Friday, October 31, 2008

Nice People

Happy Halloween! Today I am dressed as something truly scary: a work-at-home writer. No, there will not be pictures.

I finally made it to that museum yesterday. This time, I was able to catch the train, so I did some brainstorming and outlining on the way. I need to learn not to wait until the last week of a major exhibit because it was very crowded, enough so that I didn't stay long after I'd seen what I wanted to see. I keep saying I want to check out the permanent collection in that museum, but then I only go there for big exhibits, and then I get overwhelmed and flee. Now that I know the train/bus combo for getting there, I may give it a try again. As it was, I reached the point where if I left then, I could catch one train, but if I didn't I'd have to wait an hour and a half, so I left.

In general, it was a lovely day. The weather was gorgeous, the leaves are just starting to turn, and the train goes through some wilderness, so much of the scenery is nicer than you get driving (it also goes through some nasty industrial areas). I got to see lots of Renoirs and Monets up close. And I kept running into extremely nice people -- not just not-unpleasant, neutral nice, but above-and-beyond nice. The bus driver from the train station to the museum was a real sweetheart. There were some older people on the bus who didn't seem too sure of themselves, so when he found out where they were going, he not only paused to give them good directions from the bus stop to the museum, but also to show them exactly where to catch the bus back to the train station. Then I had the same driver on the return trip, and he remembered me and asked me how I enjoyed the museum. The line for the museum restaurant was really long, so I waited until I got to the train station and went to the Subway there for lunch, and the ladies at the Subway treated me like I was a long-lost relative at their home for Thanksgiving dinner. And then when I went to Kroger, I got a cashier who was that friendly, too. I wonder if I somehow looked especially vulnerable, like I needed that kind of treatment, or if I was just lucky in running into wonderful people all day. Seriously, if you're ever in downtown Fort Worth and need to feel special, go to the Subway in the ITC station for lunch.

I also got my flu shot yesterday. After last year, I didn't want to risk it. I'll admit that there's an odd part of me that kind of enjoyed the week of being really sick. Not that I enjoy being sick, but there's something about being sick enough to have no guilt whatsoever for spending a week huddled under a blanket on the couch, drinking hot lemonade and watching Doctor Who. Then I reminded myself of the three weeks that followed the acute illness, during which I didn't feel sick enough to justify more couch time, but I also didn't feel well enough to really do anything. My head was foggy and I was weak and tired. That was the miserable part. So, I got the flu shot, and I think I may institute Fake Flu Day as an employee benefit for myself. That will be a floating holiday, to be taken on a dreary January or February day, when I get to act as though I have the flu, even if I'm not really sick. I can stay in my pajamas, huddle under a blanket on the sofa, eat soup and drink tea, and watch movies or TV DVDs, with no guilt whatsoever for not doing anything worthwhile or productive. I think this could catch on as a trend.

I'm still revising that book proposal, but then the NaNoWriMo thing starts tomorrow. I may not do it officially, as in signing up at the site, posting my word count and submitting the finished book for verification so I can say I "won." I suppose there may be some publicity value to it, especially if I sell the book, but it also looks like it could be a time-eater (and I don't like the idea of having to submit the finished book). I can post my progress here, and I don't need the external validation of being able to say I'm a winner. I know I can write a book in a month. That's not why I'm doing this.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NaNoWriMo: The Plan

Since the work I need to do on the proposal for The New Project isn't all that extensive, I think I will bite the bullet and go for NaNoWriMo. I'll be overlapping projects the first few days, but I think I'll be able to stay on track. This is going to sound odd when talking about a push to write a 50,000 word book in a month, but I think I need to do this to get some balance into my writing schedule and life.

That's because I have that bad all-or-nothing habit I've mentioned before. I'll goof off and procrastinate and find any excuse not to work, until I come up to a deadline or get a fire lit under me, and then I write furiously, to the point it consumes my whole life. Sadly, a lot of the "nothing" time is spent telling myself I should be writing, so I'm not really getting anything else done while I'm avoiding writing. I also think the all and the nothing feed on each other. I sometimes need to hit the all state because of all that nothing, and then I'm so exhausted after the all that it brings on the next wave of nothing, which makes it harder to get back into writing regularly, which brings on the need for another "all" phase.

50,000 words a month is slower than my "all" pace -- I've written a 100,000-word novel in just over a month. It averages out to under 2,000 words a day, when I only count days I'm likely to actually work (I imagine I won't work much on days I travel for Thanksgiving). That was my target pace when I was writing in the evenings while working full-time. But this pace is a lot faster than my "nothing" pace. I can do 2,000 words a day, easily, and having that focused a goal may help me find some balance. I'm going to try readjusting my day to write earlier and use some of my usual early stuff as a reward for finishing. If I'm on a roll, I can certainly go over that count, but I don't have to. When I finish my word count for the day, I can then do other things. So, if I do this right, I may actually have more free time that truly feels "free" than I usually do, and maybe this will instill some good time-management habits. That may then raise my productivity levels. I'd like to be able to have multiple irons in the fire, with at least two different series in different genres or categories with different publishers. That way, if one slips, I'll still have something going.

I'm doing a little less pre-writing planning on this project than I usually do, mostly because I need to be focused on the revisions on The New Project now during the ramp-up time. But I'm not going totally without preparation because this is a project that's been living in my head for more than twenty years, so I've put quite a bit of thought into it.

I think I'll go with my M&M system for reaching page goals as I write, then use TV or Internet fun for my daily goal reward. I'll have to think of something fun for a completion reward.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Finding Lost Things/Books

My day out didn't quite go as planned. I was going to a museum, but when I got there, the parking lot was full of school buses, so I fled in terror. I visited the smaller museum next door, and there were a few nice things, but it was also crowded and very, very hot. But it wasn't a waste because I got pegged for a survey on my way out, and as a reward for doing the survey (I told them about the too hot part), I got a packet of postcards, including one of my favorite painting in that museum. Meanwhile, on the way to the museum I stopped by the downtown library for a research browse, and then when I was getting the books out from under the car seat when I got home, I found a CD carrying case I thought I'd lost. I'd taken it on a trip this summer, and it had a couple of my driving mix CDs along with a couple of favorite CDs that I hadn't imported into iTunes, since I like the whole CDs. I thought I'd searched the car, and then I blamed Stan the 80s Airline Pilot Bachelor Ghost when I didn't find it in my house. Otherwise, I imagined I must have dropped it between the garage and my house, so it was lost for good. But I guess I'd been driving around with it hidden in my car since late June, and even getting the internal cleaning that comes with an oil change didn't find it. I joke about the car being my little blue box, but there may be other dimensions in there.

In addition to my research browsing, I found another book in a series I first got into when I was a kid. Since I seem to keep finding other people who are into the same things I am, are there any other fans of Joan Aiken's Wolves series around? I read the first three books backwards. I started with Nightbirds On Nantucket when I was eight or nine when my reading obsession of the day had something to do with whaling ships (I have no idea why). I felt a little like I'd fallen into the middle of something but didn't quite realize I'd picked up the third book in a series. This book was about an English girl named Dido who got rescued at sea by an American whaling ship and ended up in Nantucket, where she helped stop a plot to kill the English king. At that age, I guess I didn't know enough about history to realize that this was an alternate history. I think I was in high school when I found the second book (all my memories of reading that book involve being in the bedroom I had in high school), Black Hearts in Battersea, which remains my favorite of the whole series. This book told how Dido came to be at sea to be picked up by the whaling ship, but it was mostly the story of a 15-year-old orphan boy named Simon, who had been invited to London to study at art school by a kindly doctor who also liked to paint. Simon lodged with Dido's family, and though he found her kind of annoying, he also felt sorry for her because her family pretty much neglected her -- and he also found that her family was involved in a conspiracy to kill the king. That discovery got him and her into a lot of trouble (thus, the being lost at sea), but it also led to him finding out who his parents were, and who he really was. I loved that book enough to track down the first book, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, in which Simon was a supporting character, the orphan boy who lived in the woods and helped the main characters escape from a workhouse where they'd been sent by a wicked governess. It was through helping them that he met the kindly doctor who discovered Simon's artistic talents.

I was in college when I found that there were more books, but they followed Dido's adventures in the Americas and got weird to the point of "someone check the author's medications." They went from alternate histories that were whimsical (think non-bloated, kid-friendly, lighter Dickens) but still grounded enough that it took me a while to realize they weren't just straightforward historical novels to being closer to outright fantasy, and with far more focus on the weird situations than on the characters or plot. Dido started to become something of a Mary Sue, and I was more interested in reading about what was going on with Simon (who was rather crush-worthy, to be honest), since coming into his true identity should have made him even more of a target for the bad guys, and I thought it would be interesting to see how the self-educated boy who'd been on his own since he was ten would deal with suddenly being a mover and shaker in high society. One of the books got tantalizingly close, with Dido finally returning to England and with Simon learning that and tracking her down -- on the last page, so that the book ended before their reunion.

Last week, for whatever bizarre reason, probably as the result of an odd chain of thought that could have begun with something like "what should I make for dinner?" I decided to look Joan Aiken up on Amazon and found that there was a relatively recent final book in the series that was actually about Simon. I put in a library request, got it this weekend, and was totally lost. Yesterday when I was at the downtown library I got the book that came before and was still lost. I was also upset because it seemed like the grand reunion where Dido learned that not only was he alive but he also wasn't who she'd thought he was when she knew him had taken place entirely off-stage. I was so confused with what was going on that I got out the last book I recalled from the series, one I actually own. And it turns out that was the missing link book that I'd forgotten entirely, even though I had a copy. I remember reading it, but I didn't remember the story.

It still didn't help much with filling in the gaps. For one thing, there's not a lot of catch-up help if you don't remember all the details of every event in the previous books. There's also no indication of how much time has passed so that we know how old these characters are now. I get the impression that she's now well into her teens and he's at least 20 -- at least, I would hope, given that he asks her to marry him at the end of the book where they're reunited. And that's another thing, that aspect of the relationship comes and goes out of the blue without much in between. She turns him down and says she'll just always be his friend, but then later in the next book she's utterly devastated when his life takes a turn that means she can't marry him, and there's no development in between where you feel for them not being able to be together. For one thing, they're almost never in the same scenes together in the later books, and for another, they never act like there are any of those feelings. I don't exactly expect a ton of sexual tension in middle-grade children's books, but I would expect something more than the occasional discussion about whether or not they should get married, as well as some transition between him being kind of a surrogate big brother to really being friends to being more than friends. I wrote a lot of mental fanfic when I was a teenager and all the books I had found were just following her adventures as I tried to imagine what might be going on with him, and I think I liked my versions better.

So, did anyone else follow this series and get to the end, and were you as confused as I was?

I re-read Black Hearts in Battersea over the weekend, and I still love that book to an insane degree. I need to find a keeper copy. I found a copy of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase in an Oxfam shop on my last trip to England, so I guess I need to start trolling bookstores to look for this one. I'd prefer to find the edition they had in the library when I was in high school. It had a better cover and some nice art inside. The reissue I got from the library this time (and the one currently in print) is seriously ugly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Costume Analysis

I think the Book That Would Not Die is really and truly done. If not, I may be sticking a stake in it. But I say that every time. I'll be on my deathbed revising that book. It'll be my posthumous publication. And in addition to doing the final (for now) read-through, I managed to get over to the library for early voting, then had a nice book chat with the librarian I met on Saturday (looks like they'll be ordering my books!) and with the librarian I went to high school with. It was interesting eavesdropping on the conversations in the voting line when people were talking about our fabulous library. Someone mentioned that it was the first time she'd darkened the door (her words) of a library in years. How do people live like that?

The response to my Halloween costume has been interesting. The weird thing about that costume is that, as reserved and demure as my clothing tends to be, I didn't have to buy anything new to do that costume. The pleather pants came from an early 30s life crisis, during my "incredible disappearing men" phase, when I kept going out on dates that went well enough that we were planning the next date during the date, but then I'd never hear from the guy again. That was sapping my self-confidence, so when I saw the pleather pants on clearance at Target and they actually fit me and didn't look too bad, I bought them, figuring that even if I never wore them, knowing I had something like that in my closet might make me feel more confident. I actually have worn them a number of times. I wore them to a concert and then to a couple of publishing industry events when I was trying to write normal chick lit and kept being told I wasn't edgy enough, so I decided to show them edgy (maybe the fact that the pants aren't real leather only showed them that I was fake edgy). Mostly, I've worn them to Browncoat events, since I figure that when I put them with a Chinese top, the (p)leather pants resemble something you might see in an Asian-influenced space western. The midriff-baring top is a v-necked tank top that shrank in the wash. You can't see the front in the photo, but the wide black belt buckles on the side in a way that kind of looks like a sword belt. That's a remnant of the mid 80s, when there was a short-lived (which is probably for the best) trend of wearing big shirts belted at the waist over stirrup pants. You also can't see it in the photo, but the requisite tribal necklace is something my parents got me in Alaska. The battleaxe came from an office birthday party. At my old job, they had a budget for each employee's birthday party. For my party, I guess the party stores started putting out their Halloween stuff in early August, and the party planning committee bought a bunch of Halloween things like the axe, a few other plastic weapons, a tombstone and some decorations, plus some Buffy stuff and did a "Shanna the Client Slayer" birthday party. I figured I was safe getting from the car to my house after the party this weekend, even with the neighborhood robber still on the loose, as he'd have to be insane to attack a woman carrying a battleaxe (even if it was plastic, it would probably hurt to be whacked with it).

And in case anyone (Mom) is concerned, the party where I wore that costume was one where I knew all the people and they were all science fiction/fantasy fans, so they were in on the joke. At the convention we had recently, one of the freebies being distributed was a sampler book from a sf/f publisher, and the cover of that book consisted of thumbnails of all their upcoming book covers -- and my costume was pretty much a composite of all those book covers. So they recognized it. I probably wouldn't have worn that outfit in public or in a more general gathering, and I wore a sweater over it when going to and from the party.

There was an article in the newspaper this morning where they had a Jungian analyst talking about what various kinds of Halloween costumes say about you psychologically and from an archetype perspective. I wonder what mine would say about me. Probably that I'm a real smartass.

And now I get a day out to clear my brain for the next project, though the "day out" is actually a research excursion. Then a call with my agent Wednesday morning to discuss The New Project (the one from August/September).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Killer Vampire Butterflies

I now have to really buckle down and work, as I got NOTHING done over the weekend. Most of that was because there was some renovation work going on next door, and that meant power tools, including using a power saw to cut metal, and there's something about that sound that gives me an instant killer headache of the sort that makes it painful to concentrate. And I also left the house. I went to see Rachel Caine's presentation on vampires at my neighborhood library. I did learn a lot about the background of the folklore, and I can see why vampires are scary and can make compelling villains, but I still don't get the sexy, alluring vampire trend. I had one of my notorious giggle fits when she mentioned that in addition to the vampire turning into a bat/sending his spirit out in bats, in some folklore it's butterflies. The monarchs have been migrating through here, so there have been a lot of butterflies, and the idea of evil, killer vampire butterflies totally cracked me up, especially when she followed up that fun fact with the fact that vampires are kind of OCD in a lot of lore, and apparently one way you could tell that a vampire had been in your house was if the furniture had been rearranged. So, yeah, vampire butterfly interior decorators=Shanna absolutely helpless with giggles. I may never be able to take a vampire seriously again.

Then I went to a Halloween party. My costume? I present the Generic Urban Fantasy Book Cover:

Some of my Firefly fan friends from the old days may recognize the Devil Bunny temporary tattoo being used for the obligatory urban fantasy heroine tramp stamp. (And yes, Mom, that was a temporary rub-on tattoo, so relax.) (And no, those of you who are Firefly fans but who weren't part of that particular group, the Devil Bunny doesn't actually have anything to do with Firefly. It was just an inside joke among certain people.)

But now lunch calls, and then I must get to work.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Mixed Thursday (I Never Could Get the Hang of Those)

I got good and bad book news yesterday. The bad news is that Don't Hex with Texas won't be published in Dutch (yet -- they are going to see if another publisher is interested). Apparently, even though the readers are very enthusiastic and even have been calling the publisher to ask about it, they don't think that sales of the previous books are high enough to merit them doing a translation in these tough times, blah, blah, you get the picture. However, it will be published in Japanese. So I guess the Dutch could all learn Japanese (or, I guess, English, which most of them do know). And Enchanted, Inc. has been published in Thai. The cover is very cute. If I can dig my scanner out from under the pile on my desk, I'll try to scan and post it someday.

Yesterday was a good/bad day in general. I finished this round of rewrites, but I need to go back over some parts because I know I got into "whatever" mode and probably wasn't as tough as I needed to be. I found an awesome new soup recipe that I suspect I'll be living on in the coming months. It's a roasted carrot soup (recipe on this page -- scroll down to the bottom, and I halved it), so if I turn orange, you'll know why. Then my knee went out on me in ballet class last night. It does that every so often, and it's annoying. It was wobbly the rest of the evening, to the point the teacher wouldn't let me do jumps. Today it's kind of sore, so I guess I'll be staying off my feet and wearing flats this weekend.

My TV Fridays have really changed in mood and theme. It's no longer really Sci Fi Friday, since all that's left for me there is Atlantis. But I really liked Crusoe last week -- we had attractive, fit men running through jungles without shirts or with flowing white shirts, we had pirates, we had all kinds of gizmos, we had cannibals. And Sean Bean and Sam Neil in the flashbacks! I suspect I will start to giggle at the number of people who just happen to manage to find their way to this uncharted island without managing to get Crusoe home or tell someone he's there, but I guess they have to bring in outside people for something to happen. I'm kind of secretly hoping for an appearance by the Harlem Globetrotters, myself. I've started reading the book, and it looks like they're going with a totally different set up and backstory with, yeah, yet another conspiracy. Still, it's a good swashbuckling adventure, and there aren't nearly enough of those. After that, there's Life, which is another good show, one of the few cop shows I can deal with.

In other news, I've come to the realization that Pushing Daisies is the TV form of the kind of book I'd love to find -- a contemporary-set fantasy with a sense of whimsy and without all the usual urban fantasy tropes (in other words, no vampires). It's sweet and funny, has a hint of romance, some suspense in the mystery plots, and though there's the issue of hiding the magical secret from the real world, the "real" world is also a rather magical place. I want to live in Pushing Daisies Land and wear Chuck's clothes. But hey, where are our musical numbers this season? I need more of them!

And now I wonder if I could pull off something similar in book form ... How would you capture that world with just words, without the visuals?

Now I have to figure out what to do this weekend. Saturday is one of those "I wish I could clone myself" days, where there are a couple of things I'd like to do during the day but that overlap, and if I tried to do them both, it would eat up the whole day. One of them doesn't require driving, so that might win. Then I thought there was going to be a Halloween party that night, but I haven't heard anything about it and no one really seems to be talking about it. I guess a lot of it depends on how the knee does.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Kelly Parra

The turn of seasons has finally come about. We don't seem to have a seasonal dimmer switch around here, where it gradually grows cooler. We just have an old-fashioned on/off switch. So we dropped something like 15 degrees in 15 minutes yesterday (I was monitoring the weather reporting station at the school down the street online). I went to the grocery store before lunch, and it was nearly 80 degrees and muggy. I went out to check the mail after lunch, and it was barely 60 degrees and nearly took my breath away. There was a rather large (relatively speaking) frog sitting on my front porch when I went out for the mail, giving this, "Whoa, what just happened?" look. It was truly an amazing frog. He was mostly a sort of grayish-green color, but had this wide stripe of bright, almost metallic or jewel-like green down his back. He really did look like a frog prince. All he was missing was a little crown, and if someone did kiss him and turn him back into his human form, he'd be wearing a bright green cloak.

I did not kiss him, though (perhaps that should go on my list of Reasons I'm Still Single: A frog prince appears on my front porch and I don't kiss him). I was planning to take his picture, but he was gone when I got back from the mailbox. I guess he took my advice when I told him he shouldn't be out in that weather.

While I continue plugging away at The Book That Will Not Die and That I Could Have Written War and Peace While I've Been Struggling With It, here's another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest appearance, Kelly Parra, author of the new book Invisible Touch.

Kara Martinez has been trying to be "normal" ever since the accident that took her father's life when she was eleven years old. She's buried the caliente side of her Mexican heritage with her father and tried to be the girl her rigid mother wants her to be -- compliant and dressed in pink, and certainly not acting out like her older brother Jason. Not even Danielle, her best friend at Valdez High, has seen the real Kara; only those who read her anonymous blog know the deepest secrets of the Sign Seer.

Because Kara has a gift -- one that often feels like a curse. She sees signs, visions that are clues to a person's fate, if she can put together the pieces of the puzzle in time. So far, she's been able to solve the clues and avert disaster for those she's been warned about -- until she sees the flash of a gun on a fellow classmate, and the stakes are raised higher than ever before. Kara does her best to follow the signs, but it's her heart that wanders into new territory when she falls for a mysterious guy from the wrong side of town, taking her closer to answers she may not be able to handle. Will her forbidden romance help her solve the deadly puzzle before it's too late...or lead her even further into danger?

Now, the interview:

What inspired this book?
I've always been interested in the paranormal and have encountered repetitious symbols and words during the same day. I wondered if there was a meaning behind them, if there was someone trying to tell me something. So that thought led me to the beginning of an idea for Invisible Touch. I was glad MTV Books went for the idea!

Do you have anything in common with your heroine?
Sadly, Kara loses her father suddenly as I did in my early twenties. Writing Invisible Touch was a way to deal with some of that bottled up grief. Kara is a blogger and I very much am. :) It was diffilcult for me to share my inner feelings growing up and Kara and I also have that in common.

Would you want to get insight into people's fates -- and if so, what info would you like to be able to see?
I think that would be a very scary thing! That's why the signs are a gift and curse for Kara. She is happy to save people from unfortunate fates if it is in her power, but at the same time its extremely stressful to deal with, especially when she only has her blog to confide in. I think if I could have an insight into people, I'd want to be able to see if people were trustworthy or not. :)

If you could start an anonymous blog and were guaranteed that no one would ever find out you wrote it, what would you write about?
I would probably write all the really hard stuff people deal with in life, but I'm afraid it would end up being a lot of whining. :) But I'd probably feel good to get a lot of it off my chest, so to speak.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on something different--a sci-fi YA. It hasn't been shopped yet but I'm hoping it will be something different in the eyes of a publisher.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
I wrote this book with a lot of different feelings in mind. It has a mystery, romance, family drama and really I just want Invisible Touch to be entertaining to the reader.

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

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Archetypes: The Trickster

Is the Internet on? Because I haven't been getting e-mail for hours, not even spam. It's making me feel paranoid and unloved.

The series on archetypes from the hero's journey is coming to an end. Today is our last archetype, and then next time I'll do some wrap-up and attempt to tie it all together. And then I'll need a new topic, so I'm entertaining questions or suggestions. Is there something you'd like me to address about the craft of writing or the publishing business?

The final archetype is the Trickster. Generally, this is the comic relief character who brings balance to a story by adding a little humor or allowing some relief from all the tension. But beyond that, the Trickster opposes the status quo, mocking it, questioning it or even working actively against it. That can be both the bad guy status quo or even the good guys. The Trickster character often serves to keep the hero's head from getting too big or to keep the institutions in the story world on the right track by constantly questioning them. The Trickster keeps people honest (even if he sometimes resorts to dishonesty to force honesty). Traditionally, a Trickster character often is a practical joker or a prankster, but he can also just be the one who's cynical and always asking the questions people in power wish they'd just shut up about. This also may be a person who kind of likes chaos, and who will disrupt things that seem a bit too orderly to be fun. That can be destructive, but it can also be a way of forcing positive change by making people rethink things as they start over.

While Tricksters often serve as the comic relief, I don't think all comic relief characters are true Tricksters (though some of my reference sources disagree). To get the real Trickster energy, a character needs to be someone who sees the flaws in the status quo and the hypocrisy in the people around him, someone who's willing to criticize or mock even his friends. A character who just falls down a lot, makes jokes and bumps into things may be funny, but I don't think he's really a Trickster.

In the Star Wars example, Han Solo is the one bringing the Trickster energy. He doesn't take anything at face value and questions everything. He rolls his eyes at the idea of the Force, laughs at Luke enough to keep him from getting delusions of grandeur, questions Obi-Wan's sanity and refuses to worship Princess Leia just because she's a princess. In doing so, he keeps everyone honest, even as he's not exactly an entirely honest man, himself. To some extent, he's also the voice of the audience because he asks the same questions or makes the same remarks we might make. I think one of the (many) problems with the prequels was that there was no real Trickster character, and when one part of the story involves a quasi-monastic mystical order and the other involves trade negotiations, you really, really need someone to mock the status quo. It's even possible that the reason Luke was able to not only resist the dark side but also bring his father back while Anakin so easily fell prey (in spite of having a lot of advantages Luke didn't have) was because Luke had Trickster Han Solo around to keep him from getting delusions of self-importance.

Other Trickster-type characters include the Katharine Hepburn character in Bringing Up Baby, who totally disrupted stuffy Cary Grant's life, to the point she had him standing in the yard at night, wearing a woman's bathrobe and serenading a leopard. Then there was the Jimmy Stewart character in The Philadelphia Story, who went about exposing all of Katharine Hepburn's hypocrisies. In the old screwball comedies, you quite often had one part of the couple being a Trickster who was complicating the other character's life. In more modern romantic comedies, the Trickster is often the best friend sidekick of the hero or heroine who's cynical about the idea of true love (and that's usually the character who ends up stealing the movie). Gollum was something of a dark Trickster in the Lord of the Rings saga. In the Buffyverse, Spike was the Trickster. When he was evil, he mocked the other bad guys as well as the good guys, and he didn't stop when he got a soul and regained his conscience. On The Office, Trickster Jim (or Tim in the British version) uses his office pranks to undermine the self-importance of the characters who are more or less delusional about their own merits.

While the Trickster is often a sidekick who keeps the hero down to earth, there's also a huge tradition of Trickster heroes, from mythology on up to modern entertainment. Just about every folklore tradition has a Trickster hero, from the Norse Loki (who was also sometimes a villain or a sidekick, depending on the story), the Native American coyote, the African-American Brer Rabbit to the modern Bugs Bunny. Then there's Robin Hood and his ilk. Or Dr. House and Axel Foley (or, really, a lot of the characters played by Eddie Murphy). Quite often, the Trickster hero serves as a catalyst in that he causes a lot of change around him and in other people while remaining unchanged, himself. He drops in, stirs things up and changes the things that need to be changed, then goes on to his next adventure.

A Trickster villain keeps the hero on his toes, causing chaos for the fun of it. The Joker and the Riddler in the Batman universe are Trickster villains. The bad guy in my books, Phelan Idris, is something of a Trickster. A lot of what he does is just for the fun of seeing what happens and making the good guys jump.

Psychologically, the Trickster can represent healthy change and transformation. The energy of the Trickster calls attention to folly, imbalance and stagnation. Once you're aware that you're stagnating, you can make positive changes. This aspect of the psyche helps us keep things in perspective.

Both the Trickster and the Herald are about change. The Herald is the wake-up call while the Trickster is more of an ongoing commentary of the specifics of what needs to change, and what the Trickster thinks needs pointing out may go far beyond the scope of the mission the Herald announces. Drama is essentially about change, so you need a variety of characters to help bring about change and to keep the Hero on course.

When writing a Trickster character, remember that the energy is more about pointing out foolishness or self-importance. It doesn't have to mean the character plays practical jokes or is a laugh-a-minute. This character does have a tendency to steal the show, so remember that even though your Trickster is in ways undermining your hero, your hero needs to be able to grow and learn from that in order to be a stronger hero. Instead of weakening your strong Trickster, make your hero stronger.

And now I have to get back to slogging away. Yesterday I made far less progress and was far more tempted by the evil Internet (because even when I'm not getting e-mail, I can be distracted). I had to do a lot of new writing after throwing out what I had written. By the time I'm done with this book, the finished word count will be under 80K, but I'll have actually written War and Peace.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Overactive Imagination

I continue making pretty good progress on what I hope will be the next-to-final round on The Book That Will Not Die, and the really startling thing is that I've done this at my desk, in my office, where the Internet lives. That, folks, is willpower the likes of which I haven't exhibited in years.

I suspect, though, that the lack of Internet distraction may have something to do with having other distractions, namely, new ideas. The plot-generating squirrels in my brain have gone insane.

Yes, I know, other people talk about plot bunnies. But that's way too tame an image for what goes on in my head. If you saw the movie of Over the Hedge (and my stupid local newspaper cut that comic strip this month, but I have found the online home of it), you know the hyperactive squirrel voiced by Steve Carell? That's what the inside of my brain is like, and getting into the rhythm of regular writing or just thinking a lot about books has the effect of giving it Jolt cola and cotton candy. I don't think I'm unique in that because an overactive imagination is both a job requirement and an occupational hazard for writers.

I really do think that my best story ideas come either from thinking about what I want to read or from being a brat -- or both. New Idea #1 came from me mentally composing a future blog post on the kinds of books I want to find as a reader. I started using an example from something I'd read as an example of how I thought the thing I was looking for that was all too rare could work, then realized it was a spoiler, so I came up with a silly hypothetical example. And then I thought that the silly hypothetical example actually sounded like it could be a fun story. And then I thought some more about it and figured out how the plot and characters would go. I will not be using that silly hypothetical example when I actually do that post because I think I'm going to have to write it.

New Idea #2 came from something I read. There was an aspect to the set-up of the main character's situation that I really liked and that I thought the author did really well, thinking through all the implications of it. I just wasn't crazy about how the story played out and the other elements that the story focused on. Not that it wasn't well done, just that it was subject matter that doesn't really interest me. I started thinking of what I would have preferred to happen with that basic character set-up, then started trying to twist it so that it wouldn't be an obvious rip-off, and I think I came up with something that's different enough and that I much prefer. I don't really have plots for that idea yet, so the squirrel will have to keep working.

I mentioned that I was thinking of doing NaNoWriMo this year, mostly because I need that kick and sense of deadlines, and I need to stay in the writing habit. Whether or not I actually end up doing it depends on if my agent looks at that proposal for The New Project between now and then and how extensively she wants me to rewrite it. I think I'm pretty safe on revisions to the revisions I'm currently working on within that time frame (that will pop up right at Christmas). I'd thought I'd settled on a project for the month, something that's been living in the back of my head for more than twenty years and for which I've done all the world building, but now New Idea #1 is looking good. I may stick with the original plan because New Idea #1 needs more time to brew (that can be my January project) and the original plan project fits better within the NaNo time/length parameters.

But there is a dark side to the overactive imagination. I do tend to blow things out of proportion by imagining worst-case scenarios and how I might react, then when I get into the real situation, I'm almost disappointed when it goes more easily than I planned. Or I can fixate on situations, working out all the possible things that could happen. This weekend, I got a big one.

Mom called me soon after five on Friday to warn me about a story she saw on one of the Dallas stations about a man who'd been attacking women in my neighborhood, with a description of him based on photos from a park security camera. On the six o'clock news, they just mentioned attacks/robberies but didn't go into detail. From the description Mom saw, I'm actually bigger than the guy, and his weapon was a claw hammer, so chances are that a decent-sized woman with anything that could be used as a weapon might fight him off if he didn't take her by surprise (one of his victims was deaf). That sent the brain spinning into overdrive, and I almost didn't get to sleep that night from dreaming up scenarios. At first, I was just mentally running through things I'd learned in the various martial arts/self-defense seminars I've been to and figuring that I could go walking with a golf club (yay, finally a use for them!). Since I used to fence, I know how to use something shaped roughly like that as a defensive weapon to fend off attacks to the head and body, and a man shorter than I am armed with a hammer would have a shorter reach than I would with a sand wedge, so I could probably parry any attempted strike he made, then break his nose with the riposte (since a sand wedge has a big hunk of metal on the end that a foil doesn't). So from there of course I had to add a plot and characters, and eventually the scenario had me overcoming the guy and holding him for police, and then, of course, it was My Anchorman who covered the story, and he was impressed by my cool under pressure and bravery.

It turned out, when I read the newspaper the next day, that the station had smashed together two stories, and the one they had a description for the suspect for took place all the way across the Metroplex. They don't have a description for the guy in my neighborhood because he attacks from behind and the victims don't get a look at him. They did an update on the story last night, and he seems to be working in the area where I used to live, and when they showed the apartment complex near where one of the attacks occurred, it was a complex where I used to live. I'm not sure why it freaked me out so much to see a place where I lived ten years ago as a crime scene, but it sent the imagination into overdrive again. I imagined seeing a man with a hammer prowling the Walgreens parking lot and calling to tip off the police.

I guess I have a hero complex, but I imagine it has something to do psychologically with the way that the idea of an unknown person for whom they have no description who's carrying out senseless attacks in my neighborhood makes me feel powerless, and the best way for the brain to regain a feeling of control is to write a scenario in which I am truly in control of the situation.

Or something like that. At any rate, it does make me nervous, and I'm glad I didn't get around to taking any long walks to "train" for that 5K because it was during that time that the attacks happened. And now I have an excuse not to go for a walk.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Dream Bookstore

Wow, I was really crabby on Friday, wasn't I? I guess I started feeling like the entire publishing world was out to get me -- the publishers wouldn't want my books because I've never been on a reality TV show, the booksellers would be mad at me because I send readers to Amazon (never mind that most of those booksellers don't actually carry my books) and then readers were pirating my books and putting them up for free download. I suppose that's enough to make anyone a raving paranoid, and if you're a raving paranoid to start with, there's no hope of retaining a rosy outlook.

A reader pointed out this blog post about some book industry realities that matches my view that, for some of us, there wasn't really any lost golden age of independent bookselling. I think I like the description in the comments of the "Frumpy Fiftysomething's Used Books and Quiet Desperation Emporium" almost as much as anything actually in the post.

I've been thinking all weekend about what my ideal bookstore would be, and really, I just want a decent selection and staff that don't get snooty with me about what I read. I like the idea of an older building full of nooks and crannies, like Blackwell's in Oxford. The comfy chairs and coffee shop are an option because I don't do a lot of loitering in the store. I generally know what I want, go find it, buy it and leave. If I were to open a bookstore, first, it would have to be in walking distance from my house. I might take the space that used to be a sports bar in the shopping center where the library is. That might not be a good location, since I don't recall ever seeing a bookstore near a library, but the way I look at it, you could get some synergy. After all, it would be located in a high-traffic area frequented by people who like books, and the library would practically serve as an adjacent sampling station where people could try before they buy. Since the library makes you give the books back, a nearby bookstore would allow people to purchase keeper copies of books they love while they're still a little sad about having to give them back. You know that kids will want to take a copy of the storytime book home with them, and the library doesn't have nearly enough copies for everyone, so it would be easy for parents to go to the store after storytime and get a copy. The library also sponsors adult and teen book groups, and, again, doesn't have enough copies for everyone, so someone's going to need to buy the book. With our particular library branch, they're bad about only starting to carry a series after it becomes big (and, often, after it starts coming out in hardback), or they carry the first book but not the second. If someone goes to the library looking for something or is intrigued by a series or author but doesn't find it, a bookstore they see as they leave the library would be an obvious next stop.

I know that hardcovers are more profitable per book, but that's also where the competition is because that's where the big chains give their discounts. I'd focus more on trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks because almost nobody discounts those anymore in brick-and-mortar stores, and even Amazon no longer discounts mass market paperbacks. That puts an indy on a more even footing from the customer perspective. I'd take advantage of the opportunity of not being beholden to co-op placement and shelve like a supermarket, with the high-demand bestsellers placed so that you have to go by a lot of other books to get to them, then mostly use those books as centers for displays of "if you like this, you might also like these" books. I think that's where indies have a competitive advantage, in stocking the books that you might never find in a chain store, not so much because the chain doesn't carry them but more because they're practically invisible in a chain, with one or two copies shelved spine-out. People will generally go to the chain to get their discounted copies of the latest big release or Oprah pick, so the indies need to be the place they go when they're trying to figure out what to read next or trying to find a particular type of book rather than a particular title. That's where bookstore staff need to get off their literary high horses and consider what customers are looking for rather than what they think everyone should be reading.

Not that I'm planning to open a bookstore, mind you. That would be work and would take away from my writing and reading time. But I have considered maybe doing a virtual bookstore page on my web site, doing that "if you like this, you'll like this" thing and link to Amazon, getting into the Amazon affiliate program for the links. I doubt it would make me that much money, but it might draw traffic to my web site as people found out about it. Hmm. I'll have to think about that. It would also be work.

And because this can't be repeated enough, remember that if a bookstore you visit doesn't have the book you're looking for, ask someone who works at the store. Chain or indy, they'll probably be willing to order it for you. That benefits you because it makes your life more convenient as you don't have to go from store to store to find it. But as the big chains cut their orders of midlist books, it also helps the author because if enough people ask for a book, the chain may realize the error of its ways and start carrying it (B&N really cut their order of my third book, but it looks like they got a lot of requests because their order of the fourth book went back up, so it does work). Plus, even if the ownership of the store isn't local, the people who work there are, and keeping that store afloat saves their jobs. The fallacy of the "don't shop at chains" argument is that if a chain store closes, the chances of an independent springing up from the rubble are pretty slim. You'll just lose that chain store, and then where will you shop?

But my weekend did improve. I did the neighborhood 5K and survived (with some soreness). There were kids and dogs, some of them in costumes. The high school cheerleaders gave us a send-off at the starting line. I just walked -- well, marched, really, as I realized I was doing the 60-inch stride at 120 beats a minute march tempo. Once I realized that, I started mentally singing marches we'd played in high school band, then went on to a few Sousa classics and ended up with the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back stuck in my head (that's very good marching music). And then I promptly undid any of the good I did by walking 5K when they had breakfast tacos and Krispy Kreme donuts at the finish.

Sunday I got a lot of work done, and then my weekend really ended on an up note when My Anchorman did fill-in duties on the Sunday newscasts. He's done something different with his hair and was even cuter. Sigh. And then I had a dream about meeting him. No, not that kind of dream. It was actually pretty realistic, in that I met him at some kind of festival when the festival organizer brought him over to introduce him to me, just as I was taking a bite of some greasy, messy food. Because with my luck with men, that's exactly the kind of thing that would happen. I'd meet my long-term crush from afar when I have grease smeared all over my face.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Wacky Book Biz

I made even more progress yesterday. Yay! My goal is to totally wrap up this book by the end of the month, and then I may actually do the National Novel Writing Month thing, though I don't know what project I'd write. Meanwhile, I've done no "training" for that 5K tomorrow morning. However, the t-shirt is very cool, and I'm not going to worry about time. I'm just getting out and doing something in my neighborhood.

The Internet has been a-buzz with all kinds of weird book industry news/opinions. One theory that someone supposedly in the know has put out there is that there will be fewer books published, but that means more competition for the books publishers think will sell (namely, books with celebrities' names on the covers, written by ghostwriters, or else prestigious literary names who win prizes, even if they don't sell a lot of books), so those advances will be higher. But since those books seldom actually sell well enough to merit those high advances, that means the publishers will be even more in the hole. My agent did point out that this probably is limited to non-fiction and literary fiction, the areas where it's more about prestige than profits. This probably won't apply to genre fiction.

But still, I wonder if anyone has considered the radical concept of not paying to excess for books that don't actually sell that well (at least, not in comparison to what the author is paid). Yeah, the other publisher may be the one to get the big-name book, but if the book ends up losing money in the long term, isn't that kind of like a white elephant? Letting the other publisher pay through the nose for a book that's only good for a publicity splash would be like sabotaging the competition. Then the smart publisher could buy and publish a bunch more books that may not hit the same numbers or get the same publicity, but that would turn a profit. What's better, to sell lots of books at a loss or a few books at a profit?

Then there's apparently a movement among independent booksellers to try to get customers to boycott Amazon and the major chains and try to get authors to stop putting links to buy their books at Amazon on their web sites. Supposedly, independent bookstores are all about reading and literacy and fighting censorship, and they can really help authors by handselling their books, rather than the authors being dependent on publishers paying the big chains for better store placement, and the more independents there are, the less power the big chains have in determining what gets published. And that all sounds good. In theory, I love the idea of a neighborhood bookstore, perhaps with a friendly bookstore dog or cat, where the bookseller knows the regular customers and can make good recommendations based on their taste and put aside new books for them when they come in. That's the kind of place I've occasionally daydreamed about running.

But to be honest, I've never encountered that kind of store outside the pages of a book (novelists seem to like making their characters run their dream bookstores). Part of that is because this area doesn't really have any independents (though one is opening soon), aside from specialty religious or ethnic stores (there used to be a mystery store, but they closed a few years ago, and they only sold hardcovers). And part of it is probably due to my weird independent streak, where I slink through the shelves, trying to hide from helpful staff, and I'd rather search the entire store with a fine-tooth comb myself than ask someone for help or, God forbid, a suggestion. I don't think I've ever been hand-sold a book in any bookstore, chain or independent, except maybe by another customer.

I'm sure there are some fabulous independents out there, and I know that a lot of the science fiction/fantasy specialty stores have been really supportive of my books. However, I've had less than positive experiences with general-interest indies, mostly because I don't read what's apparently on their "approved" lists. We used to have a local indie chain in this area, and they were some of the biggest book snobs I've ever encountered. If you dared buy something other than highbrow literary fiction, you got treated like an ignorant yokel. Just try buying a romance novel there, out of the small selection they deigned to carry. When they first started doing new Star Wars novels (the Timothy Zahn books) and they were in hardcover, I bought one at one of those stores because a friend had given me a gift certificate there. You'd have thought I was bringing about the downfall of western civilization. Oddly, they made no effort to steer me toward something else I might like. They just sneered at what I did buy. I can't imagine any other retail business where the staff is allowed to openly disparage customers' purchases, but I ran into the same attitude at every one of their stores. I'm not surprised they went out of business. I don't know about other general-interest indies, but a lot of those booksellers blog, and I've noticed a similar book snobbery attitude there. I've also noticed that while they're proudly anti-censorship, that seems to be because they tend to agree with the censored books, and they're quite likely to refuse to carry books they don't agree with (though that, of course, isn't censorship). I was overjoyed when Barnes & Noble came to town because I could finally get a broad selection of books and only the occasional bookseller sneer (there were still a few, but mostly they just ignored what I was buying).

It's like if someone who's that particularly self-righteous form of vegan (and I'm not saying all vegans -- but I'm sure even vegans know the type) opened a grocery store, and then sneered at or criticized anything anyone bought that wasn't on their approved list of foods. "You put that in your body? Don't you know that eating that is destroying the planet?" Or else they only stocked the foods they approved of, but still labeled their store as a general grocery because they figured they carried all the foods anyone should buy. Pretty soon, their only customers would be those who already only ate the approved stuff. There's nothing wrong with having a specialty store that caters to a specific niche, but if you do that, you can't pretend that you serve the interests of everyone, and you can't complain when the supermarket down the street makes more money and has more customers. You especially can't expect your customers to boycott the supermarket, even to buy the things you don't carry, or for suppliers not to sell their goods through the supermarket.

Frankly, if you have to resort to threatening authors if they don't remove Amazon links on their web sites or to encouraging people to boycott other stores, then you don't deserve to stay in business. You'd be better off improving your own selection and service so that people would want to shop at your store. I guess I could be making enemies by saying that, but then aside from the sf/f or romance specialty stores, I don't get a lot of play in indies. I think Book People in Austin may now be carrying my books after I met someone who works there at a convention. The Tattered Cover in Denver wasn't, but then there's a Doctor Who fan who works there I met at WorldCon, so they now may be. Last I heard, Powell's in Portland didn't have them. I didn't find them in any of the New York indies. So, yeah, I'm keeping my Amazon links because it's a quick and easy way for people to go buy books while they're still thinking about them. I do have links on my site to independent stores I've heard from or that readers have told me about, and I'm open to adding more if you know of a store that carries my books.

And then there's the fact that my books have started appearing as free downloads on file-sharing sites, which is upsetting and sad and entirely illegal, in case you were wondering. Yes, that's costing me money (adding up the number of downloads on one site for all my books and what that would have been in royalties was more than a mortgage payment), but it's also cheating readers because it artificially lowers the publisher's perception of these books' popularity, my popularity and the popularity of that kind of book. So if hundreds of people are illegally downloading the books instead of buying them, that means the sales figures are lower, so the publisher thinks it's not worth publishing more books. Worse, the highest number of illegal downloads was for the book with the lowest actual sales figures, the one whose sales performance is the reason for no book 5, which blows the "file sharing actually helps sales" argument.

Sometimes, a real job starts to look good. I know I'd make more money.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Stacy DeKeyser

Yay, it really seems to be fall. I had to put on a jacket when I went to the grocery store this morning. I've stocked up on soup-making supplies.

I also made some good progress on my rewrites, and I'm eager to get back to it. Which means it's a good time for a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit entry. My guest is Stacy DeKeyser, author of the novel Jump the Crack. A 15-year-old girl is accused of kidnapping when she finds an abandoned child on a train and then hides him from his abusive father. Soon she's on a cross-country journey with the boy, as each "right" decision gets her deeper into trouble -- and farther away from home. Victoria has vowed to protect the little boy no matter what. But can she keep that promise?

Now, the interview:

What inspired you to write this book?
As they say in TV and movie trailers, it was "inspired by a true story." While riding the train from Connecticut to New York, I saw an incident very similar to the one my main character, Victoria, sees in the opening scenes of the book. The incident upset me, and I couldn't forget about it, so I decided to write about it.

Describe your creative process.
Pretty much by the seat of my pants. As I mentioned above, I start with a premise. When I get an idea that I absolutely can NOT stop thinking about, that's how I know it'll become a novel. I might have an idea of the ending. But as for in between -- I never really have any idea until the words come out on the page.

Do you have any writing habits or rituals?
I can work almost any time of the day as long as I have a couple of uninterrupted hours. I like early morning, but it's usually not my most productive time. I always seem to have a mug of coffee or a glass of Coke on my desk. One desk drawer is pretty much dedicated to naughty snack foods -- potato chips, M&Ms, etc.

Soft background music helps -- intrumental Celtic folk, or classical baroque (nothing with a really noticeable melody). I stare out the window a lot. I tend to get busy writing when I decide I ought to get other stuff done.

How much, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
I think Victoria and I have similar opinions about most things, but I was much more shy than Victoria is. I don't think I would've had been as brave as Victoria is. Or as impetuous. But I like those things about her.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
This is a trick question, isn't it? Both, please.

What are you working on now?
I've just finished an upper midgrade novel about a girl who's hearing voices. Which is kind of a problem, but then again, she really LIKES the voices.

(The voices can be our friends!)

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
If you read the book, and like it, tell your friends!!

For more info, check out Stacy's web site. And you can order the book from Amazon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Award-Winning, Bestselling, or What?

A front came through this morning, and I could actually feel it getting colder. I love that. It should be another good writing day. I was really productive yesterday, finishing up the part of the book I was working on. Now I have to switch gears and do the other plot thread, which will require getting into a totally different mindset. I was going to go grocery shopping today, but I don't want to waste the good writing weather.

In other news, I haven't yet decided if YouTube is a blessing or a curse. If there's a camera around, chances are that whatever you're doing will end up on YouTube. Fortunately, this isn't so bad. It's a short clip of some Browncoat Ball waltzing. I'm the one in the pale pink in the background. I have also found that there's a ballroom MeetUp group in this area, and there are actually men in it (finding a dancing partner has been my big challenge -- ballroom dancing isn't really a good solo activity), so I think I'll sign up and maybe get some dancing in, so that if I can make it to next year's ball, it won't take me so long to relax and get into the dancing instead of being so terrified I'll make a mistake from being so rusty.

It's getting to be contest season for published books, and I'm trying to decide what to do about it. There's the Rita Award from the Romance Writers of America, and the issue there is figuring out which category to enter. They have the "novel with strong romantic elements" category for books that aren't strictly romances, and Don't Hex with Texas would probably fit best in that because while there are touches of romance, that's certainly not the main plot. However, that's a big catch-all category that incorporates everything all the romance authors who've broadened their scopes are doing now -- suspense or mystery with romance in it, fantasy and science fiction with romance in it, chick lit and the broad range of "women's fiction." And generally in most judging situations, serious is considered "better" than funny (even though funny is arguably harder to do well). It's the same as with the Oscars, where the actor who puts on weight or uses makeup to look ugly in a dramatic role will almost always beat the person who is utterly brilliant in a comedy. So my fun, fluffy little book will end up competing with books about women who've lost their babies and are trying to recover while rediscovering love or all those books about the strong bonds of female friendship with a group of women who meet at a knitting shop/coffee shop/book club and help each other through things like cancer, divorce and new love. Books that make you cry, no matter how manipulative they are in doing so, usually beat books that make you laugh (unless I'm judging). On the other hand, this book has a stronger romance plot with an actual romantic conflict, so I might be able to go for the "paranormal romance" category, but then I'd be competing against all the books about sexy vampires.

I'm not even sure it's worth the entry fee and postage, to be honest. There's some minor recognition that goes with it and more exposure, but it's certainly not a guarantee of a stellar career or increased sales. A few of the chapters also have similar contests, with the same pitfalls.

To be honest, I'd far rather be up for a Hugo or Nebula, but you have to be nominated for that, so it's out of my control, and I don't think my books are widely enough read or known to even appear on the radar. And, again, it seems like the more literary books that deal with heavy social issues are more likely to end up on the ballot. I think what we need is an award strictly for funny books, somewhere or somehow.

Maybe I'm just not cut out to be considered an award-winning author. I'd settle for bestselling, but I haven't managed that, either. I suppose it's enough that the dozens of people who've managed to find my books in spite of the odd shelving seem to generally like them. And even though the publisher likes to act like sales have been disappointing (their excuse for no book 5), all the books have gone into multiple printings, which means they've all sold better than they originally anticipated, and even the first book remains in print, when a lot of books published at the same time have already been remaindered. (Which is both encouraging and frustrating.)

But that's all water under the bridge. All I can do now is write some more and get something else out there.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Book Report!

Now that I've recovered from the trip and had a day of rest, it's time to buckle down and get onto that "creating my own luck" plan. That means some serious writing today, plus a long walk. I got ambitious and signed up for the neighborhood fall festival's 5K run that's happening this Saturday, and that means I probably ought to do at least a little preparation. I'm not going to worry about time and I'm not going to try to run, just walk, and I know I can easily walk 5K. However, if that old lady I kept finding myself up against back when I was doing a lot of races (it was an effort to meet men. It failed.), the one who could barely walk but who somehow always seemed to be ahead of me, is there again, all bets are off. It is on, grandma! (Seriously, it's demoralizing to see a woman who probably uses a walker to get around her house beating you in a race.)

It's been ages since I did a proper Book Report post. I think some of that has been because I got sidetracked with so much else going on, but it's also because I kind of hit a reading slump. I read a lot, but nothing much really got me excited enough to want to talk about it, at least, not in a positive way. But looking over my reading log, I saw some books that I did want to talk about. I guess they fell into times when I was busy posting about other stuff. So, here's a quick rundown:

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez -- It's a film noir-style mystery in a science fiction setting with a robot as the detective, and it's utterly awesome. I stayed up until 2 in the morning finishing it. I think Mom's read it twice already. It's got humor, mystery, a femme fatale with a brain and lots of action.

I read another couple of books in Mercedes Lackey's Five-Hundred Kingdoms series, and I like those. I need to see if there are more. I also read The Serpent's Shadow, the first book in the Elemental Magic series, and I like the Edwardian setting, which is a nice twist on the usual quasi-medieval fantasy setting. Unfortunately, the library doesn't have the second in the series, but it doesn't seem like this is the kind of series that flows one to another. It's more like lots of things that happen in the same universe, with some common supporting characters, rather than a series that tells an overall story. There was a supporting character I'd love to see as a hero in his own book, but I haven't been able to figure out if that's happened yet in the series. I felt like kind of a dolt when I looked up info on the series and found that each book is a fairy tale retelling because I totally didn't pick up on that when I was reading it, though in retrospect it's obvious. What I like about both series is that they have just the right amount of romance in them for me, with it flowing in a nicely subtle way. That makes for a satisfying, feel-good read.

Then to get ready for FenCon where House writer Doris Egan was a special guest, I found an omnibus edition of her Ivory trilogy and read that (though I ended up never referencing it on any panels). Yes, in addition to writing for House, she's a fantasy novelist. I really liked this trilogy, especially the middle book. Bookstores tend to have a science fiction/fantasy section, meaning either science fiction or fantasy, but this book really was a blend. It's fantasy in a science fiction type setting. There are flying cars and spaceships and computers, but on this one particular world, some people can use magic. The world reminds me a lot of Lois McMaster Bujold's Barrayar, in that it's a very traditional, ancient-style culture that uses technology but that's still a little suspicious of the supposedly more advanced cultures from other worlds. The trilogy follows the adventures of a graduate student in folklore from another world who gets stranded on this planet, and as part of her effort to earn enough money to get back home, she takes a job as assistant to a sorcerer, and that gets her into all kinds of adventures. I think this series is out of print (Amazon doesn't even carry it), but I may add at least the middle book of the trilogy to my mental search list next time I do a bookstore crawl.

Now that the weather's getting cooler, I'm switching into mystery and heavy fantasy mode. I found the first Trixie Belden at the library and read that (of course, my branch doesn't have the second, which is a true sequel), my parents have the new Dick Francis, so I guess that means I need to visit them, and I have a stack of other mysteries and fantasies on the to-be-read pile that I've been saving for cooler weather.

There's a front coming in and a chance of rain, so it should be a good writing day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Back from the Ball

I'm home from the Browncoat Ball and, as usual, I had an utter blast. I saw friends I only get to see once a year. I got my waltz on and remembered how much I utterly love dancing. I got to swing dance with a man in a kilt (and his skirt swirled almost as much as mine did). And I got to experience the whole weekend in a swanky suite, thanks to the fact that this hotel really knows how to grovel to unhappy customers. This place wasn't much smaller than my house, with a full kitchen, living room, office alcove and bedroom with walk-in closest and bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and separate shower. I felt like a movie star. Pity, though, that I spent so little time in the room.

I did come to the realization that this hypothetical relaxing vacation I keep mentally planning may not actually exist for me. Travel itself is tiring enough that there's not much point in going to another place just to relax in a hotel room, and if I'm in an interesting place or around interesting people, I feel like I'm wasting my time if I'm just hanging out in a hotel room. Besides, I don't tend to relax or rest well in hotels. Even if the bed is comfortable, it's different, and the TV service is usually lousy. About the only time I've really relaxed in hotels is if I stay an extra night after an event, like the time I took a flight bump after an RWA conference and the airline put me up in a hotel for a night, so I spent the extra day sleeping, or like this year at ApolloCon when I stayed the extra night. I think for me the way to have a relaxing, restful vacation is to let myself rest when I get home. Being away makes me appreciate home more, and I'm tired enough after a trip to just let go. Last night, I slept for nearly twelve hours, and I'm seriously thinking about a nap today. I've declared it a holiday, other than this post.

There was one other exciting thing about the weekend. I went against the flow and on the weekend of the Texas vs. Oklahoma game in Dallas, I left Dallas and went to Austin. But we did watch the game in the hospitality suite, and being in Austin meant I got to see this:

That's the UT tower, lit orange for the victory. I'd never before seen it lit for a win against Oklahoma because the only time we beat OU while I was in school, I was out of town. The photo may be blurry because it was taken through my hotel room window and then through the hotel atrium window, so it's two layers of glass. And, of course, that's about the only thing I managed to take pictures of because otherwise I was too busy doing stuff to remember that I had a camera with me. I'll have to wait for other people to post pictures.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Laws of TV World

I'm in typical "so much to do, running late" flail mode, so just for fun, here's something I've been playing with for a while, my laws of TV World. These mostly apply to American television, though I have noticed some of these popping up in British shows, as well. Enjoy!

1) Television homes and apartments don't lock from the inside, leaving television characters with no way to keep out annoying, wacky neighbors or nosy family members who barge in all the time. Even if a character lives in a crummy New York apartment (or a "TV crummy" apartment that's supposed to be bad but that's huge and fabulous even for non-New York standards) and has to go through an elaborate ritual of unlocking a dozen different locks to get through the front door, once she's inside the apartment, the door stays unlocked so that her wacky neighbor across the hall can wander in and out. I'm not sure how TV characters avoid being killed in their beds.

2) Television characters hang out around the house -- reading e-mail, watching TV, doing housework -- in their underwear, and they "forget" they're just in their underwear when someone knocks or rings the doorbell. However, this rule is fairly specific and applies primarily to two particular groups:
-- Attractive women who wear cute, matching lingerie sets involving pushup bras. They must be perfectly groomed, with a full Brazilian bikini wax, no leg or underarm stubble, and a full makeup job.
-- Unattractive men with hairy bodies and pot bellies or comically skinny men, wearing baggy boxer shorts and possibly a dirty wife-beater tank top.
In certain circumstances, attractive men might be seen in their underwear, but unattractive women in ugly (comfortable) underwear are not to be seen.

3) Unlike hotel and motel room room doors in the real world that in many places are required by law to automatically lock when they close, hotel and motel doors in the TV world can be easily opened from the outside with no key and with no juggling of the little plastic key card thingy. If two people traveling together have separate rooms, they can easily wander into each other's rooms just by turning the doorknob/handle.

4) Although television homes don't lock from the inside when a character is home (see rule 1), the doors will lock automatically from the inside if a character in her underwear (see rule 2) or less steps outside. Maybe she should wait for the wacky neighbor to come along and let her in, since the door is never locked to the wacky neighbor (see rule 1).

5) Even though, in the real world, most of the time it's the women who tend to be cold (menopause aside) and the men who tend to be hot (at least, according to all the office thermostat wars I've been through), in the TV world, the men usually wear leather jackets or long, flowing coats while the women with them wear skimpy, sleeveless tops.

6) Even though in the real world, most young people are nearsighted rather than farsighted, and therefore need glasses to see at a distance instead of for reading, most TV characters who wear glasses only put them on when they're reading.

7) Even if a TV character does actually need glasses all the time to get around and not just for reading, in a really intense action or romantic situation, he can get around just fine without glasses (and without bumping into things).

8) Women on television have sex while wearing a bra. The bra is usually black, but when the woman dresses to leave and puts on a white shirt, the black bra doesn't show through the white shirt, even when the woman is very fair-skinned. Almost all TV world sexy bras are black, no matter what color the outer garment is, or how sheer it is.

9) People in television small towns speak with southern accents, no matter where the small town is located. The accent gets heavier the more backwards the town is supposed to be. The town may be in far northern Minnesota, above the Arctic Circle in Alaska or the Vermont mountains, but if they're inbred yokels, they'll talk like Arkansas rednecks.

10) Television people develop southern accents when they grow old, even if they aren't actually from the south. This is especially true in science fiction series when the characters age prematurely and rapidly due to some freaky disease or space anomaly, even if the characters normally don't have a southern accent. The heavier the bad old-age makeup is, the heavier the accent.

11) There are three Christian denominations in television religion: Catholic, generic Protestant, and crackpot fundamentalist. The only way to tell them apart is that the crackpot fundamentalist minister or faithful member will have a southern accent. Otherwise, their churches, services and doctrines are more or less the same, and the ministers all wear clerical collars. "Ethnic" Catholics (Italian, Hispanic, Irish, Polish, etc.) are the main exception, with a touch of the culture added to the Catholicism for a sense of Old World mysticism, usually used to show how out of step they are with the modern world, either for sinister or humorous purposes. All clergy or deeply religious people are the most likely suspects of any murder, which is usually committed for judgmental reasons.

12) On television, "science" is an all-around skill. The person who's good with computers can also throw together chemistry formulas, improvise electrical circuits, analyze rocks, run genetic tests, identify dinosaurs from fossil fragments and spot the rare plant whose sap is the antidote to the poison he just identified through spectral analysis. The more specialized and advanced the "science" character's studies are in one area, the more other sciency things the character will be able to do. PhD in physics? Yeah, that DNA sequence will be a piece of cake, right after he's finished doing that autopsy and hacking into the Pentagon.

13) Television world medicine is a lot like TV science -- if you've trained in one area, you can do all of it. Say you specialized in cardiology. That means you can also do brain surgery, plastic surgery and gene therapy. (I'll give them a pass on all doctors being able to deliver babies because med students do all have to do an OB rotation that involves delivering babies.) TV world medicine also has a fast track that allows people to head hospital departments or be the chief medical officer on a military base (or space station) at an age at which they'd still be in medical school or at most still be a resident in the real world. TV doctors also don't necessarily have to have any related training or experience to hold these positions. If you're super-bright, you may get to be a chief medical officer at a military outpost, even if you have no experience in field surgery or working in combat conditions. You can be put in charge of an entire hospital within a couple of years of finishing your residency. Being really smart is all that matters in television medicine. Training and experience are irrelevant.

14) If you're a regular in a TV world coffee shop, bar, or restaurant, you never have to pay for your food or drinks. You just wander in, banter with the owner while eating or drinking, then wander out (or, often, rush out) without money ever changing hands.

15) In TV world, attractive single people are all over the place. A single person can't walk down the street without bumping into one. In fact, if an attractive single person does bump into someone, probably spilling something all over the other person, that person will quite likely be an attractive single person of the opposite sex. New bosses and new employees of any single main character are also likely to be attractive, single members of the opposite sex. Ditto neighbors. In fact, it's practically newsworthy if a single character runs into someone who's unattractive or unavailable. A television single woman never trips on the sidewalk and falls into the arms of someone who reminds her of her grandfather (and if she does, he has an attractive, single grandson he wants to introduce her to). It's always a hot, single guy. If a television single woman runs out into the street and is almost hit by a taxi, the taxi driver will be an attractive, single, available man, as will his passenger and several of the bystanders who rush to help. Exception: the attractive person of the opposite sex might be temporarily unavailable if the angst of the forbidden fruit is part of the plot, but the person will eventually become available.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Creating Luck

How much do I love Pushing Daisies right now? Yesterday was one of those days that wasn't actively bad, but it was kind of the culmination of a lot of little annoying things from the whole week, where even the good news had a down side and the bad stuff was entirely justified. Then I got home from choir practice and it was cool enough for my first hot cocoa of the season, I curled up with my cocoa to watch Pushing Daisies, and there was this one part that was so funny I not only laughed out loud but practically had to pause the tape to get it out of my system before I could go on with the show. Because of that, the day ended on an up note.

I think part of the annoyance of the day was realizing that a lot of the problems were at least indirectly my own fault. Yes, there were situations caused by decisions other people made, but I know I haven't maximized my own efforts in the areas where I do have control. I had yet another one of those wake-up calls (yeah, I seem to get about one a month. I guess I keep hitting the snooze button on my life wake-up calls) from Seth Godin's blog about luck. Paraphrasing, he pretty much said that while there are some people who genuinely do luck out, like lottery winners, for the most part, what looks like luck is really effort. Then he gave his "diet plan" for making yourself lucky, which included taking 120 minutes a day away from unproductive things and using that time to exercise, stay in contact with people, volunteer, read and study in your field, etc. Meanwhile, devote one weekend day a week to spending time with people you love and don't spend money on unnecessary things, instead saving it. There's a very good chance that at the end of a year doing that, you'll look a lot "luckier." You'll be healthier, saner, better informed, better off financially and better connected, and that will probably put you in a position to take advantage of more opportunities.

That definitely applies in the writing world. Yes, there is a lot of luck involved. It's all about the right manuscript landing on the right editor's desk at the right time. A book may sell primarily because an editor picks it up right after her boss tells her they need to find just that kind of book, and the same manuscript (or even a better one) may not have sold a week earlier or a week later (after the editor bought something else to fill that niche). But still, in order to have that stroke of luck, the author had to actually write the book and write it well enough to make it worthy of being published. The author had to do enough market research to find either the editor who might possibly be into that sort of thing or the agent who would know that the editor would be into that sort of thing. And then the author will have to take advantage of that stroke of luck in selling the book to deal with the editor in such a way that she'll want to keep working with her and to promote the book in such a way that it sells well enough to justify the editor's decision in purchasing it. There's a lot of effort that goes into a "lucky" break.

I know I can find a spare 120 minutes in my day. The trick is that when I record how I spend my time, it changes the way I spend my time, so the wasted time disappears. Still, I have a good idea of how I'm spending that time when I'm not recording it. I know I need to spend the bulk of any additional time I carve out actually writing. I also know I need to be better about staying connected and not falling into the cave of book world while I neglect my friends, family and business connections. The cave time wouldn't be quite so bad if I really did spend all that time on the book, but I have a nasty habit of using the fact that I'm working on a book as an excuse not to do anything else when I'm not actually spending all that time writing. Staying on top of the industry is good for helping create luck because getting a sense for editor/agent likes and dislikes and potential or dying trends increases your chances of getting the right book on the right desk at the right time. Studying the craft of writing is important, as is reading widely, both in your own genre and in other genres.

But changing my life (again) will have to wait until next week because this weekend is the Browncoat Ball, and I have a lot of preparing to do.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Archetypes: The Shadow

Continuing with the discussion of archetypes from the Hero's Journey ...

This week, our archetype is the Shadow. This is typically, but not always, the villain (not all villains are really Shadows, while not all Shadows are villains). The shadow represents the darkness within the hero, personified into another character, and because the Shadow is largely made up of the "bad" parts of the hero, he's a worthy opponent for the hero and someone it's very difficult for the hero to beat, which means maximum conflict. Facing the worst aspects of himself can ultimately bring out the best in the hero.

I suppose you could think of this archetype as the inverse of the Mentor. If the Mentor is who the hero could become if he fulfills his potential, the Shadow is who he could become if he fails and gives into the worst parts of himself. Voldemort is set up as a Shadow of Harry Potter. Both have similar childhoods, with their families gone and them being unaware of their magical powers. But they react in very different ways. Voldemort sets out to destroy the people he sees as inferior, to make sure that he's never under anyone else's control, while Harry tries to create a community and forms a new kind of family to replace the birth family he lost. Part of the tragedy of the story is the fact that Voldemort could have taken Harry's approach and he'd have had a much happier life (as would everyone else, subsequently).

Quite often, the hero and villain are after the same goal, or at least different sides of the same goal (the detective wants the truth, while the murderer wants to hide the truth). A Shadow villain will be using the traits the hero won't let himself tap into, which could give him an advantage. Indiana Jones and Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark were both after the Ark and for a lot of the same reasons. Both had a strong intellectual curiosity and reverence for artifacts from the past. But Belloq let the artifact itself become an obsession, he was willing to sell out to the Nazis to get the support to find it, and he wanted to use its power for himself. Indy had the potential to become obsessed, but he managed to focus on the idea of keeping the Ark safe, and he had more of a struggle because he was more or less on his own instead of supported by the entire Nazi military machine. Because he didn't want the power for himself, he was spared.

The Shadow can also be an institution instead of an individual. We didn't have a single, overall villain in the Firefly universe, just the faceless bureaucracy of the Alliance. But there were times when the way Mal tried to run his ship came dangerously close to being just like the Alliance he was trying to avoid. He thought he knew best and wanted everyone to just do as he said without asking questions. He did usually cave on issues where he was in the wrong because he was ultimately a good guy, but the Alliance represented a lot of Mal's negative qualities that often threatened to tear his crew apart.

This archetype is one that can fit with all the other archetypes at various points in the story, or in various kinds of stories. There can be a dark Mentor who is a Shadow figure -- often seen in tragedies where the Hero is led down the wrong path. The Shadow may sometimes play Threshold Guardian. Shadows are quite often Shapeshifters, as seen with the femme fatales who set up the hero to take the fall or in more literal shapeshifting, such as seen in vampire or werewolf stories. The Hero himself can even be a Shadow, in moments where he's acting on his worst impulses or in situations where he has a split personality. This becomes quite literal with stories like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or with Angel and Angelus in the Buffy universe.

While the Shadow is usually an enemy, this character can sometimes be more of an antagonist, someone who is on the hero's side and even with a common goal, but perhaps with a different plan for getting it, so that he ends up hindering the hero. We may see that in quest stories, where a large party starts out, then ends up splitting because they have different ideas of what to do. The fates of the various factions demonstrate the merits of the qualities they represent.

In my Star Wars examples, Darth Vader is very much a Shadow of Luke Skywalker, given that he's Luke's father. In the original movies, we actually don't see a lot of Luke's negative traits in Darth Vader. Luke is rash and impulsive, and he's more emotionally involved in the fight than might be considered good. He takes it personally instead of looking at the big picture. The Darth Vader we see in those movies is calm, cold and rational, though his pursuit of his son does get into the taking it personally while ignoring the big picture realm. But in the prequels we see that Anakin Skywalker's downfall comes mostly because of those same negative traits we see in Luke. Luke very much has the potential to become like Darth Vader if he gives in to his worst impulses. Meanwhile, we see in the prequels that Anakin is pulled between Mentor Obi-Wan and Shadow Palpatine. Palpatine shares and encourages Anakin's sense that he's somehow special and doesn't have to follow the same rules as everyone else.

Psychologically, the Shadow represents the psychoses, hidden fears and bad habits that can destroy us. While the Threshold Guardian represents that aspects of a person that hold him back and keep him from being successful, the Shadow goes a step further and represents the aspects that can bring about his destruction. By defeating the monsters within in the form of the external monster, the hero, in a sense, heals himself.

The thing to remember about these Shadow characters is that they are characters. They shouldn't just be a bunch of evil traits. The danger of the Shadow is that what he represents can be very appealing, charismatic and attractive. He may offer the easy way out or even sound like he's got a better, more rational plan. Another characterization danger is that the Shadow will be more compelling than the Hero. To avoid that, look at those dark traits in the Shadow and find ways to use them in the Hero to give him some depth and shading. A Hero can make bad decisions and act for the wrong reasons without being evil, and having to figure out where to draw the line makes for a more interesting character and story.

I'm coming to the end of this series, just one more archetype and then a post to tie it all together. So now's the time to raise any questions about other writing topics you'd like me to address.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Panel Notes

I should know better than to even pretend to be ambitious about getting work done on the Monday after a convention. I spent most of the afternoon trying to stay awake while brainstorming a sequence I needed to write -- with the conclusion of the brainstorming being that I didn't need that sequence at all. I suppose it's better to spend time thinking about something than to spend time writing something you don't need. I guess realizing I didn't need to write it means I'm less behind than I thought I was, so I came out ahead on the day's "work." But that was all the work I got done yesterday. Today I need to do some writing, and I absolutely must deal with some real-world things, including my ongoing battle with AT&T, which somehow seems to have forgotten that I cancelled my long-distance "plan" with them because they're still billing me for it. There are times when having a killer robot sidekick (a la Cameron on The Sarah Connor Chronicles) would come in handy. I just imagined her on the phone with the AT&T Customer Disservice Department and went to my happy place.

Random notes of things that came up in FenCon panels (I didn't take notes, so we're going by my fuzzy memory):

We really need an Internet-generation Emily Post to write a definitive etiquette guide for spoilers, including how long the "safe" period with books and movies should be. Not everyone sees movies or reads books at the same time, but how long must people avoid talking about things that interest them in order to avoid spilling spoilers? Twenty years is probably too long. Opening weekend is way too soon.

In the Whedonverse panel, we were asked who our favorite character out of all the series was, and I was surprised that someone else had mine and for the same reasons, because I've often felt alone about that. Both Rachel Caine and I love Wesley for the way they managed to grow the character from buffoon to badass and make it totally believable. I also came to the conclusion that I will have to give Dollhouse a shot, even though the concept doesn't really enthrall me, since I realized that I haven't really been enthralled about any of his concepts, but ended up loving the shows. I wasn't planning to watch Buffy because I don't care about vampires and wasn't into the idea of teen angst shows, but I didn't change the channel fast enough when the pilot came on and got hooked. I didn't think I'd like Angel, since it was a spinoff involving a character I had found boring and, again, vampires. But the pilot came on when I was in a hotel on a business trip, so I watched and I ended up liking that series better than Buffy. I wasn't turned off by the concept of Firefly, just more in a big "huh?" because I hadn't heard much about it, but watched out of a sense of duty and loved it best of all. So now my big "really?" reaction to the concept of Dollhouse probably means I'll fall in mad, passionate love with it.

On the House panel, I was the real oddball for picking "The Mistake" as my favorite episode. I thought it was an excellent example of the fact that House can show his human side while still being very much House and without going off the deep end into pointless meanness or woobification (I kind of liked the House who was a jerk just because that was his personality, so I'm a little bugged by the trend toward showing him as some kind of tortured soul who might be a jerk because of his painful childhood and because his mean old friends don't cater to his every whim). And it showed that a character can be mysterious by, you know, just not telling stuff instead of wafting around being "mysterious."

But there was something said with Doris Egan during the opening ceremonies (and that also came up on the panel) that brought up an interesting dilemma. Vagueing it up to avoid spoilers because I don't know where other countries are in getting the series, but it referred to the death of a character who'd become popular. Someone asked Doris why they had to kill that character (and why not kill the boring one instead), and she said they killed that character because people loved her. I get that a character death has no impact if people don't care about that character, and that killing an unpopular character or a character people don't care about means the death is meaningless (it sort of ruins the tragic moment if the audience is dancing for joy). But then that means if you kill off the character people care about the most, you run the risk of being left with the characters people don't care about. I guess the ideal is to have all your characters be cared about, but when you've got a supporting/recurring character who's really catching on with the audience and one the audience generally finds utterly boring, I'm not sure that killing the popular one and leaving the boring one is such a wise move. Yeah, the immediate death has a real impact, but it makes the series from that point on somewhat less entertaining.

But then no one's paying me to write for TV, so what do I know?

On the character creation panel, other panelists were talking about the challenges of making dark or despicable characters sympathetic. I said I had the opposite problem, making nice characters interesting. And I think that's actually more difficult, especially these days when there seems to be a common belief that dark automatically=good. I didn't have an answer at the time for how to make nice characters interesting, but I think a lot if it has to do with the fact that "nice" doesn't have to mean "perfect." Even nice, good, people who are not morally ambiguous can make mistakes, have bad days and struggle. Nice people can panic, lose their temper or snap at people. They can even make bad decisions. And all without dipping their toes into real darkness.

I don't really have anything from the CS Lewis panel other than that I reread The Silver Chair over the weekend, for the first time in ages, and I was reminded of the many reasons that's my favorite of the series, plus I think I really got the spiritual message of it for the first time, and now I like it even more.

Now time for lunch, the post office, then girding my loins and finding my inner Terminator to deal with AT&T.