of dance training are almost all just exercising to build muscles to be able to really dance, so I shouldn't have been so surprised.

I don't remember if the horse phase was triggered by a book, or vice versa. I do remember reading Black Beauty, but I don't know if I read the book and became obsessed with horses or if I read the book because of a horse obsession. I know that girls around that age generally do go through a horse phase, and as I lived at a historic military post at the time where they used horses quite frequently for ceremonial purposes and we also lived very near the facility for horse shows and jumping competitions, so we often went over to watch them practice, I did have a fair amount of exposure to horses. I have a vague recollection of reading Black Beauty because some friends did, so it may be that their horse obsession triggered my reading which triggered my horse phase.

Sixth grade was a big year for reading-based obsessions. I read the Anne Frank diary, which triggered a lifelong fascination with World War II (the fact that I was living in Germany at the time may have had something to do with it). I read the Chronicles of Narnia, which led to The Lord of the Rings, and then a complete fascination with fantasy. I recall wanting to only wear this one particular nightgown that seemed like something you'd wear in a fantasy world, and then I had houseslippers with embroidery on the toes that seemed marginally medieval, so getting ready for bed meant a trip into Narnia every night. The second half of that school year, I think I obsessed over everything I read. I didn't just read a book. I lived it for a while. That may have had something to do with the fact that I was deeply unhappy. We moved to a different place in February, which meant changing schools mid-year. I'd been very popular in the old school, I'd been involved in the choir and band, I was a class officer, and my teacher was a neighbor. The new school didn't have a band, I couldn't get into choir coming in mid-year, and nobody liked me (I later found out that my teacher had prepared the class for my arrival by telling them how smart I was and that I was going to make them all look bad if they didn't do better. That would explain a lot.). The school also had this weird accelerated schedule, so there wasn't much in the way of recess, and there was only a short "snack" time to eat at your desk instead of lunch, and then the school day ended at two, which meant I had a lot of free time when I got home. With no friends, that meant I had a lot of time to read and live in imaginary worlds. That was also the year I read a book about gymnastics and got obsessed with that. I'd done gymnastics sporadically when I was younger, then read this book and wanted desperately to get back into it. The one good thing about the move was that the new place did have gymnastics classes. Oh yeah, and the castle on the hill over the neighborhood. That was cool, and I'm sure it really helped fuel the fantasy obsession.

I was going to say that I seem to have grown out of my reading influencing my real life, but then I remembered that one of the reasons I went to Oxford on a vacation was because of Connie Willis's books (though there were also practical matters, as it was close enough to London to be convenient, but far less expensive). And then I wrote an entire series of books largely because I wanted a Harry Potter-like world that involved more adult issues ...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Girl Detectiver Power!

Wow, that discussion of teen detective books really triggered some response. I had no idea there were so many other Trixie Belden fans out there. I'd never seen the Judy Bolton books, so I'll have to look those up. Now I'm picturing libraries across the country being swarmed by adults checking out children's mystery series books. My branch does seem to have a pretty complete collection of Trixie Belden, so I may grab a few on my next trip. The mildly embarrassing thing is that I was in the drama club in high school with the children's librarian at that branch, so I can't just sneak in and be anonymous about it, and she's not a close enough friend that it's something I could laugh about with her. Then again, she is a children's librarian, so I suspect she reads more than her fair share of kids' books as an adult, even for fun, so she'd probably understand. Or I'll schedule that library trip to coincide with children's story time, so I won't have to go past her at her desk to get to the children's books.

I did find some web sites about the Trixie Belden series, and apparently all the romantic hints were dropped in the last round of books, so I guess we didn't get that development, after all. I also found out that there is Trixie Belden fan fiction, and I'm almost afraid to look. If it's like most other fanfic out there, about 95 percent of it will consist of either:
-- the boys getting it on with each other
-- the various boy/girl couples Expressing Their True Feelings for the first time (possibly followed by getting it on) or else one of the characters hearing a song on the radio and thinking about their feelings for another character
-- a new kid (who bears a suspicious resemblance to the author) moves to the area, joins the group, gets romantically involved with the author's favorite character, and usually is the one to solve the mysteries
-- a couple of the characters get lost in the woods/stranded in a cabin/trapped in an abandoned mineshaft cave-in/kidnapped, etc., with one of them badly hurt, leading to the Expression of True Feelings and lots of cuddling while they wait for rescue

About two percent will be mystery-type cases like in the books, possibly with a little more character development and relationship development than exists in the books. The rest will fall into the "other" category and may involve day-in-the-life stuff with no mysteries at all, missing scenes from the books, or else some of the darker, more twisted stuff like rape and abuse (especially likely since one of the characters was abused).

I suspect that if they were written today, or if Random House, which is reissuing the series, decided to commission new books, the non-development of the relationship aspects would change, as they've discovered that the ongoing relationships are a big part of what keeps readers hooked on series. Not that any of these series, even the entirely static Nancy Drew, were unsuccessful. Or that readers weren't looking for that back then, as I know from my futile effort to find the last Nancy Drew book so I could see if Nancy and Ned ever did anything beyond going to fraternity dances together. But it does seem like the way to make these series relevant to today's kids isn't to make them racier. In fact, I think the almost corny levels of wholesomeness are part of their charm, since life these days is racy enough and the wholesomeness is an escape from that stress. Rather, to get kids hooked on these kinds of books now, the trick would be to build in some growth, change and development, especially on the romantic front. Really, that's where the suspense actually lies. We know that Our Heroine is going to solve the mystery, escape the clutches of the villain and save the day. But we don't know if she's going to have to make difficult choices that could affect her friendships, if she's going to get grounded for failing algebra, if she'll let herself admit that she likes the boy next door or if she'll ever kiss that boy next door. Even for books like the Harry Potter series, which had tons of plot developments that weren't a given, a lot of the discussion seemed to be "Yeah, yeah, Voldemort taking over the world, have to stop him, whatever. But I wonder if Ron and Hermione will actually admit that they like each other."

Hmm, note to self: look into whether they're thinking of commissioning new Trixie Belden books for a new generation, and if they might be looking for people to write them ...

But first, I have to write some of my own stuff, and I've now done all the plotting and planning, so today's when I start actually rewriting. And it will be MAJOR surgery.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Archetypes: The Shapeshifter

I have to do an early post and then run today because I'm singing for a funeral this morning. And, no, I don't need any condolences. I don't even know whose funeral it is. They just wanted to put together a small choir for the service, and since my days are pretty flexible and my "boss" lets me out for these things, I agreed to do it.

I'm continuing the discussion of archetypes from the hero's journey, and this is a fun one: the shapeshifter. Put very simply, this is the character the hero can never be entirely sure of, which creates uncertainty and suspense in a plot, but there's a lot more to it than that.

The shapeshifting can be literal in fantasy or science fiction stories with characters who change form. I think a lot of the vampires fall into this category when they're portrayed as seeming very normal and human until the fangs come out and they become more like a monster. Angel in the early seasons of Buffy fit the shapeshifter archetype -- he was mysterious, and sometimes he seemed human and like the ideal boyfriend, but then was revealed to be a formerly really bad vampire, and then he really did go evil. Buffy could never be entirely sure what he really was. Then there are the characters who put on a lot of disguises or take on a variety of identities. Think of the Cary Grant character in the movie Charade, where the heroine could never be entirely sure of who he was because everyone in the movie seemed to know him by a different identity. Or there are the characters of dubious or shady morality who aren't entirely sure where they stand, themselves, so how is anyone else going to figure them out? I'd put Jack Sparrow of the Pirates movies in this category. He was impossible to figure out -- he was the worst pirate ever and the best pirate ever, all in the same scene. He could be so crooked that even being totally honest was crooked for him because people expected him to be crooked, so honesty was something of a doublecross. He was often both hero and villain, simultaneously. He'd turn on his allies and ally with his enemies.

The Shapeshifter is quite often the romantic interest because this archetype really represents the mystery of the opposite sex -- or even the mystery of sex itself. In a romantic story, the hero/heroine is never entirely sure of the other person's feelings until the happy ending, and often the relationship brings out a side of the other person that isn't usually seen by others. It's interesting, then, how many romantic comedies are based on a deception plot, where one (or both) of the main characters is pretending to be someone else. You've got the Shop Around the Corner/You've Got Mail plot where they're one way when they're pen pals and another way in person, and the various mistaken identity stories where the character is pretending to be something different than she really is. Even in non-deception stories, the romantic interest may show different faces in different situations. In When Harry Met Sally, Harry is a loyal, trusted friend to Sally, but to other women he's a love-'em-and -leave-'em jerk, which leaves Sally very confused and worried about what will happen when they become lovers. She can't be sure she won't become just another woman he leaves because their changed relationship means she doesn't know which side of him she'll see.

In my Star Wars example, I think Princess Leia is the shapeshifter -- when we first see her, she looks like a vulnerable, ethereal princess. Then she goes all regal and smarts off to Darth Vader. Then she turns out to be really good in a crisis, and for the rest of the series she goes back and forth between her public Princess persona and her gutsy chick Leia persona, and you're never entirely sure which you're going to get (and that's not just because, apparently, Carrie Fisher was both mentally ill and stoned out of her mind). She keeps both Han and Luke guessing. Luke expects her to be a certain way when he first sees her distress call, then is entirely unprepared for what she really is like. And then add the fact that she has a secret identity even she doesn't know about (Luke's sister/Darth Vader's daughter).

In mystery and noir type stories, the femme fatale is often a Shapeshifter -- the one who seems all innocent and vulnerable as she tearfully begs for the hero's help, and then lures him into darkness and danger when it turns out she's setting up the whole thing. Hitchcock loved Shapeshifter characters, both male and female, where you're never entirely sure where they stand -- what another writing book calls the "fake-ally enemy" and the "fake-enemy ally." That's the ally who turns on the hero, or the enemy who either turns out to be secretly working for the good guys or changes sides during the story.

You also see these in "buddy" stories, where there's usually the normal one and the crazy one who drives him mad -- the "good cop/crazy cop" pairing or the straight man/comic relief duos. The shapeshifting is a lot of what makes the crazy one so maddening for the more straightforward guy. Think about the Lethal Weapon films, where you've got straightforward ordinary guy Danny Glover, who never knows what to expect of Mel Gibson, who acts like an easygoing funny guy but who actually has deep-seated anger issues that make him borderline suicidal/homicidal, and no one can ever be sure which side will come out to play.

The psychological side of this gets pretty complex, with all kinds of Jungian analysis. Largely, it reflects the anima/animus balance of the psyche. The anima is the female element in the male unconscious -- all the positive and negative images of femininity that come out in male dreams. The animus is the male element in the female unconscious. Ideally, these are in balance, with all people having traits that are considered both "masculine" and "feminine," but our society tends to label certain of these traits as negative in each sex, so that they're repressed. So aggression is labeled masculine and repressed in women, while sensitivity is labeled feminine and repressed in men, for instance. As a result, these repressed qualities have to come out in dreams, fantasies or projection -- where the traits get mapped onto fantasy figures either in the form of crushes on real people or on fictional or mythological characters that represent the traits.

And that's where the shapeshifting comes in, because you often can't be sure if your feelings for the other person are truly about who that person is, or if you're just reacting to your projection of your repressed anima/animus. You may see the person one way, but in reality they're a different way, so they always surprise you.

That can get interesting with characters because it works on multiple levels. The author may be doing her own projecting in creating the characters, which can be negative if you get too much of an obvious Mary Sue, but if she taps into something truly universal that matches the same kind of projections that readers do, you get a character who triggers obsessions. The characters may be doing their own projecting that complicates their relationships within the story. And the readers will be doing their own projecting, subconsciously seeking a character to project their fantasies onto.

To get a really fascinating relationship between a Hero and a Shapeshifter, think about what aspects of his own personality the hero may be repressing, and build the Shapeshifter around that, but then give that character her own dimensions surrounding that. The result should be an intense attraction and an intense conflict. You can also play with the difference between the way the hero sees the shapeshifter and the way he/she really is, and use the revelations of the shapeshifter's true character as turning points in the story. It keeps the hero off-guard if every time he thinks he's figured out the shapeshifter, things change, and that escalates the conflict.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Girl Detectives

The sinuses have relented somewhat. I'm not sure what it was yesterday, but I was totally loopy, and I was only taking decongestants, not allergy drugs. In a way, that was good for the brainstorming because my thinking wasn't entirely linear. It's a good thing I wasn't trying to actually write, though. I think some of the problem may have been that the one-sided sinus pressure threw my equilibrium off, and it also disrupts sleep, so I was tired. I have to get a little more analytical today, so I hope I can focus better.

I had a regular commentpalooza on the Blogger edition of my blog (I post the same content at LiveJournal, at Blogger, at MySpace and at Facebook, so you can read it wherever it best suits you) regarding the mention of favorite teen sleuths in the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit interview last week. I don't know if any of y'all decided to stick around, but I was amazed at one thing:

How deprived are so many people to have not heard of Trixie Belden?

Nancy Drew got all the hype, but Trixie was ultimately a lot more fun, I think. Too bad she's a little harder to find.

I did start out with Nancy Drew, somewhere in second or third grade. When I was a kid, a lot of my reading choices were driven by the obsession of the day. I'd go to the library and work my way around the room (the fiction was shelved around the perimeter of the children's section), checking out all the books with a title or cover that reminded me of the current obsession. For a while, the obsession was witches and magic, either from a fantasy sense or a historic sense, thanks to the syndicated reruns of Bewitched that were mandatory viewing for all the girls in my neighborhood. That led me to a book calledThe Witch Tree Symbol, which, it turns out, wasn't about witches at all. It was a Nancy Drew mystery set in Amish country, and thus a new obsession started.

I read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on. At first, I was trying to read them in order, then I realized it didn't matter, aside from the mention early in the book of the most recent case and the mention late in the book of what the next case would be. But then when I got a little older (like, third grade), a few things started to bug me. For one thing, Nancy was a bit of a Mary Sue (not that I knew that term at the time). She was a little too perfect, a little too good at everything. She could dance ballet well enough to go under cover in a dance company (even though there had never been a previous mention of her going to the regular dance classes that requires). She could go under cover as a trapeze artist. She could play the bagpipes. Her friends mostly existed to point out how perfect Nancy was. There was the plump one, while Nancy was, of course, willowy slim, and the tomboyish or mannish one, while Nancy was ever so feminine. Then there was the fact that Nancy wasn't really doing anything with her life, other than accidentally stumbling into mysteries. She was eighteen and out of high school, but she didn't have a job, and she wasn't in college. She'd go to the college for various weekend trips to see her boring boyfriend, but she wasn't in school herself. She seemed smart enough to go to college, and her dad had the money to send her. So what was she doing with her life, waiting for Ned to graduate so she could then be a good little housewife? And that leads me to the final thing that made me lose interest in Nancy: her life was awfully static. She was always eighteen, in every one of those books (I guess that's why she wasn't in school or starting a career -- that must have been one hell of a year, with all those mysteries she got caught up in). Her friendships didn't really progress, and her relationship with Ned just sort of hovered there without developing at all. I don't recall us seeing her meet him or even learning how they met. He was just her boyfriend, and he existed only to take her to parties. They didn't seem to be going anywhere. For a while, I got caught up in what I now know was a futile effort to find the last Nancy Drew book so I could find out if anything happened in Nancy's life. Did she and Ned ever break up or get married? Did she decide to study criminal justice and go to college? Did Bess and George ever tell her what she could do with her Mary Sue self?

And then while looking for more mysteries, I found Trixie Belden, who was sort of the anti-Nancy. I'm hazy on details, as I only own two of the books and haven't read them in 30 years, but as I recall, Trixie's life progressed. In the early books, she was about twelve, and then she grew into her teens. Things changed around her, as her older brother became old enough to drive and the neighbor boy finished high school, and they occasionally incorporated new people into the cast instead of discarding them at the end of each book. She had a big family, lived on a farm in the Hudson Valley and had her own Scooby Gang of friends, complete with clubhouse in the carriage house of one of her friends' estates. She had a few useful skills from living on a farm, like horseback riding and having to be handy with animals and household repairs, but nothing to a full Mary Sue degree. Her friends all contributed to solving the mysteries in their own ways instead of just being props for Trixie. Best of all, the budding romantic relationship actually developed along the way. The guy started out as one of her early "cases," a homeless runaway being chased by an evil guardian, and then got adopted by her best friend's father and became part of the group -- such delicious teen angst! -- and her feelings for him gradually developed from a bit of "ugh, boys" to being intensely self-conscious around him and even a little flirting.

Now I want to go track down these books and see if they ever did resolve that relationship. I think I got sidetracked when Star Wars came along and I stopped reading things that didn't involve spaceships for a while.

My other favorite sleuth -- and these are kind of hard to find -- was Cherry Ames, a nurse who solved mysteries. She started as a student nurse, but then that chick seemed to have trouble holding a job because she had a different one in every book. She was a department store nurse who helped solve the case of a shoplifting ring, and then during the war she was a flight nurse for evacuating wounded soldiers, and I don't remember what other jobs she held. I think I mostly read those because one of my aunts was a nurse, and her formal nursing school portrait at my grandmother's house, complete with that white cap, looked a lot like the picture on the book covers.

On the TV front, just as I figured, I couldn't deal with Heroes. I watched the resolution of the cliffhanger, then decided I didn't care what else happened, and why watch it if I wasn't enjoying it, so I ended up watching DVDs of The Office.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Monday Moanings

Well, I ended up not making it to any of the festivals, mostly because my sinuses decided to go on a rampage (it's that time of year), and I spent much of the weekend on the sofa, zonked on allergy medicine, while doing some revision brainstorming.

The allergy drugs tend to give me weird nightmares, but the only one I vividly remember, the one that had me waking up in a panic, involved me suddenly having 80s hair and not being able to fix it. I could scan one of my high school pictures and post as an illustration of that nightmare image, but I think that might be too painful for everyone involved. I'm not sure if that particular hairstyle was widespread, but I do know almost everyone in my school, male and female, had it (probably because we all had the same hairstylist). And it was truly awful.

Some little newsy bits that I keep forgetting to post:
I've put a deleted scene from Don't Hex With Texas up on my web site (linked from that book's page).
The Chinese version of Enchanted, Inc. is out now, in places like Taiwan and anywhere other than mainland China where Chinese is spoken/read (though I imagine there will be bootleg copies in mainland China). It should be a good translation because the translator contacted me to clarify a lot of stuff, and we did a lot of e-mailing to make sure she was getting the gist of some of my Texanisms. I don't know what the cover looks like, as I don't yet have my copies, but I did get a blog comment from someone who's read the Chinese book. I've also started getting a lot of messages in what looks to be Chinese in my spam filter, but I don't know if there's a connection or if they're fan mail that gets sent to the wrong place because there's absolutely nothing in the messages I can read.
I've also been getting another wave of fan e-mail. It's odd how it does seem to come in waves, which makes me want to try to track down the source of how these people came to find the books and see if there's something that set off the wave. I'm getting the usual question about when the next book is coming. Believe me, I want to write it more than you want to read it. But as I keep saying, the way to get that book is to tell other people about these books and get them to buy them. Money talks. So far, Don't Hex seems to be on a pace to outsell the previous book, or at least sell faster (more copies in the first year of release) and upward trends are good.

It's nice to be getting fan mail when I'm at this stage in the revision process of another book. That would be the "I suck, what was I thinking?" stage. I went through the whole book, putting the gist of each scene on a notecard, and I realized that I could lose half the cards from the middle without losing anything. Then I realized that there were maybe two scenes in the middle that I wanted to keep. The beginning and end are great, but wow, that middle just kind of lies there. It all seemed so exciting when I wrote it. Now it just seems repetitive.

On the TV front, I'm going to have to get on the library waiting list for the book True Blood is based on, since they seem to be doing the first season more or less based on that one book. The TV series pace is making glaciers look fast, as we're three episodes into what's supposedly a mystery, and nobody's started investigating anything yet. They're all too busy having sex and thinking about having sex. It's like Torchwood, but in Louisiana and with vampires (though the Torchwood people might have done more about looking into the mysterious deaths by now). I just want to know what happens with the plot, so I want to read the book instead of waiting for it to unfold. Meanwhile, I'm not sure if I'm going to bother with the return of Heroes tonight. I more or less gave up on it last season, and this is supposed to be the "villains" season, and I'm really not all that excited about the villains. However, I really liked the Supernatural season premiere last week, so I'm not just in a crotchety mood. Since I gave up Fringe last week, maybe I'll give The Mentalist a shot tomorrow night in that time slot, since there's a reasonably attractive man in it who might actually have more than 30 seconds of screen time per episode.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Festival Season

I managed to write more than 2,000 words yesterday, which is pretty good for a "just for fun" project with no deadline. However, the fact that the story is just kicking in at 2,600 words may be a sign that I am not meant to write short stories.

Now, though, that story will have to go backburner because late in the day I had a chat with my agent, and we decided that now would be a good time to revisit an old project and see if I can take it up a notch. I'm excited about that because I already feel like I've learned so much this summer, and I like the idea of being able to make this book be on paper what it's been in a vague, fuzzy sort of way in my head. That means I'm about to fall back into serious work mode.

Meanwhile, the fall festival season is really kicking off around here. This weekend, there are two I'm considering. There's the Oktoberfest (yes, it's September, but this is the weekend the Munich Oktoberfest opens), and though as a former resident of Germany I'm up for the whole German culture thing (though I lived in Hesse and the Palatinate rather than Bavaria), the main reason I'm even considering this is the Mobile Pie Hole. The folks promoting Pushing Daisies have turned an Airstream trailer into a mobile version of the TV show's Pie Hole, and it will be at this festival, serving up pie and Pushing Daisies kitchen swag. That's very hard to resist. And then there's the Plano Balloon Festival. Hot air balloons are one of those things that fascinate me for no reason I can discern. I don't have any experience with them. I just like the idea of them. Every year, I say I'm going to make it to that festival, but I never do. If I get all wild and crazy and want to do the festival thing instead of getting inspired and burying myself in the book, what I may do is hit Oktoberfest in the early afternoon, then head over to the balloon festival in time to see the early evening balloon flight, and then stay for the post-dusk balloon glow. They also will have fireworks that night, and I do love fireworks.

But unless some of my friends decide they want to go and that forces me to commit to going, I have a feeling I will change my mind and decide I really don't want to go out and deal with crowds by myself. I can already feel the book churning in my head, and you never want to waste a burst of enthusiasm for a project. There will be other balloon festivals, and I don't need more kitchen gadgets, even with a Pushing Daisies logo (though I am decluttering my kitchen by accident, breaking an average of a glass a week here lately, mostly through chain reactions started by bumping something that knocks something else over, and so forth).

Also, I'm already feeling last night's ballet class, and that may only be worse tomorrow. Holding proper second-position arms for a long period of time is rather difficult, and it affects the arms, shoulders and back. I'm not sure what we did that's making the backs of my thighs so sore. We did a few more grande plies than normal, and that may have something to do with it.

Next weekend is the Greek Food Festival, and I'm pretty sure we're planning on that one. Yum.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Linda Gerber

I managed nearly 600 words on a just-for-fun project yesterday, which is pretty good considering the massive case of spring fever I had. I seem to have my seasons backward. I get the seasonal depression in the summer, and I get the spring fever that has me wanting to be outside having fun in the fall. Today it's kind of cloudy, which signals writing time for me, so maybe I'll be able to focus and work.

In the meantime, I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest, Linda Gerber, author of Death by Latte, which is described as a modern romantic mystery/suspense in the tradition of Victoria Holt (and that means it's probably right up my alley). Aphra Connolly has been living a quiet existence on her father’s secluded island resort, until Seth Mulo turns up and steals her heart… and provides information that leads her to find her mom in Seattle. But the reunion isn’t quite what she expected. Aphra’s mom, Natalie, doesn’t seem happy to see Aphra, and Natalie’s boyfriend, Joe, insists that Aphra go home. Even worse, Seth shows up, only to ask her to return the ring he had given her that summer. At least Natalie’s good-looking neighbor is sympathetic. But when Joe is found dead at a nearby coffee shop, Aphra discovers her whole trip to Seattle has been based on a lie. And now someone just might be trying to kill her. . . .

Now, the interview:
What inspired you to write this book?
Beyond being contracted to write the next book in the series (a real motivator!) I found while writing the first book, DEATH BY BIKINI, that my main character Aphra has some real holes in her life that she wants filled. One of those holes is understanding why her mom chose her career over her daughter. Aphra needed some answers and in DEATH BY LATTE she moves one step closer to getting them.

Describe your creative process.
At heart I'm more of a pantser than a plotter but because I've sold the past few books on proposal, I've had to learn to outline in order to hand in a cohesive synopsis. This doesn't mean I never deviate from the outline. I do! It just means that a lot more creative process is happening on the front end these days. Characters still elbow their way in or change their minds about what they were going to do and new plot lines pop up while others fall away completely, but do have a better idea of where I'm headed if I outline first.

I try not to revise as I go because for me that's self-defeating and really slows me down. A few years back I sat in a workshop by Jenny Crusie where she challenged attendees, "Don't look down!" In other words, keep going, don't lose your momentum by self-editing and second-guessing. Just let the creative energy flow and let the story out. Then you can edit. (This was before her book by the same name with Bob Mayer. She must have really liked the phrase!) I started following her advice and found that for me, this was a much more effective way to work. YMMV.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I have to have plenty of Diet Coke available, even in the early morning. And although I love music for setting the mood, I can't have it playing while I'm writing because I always have to sing along, and that can be a wee bit distracting.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
Aphra and I both have dark hair. And we both really like Seth. But she's a lot gutsier than I am.

Who was your favorite mystery sleuth as a young reader -- or did you have one?
I had an entire collection of Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon!

(Let's hear it for Trixie! She far too often gets left in the shadow of that Nancy chick.)

If a latte can be deadly, what's your preferred form of caffeine delivery?
Diet Coke. (See above...)

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Is there even a question? Dark!

What are you working on now?
I just completed the final edits on the next book in the series, DEATH BY DENIM (May '09) and am working on a stand-alone paranormal that will hit the shelves Summer '10.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
Sure! I'd like to give a shout out to the Seattle area RWA whose members were very generous with their time and graciously answered every question I could throw at them. I owe them big time.

Linda's also holding a cyber launch party on her blog, starting today. Here's a video about it. And, you can buy the book from Amazon.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Well, that picnic may not have been the brightest idea I've ever had. It was a very pleasant setting, but this may not be the best time of year for it, as I could smell the ragweed pollen in the air (on the weather report that evening, ragweed levels were listed as "very high") and even at 75 degrees, you'll get really hot sitting in direct mid-day sun. So I ate my lunch and hurried home, and then had much the same effect I get from going swimming, where I'm groggy and lethargic the rest of the day. Still, I actually did it instead of just talking or thinking about it. I may give it another try later in the year after ragweed season and when it's even cooler. It would also be an amazing place to watch a sunrise, so maybe some day if I find myself waking up strangely early, I'll put some tea in a thermos and walk over there to watch the sunrise.

This is all part of my latest attempt to shake up my routine and avoid getting into too much of a rut. That time management effort of recording what I do and when I do it has revealed that I'm very much a creature of habit. I do the same things in the same order at pretty much the same time, every day, and I get a little freaked out if something comes up to shake up my routine. Meanwhile, during my occasional fits of organizing, I came across a "creativity tool" I won in some staff meeting trivia game in one of my old jobs. It's a deck of cards with each one having some kind of suggestion about shaking up your thinking or trying a new approach. There are all kinds of different games you can play with it for solo or group brainstorming, but I thought I'd use it as a starting point for daily journaling/thinking. The very first card was about shaking up your routine as a way to make your brain work in different ways and be more creative. So yesterday's effort to do something different involved having a picnic lunch instead of eating lunch while watching the news. Today I think I might go to the cafe at the library for lunch, since I have to return some books.

I'm afraid the fall TV season has already seen its first casualty. I found myself sorting through my mail mid-way through Fringe last night, and then fifteen minutes before the end, I realized I didn't care what happened, so I turned it off and took a shower. That would be a bad sign. I'm rapidly losing interest in House, but it's on at a convenient time to use as background noise for writing radio scripts, and I live in hope that they'll get their groove back. I'm utterly bored with the new team, and House himself has become more of a spoiled toddler than brilliantly unconventional.

Or maybe I'm just being picky. I also gave up on two books yesterday. The first one, I got mid-way through and discovered that it was centering around one of my personal hot-button discomfort issues, something I find very unpleasant to read about, and I didn't care enough for the characters to put myself through that, so I put that book aside. Then the next one I picked up, by an author whose other books I've liked, I didn't make it past chapter one. It was a perfect illustration of how important motivation is in making a plot work. The more odd or outrageous the thing you're making your characters do is, the stronger the motivation has to be. You have to make readers believe that the characters have no other option or convince readers that in the same circumstances, they'd do the same thing. If in chapter one the readers are groaning and saying, "Why did you have to go and do that? That's just stupid!" the book won't work. I was wondering if maybe this book went in this direction out of an attempt to be more high concept, to really raise the stakes, but even if you're raising the stakes, you have to make it work. The professional and reader reviews at Amazon agreed with me, so I don't feel like I'm totally out of touch, and it sounds like things will only get worse. I may flip through it to see what happens, but at least I'm prepared for it to make me want to scream.

Normally, I take this as a challenge to come up with my own plot and find a way to motivate the action that seems senseless, but I haven't yet been able to come up with a good reason for a character to do what this one did or to take it to the extreme this one did.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Strategic Use of Lulls

Our gorgeous fall weather continues. Last night, I put the real comforter back on the bed, instead of the light throw I've been using, and I was even a little chilly in the morning. Yesterday afternoon, I had tea on the patio, and as I was sitting on my patio, having tea and scones while listening to Puccini and brainstorming in a notebook, I was definitely reminded of why I'm willing to put up with the financial insecurities and emotional rollercoaster of writing for a living. That counted as work, and I didn't have to sit in an office on a day like that.

I'm in a weird lull between projects. The New Project proposal is with my agent, and I don't really want to start anything major before I get her feedback. Plus, I'm not sure what to work on next as I now have two projects under consideration in the main genres I work in, and the result of those projects will determine what I do next. But at the same time, I don't want to get out of the habit of writing daily. I may do some just for fun writing that may or may not turn into anything "real." This is a chance to play and remind myself why I like doing this. I mean, beyond the ability to work while sitting on the patio on a glorious September day.

There is some strategy involved in a writing career. Like it or not, you do get put into certain categories as a writer, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's like having a brand image that lets people know what to expect. It is possible to move around a lot of different categories, but it's generally more effective in building a strong brand to stick to one or two things, establish yourself, and then broaden. When you decide to broaden, you can do it in a way that extends your brand by going gradually. Like, say, if I wanted to write thrillers (not very likely, but this is hypothetical). My current brand identity is funny contemporary fantasy. I might first write a funny contemporary fantasy with thriller elements, then maybe the next one would be more thriller and less either fantasy or funny, depending on what I want to do, and then eventually transition to thrillers.

So deciding what to write next isn't just about what idea is currently eating a hole in my brain. It's about which of the ideas currently eating a hole in my brain is most likely to be marketable in today's publishing climate and most likely to be a logical extension of my current brand and that will complement rather than compete with whatever else I have on the market. If any of the current projects sell, there will be contract language that says I can't sell a book in that genre to any other publisher, so there's not a lot of point in writing something else in the same genre, especially since the current projects are all first books in series, so the second book in any two-book contracts will be a sequel. And yet I don't want to start writing a sequel until I know the first book will sell. My agent is good about keeping those limitations very narrow, so there is room to work around them, but it's still something to keep in mind.

What I think I'm going to do for these cases is have some backburner projects, things that are going to take a lot of work and development over time. I can take them out and play with them in lulls until they're developed enough to become primary projects. I have a traditional fantasy that's been living in my head for about eighteen years that I wrote once when I didn't have the skill to pull it off and that I'd like to try rewriting from scratch, and I have the first glimmers of an idea for a sort of fantasy with a steampunk sensibility that's going to take a ton and a half of research and reading to develop. And I just came up with an idea that may only work and be marketable as a screenplay, so that could be something fun to play with.

But for today, I think I'm going to have that picnic and take a notebook for some more brainstorming and maybe even drafting.

And, yes, I'm being deliberately vague about prospective projects because I don't like to talk about them until they've sold. People in the publishing world do use Google, and I don't want to prematurely tip my hand about anything.

I do think it's a good sign that what I really want to do is continue The New Project. I even came up with the next scene in detail in my head last night. I just am not sure that's a good use of my time before I get feedback from my agent.

Monday, September 15, 2008

After the Storm

We ended up being very, very lucky with the storm up here. We mostly got a lot of gusty, swirling wind and some rain. The rain wasn't heavy, for the most part, but I wouldn't have wanted to be on the road in my little car with that wind because it was the kind of thing that hit suddenly, and I could imagine it blowing me all over the road -- or worse, it hitting a higher-profile vehicle and blowing it into me. It actually ended up being pretty much my ideal Saturday. My Anchorman was on the air until 2:30 in the afternoon, it was gray and rainy, and it was the perfect day for lying on the sofa and reading. I had my living room blinds open and was lying so I could look out the window, so I was watching the street lamp sway in the wind and the crepe myrtle trees bending almost double. The relief at it not being so bad here wasn't just selfish on my part -- a lot of the people evacuated from the coast are sheltered up here, and if the storm was bad for them here, that would have added insult to injury.

However, things on the coast are pretty nasty, and likely to remain that way for a while. The Red Cross needs money, if you're so inclined as to contribute to their disaster-relief fund.

And, ironically enough, hurricanes tend to bring lovely weather in their wake. It's absolutely gorgeous today and likely to be so for the whole week. It feels like fall. Fortunately, it falls at a work phase where the things I need to do can be done sitting outdoors with a notebook. I'm even considering packing a picnic lunch and going to sit at the lakeside. Or maybe making an afternoon tea to enjoy on the patio. After I put my patio umbrella and furniture back up.

Following the suggestions to give it a shot, I did catch the first two episodes of True Blood. The jury's still out. Since they referred to Monroe when they talked about going to a city, it seems like the series is set in the general area my family's from, and a lot of the characters and settings certainly rang true. I like a lot of the characters. But it is very much an "HBO Original Series" where they seem to have fallen into the idea that pushing the boundaries is automatically a measure of quality, and there's a bit too much nudity, sex, violence and language for my taste. I admit that the language is probably true to the characters, and some degree of the sex and violence fits the premise of the series, but they seemed to be going into what my former book group used to call "loving detail." That's what we said when some sensational element was necessary for the plot, but also had a little extra attention lavished on it, beyond what was necessary. So far, a lot of the sex seems to be of the "You're not watching TV, you're watching HBO!" variety. I have an edited for television mindset, so perhaps I'm not adult enough for HBO.

Then there's the fact that I just can't get into vampires. I can't find it in myself to get outraged about the idea that vampires are being discriminated against, and I don't find vampires even remotely sexy, including the main vampire. Oddly, I saw the actor as himself in one of those "behind the scenes" things they're doing about the series, and I find the actor very appealing and sexy, but when he's in character he does nothing for me. I suspect I'll be frustrated on the relationship front because I like the boss with a crush on the main character much better, and he seems doomed to be stuck in the "friend/buddy with an unrequited crush" role. I do like the twist that one reason she likes the vampire is because she can read everyone else's mind and his mind is quiet to her, but I think that might have been more interesting if she hadn't been all "Squeee! Vampire!!" before -- like if maybe she'd been one of the few people who didn't care either way about vampires, wasn't repulsed, wasn't intrigued, and then she found herself drawn to the quiet in spite of herself. But then, these books are huge bestsellers and mine aren't, so what do I know? I did discover this morning that Jacob is the one doing the recaps at Television Without Pity, so I suspect I'll keep watching just so I can follow the recaps.

On the movie front, I caught No Reservations on HBO and was utterly bored. It's not that hard to write a decent romantic comedy, is it? Only this one couldn't seem to make up its mind what it was -- a touching family drama or a bickering leads romantic comedy where the leads bickered for no real reason, then fell for each other way too easily after all the bickering, and then resolved their problems simply because the movie was almost over. Then I caught Once on OnDemand, and was so-so about much of the movie itself but utterly loved the music (which, fortunately, is most of the movie and what the movie's about). There has to be a soundtrack available, right? And I seem to recall hearing that the two lead actors now are an actual musical group in real life.

And speaking of real life, there is stuff that must be done before I can play outside.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Battening Down the Hatches

The proposal for The New Project is just about done. All I have to do is fix the synopsis, since I came up with a new idea for it yesterday. And then another one early this morning. They're events that come later in the book, so I just have to weave them into the synopsis. I want to send it all to my agent today, in case there are power issues Monday.

I've got my arrangements made for the Browncoat Ball. Mom and Dad, I think this will be where I decide the birthday money went. I decided to splurge on a hotel room to myself instead of finding a bunkmate, and maybe that will allow me to get a little more rest. Plus, thanks to what seems to have been a fluke bad experience the last time I stayed at the hotel (no housekeeping while I was there, and construction starting on the room above mine at 8 in the morning on a Sunday), I got a free upgrade to the concierge floor. That apparently includes a breakfast and a happy hour. I don't know what other perks there are, so it will be my chance to find out why the concierge rooms always go first for RWA conferences, even though they're more expensive. I'm pondering maybe finding a less expensive hotel on my way home from Austin, maybe by the lake, for Sunday night to do some relaxing and resting to recover before I drive all the way home, and then calling that my fall vacation. Now I just need to figure out something to wear to the Ball. I'm not too worried about winning a costume contest. I just want to wear something I can dance in, and this year I will be dancing. I won't get myself roped into doing anything that keeps me off the dance floor.

And I have myself more or less prepared for whatever happens with Ike. It seems like the path changes with each newscast, but it looks like we'll get it Saturday during the day, with about four inches of rain and 40 mile-per-hour winds. I realized late yesterday that I didn't own a radio that ran on batteries, so when I ran errands this morning I went to Target to find one. Do you know how hard it is these days to find a plain old battery-operated radio? I ended up getting a Walkman-type cassette player with a radio, since I have a lot of tapes and my old Walkman is wearing out. Almost everything else in the store was iPod-related, and that doesn't help much if you lose power and are looking for weather alerts. It does mean I'll have to wear headphones to listen for weather alerts and can't just leave it sitting on a table and playing, but they didn't have a battery-operated radio with a speaker. I have plenty of flashlights and candles. I have enough books to last me months (I made my pre-hurricane library run on Wednesday -- that tells you where my priorities are, considering I only went after food and a radio today). Now I just need to fill some pitchers with water and maybe fill the upstairs bathtub, in case we lose water as well as power. I don't think it will be that bad, but better safe than sorry. You know hyper-prepared Ethan in my books? Well, you can kind of see where that trait came from.

And I guess I'd better take down my patio umbrella today.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fall TV: Part 1

I felt like all my time management efforts fell by the wayside yesterday because I did a lot of goofing off, but then I also accomplished everything on a long to-do list. I had to remind myself that the point of all the time management was to get things done and still have time for fun. It was a "rest" day on the book before I start serious proofreading today, and while I do plan to plunge right into the next project after I send this to my agent, one day isn't enough for switching mental gears, so fun was allowed.

We're currently dealing with the potential of a looming storm. Ike is headed our way, and it is highly likely that we'll get at least a lot of wind and rain by the time it makes it this far inland, but it's still too early to tell what the extent of it will be because they won't know the exact track of where it will go until it makes landfall. That means they can't even give us a reliable weekend weather forecast. Tornadoes are scary, but at least they hit and get it over with. All these days and days of waiting and knowing that something will happen, but you aren't sure exactly what, where, and when, start to wear on you -- and I'm not even anywhere near the coast. I don't think I could deal with the stress of living on the coast. They have mentioned potential for power outages, and considering the power in my neighborhood used to go out just for cloudy days (it has been better in the past few years), I guess I'd better be prepared for that. If I don't post Monday, it could be because I have no electricity. I do have a laptop, but the battery doesn't hold much of a charge these days, and the DSL modem does require power.

In other news, the fall TV season is trickling in. I watched Fringe Tuesday night, and I think I'll be giving it a shot, but I'm certainly not in love with it yet. To be totally honest, I'm mostly there for Mark Valley, and then he was mostly out of the picture, and when he was in the picture, they ruined the pretty. He's one of the few actors where I find the actor himself more interesting than any characters he's played. I guess I imprinted on the idea of military men at an early age, so I can't seem to resist a West Pointer war veteran. In a TV universe where most characters are more unrealistically badass than their real-life counterparts would be, I like the idea of an actor who in real life may be more badass than the characters he plays. I think my main lack of enthusiasm for this show may be because I am so beyond over the government/corporate conspiracy theory stuff. Not that I object to it, I've just seen it a few too many times. It seems like when they need a little extra conflict in a series, they throw in a conspiracy. Even in shows where they are the conspiracy, where they're the ones keeping secrets, they'll suddenly run into a bigger, deeper conspiracy. I'm not sure what it says about my mentality that I generally enjoy it more when Our Heroes are the ones having to keep major secrets from the rest of the world than when they're the ones trying to uncover the secrets and unravel the conspiracy. I guess I prefer the idea of being in the know to the frustration of cover-ups and dead ends.

Speaking of keeping secrets, that brings me to my other recent discovery, and I'm almost ashamed to admit this one because I know it's not that good, but heaven help me, I'm enjoying the heck out of it. It's Primeval on BBC America. That's a channel I only get OnDemand, and last weekend I decided to create my own Sci Fi Friday, since the Sci Fi Channel is just down to Atlantis, so I pulled up the first episode of Primeval from OnDemand, and I got strangely hooked. On Sunday afternoon, I marathoned all the episodes they had posted to OnDemand and waited impatiently for the new one on Monday. When one didn't come up and when I discovered that they were two episodes behind, I found them through (ahem) other means. And once I found them there, I couldn't help but watch the next couple of episodes after that. I guess the best way to describe it is a weird mix between an inverse of Stargate and Jurassic Park -- anomalies from other times (and maybe places?) are opening into our world, but instead of going through them to explore, Our Heroes are mostly concerned with the stuff that wanders through into our world. Namely, dinosaurs and other extinct and very dangerous beasties. And Our Heroes have to protect the world from the creatures while keeping the secret and trying to solve the mystery of the time anomalies.

Basically, it's a weekly series version of Sci Fi Channel Saturday night movies, but I don't feel quite so embarrassed for the actors. It's utterly silly and I can't even begin to explain what I like about it, but I think two words sum up the appeal for me: zombie dodos. Seriously. Plus, there is some good eye candy, with a few nicely attractive men doing manly things, and one of them is pretty much my ideal physical type (and the actor is one I've swooned over in a Masterpiece Theater costume drama). They pulled a twist at the end of the first season (which will be the middle of the season for BBCA, as they're showing the first two seasons as one long season) that could be either utterly brilliant or incredibly sloppy, and I'm not sure which yet (and if it was deliberate and as brilliant as I hope, I'm now trying to find a way to pull it off in a novel). I might even be tempted to get the DVD set for pure cheesy fun.

Now to spend the day reading the first 70 pages of The New Project out loud to myself so I can make sure it flows.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Archetypes: The Herald

It's funny how things in my life seem to parallel these posts. When I was talking about the Threshold Guardian, I spent a day dealing with AT&T Customer Disservice (very much a Threshold Guardian energy). And now it looks like we've got a hurricane heading our way, plus I've been thinking about change.

It must be time to talk about the Herald! This archetype is similar to the Threshold Guardian in that it tends to be one of those wooden cut-out figures that pops up to say, "You have a destiny to save the world!" before lying back down and disappearing.

Plot-wise, the main purpose of the Herald is usually to kick off the plot. In terms of the heroic journey, the Herald is usually the one to issue the Call to Adventure, the one who shows up and tells the hero he has a job to do. In mythology, Hermes was usually the Herald. In fairy tales, there was usually quite literally a herald sent out to spread the word through the kingdom that the king was offering his daughter's hand in marriage and half the kingdom to the person who successfully completed the quest.

The Herald can be a good guy, someone encouraging the Hero to go save the world. There's Hagrid in the Harry Potter books, who showed up to tell Harry he was a wizard and that he had a world of possibilities ahead of him. He can be a bad guy, challenging or threatening the Hero or the hero's community. The Terminator served as a kind of Herald in that movie. His actions in killing his way through the Sarah Connor listings in the phone book served as a signal to Sarah that her life was about to change and that she was in terrible danger. Or the Herald can be neutral, someone without a vested interest in the outcome who simply is carrying a message -- the person delivering the fateful telegram, the paper boy on the street corner shouting "Extra! Extra!" or the person who accidentally drops a piece of paper with a mysterious message on it.

Quite often at the beginning of the story, in the Ordinary World stage, the Hero is just going through the motions of life, doing okay, but not living up to his potential. He may not even be aware that things need to change. Then the Herald shows up and lets the Hero know of the need for change. Knowing this, the Hero has to make a choice to take action. Think of the "You could be more" moment in the Farscape pilot. Even if the hero is itching for adventure and wants a chance to be a hero, the arrival of the Herald can be a wake-up call as it forces the hero to put his money where his mouth is and do something instead of just dreaming about it. After all, if the hero really did have his act together and really believed he should be doing something, he'd have done it already. It takes the Herald to give him that final push.

Psychologically, the Herald is the inner realization that things need to change and that things can't go on the way they have been. The Herald signals that the world (or just the hero himself) is out of balance and needs to be set right. Once you're prepared for change, the universe will generally send someone to make that happen -- or else you'll be able to recognize that messenger when he shows up. Because of this, the Herald may be something inside the Hero, like a dream, a vision or that still, small voice of the divine (or those things may be what makes the Hero receptive to the Herald when he shows up). The Herald can also be a force rather than a person, like, say, a hurricane.

But I'm talking about character development here, so I'll focus on the Herald as a character. The main thing the Herald represents is change, which makes the Herald the opposite of the Threshold Guardian, who opposes change. In The Writer's Journey, Christopher Vogler mentions that the appearance of Darth Vader early in the original Star Wars film serves as a Herald because just the existence of something like Darth Vader is a signal that this universe is out of whack and needs a Hero to make things right. I think that the real Herald energy in terms of character is actually in R2-D2, who brings the plea for help to Luke and gets him involved in the adventure, and who then brings the Death Star plans to the Rebels.

Thinking about this made me realize that I missed a subtle Threshold Guardian from my Star Wars examples. C-3P0 was often in opposition to change, and when R2-D2 issued the Call to Adventure to Luke by playing the message from Princess Leia, C-3P0 told him it was probably a malfunction and nothing to worry about. That's a difficult kind of Threshold Guardian to overcome, since it's not exactly a challenge or conflict. Instead of saying "None shall pass!" so that the Hero knows he needs to get past, this kind says "Ah, it's nothing. Don't worry about it." That's harder to recognize as a test or as opposition.

The fun thing is that even though the actual plot role for C-3P0 as Threshold Guardian is limited to that one little bit, he carries that energy throughout the whole series, always being the one to say, "Oh, that's too dangerous, it's probably nothing, we shouldn't go there." Meanwhile, he's paired with R2-D2, the Herald, who also carries that energy through all the movies. He's the one who's often alerting the others to danger and heading off into the unknown. This is a character, even as a robot, who's all about shaking things up. That's something to think about in casting these plot roles in a story: Is this an overall attitude and way of thinking for these characters, if they exist in the story beyond that moment in the plot?

This is also an archetype that can double up. The Mentor may also be the Herald, as with Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, showing up to give the information that something must be done, but then also giving advice, encouragement and any essential magical help to Frodo (likewise with Bilbo in The Hobbit). After issuing the Call to Adventure, the Herald can stick around as an ally. I guess the only archetype that can't also be a Herald is the Threshold Guardian, as it would be difficult to say both "You have to do something" and "You can't do that!"

You can still have a Herald in less quest-oriented stories. In romantic comedies, the Herald may be the friend who says, "You've got to start dating again!" or "You have to break up with that jerk!" Or the one who suggests taking a trip around the world or whatever else sets off the story. The Herald could also be the love interest if it's someone who disrupts the hero/heroine's life and suggests the possibility of change. Harry popping into Sally's life at pivotal moments to point out the flaws in the way she lives her life serves as a Herald in When Harry Met Sally.

As with the others, the key is to think beyond this role and consider why the Herald is issuing the challenge or sending the signal, where he stands on the challenge and at least a little about what his life is like away from this "job."

Next: The Shapeshifter.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Getting Organized

I think I've got the major surgery on the proposal for the New Project done. Now I just need to re-read to see if it still makes sense. Then I'll give it a day to rest, and then read it out loud to myself to check the wording.

Meanwhile, I'm on yet another efficiency/organization kick. I'm trying the time-management trick of tracking exactly how I spend my time. I've played with that in the past, but that was more time-tracking the way I did when I worked for a PR agency and we had to show how we were allocating time among clients (most of these were retainer clients, so we didn't actually bill them for this time, but it was how we theoretically managed staffing). But that was usually more of an estimate at the end of the day, very heavily rounded up to 15-minute increments. Do one task that takes 5 minutes, and that counted as 15 minutes devoted to the client. I assigned "client" categories to various functions I do now, like writing, marketing, etc., and then tracked time that way to make sure I was working enough and taking enough time off. The problem was, I only kept up with that when I wasn't that busy. When I really was working, it tended to slide.

But since I've been complaining so much about not seeming to get much work done while also not really having time for fun, I'm trying to track how I really spend my time. I keep a notepad handy and am writing down exactly when I start doing something and when I stop. Of course, this then becomes inaccurate because you change your behavior the moment you start tracking it. If you have to write down that you spent half an hour reading forums at Television Without Pity, then you're less likely to do so. But since the idea is to manage time better, I guess the results are the same. I'm not trying to give up all fun stuff and time wasting, as one of the reasons I'm willing to put up with the financial insecurities of not having a day job is that I want to have non-working time in my life. I'm just trying to make sure that I don't spend so much time on quasi-fun that I don't have time for real fun or real work.

One concept in all the material on uncluttering and organization that I keep reading about that I think I need to work on is the idea of the landing strip/launch pad. That's the spot where things come into the house and are sorted for being moved where they belong, and then the place where things that need to be taken out are collected, as well as a definite place to find things like keys or cell phone. I seldom have trouble finding my keys, but the mail has been the bane of my existence for a while.

The way things are now, everything gets dumped on the bar in the living room, which makes the living room look messy. I do put the "real" mail aside, then the junk mail piles up because I don't want to throw it away without shredding it, but I also don't bother with shredding it at the moment. Then there's the questionable mail -- it's from a real company I do business with, so it could be real, but they also send me a ton of junk mail, so it often gets tossed into the junk mail pile if it doesn't look like their usual bills. Also in that category is mail I probably need to look at and maybe even file, but it's not something that requires action. As a result, the bar gets covered in stuff until I do the next major housekeeping purge and shred-a-thon. The bar is definitely a clutter "hot spot" in my house, and that clutter seems to attract other clutter. It also makes the clutter spread because then things I don't want to lose get put elsewhere, and that then becomes a clutter magnet.

I tried moving the "landing strip" to my office, so at least the living room wouldn't be a mess. In my office, I tried the "43 folders" system, where you have a folder for each day of the month and then each month, and you stick things as you get them in the folder for the day you need to deal with them, then each day you get that day's folder to see what you need to do. That never got off the ground. About the only stuff I get that requires action on a specific date is bills, and I don't have a problem with bills. It's the stuff without a specific date that's the problem. I've also tried an accordion folder for mail I need to deal with, but it tends to get forgotten in there. I also don't manage to get the mail upstairs to my office because it still gets dumped downstairs, and besides, my check book for paying the bills is in my purse, which is downstairs. That means I have to take the mail upstairs to sort, then when it's time to pay bills, I have to take them back downstairs.

My parents suggested some kind of writing desk or a campaign desk that can sit on top of the bar, something with cubbyholes I could use for sorting mail. Now I'm wondering if maybe I should put that sort of thing in my bedroom. It's right inside the front door, so it has that convenience factor. I could put the shredder in there and some kind of cubbyhole thingy on top of a bookcase. If I get the current pile under control, then it would only take a few minutes when I get the mail to open it all, sort the things that need to be dealt with into cubbyholes relating to urgency, put things that just need to be filed in an out-tray and shred everything else. It's near where I have the checkbook, and all of it stays out of the living room.

Any other suggestions? It helps that I think I finally got most of the airlines to quit sending me credit card applications by writing in giant letters with a Sharpie "take me off your mailing list" over the applications and sending them back in the postage-paid envelopes. Now if I could just stop my bank from sending me their weekly application for the credit card I already have. Then there's the carpet cleaning company that sends their ads in envelopes that look like party invitations or greeting cards. And all the hotels/resorts that send me invitations for weekends to look at their time shares, addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Swendson, and stating in the fine print that you're only eligible if you're a married couple (way to research your target market there!). Seriously, I think my junk mail to real mail ratio is even worse than my spam to real e-mail ratio, and it's harder to deal with because so much of it comes from my bank, my phone company, my insurance company, etc., so I can't just throw it out without looking at it.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Time for Change

I mentioned last week that I seem to have developed a sort of restless itch. I think I may have diagnosed it.

There is an element of fall at work -- the new school year syndrome, which always feels like it should be a fresh start.

And there's a bit of army brat-itis. When you spend your formative years completely changing your life every few years -- uprooting and moving to a new city or even a new country, starting at a new school and making new friends, it can leave you with an inner restlessness every few years, like you should be changing your life and it feels weird to be in the same place doing the same things. It gets worse for me when combined with the fall restlessness because we usually moved during the summer, and so I was often starting at an entirely new school in the fall. My life has been shockingly stagnant for a while, and I think I've reached that three years since a major change mark. I've lived in the same house for ten years (previously, I did seem to move every three years, at least). Two years after I bought this house, I had the travel bug big-time (combining job and leisure travel, I hit gold frequent flier status). The next year, I switched my bedroom and office and redecorated the downstairs bathroom. The next year, I lost my job. Two years after that, I got an agent and a book deal. The year after that, the book came out. Since then, things have been more or less the same. New books coming out is exciting, but it's not really a change, especially when mine come out at around the same time every year. So, I'm definitely due for army brat-itis.

I think the recent birthday has triggered a bit of "road not taken" reflection, where I ponder missed opportunities and things I wish I'd done, and how my life would have been different if I'd done those things.

Meanwhile, lately I seem to be hearing from a variety of different places, both fictional and in the real world, about people who are going on grand adventures, uprooting their lives and dashing off to work in foreign or far-off places or taking major trips.

Where it gets really interesting is that my life is about to change -- since the editor I'd been working with left and I'm writing different things, I will be working with different people and probably in different areas. I just don't know what that will be like yet, and I have little control over it. Meanwhile, this uncertainty means that the usual things I do to deal with the restlessness are out, as I don't know what my finances or schedule will be like, so I can't do something wacky like book a trip to Europe or start remodeling my house.

In the meantime, I guess I'll try to find ways to scratch the itch that fit my current circumstances. I think a massive house cleaning/organizing will make it feel like I've totally changed my house. I can pretend I'm moving and sort/clean accordingly. I can also try changing some habits and mixing things up a bit (like, say, getting up earlier to watch the morning news). And I can find some close-to-home adventures that don't require lots of money or a major time commitment.

This weekend's new thing: I made strawberry jam and even put some up in real canning jars. On the organizing front, I sorted through the drawers of my nightstand. I found my old "escape plan" notebook full of all my schemes for being able to quit my day job, including savings goals and writing goals and to-do lists. That made me appreciate how fortunate I really am. I'm living that dream, and that's worth even all the uncertainty. It's also made me want to get back some of that focus and drive.

In other news, as part of my ongoing television listings service, I would like to remind everyone that the season premiere of the Sarah Connor Chronicles is tonight at 7 (central time) on Fox. The new fall TV season seems to be sneaking up on me.

Friday, September 05, 2008


I think I'm finally getting the hang of ballet class. I'm still not totally graceful, but in general I feel more like I know what I'm doing. We learned turns last night, and I could actually do them right. My legs are a little sore this morning, but I feel a definite sense of achievement.

Shameful confession: I did wake up in time to watch the last 45 minutes or so of the morning news. However, I did not do so on purpose. I'd been in the middle of a bad dream spiraling out of control, and the only way out was to wake up, then once I woke up, I didn't really want to go back to sleep, so I turned on the TV.

In spite of all the suggestions to yesterday's post, I won't be taping (no, I don't have a Tivo or any other DVR) the morning news. The news is sort of pointless unless you watch it when it's on, even though I could probably scroll through it in half an hour, since it seems to be two parts news to five parts commercials for furniture stores. Plus, sighing wistfully at the anchorman when watching a newscast I would have watched anyway is reasonably normal. Taping newscasts just to ogle the anchorman is bordering on pathetic. Yes, I'm shy and reserved even in my imaginary love life. Which could explain a lot about why I don't have a real one.

I got my check for the film option yesterday, and that was a reminder that this career requires different kinds of self-discipline. You need the self-discipline to work even when you don't have a boss hanging over your shoulder, even if you don't have a deadline or even if your deadline is months (or, in the case of multi-book contracts, years) away. But you also have to have a lot of financial discipline because instead of getting a monthly paycheck, you tend to get paid in big lump sums.

Most people would probably sneer at the check I got yesterday if they thought of it as the majority of an annual salary, but just seeing a single check that big can play games with your brain. It's like, "Whee! Money!" and then the bank balance starts to look really good. But you have to think of it as an annual salary, so when you deduct taxes, Social Security (which is double for self-employed people), health insurance and business expenses, then divide it by twelve, you suddenly feel poor again. And you do have to have the self-discipline to do that kind of thinking in order to avoid getting in trouble. You can't get that big, lump-sum advance check and go crazy when you don't know how long it will have to last you.

I probably ought to do something cool to celebrate, but at the same time, I'm leery of doing too much since I just have a couple more foreign sale advances due to come in, and after that, I don't know when I'll next make money. The Book in Search of a Good Home is still out there (there should be some action on that this month, as the publishing world is back in business after the summer), and then there's The New Project, but even if those sell before the end of the year, it can take a while to get the money. We struck this movie deal eleven months ago, for instance (book money does usually come faster, unless there are issues with the contract).

The new car was kind of my movie deal celebration, as I wouldn't have bought it if I didn't know I had that money coming eventually. So now I'll let that car take me to the bank to deposit the check.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Days of My Imaginary Life

I think I've figured out how to fix the sequence that was troubling me, so now I'm down to working on each scene as an individual unit.

Previously, on the soap opera that is my imaginary love live (since I totally lack a real one), I confessed to a serious crush on a local reporter/anchorman. This crush has lasted far longer than any real-life relationship I've ever had, and it's even outlasted most celebrity crushes. It exists somewhere in the limbo between a celebrity crush and a real-world crush from afar, as I know of him from seeing him on TV, but he is local, and we went to the same journalism school, just a few years apart. It all started in early 2003 during an ice storm when he'd been reporting from the airport for hours, was delightfully rumpled and five-o-clock shadowed, and he snarked hilariously back at the anchorwoman who asked a stupid question (she asked how the people who'd had to spend the night at the airport because of cancelled flights were feeling). I knew then that it was true love.

Then I discovered that in addition to reporting, he anchored the weekend news, where things seemed to be a bit looser, and he could really be snarky and funny. He picked on the weatherman and sports anchor, teased his co-anchor and made a few hilarious asides. Sometimes they got him to fill in as host of the morning news/talk show they used to have after Good Morning America, where I got to see him do such things as serve as the model for a demo on how to create Halloween costumes with duct tape or prove his nerves of steel by flirting with Chuck Norris's wife -- in front of Chuck Norris (not sleazy flirting, just that sort of courtly southern gentleman way of flattering a woman). On holidays, sometimes he even got the "leading man" 6 & 10 weeknight slot.

For years, I've had a steady Saturday-night date with the love of my life. But now the universe is trying to rip us apart, as he's been moved to co-anchor the "daybreak" news that runs from 5-7 a.m. Are they trying to kill me, or what? I don't even acknowledge that those hours exist. I'd been worried, since he hasn't been on weekends for more than a month, and I'd only caught glimpses of him reporting for the noon news. It wasn't until he anchored the extended morning hurricane coverage this week and he was included in a promo for the morning show that I realized he wasn't just reporting now, and he wasn't just filling in for someone on vacation. I checked the web site, and he's definitely listed as on the morning crew. I suppose it could mean that we'd spend more time together now, as with his new job, I could see him for ten hours a week instead of the two hours I got with him doing two newscasts each day on the weekend. But that's if I got up at 5 in the morning, and I'm not sure my love can survive that.

It's almost like in Ladyhawke, where she was a woman by night and a hawk by day, and he was a man by day and a wolf by night, so they could never be together. But instead, it's a night-owl writer who usually doesn't wake up until after 8 and an anchorman who's already off the air at 7. Our lives will never touch!

Okay, so it's not quite so poignant as the never being human at the same time thing, but still!

It does seem that he's also doing the morning shift as a reporter, so he gets the live shots on the noon news, which usually means he has the lead story from the morning. So I do get to see him some, but his stories are usually edited down to just an anchor reading over video for the evening news. That means I might get to see maybe a minute or two of him at midday.

And, yes, I did e-mail him once and got a nice reply, but he didn't reply to my reply, and he didn't fall madly in love with my photo and contact me when they did an article about me in the paper, so my plan of becoming at least locally famous and catching his eye didn't work. I've now lost my competitive advantage of a flexible schedule that meant I was free during the week while he was working weekends. You know, in case I ever met him. Now he gets weekends off like a normal person, which is nice for him, I guess, but I'm going to miss my Saturday-night dates.

Or maybe I could change for him. I seem to naturally end a sleep cycle and wake up briefly around 5 in the morning, so I could turn on the little TV in my bedroom and lie there watching him, then go back to sleep for an hour or so after his newscast goes off. I caught him shortly after 6 in the morning yesterday when I woke up and turned the TV on to watch until GMA came on, then I went back to sleep. This morning, though, I did wake up around 5 and thought about turning on the TV, but thought apparently didn't make it to action as I promptly fell back asleep and dreamed bizarroland versions of the morning news before waking again at almost 7:30, then falling asleep again and finally getting out of bed at almost 9 (I'd stayed up very late reading, but I can't put a book down with only two chapters to go, and they were very long chapters).

On second thought, it's bad to change for a man, isn't it? Maybe I should transfer my affections to the weekend weatherman. He's kind of cute, and very, very smart. Then again, he also thinks that chasing storms is fun.

Even if I do catch My Anchorman some mornings, it won't be the same. The morning show is a little more serious, so I doubt he's going to get away with picking on his co-anchor and the weatherman or making sarcastic asides, which was what I loved about him. He and the weekend weatherman had apparently worked together before at another station and had a really fun rapport that I enjoyed seeing. I'm not sure I'll get to see the side of him I love most with the new job. Can our imaginary one-sided relationship survive? Stay tuned.

Whatever will I do? (Dramatic hand to forehead pre-swooning gesture.)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Making a Scene

As I contemplate what needs to be rewritten in The New Project, I've found myself pondering some common advice from all those how-to books on writing I read. In most of the books (so this isn't just one author's quirky rule), they talk about what makes a scene good, and discuss the ideal structure/format: The active character in the scene needs to have a scene goal that's a subset or a step on his story goal, and he should try multiple ways to achieve that goal in the scene, with none of them working, so that he has to keep trying something new. The scene should end in some kind of disaster -- either not achieving his scene goal or achieving it and having that actually be bad for his overall progress. Then he reacts to that disaster and develops a new goal that leads into the next scene. The hero should never get exactly what he wants (unless it turns out to be bad for him) until the very end of the book.

Now, that does mean you've got scenes with lots of tension, drama and conflict, but if you really did that in every scene, I think you'd have a boring book because nothing would ever really happen. There would be no forward momentum. Yes, things are supposed to get worse for your characters as the story progresses, but that doesn't mean they can't make forward progress or ever achieve a scene goal. Since I like Star Wars examples, consider the scene where Luke and Obi-Wan go to the cantina. Their goal is to find a ship and pilot to take them to Alderaan. And they do. There's some tension in that there's first the guy who wants to kill Luke, then Han drives a hard bargain, and then they have to hurry out of there before the Imperial troops catch them, but they achieve their goal without even having to resort to plans A, B, C, D, etc. I don't think you could call the outcome a disaster, as they get what they want and Han and Chewbacca turn out to be valuable allies. I guess the only "disaster" is more personal, in that Obi-Wan would have probably had a longer life, and they'd have both had somewhat easier lives if they'd never found a pilot to take them into the action, but in story terms it's not a disaster at all, in that achieving that scene goal moved them a step closer toward achieving their story goal, which was to get the plans of the Death Star to someone who could use them (and, ultimately, destroy it, but that's an escalation of their goal that they aren't considering at that point).

Actually following this writing advice, you'd get Luke and Obi-Wan not finding any pilot at all in the first cantina, so they'd have to go to another one, and then the first pilot they found wouldn't want to take them, so they'd have to try another, and they'd have to come up with some way to persuade him, but then it would be a disaster because he'd turn out to be a crook who'd cheat them, force them into slave labor, or maybe inform on them to the Empire. And there goes half the movie with no forward momentum toward solving that pesky Death Star problem.

So, it would seem that, every so often, you have to let your heroes achieve their scene goals simply as a way to get them into the action and so you can focus the bulk of your story on aspects that actually matter. It's just as bad to have a deus ex machina that hinders your heroes unnecessarily as it is to have it help. You only want conflict and obstacles keeping your hero from something when they matter or mean something in the broader sense of the story. You don't want a marching band strolling through the scene, aliens landing, a bomb set by someone who doesn't have anything to do with the story, or any other random event that exists solely to keep the hero from achieving his scene goal.

Of course, the reason I was thinking about this was that I realized I had a scene where my hero achieved his scene goal pretty easily, and that made me wonder if I'd done something wrong, or if it was okay. I rationalized that it was all about getting to that point, so delaying it would be pointless, and achieving that goal is going to massively complicate his life. But then I realized that this is something the bad guy wouldn't want him to achieve, so he might have something in place to stop the hero, and I don't really have a Threshold Guardian in this story. This is the hero's first big test, so maybe it should be more difficult. Or, perhaps the difficulty should come later.

Another good Star Wars example might be the scene where Luke and Han rescue Princess Leia. They have a plan for getting into the detention area, and it totally works. They deal with the obstacles quickly and easily and are able to get to the Princess and get her out of her cell. Then that's where the obstacles come up, as they have trouble getting her out of there. I think that's actually a clever bit of writing because you're expecting the rescue itself to be hard, and when it goes smoothly, you almost relax. And that's when things suddenly take a turn for the worse as they reach the part for which they don't have a plan.

Perhaps, as usual, the trick is in knowing the "rules" well enough to know when and where to break them deliberately as a way of subverting expectations. The audience may not consciously know the rules, but they're aware of how things tend to go in books and movies. It can be fun playing with that -- make the scenes where the audiences tenses and expects things to be hard go easily, then make the next part harder.

It also seems to be that where you need the goal ending in disaster is more at the end of a sequence rather than each individual scene, so that scenes can work out okay as long as they lead to that disaster. Back to my first Star Wars example, the scene about finding a ship is part of the sequence that begins with Luke deciding to go with Obi-Wan to Alderaan. The goal in this sequence is to get to Alderaan, and first they have to get to Mos Eisley, which they do without any snags like running into Sandpeople. They face the obstacle of the stormtroopers on the edge of town, which they get past with Jedi mind tricks. They get to the cantina and find Han and Chewie, and hire them as pilots. They have to evade more stormtroopers to get on board the ship and take off. They evade Imperial ships and get into hyperspace. Then they get to Alderaan and -- disaster! -- it isn't there anymore, and they get taken on board the Death Star. Then they have to come up with an entirely new goal and plan for how to get the Death Star plans to someone who can use them. In a sense, all those successes in individual scenes leading to that point are mini-disasters, in that they wouldn't have run into that major disaster if they hadn't had those successes.

There's also a layering of problem/solution, so that they're never completely in the clear, even when things are going their way. When they get safely to Mos Eisley and get past the stormtroopers, they still need to find a ship and pilot. As soon as they find a ship and pilot, they learn that the stormtroopers are onto them. As soon as they escape on the ground, they have ships coming after them in space.

I still don't know what I'm going to do with this scene in my book, though. I do know that part of my problem is that after all that careful outlining and development I did, I seem to have gotten carried away and skipped some parts that I think will intensify that scene once I get there. Note to self: When you make an extensive outline, it might help to check it every so often as you write.