Thursday, December 31, 2009

Next Year

I gave myself an unplanned afternoon off yesterday when I met some friends for lunch and didn't get home until five. We had a nice, long chat at lunch, then the restaurant was close to Borders, and I had a coupon. I spent nearly an hour in Borders, looking for something I wanted to buy. Then there's a Half-Price books nearby -- on my way home from Borders -- and they were having a sale, so I spent another hour in there browsing for reference books. That's a great place to find odd things that you can't find anywhere else and that aren't even in libraries. My find this time was a memoir written by someone who lived in the time period I'm currently researching and who was a part of the society I'm focusing on. I'd heard of her, but had no idea she'd written a book. I suspect it was sort of a celebrity bio of that time, the kind of thing that people in New York publishing circles were excited about but that nobody else cared much about, so it was rapidly remaindered. I love having primary sources for research instead of relying on other people's research, so that was a big win. (And, no, I can't say what it was since it's research for a book, and I don't talk publicly in specifics about works in progress.) Then it was off to the grocery store that has the good produce to get the final ingredients for my planned holiday weekend cooking (where I talked jobs and books with the cashier and ended up giving her one of my bookmarks when she asked what I wrote).

After spending the better part of an hour perusing the science fiction/fantasy section of Borders, I have to say that I think the standard urban fantasy book cover design may have tipped over the fine line between making it easy to recognize the kind of book it is and "I think I've already read that one. It looks familiar." Or, in my case, MAKE IT STOP! NOW! I'm sure I'm missing some books I might like because of those standard covers because after reading (or trying to read) some of the more generic entries in the genre (the "half-vampire, half-fey outcast mage who ekes out a living as a freelance demon slayer/PI but then to save the world she has to team up with a sexy demon who makes her all tingly even though he's usually her enemy" books) I see those standard covers and immediately assume the books will be just like those others with covers like that. I'd also like to call for a moratorium on the use of the words "blood," "death" and "grave" in urban fantasy book titles. I'm starting to suspect that the doom loop is about to strike and that subgenre will bottom out the way chick lit did a few years ago because the wall of books that all look exactly alike was just as oppressive as the table piled with pastel books with either cartoon shoes or martini glasses on the covers was during the height of the chick lit boom, just before it busted. I don't think that the subgenre is bad, but I wouldn't mind a little more variety. I wasn't in the mood for a tough chick in black leather and low-rise pants swinging a sword or battle axe, so I had to resort to the only Terry Pratchett book in the store that I hadn't read, one old enough that my library system only has a single paperback copy that's always checked out. I certainly realized why I only bought ten (now twelve -- in addition to the Pratchett, I took a chance on one book that looked really different and that was neither epic nor urban fantasy and that didn't seem to involve either vampires or werewolves). If you don't like or have burned out on the current flavor of the month, there's not a lot else out there.

And yes, Mom, I'll bring the new Pratchett the next time I visit.

So, a new year/decade starts tomorrow, and that means it's goal time. The main thing I plan to do is really focus on my work. It's occurred to me that, in a sense, I'm an entrepreneur, and I need to bring that level of effort and focus to my "business." I had started doing that in the latter part of this year, and I want to continue going forward. I won't try to do something crazy like write eight books in a year, but I do want to increase my output while also coming up with some interesting marketing approaches. There are some other things I'm weighing in the career realm, some big decisions that will have to be made about what's most likely to move me forward. And I want to clean/decorate my office to make it a pleasant place to work.

On the fun side of things, I'd like to get over that singing stage fright. I may start learning basic piano, just so I can more easily figure out the music I'm singing. I'd like to learn more about Indian food. The most convenient take-out to my house is an Indian place, and I can walk easily to two different Indian grocery stores. I like the Indian food I've tried, but I don't know enough to know what I might like outside my comfort zone of chicken tikki masala, and I want to rectify that.

Now I must prepare my contribution to tonight's party and then decide which fuzzy blue sweater to wear.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Year/Decade in Review

I normally do a year-end performance review of myself, but all the decade in review columns I'm seeing have reminded me that it's the end of a decade, as well -- at least for non-pedantic folks (I think, technically, the decade starts with the 1 year, but there's something satisfying about that odometer turnover).

I don't have a lot to say about this year. It was there. No major highs or huge successes, but nothing really awful. I think, in retrospect from further into the future, this year will be like the middle book of a trilogy or that episode just before the season finale two-parter. It's a bridging, a time for pulling together threads of things that have already been set up and then putting everything into place for the explosive finale. There's no room in all that set-up work for a standalone plot, or if there is one, it's pretty thin. How that episode or book rates is ultimately dependent on what comes after it. If the set up pays off in the finale, then the arc that includes the bridge is a success. On its own, that episode or book isn't much, and you'd probably never revisit it on its own again.

And I think that's what this year has been for me. There's been a lot of setting up for things that could possibly happen in the future. If those things do end up happening, then this year will have been a big success. If not, the year will have been a washout, professionally, at least. I wrote a book that hasn't yet gone out on the market, I've started writing a book that I think could be really good, and I got and started researching an idea that gave me the same "oooh, this is it" tingle I got when I came up with the concept for Enchanted, Inc. None of that came to fruition this year, but 2010 better look out.

As for the decade, at this time in 1999 I'd already bought this house, and most of it hasn't changed, although I did switch my bedroom and office in 2001, moving the bedroom to the downstairs room that felt like a cave (which is nice in a bedroom, not so great in an office) and the office to the upstairs room with a wall of windows and a skylight. I was working full-time at a PR agency then, but contemplating quitting my job to write. I'd saved the amount of money I'd considered my threshold for making the leap, I had an agent (a different one than I have now) and had a book rejected with favorable comments and a mention that they'd like to see something else from me. But I hadn't had a chance to write something else because I was working crazy hours and was doing trade show media relations, so I'd spent the fall of 1999 mostly on the road, hitting such lovely spots as New Orleans, New York and Las Vegas (actually, the first two are nice, though the convention centers aren't so much). And I was doing some media training, which meant a quick trip to Minneapolis in December. My grand plan was to take an hourly wage part-time job so I could leave work behind at the end of my shift and only work the hours I was being paid for. It turned out that my boss wouldn't let me quit and instead worked out an arrangement to work part-time and telecommute, so I stayed for two more years (and was happy enough in that time that I ended up not getting much writing done).

I do have a new car and an entirely new set of friends that reminds me of the crowd I hung around with in college (and some of them know some of the people I hung around with in college, so it's a small world). I did a lot of travel in the first two years of the decade, for both work and fun (I was a gold-level frequent flier those years). I've traveled a little less since then, since the absence of a steady salary does trim the travel budget, but I've still made a bunch of trips to New York, several to Chicago, one to Denver, one to Atlanta, one to Reno, one to Philadelphia and then that crazy whirlwind trip to LA for a movie premiere (we'll hope that one repeats this decade, but for my movie and maybe involving more sleep).

As for work, the numbers make me feel like a bit of a slacker. In the decade, I wrote nine books, four of which have been published. I've known people who wrote and published that many in one year. Of the unpublished ones, one was widely rejected and will probably never see the light of day, though I think I'm unconsciously scavenging the worthwhile elements and using them elsewhere. One I think was a good concept that I wasn't a good enough writer at the time to pull off and may get revived in a total rewrite, but the market for that kind of story is weak at the moment. One made the publishing rounds, but I don't think it was the right time for that book and I may revisit it. One was last year's NaNo book and needs a rewrite, but my brain isn't there. And one is the book I've been working on lately that I hope to see published.

I've also written about a dozen proposals and partial books. Some were rejected, some were things I wrote and then changed my mind about. I did two complete re-workings of previously rewritten books to adapt them (unsuccessfully) for a different market, so that might up my writing count.

There's also the non-fiction stuff, with eight published essays and a couple of magazine articles, as well as the five one-minute radio scripts I've written every week of the entire decade. For the first couple of years after I went freelance, I wrote and edited a ton of marketing materials and other documentation.

The thing I can't let myself forget, though, is that this was the decade in which I realized my dream. I've worked for myself through most of the decade and for about half the decade have supported myself mostly through my work as a novelist. I've had a series published in multiple countries and had a book optioned for film. This is the kind of life I've wanted since I was about twelve years old, and while it may not be quite as lucrative and glamorous as I imagined then, I've managed to do it. So it's been a good decade.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year in Books

Whew, I just survived a harrowing grocery shopping expedition. When I got to the store, the parking lot was almost empty and the store was a ghost town. I thought I'd timed it perfectly. And then hordes of people suddenly descended on the store, buying enough groceries to survive the entire winter and with their whole families in tow -- generally stopping dead still in the middle of aisles to contemplate their purchases. Because the store had been utterly dead mere minutes earlier, it wasn't staffed to deal with the mobs, so there were two regular checkout lanes open and one express, aside from the self-check stands.

The forecast calls for a chance of snow this afternoon (and since it's forecast, it will probably amount to nothing. We only get serious snow when it's entirely unexpected), so apparently people were stocking up for when they're snowed in by an inch of snow that will be gone by morning. I was there getting supplies for the items I'm making for various New Year celebrations as well as foods that go well with the leftover Christmas ham. And a frozen pizza for when I'm sick of leftover Christmas ham.

As the year winds down, I've taken a look at my reading journal for the year, and here's my assessment of my reading patterns.

By the time the year is over, I will have read about 116 books (extrapolating based on two books I'm currently reading that I will likely have finished by Thursday night, but not counting anything I haven't yet started).

I still have a bad re-reading habit, as 32 books on this list were books I had previously read (and there are a few that show up twice even within the same year). That's not even counting reference books that I may have read previously or that I skimmed through multiple times. I think some of the re-reading comes from those authors who make you just want to read something else like that when there's nobody else quite like that. Then there's the "comfort food" scenario, where I get into a certain mood and only one particular book will do.

Most of my reading comes from the library. I only bought about ten new books this year (at least, according to the reading log -- there's a chance I bought something that remains on the to-be-read pile). Part of this is because I'm poor and cheap and haven't run across too many things I'm eager to spend money on lately, but part is because the library is more convenient than any bookstore. I can walk to the library a couple of blocks from my house, while going to a bookstore requires driving. However, I may have influenced book purchases at the library, as I talk books with the librarian. My used book purchases were all either out of print or were textbook type books by authors who are now dead.

I read 26 non-fiction books for work-related purposes -- either writing how-to, general psychology type stuff or research/reference books. I read 15 novels primarily for work purposes. Since a lot of books that might count as "work" are also books I'd read for fun, I only counted for this the books I would not have read if I hadn't had some work-related reason to do so. That includes books I read for judging a contest, books "assigned" for workshops and genre research where I didn't really enjoy the book but felt I needed to know what had already been written. I also have on this list some classics I read for research/reference (because I was planning to allude to or somehow use something from those books).

I'm still on a huge Terry Pratchett kick, with his books accounting for 24 of the books I read this year. Nine of those were first-time reads. Otherwise, there was a lot of re-reading, as he's one of those authors where reading one book gets me in the mood for more like that and nobody else is quite like that. His books also hold up really well to re-reading because I always notice something new.

The bulk of my reading was in fantasy, with 50 books falling into that category. Next was chick lit, with 10 that could be classified that way. Then there was mystery with six and science fiction with five. I've really fallen off on my science fiction reading lately, I think mostly because there's not a lot of really fun science fiction out there. Most of the science fiction I read would fall into the steampunk category, and there were two quasi-steampunk books I counted as fantasy that could possibly have been considered science fiction.

My two main discoveries of authors I read for the first time this year and plan to follow in the future were Philip Reeve, who writes young adult steampunk, and KE Mills, who writes quirky fantasy.

I think my favorite books of the year were Witches Incorporated by KE Mills (actually published this year!), The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett andThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

I have an idea that I hope to work on next year that will involve a lot of research and reference reading (some of which I've already started), and that should have an interesting effect on my statistics next year. I'd like to make more of an effort to read current books, since I can nominate books for the Nebula award. That may depend on library availability or finances and there being something I want to spend money on.

Monday, December 28, 2009

White Christmas (sort of)

I hope everyone had a good Christmas holiday. I'm back at work, sort of. I have stuff to get done, but I'm planning on this being a light duty week before I hit the ground at full tilt next week. I proved to myself over the holiday that I'm not addicted to the Internet. I checked my e-mail on my parents' computer Thursday morning but otherwise haven't been online until this morning, and I never even took my laptop out of its bag.

The big news in this part of the world was that this area had its first white Christmas in about 80 years, with it snowing most of the day on Christmas Eve and the snow still on the ground for Christmas day.

However, I still have experienced only one white Christmas in my life, and this wasn't it because the storm fell apart before it made it a hundred miles farther east to where my parents live. My house got the white Christmas while I was gone.

We did get enough snow on Christmas Eve afternoon to get pretty swirling flakes blowing around (you may have to squint to see the snow in this picture), but it didn't stick since it was still above freezing.

The snow was pretty much gone by the time I got home, except for one patch to the side of my house. I took this picture right after I got home on Saturday, but it's still there (although a bit smaller). It's an area that doesn't get much sun, and I imagine that the drifts against the wall were pretty deep. That's the part of the yard I can see from my office window, so I can sit at my desk and see the snow. It's also what I can see through the slats of my patio fence from my kitchen window, so if the only window I look out is that one, it looks like the ground is covered in snow. We're supposed to get more snow tomorrow.

The one white Christmas I've ever had was when we lived in Oklahoma and it started snowing on Christmas Eve morning, and the snow was still around on Christmas. In Germany, we generally had snow most of the time between Thanksgiving and Easter, but it always melted a few days before Christmas and then didn't snow again until after Christmas, so we never actually had snow on Christmas. Oddly, while this was the first Christmas snowfall in the Dallas area since the 1920s, we've had several Easter snows in the past decade. I've had more white Easters than white Christmases (no real accumulation at Easter, but we have had flurries).

Other than the excitement of watching the Dallas news bulletins about the approaching snowstorm, it was a quiet Christmas. I got lots of warm, fuzzy stuff, including a proper "work" bathrobe that's gray and fuzzy and dignified and makes me look like a cast member in Doctor Zhivago, so I don't have to work in the fuzzy pink bathrobe. Plus, I got a stand for my electronic keyboard so I can make it act like a piano and maybe learn to really play it (true piano practice is a challenge when you're propping the keyboard up on a chair).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Home for the Holidays

This is my get my life together day before I head off for Christmas (and, depending on the weather, it may turn into frantically packing day for an earlier than planned departure). I'm doing laundry and need to wash dishes, pack and get to the bank.

My Christmases tend to be pretty quiet, but then I'm not a big fan of all the hype. I don't go anywhere exotic, just my parents' house that's a couple of hours away from where I live. I drive the back roads -- the old US highway that was the main route before they built the Interstate. It takes me a bit longer because the speed limit drops within the towns that are spaced every seven miles along the road (since the road parallels the railroad, and they set up towns every seven miles to serve the steam engines back in the day -- not all of these towns still exist) and there are red lights. However, there's a lot less traffic, almost no semi trucks and no casino buses heading to Shreveport. I actually kind of like having to slow down and even stop every so often because that keeps me focused. I've been traveling the same stretch of Interstate 20 since I was a small child, and there's a sameness to it that's almost hypnotic. I started driving the back way after the time when I realized I'd zoned out and wasn't entirely sure where I was on the road. Having to slow down, change gears, stop, then change gears again as I speed up means my mind has to stay on my driving.

I really like taking the back roads at Christmas because every little town along the way dresses up for the holiday. These are old railroad towns from the late 1800s/early 1900s, and some of them almost look like a movie set for an Old West film. In most of these towns, the road I'm on is Main Street, and it's lined with old shops, restaurants, usually a bank, sometimes a movie theater (and one is even still in operation). The towns string lights in colored garlands and hang decorations from the light poles. The shops also decorate, and there's usually a town Christmas tree. It will likely be darkish and cloudy when I travel this year, which means the lights will really show up.

There's also a "cut your own" Christmas tree farm along the way, set up to look like Santa's workshop at the North Pole, with hay rides and other fun stuff. I don't know how busy it will be this late in the season, but they may still be open Christmas week.

And then there are the homes along the route that will be decorated, the trees that still have fall colors, the horses and cattle. I suppose I'm a small-town girl at heart because I feel a sense of relief when I get off the freeway onto the back road and out into the country (though that could be from leaving the city traffic behind). Once I'm at my parents' house, we pretty much stay there. We read, we eat, we watch the birds at my dad's feeders. I like to watch the horses in the pasture behind my parents' backyard. It may not be exciting, but it's the kind of holiday that's renewing instead of exhausting.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dear Santa

I survived my solo Sunday. I don't know how well I did because it didn't feel right, but people said it was good. The whole experience is a blur. That was my first time singing a solo in a church service, and it's a big church that was pretty full. I wish I could get over this fear. I have zero fear of public speaking, just singing. What I need is a singing Toastmasters, a way of getting used to performing in front of people on a regular basis in a supportive environment. I got over the public speaking nerves by doing lots of speech competitions in high school, but there aren't a lot of regular opportunities to sing in front of people.

But now I can relax and enjoy the holidays. I just have to wrap gifts and pack to go visit my parents. My shopping is done. My house is mostly clean. I was even able to have company this weekend when I had some friends over to help me eat all those sweets. I recovered from the arduous solo by spending the day with a book I needed to finish before it's due back at the library today. I checked it out, then found out it was a sequel so had to go back for the first book, and now that I've finished both, I'm not sure it was worth the effort, but it fell into the category of market research. I have one more book I need to read this week, but I'm not sure I'll be able to get through it, not because of anything to do with the book itself but because the last person who checked it out must have been a heavy smoker. The book reeks, and my eyes burn when I try to read it. I was smelling smoke and looking around my house to see if there was a problem, and then I realized the smell came from the book. And this is after it's been sitting out for a couple of weeks. I'm glad I didn't leave it in my backpack, or I'd have had to throw the backpack away.

Now that I've bought my gifts for the year, I though I'd make a wish list for myself. These aren't my usual gift requests (mine were horribly practical), just things it would be nice if the universe could provide for me.

Dear Santa,

I have been a mostly good (does boring count as good?) girl this year, so I would like you to bring me:

A contemporary fantasy book that involves a mingling between real-world elements and magical elements that isn't overly dark and doesn't involve vampires and that isn't essentially a noir-style "detective" novel. Basically, I'd like something kind of like my books that I don't have to write for myself.

Some fun fantasy books. Not necessarily comedies, just not overly dark and heavy. Maybe some adventures where the Fate of the World isn't at stake. Something like a USA original series, but with magic.

A really good romantic comedy movie that's well written and acted, the kind of thing that makes me laugh and cry and where I feel good at the end. The hero has to be a grown-up, not an overgrown fratboy clinging to his Peter Pan existence, and the heroine can't be an emasculating shrew. I want to feel good about these people getting together, to believe they really are falling in love (without the crutch of a montage set to a pop song), and to believe that they will make it work after the ending.

For a change, none of my favorite TV shows are teetering on the brink of cancellation, so I don't have to make any requests in that department, and my schedule is pretty full there, so I don't need to ask for anything new. I guess my request for TV is that you remind the writers that not every show needs a romantic subplot, no matter what some of the more vocal fans and prolific fanfiction writers seem to think, so they don't have to force one just to make some of the fans happy, and playing will-they/won't-they games seldom works to make anyone happy.

That's all I'm asking for right now. I won't even get into asking that publishers will want to buy the kind of books I write or that a movie based on one of my books will go into production. I just want these few, simple things.

Thanks, Santa. Love, me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mid-Season TV Report Card

I successfully escaped the clutches of the evil flannel sheets this morning, but I may have to use earplugs or turn on a radio to drown out their seductive siren song calling me back to the warm bed. And it's not even that cold today.

I'm currently trying to psych myself up to go out and buy one more Christmas gift. The store is more or less within walking distance, but it would probably take me about half an hour to walk there, while it's a five-minute drive. So why does it seem like walking would be less hassle? Though walking wouldn't exactly be good for my long-term health and well-being, as it's an area not designed for pedestrian traffic. I don't know what it is about getting in the car that makes it seem like a much larger errand, even though it's quicker.

In other news, we've come to the mid-season television lull, so I suppose it's time for a report card. I guess I've become Grinchy about TV, as I'm less willing to give new shows a chance. My favorite new show of the season, by far, was White Collar on USA. It's fun, stylish and clever, and it has a slightly retro feel to it, like the theme music should have been written by Henry Mancini. I love shows about smart people. I'm a little irked that they're moving it to Tuesday nights, since that's ballet night and I'll never get to watch it "live," but this is USA, which repeats things often, and I get USA shows OnDemand. I'll probably be able to watch the late-night repeat after ballet class. And it does free up Friday nights, so maybe I can either pretend to have a social life or go back to doing Friday-night writing marathons.

Speaking of freeing up Friday nights, my least-favorite new show has to be Stargate: Universe, which I've dubbed As the Stargate Turns. How they can make a show about being stranded in another galaxy on a mysterious alien spaceship boring is beyond me, but it helps that apparently all the action and decision-making take place off-stage, while the parts they show us are the kinds of scenes I call "doing laundry" and delete from my books. I could write epic essays about what's wrong with this show. They could improve this show tremendously by getting rid of those consciousness-swapping communication stones. I won't even get into the science fiction issues associated with that, where they've invented these cool devices that they use as a plot crutch without, apparently, thinking through the social and emotional implications (like, maybe I'm shallow, but I do think the body counts in a relationship, and I'm not going to just jump in bed with an entirely unfamiliar body, even if it contains the consciousness of someone I love. Not to mention the ick factor of using another person's body that way). But the real problem with these stones for me is the fact that they mean that this show with the word "universe" in the title, that involves an interstellar spaceship with both a shuttle and a stargate, seems to take place mostly on earth, and with mundane activities on earth. If I wanted to watch people going clubbing or having angsty meetings with their significant others, I'd watch all those dramas on the CW. When I watch science fiction that's supposedly about space travel, I'd like to spend more time on alien worlds or really dealing with the fact that we're in space. I'd even take the Ye Olde Ren Faire worlds that became eye-rollingly silly on the previous Stargate shows. Oddly, Paul Cornell thinks this show is brilliant. Perhaps the UK gets a different version, but I sense a future convention debate in the making, which could be a lot of fun. See me flinging my dainty, ladylike glove at Paul's feet as I make my challenge.

Though that was my least favorite show, I still watched it, mostly because the snark was so much fun (though with the mid-season finale, it may have tipped over into just plain irritating). I just sort of tapered off with FlashForward. I didn't hate it and I didn't think it was bad, but mostly I just didn't care. I'm usually pretty much brain dead on Thursday nights (I never could get the hang of Thursdays), and it required way too much concentration to focus on that show. So I started taping it to watch when I had brain power. And then the next Thursday would have rolled around and I still hadn't watched the previous episode. I took that as a sign that I just wasn't that into it, in spite of the fact that I previously would have said I'd watch Joseph Fiennes and His Amazing Eyelashes read the phone book.

Glee was an appropriate post-choir practice show, so I don't know what I'll do in the spring when they move it to Tuesdays -- probably tape it and still watch after choir on Wednesdays. I didn't love it as much as I wanted to, but it still has its moments of brilliance. The weird thing is, some of the better elements of the show are the parts that make no sense whatsoever. For instance, the evil cheerleading coach is one of the best characters and offers the most laughs, but I really don't understand why she even cares enough to be the villain here. If it's about not wanting any group in the school to get any funding that could go to her cheerleaders, is she engaging in simultaneous vendettas we don't see against every other school organization? And what funding is this club getting, considering it's been a plot point that they have to come up with their own funding for everything? You'd think this little group would be beneath the notice of the rest of the school. What I have been impressed with is the way this show makes me truly sympathize with characters I want to hate and character types that usually bug me. Plus, the music is fun. The earlier post-pilot episodes seemed to focus on recent pop music I didn't know or care about, but they seem to have swung back to classic show tunes and 70s-80s oldies I know, and because I am old, I'm much happier with that.

V was okay, I guess, though it could easily slip into FlashForward territory for me. I like the resistance movement subplot with the FBI agent and the hot priest, but the rest of it, especially the rebellious teen and the junior alien scouts plot, bores me. And I'm very disappointed that there has been no rat eating in the episodes so far. The iconic moment of the original series was when the alien chick sucked down a rodent, and I think that's the element the new version is sadly lacking.

I almost completely forgot about NCIS: LA as a new series, until there was an article in the newspaper about it yesterday, and that sums it up. I don't hate it, but I don't love it. It's just there. It's something I catch OnDemand when I get a chance, but if I missed it entirely, I wouldn't feel like I was missing anything. I do like the buddy-cop vibe, and Linda Hunt is brilliant, but the situation and set-up make no sense whatsoever (like why LA? There's no Navy base in LA. Why not San Diego, which is crawling with Navy?).

And now I have to start psyching myself up not only to brave the stores for Christmas shopping, but also for my solo in choir Sunday morning. I'm going to be very sick of the first verse of "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" by Sunday.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sugar Attack

I think I now remember why I haven't put the flannel sheets on the bed in years. They're so very comfortable and warm that on a cool morning, they make it nearly impossible to get out of bed. While I normally think that live-in household help would be intrusive, on a morning like this, it would be lovely to ring for the maid and say, "Jennings, bring me my tea and a scone and the newspaper," and never have to leave the bed. As it was, I lounged around for far too long until I needed that tea and then felt guilty about throwing my schedule off for the day, until I reminded myself that I have no schedule for the day. I have things to do, but nothing that absolutely had to be done this morning.

I might even be really decadent and take the laptop down to the bed and spend the day in the flannel sheets. Seriously, those things are EVIL. Or maybe I just happened to get the set that's cursed so that they sap your will to do anything but stay in bed.

I had my final Christmas party of the season last night. It was the choir party, so it ended up involving a singalong around the piano. We managed to even sing in parts for the more common Christmas carols, but all of us completely blanked on the words to "Frosty the Snowman." We were all looking at each other for help while singing "la la la" on that, then jumping in with gusto at the "thumpity thump thump" part we remembered.

I found a new cookie recipe that was a little less labor intensive and that made fewer cookies (and still brought home a ton of leftovers). I made thumbprint cookies, and some of them I filled with the traditional jam (my homemade strawberry jam) and for the rest, I re-melted the chocolate I had left over from my last batch of meringue mushrooms and filled the cookies with that. I like this recipe because the dough isn't too sweet. It's almost like a shortbread. The ones with jam taste a bit like scones, so I think these would be good for a tea party. I may add these to the usual rotation. What's handy is that they use egg yolks -- the same number of yolks as I need of egg whites to make the mushrooms -- so these work well to use up other ingredients from the mushrooms.

Now I have enough sweets to keep me on a sugar high for months. I still have some Swedish spritz cookies, a few meringue mushrooms, the thumbprint cookies and some mint fudge, plus the fruitcake cookies and chocolate nut clusters Mom brought me. And that's not even getting into the sugar cookies that were packaged with the cookie jar I won as a door prize at an event. I am hereby forbidden to bake for a while. Well, until I need to come up with something for New Year's Eve. I might get wild and crazy and not do something sweet for that occasion. Maybe I'll dig through Joy of Cooking and look at appetizer recipes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Final Gasp of Crazy Time

Oh, man, this is the kind of day when I just want to burrow under a blanket with a book and spend the day alternating between reading and napping. I was up very late last night because the grown-ups in my ballet class went out to eat after class, and the service at the restaurant was v e r y s l o w w w w (to the point of non-existent). And today it's cold and a weird kind of hazy, not quite sunny, but not really cloudy. But, I have lots of work to do, plus I need to do some baking for one last party tonight. I'm at the state where I almost have enough cookies, but not quite, so I need at least one new batch, but then I'm sure I'll have tons of leftovers.

After this one party, the crazy portion of my holiday season will be over. I just have to sing a solo Sunday morning, buy one more gift, wrap my gifts and get to my parents' house. I have work to get done for something due in January, but I don't think that's yet at the all-consuming state, so I may allow myself some reading and relaxing time. I have my decorations up, though the tree is rather minimalist this year. It's nice to just hang out and look at the pretty lights.

Although last weekend was insane, after the crazy part was over, I didn't feel like doing much other than lying on the sofa, so there was some movie viewing. TCM indulged me by showing The Philadelphia Story, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. I seem to focus on something different every time I see it. This time around, I found myself really impressed with Jimmy Stewart's performance. Now, I'm already the ultimate Jimmy Stewart fangirl. He's pretty much my ideal man. He had a distinctive voice and speech pattern that was easily mocked or imitated, but when you really watch his performances, the acting behind that speech pattern was truly different for each character. In this movie, I'm impressed by how natural he sounds. It's a really speechy movie, in part because it was adapted from a stage play and in part because that was the style of the time. Most of the other actors sounded like they were giving speeches, which was very much in line with the style of acting of the time, but there was something about the way Stewart gave those speeches that made them sound spontaneous and natural, like his character was someone given to speechifying at times when he got excited, but his non-speechy lines were very casual. If you moved him in time to the present or cloned him or whatever, I think he could have been successful as an actor now, which isn't something you can say about a lot of the actors from that era, even some of the ones who were great for that time, just because what was great acting then would be considered hammy, stilted emoting now.

And I still swoon at that "hearth fires and holocausts" line. Plus, that movie is the rare case of someone misinterpreting a situation and taking action based on that misinterpretation, then changing his mind and "forgiving" after learning the truth without the other person immediately accepting him back. That drives me nuts in books and movies when the "oh, that was your sister/brother!" realization happens and the other person isn't peeved that this person was willing to believe the worst, so the relationship is back on. In this one, he assumes she's been with another man on the night before the wedding and calls off the engagement, then when he finds out nothing happened and is ready to make nice she tells him not to bother.

Then I think on the Cartoon Network (which makes no sense, but I'm pretty sure that's what it was), there was Disney's mid-90s live-action version of The Jungle Book. I'm a huge fan of the animated version, mostly because of the awesome music. I had that album as a kid, and there are so many fun songs. The live-action version tells a very different story, starting with a prologue of how Mowgli ended up in the jungle, and then skipping ahead to the part where he comes back to human civilization and has to learn to be human again, which he mostly does because he's fallen in love with a young Sarah Connor (TV version). There's a pretty lame conflict with almost no logical character motivation behind it, but it does give us Cary Elwes in full-on mustache-twirling mode (he even gets in a big "mwa ha ha ha!"), and nobody does snidely superior better. Mowgli is a lot older and more fully grown than in the cartoon version, so the scenery is far more interesting (and I'm not talking about the jungle). There are a few little nods to the cartoon -- we even get John Cleese saying the phrase "the bare necessities of life" -- and those are fun to watch for. I think I would have been disappointed if I'd seen it in the theater, but on a Sunday evening when I was too tired to think straight and went to bed immediately afterward, it was a pleasant amusement. Great cast, weak script.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kissing Frogs

Texas is so much fun at this time of year. Yesterday, I walked to the movie theater and got a bit warm while wearing a loosely knitted sweater and a light denim jacket. Today, it's been below freezing most of the morning. These drastic temperature swings make it impossible to adjust to any particular kind of weather.

But it was lovely to walk to the theater. I haven't done that in ages, and it was a gorgeous day, so it was a pleasant walk. I went to see The Princess and the Frog, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was pretty much expecting to, as you might guess, since I've played with that story a lot, myself. I also like a lot of the cast.

I ended up enjoying it more than I was expecting to, though. The New Orleans and Louisiana setting was a fun twist for a fairy tale story, and my family is mostly from Louisiana, so it was a fairy tale close to home (I nearly fell out of my seat laughing at a Shreveport reference -- since Shreveport is one of the last places I expect to have mentioned in a Disney fairy tale movie). I've spent a lot of time in New Orleans over the years (it used to be a very popular location for telecommunications industry trade shows, so I was there several times a year for a while), and it's a place I feel like I know pretty well on some levels, which made the movie more real for me. The music even fit the locale, and I can't resist the idea of jazz in a fairy tale movie.

There's been a lot of hype about this being the first African-American Disney princess, but I probably found myself relating more to Tiana than I have to any other Disney princess, even though I'm about as white as you can get without glowing in the dark. A big reason for that is that she's one of the few Disney girls whose big dream had nothing to do with a man/wanting a man/wanting romance. She wasn't dreaming and wishing for her prince to come. She wasn't pining for the man she met once upon a dream. She wasn't wishing to go to the ball so she could meet a prince. She wasn't willing to give up her entire life so she could be with a prince she didn't even know. There was a lot of talk about how Belle in Beauty and the Beast was a new-generation Disney princess because she actually read books and was known for being intelligent, but even her dreams were about a nebulous life beyond the provinces with adventure like in her books -- and they included having someone who understood her dreams, while the books she read were about meeting Prince Charming. I saw Mulan and Pocahontas, but I have to confess that I don't remember anything about those movies, their heroines or what their dreams were (that was in the last-gasp phase when Disney wasn't even trying).

Tiana, however, has a very specific dream that has nothing to do with a man or romance. She wishes on a star to be able to open her own business, and she's totally focused on that. Finding a prince is a byproduct of what she's willing to do to achieve her goal, not the goal itself. She's not sitting around waiting for anything to happen. She's not looking for a fairy godmother. She's putting in the work instead of being magically rescued. She also gets to have real adventures along the way instead of being locked up somewhere.

The other cool thing that I think is groundbreaking for Disney in this film is that the women aren't evil or absent. Tiana's mother is still alive and is supportive of her. The villain isn't a woman. Tiana has an actual female friend who is not a funny little woodland creature or enchanted object. This is such a switch from the usual Disney pattern of female villains, or else no women in the story other than the heroine and maybe a wacky secondary sidekick.

Anika Noni Rose does a wonderful job with the voice of Tiana, which didn't surprise me. I loved her as the unsung Dreamgirl (who I thought was a better actress and singer than the one who was famous before the movie or the one who got all the acclaim) and she totally stole the show in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I just wish they'd given her more songs, but that's a longstanding Disney pattern. They always seem to give the heroine just one big ballad and then maybe one or two lines in other songs, with most of the songs going to the wacky sidekick characters or villains. Even when she isn't singing, though, her speaking voice has this lovely warmth to it.

The rest of the voice cast was also wonderful. I've been known to watch History Channel documentaries on subjects I don't care about just to listen to Keith David's narration, so it was fun to hear him getting to cut loose as the villain. It's easy to forget in all the Oprah hype that before she was Her Oprahness, she got an Oscar nomination as an actor, so I was pleasantly surprised that for her role in this, she actually acted instead of merely being Her Oprahness. In fact, I wasn't sure at first which role she was doing.

However, this movie did hit one of my pet peeves for musical movies: the insipid pop song over the closing credits. With all the great music in the movie and all the wonderful singers in the cast, why did they need a lame pop song that wasn't in the movie, sung by someone not in the cast, to play over the closing credits? I guess they worry that The Young Folks won't buy the soundtrack album just for those show tunes type songs, so they need a hit by a pop star, but that's what's keeping me from buying the soundtrack. If they'd instead done a nice big ballad sung by Anika Noni Rose, I'd have walked to the Wal-Mart next to the theater right after seeing the movie to buy the soundtrack. As it is, there was enough music to make the movie enjoyable, but not enough that I want to listen to out of context.

I won't be at all surprised if the stage version of this hits Broadway in a year or so. Then maybe they'll do their usual thing of adding some new songs, and since Anika Noni Rose is primarily a Broadway actress, maybe they'll let her reprise the role, and then I'll buy the cast album with the extra music.

Meanwhile, the trailers mostly had me cringing about what passes for family or children's entertainment these days, with Pixar to finally save the day after a string of trailers for cynically insipid films. Their trailer for Toy Story 3 made me cry. Those people are good if they can make a trailer that brings wistful tears to your eyes.

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Weekend of Triumph

I have successfully survived the big Crazy Happy Fun Time weekend, though I did collapse at about 9:30 last night and slept through until 8 this morning. I've partied, my house is moderately clean, I have a start on the Christmas decorating, and I only have a little more baking to do for one more party.

Plus, I got through two performances of the Advent/Christmas portion (plus the Hallelujah Chorus) of The Messiah on Sunday morning. The soprano part of the Hallelujah Chorus counts as an aerobic workout.

But that wasn't my biggest achievement of the weekend.

Friday when I was bringing stuff in from the garage, a giant horsefly either got in during all the coming and going or was sleeping on one of the boxes in the garage and woke up in a warm house and subsequently went nuts. I thought I'd let it out through the patio door, but then as I was getting ready for bed, there was this strange BUUZZZZZZZWhack! sound in my bathroom, and I noticed the giant horsefly flying around the room, running full-speed at all the mirrors. Since the closet doors are mirrored, three of the four walls in my bathroom are mirrored. So it went BUUUZZZZZZWhack! (pause for reeling) BUUUZZZZZZWhack! (momentary stagger) BUUUUZZZZWhack! as the fly repeatedly banged its head against the mirrors. Then it flew out into the bedroom and began banging its head against the walls. Eventually it got under the lampshade and flew around the lightbulb, banging against the inside of the shade. That was when I figured that maybe it was flying at the lights reflected in the mirrors, and I got a bright idea, since I knew I'd get no sleep with that thing buzzing around the room, sounding like a heavily loaded cargo plane.

I opened my bedroom door and turned on the foyer light right outside, then turned out the lights in my bedroom and bathroom. Sure enough, the fly went toward the light, and I very quickly flipped that light off and then slammed the bedroom door shut before turning the bedroom light back on. Success! A quiet bedroom!

Yes, I managed to outwit a concussed insect. I am so proud.

And now I'm taking a bit of a break to go see The Princess and the Frog because I may be grown up, but I suspect I'm still a bit of a Disney princess at heart and besides, frogs!

Then I have to do a few more revisions on that book I was killing myself over last month. Joy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Books as Gifts

I let myself be a slug and sleep in this morning because Crazy Happy Fun Time begins tomorrow. It all starts with the dress rehearsal for the choir performance of The Messiah on Saturday morning. That afternoon I have a club meeting, and then that night I'm going to a party. I have to be at the church at 7:45 Sunday morning for the first of two performances, and my parents are coming over, so I guess I need to straighten my house between now and then. Tuesday night is my last ballet class for the year, and the adults in the class are having a party after class (in other words, going out for drinks). Wednesday night is the choir party, and then I'm the soprano soloist for the music we're singing next Sunday morning, so I have to work on that and know it well enough to sing while having a panic attack (I was assigned the solo, and I don't think the choir director truly appreciates the extent of my massive stage fright). I think that's it for scheduled stuff, but it's possible that I may sleep through Monday.

Meanwhile, I've realized that I'm a big old hypocrite. As an author and participant in the book industry, I'm happy to push the party line that Books Make Great Gifts! And yet, I don't often give books as gifts. If you're doing it right and not just grabbing some coffee-table book, then it's really, really difficult to buy books as gifts.

Buying someone a book is almost as intimate as buying lingerie -- you have to know the person really, really well in order to know what the person would like and what "fits." But, unlike lingerie, you have to know what the person already has or has already read. And if you're dealing with a voracious reader, that's nearly impossible. If there's something that would be perfect for the person, there's a good chance that person will have already snagged it. With my family, we have a talent for getting things from the library the moment they go on the shelf. We pick up paperback books as treats for ourselves. It's almost cruel to find a book and then withhold it until the gift-giving occasion, and if I read something that I think would make a good gift, then I don't dare talk about it because chances are that the people on my gift list who might like it will go get it for themselves. And maybe we're just selfish because our way of "giving" books is to buy something for ourselves and then offer to share it.

I have given books I've loved as gifts as a way of getting someone hooked on a series (mostly so I'll have someone to discuss it with), but that does take some one-on-one interaction to know for sure that the person hasn't already tried it and disliked it, and that's tricky because it's hard to have the "have you read?" conversation without it turning into a recommendation that leads to the person going out and buying it or checking it out of the library.

As e-books and e-readers become more popular, the task of finding the right book that the person doesn't already have will become harder, because you can't snoop around someone's shelves to know what they already have. If the person read the book from the library, they might not mind having a keeper copy, but if they already own an e-book, will they want the paper copy?

I'm not normally big on gift cards, but when it comes to books, that's probably the way to go. You can enclose a list of recommendations that you think the recipient can enjoy, and part of the gift is the pleasure of a browse-and-splurge session in the bookstore. To me, that's even more fun than unwrapping a book.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Books as Broccoli

I think today will have to be a Day of Domesticity. I need to do some baking, a lot of cleaning and some decorating. Oh, and I need to tackle my in-box. My e-mail runneth over. It doesn't help that I wait to reply because I like to think about what I'm going to say, and then by the time I've thought about it enough, I start to think that I've actually responded, until I see the overflowing in-box and realize that I've only responded in my head.

Though I do have to play Famous Author for a little while today. I'm being interviewed by a neighborhood student for a school project. I guess it's one of those career exploration things, where they have to write a paper on someone in the field they want to go into, and when she didn't know how to find an author, she was a very smart student and asked the librarian for help. And the librarian is a friend of mine from high school. So I'll get to sit at the coffee shop and pretend it's one of those Parade profiles, where they mention that the interview is being conducted over whatever the celebrity orders at whatever swanky restaurant.

This doesn't mean that I'm now fair game for everyone's school projects. I agreed to do this in part because there are certain bonds of loyalty that develop when you're in a school play with someone, so I look at it mostly as doing a favor for a friend.

I do get the occasional e-mail that's an obvious quest for assistance on a book report -- like "I really like your books. What theme do your books convey?" I once even replied with "Working on a book report, huh?" When I was in school, I don't think it would have occurred to me to contact the author when I was writing a book report, but then when I was in school I thought that writers were celestial beings and not normal people who could be contacted.

The thing is, asking the author may not get you an answer your teacher will accept. I remember having to address the question of what the author was trying to say with a book or why he wrote it when I was doing book reports, and I always had a feeling that it wasn't anything as high-minded as what the teacher wanted to hear. "To tell a good story" probably wouldn't have been accepted, and I'm sure that "to make money" would be right out -- even though we know that, yeah, Dickens wanted to expose injustice and the treatment of the poor, but he also had a bunch of kids to feed, he had a fear of poverty and he was being paid by the word.

I suppose there are themes in my books, but I didn't set out with the intention of conveying those themes. I only discovered them after I'd written the book, just as anyone trying to analyze these books would find them for themselves. I didn't even realize I'd put a recurring motif in Once Upon Stilettos until after the book was published. The overall theme of the series might be described as "find your own magic" because it's all about how being ordinary is like a superpower for Katie, since it's what she can contribute to the cause that the others around her can't contribute. But that's not what I had in mind when I wrote the books, and it's not the reason I wrote the series.

I wrote these books because they were exactly what I wanted to read that I wasn't finding. I wanted something with the magic and whimsy of the Harry Potter world, but with adults, a touch of romance without it being a romance novel, the "reality" found in chick lit novels dealing with bad jobs and dating difficulties, some adventure, a lot of humor, and a New York setting. I wrote to amuse myself, and then I had so much fun with it I was sure other people might enjoy it. And, yeah, I wanted to make money because I'd been out of work for a while and didn't want to have to go back to a regular job.

That's not the kind of thing that most teachers will accept in a book report, probably not even when it's backed up by an e-mail from the author, herself. And I think that's part of why reading is on the decline. Too often, teachers treat books like they're broccoli -- they're good for you, so you have to have them, but don't worry about enjoying them. They can't be just fun. They have to be Meaningful and Important. They have to make a Statement. Not every teacher is like that, I know, and often teachers' hands are tied because they have to adhere to mandated curricula. But if you can leach the fun out of my books by insisting that students find themes to validate the fact that they read these books, then you're doing something wrong.

I had two teachers who I think really helped encourage a love of reading. My fourth-grade teacher would read out loud to us after recess as a way of getting us calmed down, and she read purely fun books, like the works of Roald Dahl, and The Hobbit. All we had to do was listen. She didn't ask us to analyze, just to enjoy. Then in the second half of sixth grade (we moved midway through the school year), I had an English teacher who devoted one class period per week to just reading. We could read anything we wanted, and to get credit, we just had to tell her what the book was about. On reading day, we'd go one-by-one to her desk while everyone else read and give our brief book summaries. There was no judging, no analyzing other than being able to follow plot and characters. In those cases, books weren't broccoli.

I should add that I happen to love broccoli, but while I do eat it plain, I can also see the merits of a good cheese sauce to make it more fun.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Free Writing E-Book!

I didn't get to that writing binge yesterday because it rather suddenly cleared up, and as the weatherman on the noon news said that was likely to be the "balmy" day of the week, I headed out to get groceries and do some other shopping-type errands. Of course, I realized after I got home that even though I got everything on my list, I'd left some things off my list, so maybe I'll make another trip on my way to choir rehearsal tonight. With that trip, I should be able to finish my Christmas shopping.

And they were right about yesterday being relatively "balmy." The last time I checked, it was 28 degrees. And it's rather windy. Guess who really needs to go to the bank and post office, which is a walking errand? I think I'll wait until it at least gets above freezing.

I also didn't do any decorating, other than hanging a wreath on the front door. I've decided Thursday is my holiday decorating day.

Now, for that project I've been working on the past few days ...

This will be the last "writing post" of the year, and instead of writing a post, I've put together a PDF e-book of all the writing posts since I started doing this, back in the fall of 2007. The posts have been edited for context and formatting, and I've tried to organize them by topic. While I normally gripe about unauthorized distribution of my novels (those free PDF downloads of my novels aren't legal and are stealing from me -- and possibly keeping there from being more books in my series, if people are stealing the books instead of buying them), this one is free to download, and you're welcome to share it freely, just as long as it stays in this form in this document. I don't want to see anything from the content popping up online. If you want me to do an article or guest blog based on one of these articles, please ask.

You can find this book at:

I'll get back to doing the writing posts after the holidays, sometime in January (I may have some stuff going on earlier in the month, so it may be mid-January). In the meantime, I'm always looking for questions or topics to address, so if there's something you want to know about the writing life, the craft of writing or the publishing business, let me know.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Machiavelli and the Plan for World Domination

The Christmas stuff did not go up yesterday, mostly because it was cold and drizzly all day and the big stuff (like the tree and garlands) that has to go up first is in the garage, and my garage isn't adjacent to my house. My house faces a kind of courtyard, and I have to leave the courtyard and cross a driveway to get to my garage. I stepped out to get the mail yesterday afternoon, then changed my mind and went back inside because it was the kind of cold that seeps into your bones. It's still drizzly, so I don't know when I'll manage to drag things in. Maybe I'll haul in a thing or two on the way home from ballet tonight.

I spent all day yesterday working on a project I thought would be quick and easy. It would have been quicker and easier if Word hadn't crashed about three times while I was working on it. I still have a little bit more to do on it, but I should be ready to release it into the world tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Today, I'm getting a writing itch already, so I may retreat under a blanket with the laptop for the rest of the day. I also have some reading I want to do. I figured that if I'm going to use the term "Machiavellian," then I ought to really know what it implies, so I'm reading The Prince. I figure it might make good resource material for creating villains. I don't know what it says about me that I (so far) don't think it comes across as all that ruthless or devious. It actually makes a scary amount of sense. Is it a bad sign when you frequently say, "Well, duh!" while reading Machiavelli?

You know, it might also make good resource material for the Ongoing Plan for World Domination -- Machiavelli's guide to planning your writing career. The publishing world should be afraid, very afraid. Now I just need to figure out where I can get some mercenaries, and what I would do with them in this context. And how to pay them, I guess.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Holiday Movies Return

I had a pretty good weekend. Most of Sunday was taken up by the community Christmas concert, with a rehearsal in the afternoon and then the concert at night. That concert is always a lot of fun. It's very loose and casual, there are all kinds of groups there, and the entire audience is wearing Santa hats. I think I'm even starting to feel festive. Every year, I seem to resist the start of the Christmas season, and then it's over just as I'm getting ready for it. I think I function on the ecclesiastical calendar, where what we generally think of as the Christmas season is actually Advent, and then Christmas itself starts on Christmas day and continues until Epiphany.

I might put up my Christmas decorations today because I am starting to get the first glimmers of the festive mood. Singing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir arrangements of Christmas songs with a huge combined choir and orchestra will do that to you.

Saturday, I was pretty much a slug, and it was divine. I watched the local Christmas parade on TV while lying in bed and talking on the phone with Mom (who was watching the same parade on TV). Then there was a marathon of holiday movies on Lifetime. Normally, I don't watch Lifetime. I even had to look up what channel it was on. Most of their movies are either based on or are like the kinds of books I don't like to read -- women rediscovering themselves after divorce, sick kids, sick women, missing/dead kids, domestic violence, etc. But their holiday movies are pure chick lit.

One I watched was called something like Recipe for the Perfect Christmas (I suck at titles, but I think I could have come up with something better). It was about a food writer getting her big break as a magazine's restaurant reviewer just as her wild and crazy mother pops in for a visit. And meanwhile there's a hunky restaurant owner who thinks that the key to saving his restaurant is getting a mention in that magazine. The solution? The writer agrees to look into his restaurant if he'll ask her mother out to get her out of her hair. Hilarity and heartwarming moments ensue, but it was actually a lot of fun because Christine Baranski played the mother, and she is awesome. If you know anything about journalism, you have to force yourself to forget it (a monthly magazine is prepared several months in advance, so the restaurant would have to survive for months between the time the reviewer wrote the article and the time the magazine hit the shelves. Plus, no editor who's ever worked with a journalist would be worried when a writer hadn't yet turned in an article a week before the deadline), and there is the standard "I had one bad Christmas when I was disappointed, so now I have nothing to do with Christmas" attitude in the heroine (in these movies, you either have to be Christmas crazy or totally loathe everything to do with Christmas. There is no middle ground.). But still, it was a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Then there was one called Undercover Christmas, about a brassy cocktail waitress who agrees to testify against her sometime boyfriend who was involved in some kind of white collar crime scheme. The hunky FBI agent who's been on the case and who got her to agree to testify has to protect her during the Christmas holiday before the trial, and then a family emergency means he has to rush home with her, and since he can't tell anyone who she really is, he has to pretend she's his girlfriend, which goes over really well with his dysfunctional, snooty, upper-crust family. Of course the brassy, straight-talking cocktail waitress manages to thaw the family, while they help her learn some self esteem and give her a makeover so she can look classy, and everyone learns A Valuable Lesson. You have to forget anything you know about the legal system -- like you have to believe that someone arrested during a time when Christmas decorations are already up and cocktail waitresses are wearing sexy Mrs. Santa type outfits will go on trial and be convicted the day after Christmas, and you have to believe that the US Marshals wouldn't be protecting the witness in a federal case instead of the investigating FBI agent (while the witness spending the holidays with the FBI agent and getting gifts from his family would look a lot like federal witness tampering) -- but still, this was a lot of fun, though I was disappointed that there was no big shootout when the bad guys inevitably learned where the waitress was hiding. Part of the story was that the agent's parents were disappointed that he was "only" an FBI agent, so I was hoping the house would be under siege and he'd save all their lives, so they'd see what an FBI agent could do, but I suppose I've been watching too many crime shows lately and not enough romantic comedies.

And then, finally, there was The 12 Men of Christmas, in which Kristin Chenoweth gets fired from her PR job and loses her fiance when she catches her boss having sex in a bathroom stall with her fiance at the company holiday party, and then her former boss blackballs her with every other PR firm in town, so she can't get a job. Here, you have to forget everything you know about the PR industry, like the fact that other agencies likely would be eager to hire someone from a competitor, you'd never get all the agencies to agree to blackball someone who could give them a competitive advantage, and she wasn't much of a PR person if she couldn't manage to spread the word about the fact that she was fired for being mad at her boss for having sex with her fiance (that last one may be a sign that the world is very likely a better and safer place when I'm not working in PR because my biggest, most brilliant campaign ever would have been getting that particular message out.). But still, they had to have a reason that the only job this supposedly brilliant PR person could get was a one-year assignment in a small Montana town, where she's hired to lure corporate retreats. Once she's there and after a lot of typical "city slicker in the sticks" humor (which is amusing because Chenoweth never really loses her Oklahoma twang and isn't quite a believable city slicker), she learns about the valiant efforts of the search and rescue squad and their need for a helicopter, so she comes up with the idea to do a "naked" calendar of all the hunks on the squad as a fundraiser. One guy, with whom she instantly clashes, opposes it, and Pride and Prejudice ensues. Literally. Like, almost plot point for plot point, with some adjustments for time and place.

This one made a good tension breaker while I flipped back and forth between it and the Big 12 Championship game, which was a HUGE nailbiter. So it was like "Oh no! They let Nebraska score again!" CLICK "Oh, I just hate you, but I'll probably fall in love with you. Now, take your shirt off."

I still really want to try writing one of these movies. I'd probably have better luck writing a novel, getting it published and then trying to get it optioned, but I'd make more money writing a screenplay (selling it would be the hard part). I guess that's my oddball career goal: I want to write a Lifetime holiday movie or a book that will be turned into one.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Comparative Weather

Supposedly, we had a chance of snow flurries during morning rush hour, so because I am five, I looked out the window as soon as I got up this morning, and it was sunny! Now it's cloudy, but according to the radar, the snow is to the south of us. Instead, it's just cold. If we have to be cold, we should at least get something pretty to look at.

For those who were curious, I ended up not going grocery shopping. Instead, I bundled up and walked to the library, since I didn't make it on Wednesday and I'd just got the message telling me a book I'd been on the waiting list for was ready to pick up. While I was there, before I braved the cold again, I went to the coffee shop and had the best cup of hot cocoa, ever. I'm sure it was so good because it was loaded with high-fat milk or cream and topped with whipped cream, but it was divine. I also got a brownie. And here's why I love this little locally owned place: The brownies were displayed in the bakery case individually wrapped in plastic, so I was expecting to just get handed a plastic-wrapped brownie. Instead, they brought it out to me on a plate, with chocolate swirled over and around it, like at a fancy restaurant. You can tell the owner used to be a pastry chef at a 4-star hotel. This falls into the category of affordable luxury. For less than four dollars, I got a big cup of the best hot cocoa ever (with chocolate swirled on top of the whipped cream, I might add) and a brownie, all served with the elegance you'd see at a fine restaurant. I need to do that more often. And I need to take the long way around to walk there and back when I do. Carrying a backpack full of books adds to the workout, right?

And before any northerners accuse me of being a weenie about cold weather, I have to say that I think things feel colder here. I haven't lived my whole life in Texas. I've lived in Germany, and it seemed to feel less bitter there with several feet of snow on the ground than it feels here in the mid-40s. I've walked all over the place in New York with temperatures in the mid-20s and it didn't feel that bad (unless you get one of those bitter cross-town, river-to-river winds while you're on a cross street. And I don't recommend going to the top of the Empire State Building when it's 27 degrees and windy. Trust me on this.). I've been to Chicago a few times in the winter, and the temperatures will be in the single digits there, but then when I get home to temperatures in the mid-40s, I actually feel a lot colder -- in the same clothes.

Fortunately, the same thing seems to work in the summer (so I guess I can't accuse northerners of being weenies when they whine about high temperatures in the 80s). When I went to New York in August, the high for the day the first day I was there was supposed to be about 80. Here, 80 is almost borderline cool. You're not wearing a sweater, but you can be outside all day without feeling hot. But when I was walking around Central Park, I got uncomfortably hot. It felt like a truly hot day. People were sunbathing, which not too many people would do around here on an 80-degree day, and it was warm enough to be wearing just a swimsuit. When I got back to my hotel that evening, I caught the weather segment on the local news, and the weatherman teased it by saying the forecast missed the mark. I was sure he'd go on to say that it had been 95 or so. Nope. 76 -- in Central Park, where I'd been eating Popsicles and sweating. At 76 here, I'd be wearing long sleeves and wouldn't even open the windows.

I don't know if it's wind, humidity, the angle of the sun, or what, but it does seem like the temperatures feel colder here. I was chatting about this with some of my neighbors, who all moved here from elsewhere, and they agreed with me. The 105-degree summer days sound horrifying, but really they're only the equivalent of a 90-degree day up north. Meanwhile, 44 degrees doesn't sound all that cold, but it feels about like 20 degrees.

And it's currently 35 degrees, so I won't be leaving the house today. The neighborhood Christmas tree lighting is tonight, but I don't think I want to be standing around outside in the cold. I'll be warm inside, watching the series finale of Monk, the mid-season finale of White Collar, and then I'll catch the late-night repeat of the mid-season finale of As the Stargate Turns (for mocking purposes).

Thursday, December 03, 2009

FAQ Update

I'm currently trying to talk myself either in or out of going grocery shopping, and I'm still not sure which I want. It is a nice (but cold) day, and tomorrow we're supposed to have snow all day, but there isn't anything I absolutely must have in order to make it through the rest of the week. I do need to get a new strand of lights before I can put up my Christmas decorations, as one died on me last year (it was only ten years old, so I don't know why it wasn't working), but that's not crucial. I may focus on work today, haul the Christmas stuff in from the garage, and then have "snow day" tomorrow if it does snow. Then I can put on the Christmas music, put up my tree and maybe start baking.

I tried writing a prologue for the current book yesterday, one that introduces the fantasy element right away and dramatizes the crucial backstory event. Now I just have to figure out if it gives too much away and ruins any surprises from later in the book, or if I managed to just drop a few tantalizing hints that increase interest in the rest of the book.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to get through all the reader mail I've been letting pile up. I only seem to manage to answer a few at a time because the questions are pretty much all the same. I suppose I could create macros and copy and paste the answers, but there's also usually at least some other little thing to respond to.

In case anyone is still wondering and hasn't heard back from me, here are the FAQs:
Will Book 5 be published?
I haven't given up on it, and my agent has some plans to pursue in the coming year, so we'll see, but at this point, no. There's a lot that could change this, though. If the Enchanted, Inc. movie does get made, that could change everything. If I sell a new series and become a bestseller, all my backlist becomes more valuable. The plague could sweep New York and the people who made the decision not to do book 5 could be gone, with different people in their place. A celebrity could be seen carrying one of my books. Etc.

Will you put it on your web site so we can find out what happens?
Would you volunteer to work for six months for free? Besides, posting it to the web might decrease the chances of it being published because then publishers will assume that the people most interested in reading it will have already read it. If a few years go by and it looks like absolutely nothing might happen, I might look into some alternative publishing possibilities, but I still haven't given up on doing it the right way.

What can we do to help make book 5 happen?
It mostly comes down to sales of the previous books, so keep telling people about them, and make sure that if they get the first book, they know about the rest. Don't post these books for free download on BitTorrent because sharing popularity doesn't equal sales. The publisher doesn't care how many people read the books. They only care about how many books sell (and it's depressing that most of the Google Alerts I get on my name or book titles are about my books on Torrent sites for free download). I don't even know how much book sales will help because it seems to be largely an issue of the publisher not wanting to do books like this. They think of these books as chick lit, not fantasy, and they see chick lit as dead. If you want to write to the publisher, perhaps the best thing to focus on would be complaining about not finding these books in the fantasy section.

Will the fourth book be published in Dutch?
So far, the Dutch publisher is saying no. Apparently, the first book sold really well, and then most of the Dutch readers who could also read English didn't want to wait for the translation and bought the English editions instead, so sales of the later books tapered off. Oddly, they say they get more reader calls/e-mails/letters for this series than for any other, but that doesn't seem to make a difference with the bean counters.

Will the fourth book be published in German?
I haven't heard anything about it, one way or another. They haven't asked for it, but they haven't said no.

Is the movie of Enchanted, Inc. going to be made?
The book has been optioned for film by a production company affiliated with a major studio, and a screenwriter has been hired to write the script. I don't know anything beyond that. The option will be ending soon, so I guess we'll find out if they renew the option or do an outright purchase at that point. It does seem like movies in this general category have done very well lately -- both romantic comedy type films and paranormal stories aimed at women. But you'll go mad trying to predict the whims of Hollywood.

Who do you want to play the characters if a movie gets made?
I'm trying to stay out of casting thoughts because I have zero say in the matter and it would only be frustrating if I had my mind made up. I try not to mentally cast so I won't be disappointed in who they do pick, and I don't want to go on record with my casting choices because that isn't fair to any actors they do pick (how would you like to go into a role knowing that the author actually had someone else in mind? Okay, maybe they don't care, but I don't want to run the risk.).

There, I've now answered about 90 percent of my e-mail. I'm still trying to get around to personal responses, but if you've written me, your question was likely answered above.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Technology and Plots

We started the day with snow, but then it went back to raining, and as it was above freezing, the snow was soon washed away. I might not have even seen it if my mom hadn't called to alert me while I was making breakfast. I still had the blinds closed and hadn't gone out to get the newspaper yet. There's more snow in the forecast for Friday.

I did discover a decadent trick for cold mornings: While I'm brushing my teeth and washing my face, I throw the clothes I'm planning to wear in the dryer for a few minutes. Putting on cold jeans is icky, but it's lovely to put on warm jeans and a warm sweater. It would probably be just as nice to do that with flannel pajamas while I'm in the shower, but that would then mean dashing through the house to the laundry room to get the pajamas out of the dryer. I'll stick with putting the pajamas in the bed when I turn on the electric blanket to warm up the bed while I'm in the shower.

I put in my work time yesterday, but didn't accomplish much. I'm trying to fix the opening scene, and the hard thing is that it's actually okay as it is. It's a lot easier to make a bad or weak scene good than it is to make a decent scene great, and in today's publishing climate, it needs to be great. One problem is that the setting was lacking in specificity. It was like a portrait vignette painting, where you just see the person's face, and then the rest of the background is vague and blurs around the edges. I had the characters and their actions there, but they were just floating in space. The introduction also served mostly to set up the next big action without having any tension or emotional impact. But if I make that opening bit more specific and detailed and really flesh it out, it delays getting to the start of the plot and the discovery that this story isn't really about what the opening scene makes it seem that it will be about. That's the trick with contemporary fantasy when your main characters aren't initially in on the magical secret -- you need to show their world before things change, but then you also need to find a way to show readers that yes, really, this is a fantasy novel. With today's attention spans, I'm not sure how much time you get for that. So then I was trying to decide if I should skip that scene entirely and go straight to the twist, with the opening scene being just backstory that could be covered in one sentence, or if there's a way I could flesh out the scene while bringing up the hint that a twist is coming. At any rate, getting specific required research, and then I realized I'd better research something else I was assuming to make sure it really existed (it does). And then it started raining, and I had a good mystery novel, so I figured I'd set the subconscious to work on the problem.

Hmm, I wonder if I could get away with a prologue. I've never written a prologue before, and there is a past incident that's very relevant to this story that gets talked about as backstory and that I could dramatize. But would it give away too many surprises about the characters? I guess I could always write it and find out, and even if I don't use it, the exercise of writing it will make it more vivid for me as character background.

One thing I am realizing is how much current technology affects plots. We used to be stuck with the news cycle -- that evening's TV news, the next day's newspaper -- for spreading information. Now even the newspapers post articles online as events happen, and then there's stuff like Twitter, so that the moment something happens, it's going to be out there -- and it may or may not be accurate. Not that newspapers were always perfectly accurate, but if your deadline is 6 p.m. and the news isn't going to get out any sooner if you turn your story in before then, you have more time to double check and find additional sources. If your story will be "published" the moment you turn it in, then there's more time pressure, and it's better to have something out there that can then be added to or corrected than to have nothing until you're sure. And meanwhile, anyone with Internet access can Tweet and it can become like a game of Telephone, where you can't be sure if something was posted by an eyewitness who really knew what was going on, by an eyewitness making assumptions, or by someone who heard what people were saying about what happened.

For book plots, what that means is that people are likely to find out about things going on a lot faster -- no more shock when reading the morning newspaper -- and there's more of a chance of miscommunication, which may or may not complicate things. It's also a lot harder to show that someone has special abilities in being able to get a jump on things. There's a fine line between having psychic powers and knowing the moment something happens and being addicted to Twitter so that you see a post about something happening just a moment after it happens. I guess you have to go all the way into seeing the future. Or someone with the ability to know something when it happens could hide that ability by pretending to just be addicted to Twitter -- and then get tripped up when it turns out that nobody found out about it to Tweet it until a while after it happened. Oops.

I have freelance work to do today and a choir rehearsal, plus I need to make a return trip to the library now that it's stopped raining, so writing time will be limited even if I don't get sucked into a mystery novel. It turns out that one of the books I picked up Monday (which is somewhat work-related genre research reading) is the second book in a series. The author's note at the front claimed it was a totally standalone book, and you wouldn't need to know anything about the first one to read this one, but here's a list of the characters and what you need to know about them. The list went on for something like three pages, and it wasn't just like a cast listing for a play (Lord Whoever's daughter, in her mid-20s). It was more like a soap opera episode summary for each person (was poisoned by her then-fiance, but recovered and pretended to be dead so she could confront him later and trick him into admitting his guilt, but before she could do so, he was murdered, and now she has to stay "dead" or else be the prime suspect). (By the way, I made that up. It has nothing to do with this book.) I figured it might actually be easier to keep everything straight if I just read the first book.

And, finally, my ballet slippers are starting to wear out. I consider that a badge of honor. I'm more of a dabbler in most things, so sticking with ballet long enough for my slippers to get holes in them is an achievement. They're not quite ready for the trash as it's just the outer part of the canvas starting to wear through, but next spring I'll probably need a new pair.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Welcomes Back Laurie Faria Stolarz

My effort didn't quite match my ambition yesterday, but I did re-read all I've written so far of that project (aka The Misty Idea) and while I can see some areas where it could be improved, I also still really like the story and the characters. In fact, I was planning to revise as I read, but I got caught up in the story. Today I plan to do the actual revising. It's a cold, gray day, so it will be perfect for curling up under the electric blanket with my laptop.

In the meantime, I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest author, Laurie Faria Stolarz, author of Blue is for Nightmares. She's got two new books out. Black is for Beginnings, a graphic novel that tells some of the backstory of the Blue is for Nightmares series, and Deadly Little Lies, the sequel to Deadly Little Secret.

BLACK IS FOR BEGINNINGS reveals the never-before-seen backstory - and what lies ahead - for the young, spellcasting lovers Stacey and Jacob. Ever since he lost his memory, Jacob hasn't been able to remember Stacey - his own soul mate. He leaves Massachusetts, returning to his childhood home in Colorado, hoping to jog his memory. What he remembers is Kira, his ex-girlfriend. As Jacob works to piece together his past, will there be room for Stacey in his future?

In Deadly Little Secret, Sixteen-year-old Camelia fell for Ben, a new boy at school who had a very mysterious gift – psychometry, the ability to sense the future through touch. But just as Camelia and Ben's romance began to heat up, he abruptly left town. In DEADLY LITTLE LIES, brokenhearted Camelia has spent the last few months studying everything she can about psychometry and experiencing strange brushes with premonition. Camelia wonders if Ben's abilities have somehow been transferred to her.

Ben returns to school, but he remains aloof, and Camelia can't get close enough to share her secret with him. Camelia makes the painful decision to let him go and move on. Adam, the hot new guy at Knead, seems good for her in ways Ben wasn't. But when Camelia and Adam start dating, a surprising love triangle results. A chilling sequence of events uncovers secrets from Ben’s past – and Adam's. Someone is lying, and it's up to Camelia to figure out who – before it's too late.

I asked Laurie a few questions about her books:
Could you talk us through the process of developing a graphic novel to go with your series? How did this come about, and what was it like writing for a graphic novel, as opposed to a regular novel?
I wanted to try something different. The arcs of the first four books are similar in many respects, and so I wanted to do something new with the series. I felt the series was finished at four books, but readers kept asking me for a fifth. When my editor approached me with the idea of writing a graphic novel, I was very intrigued, because it gave me the opportunity to not only try something new, but to really picture the book as a movie. I have a background in screenwriting and wrote BLACK IS FOR BEGINNINGS in screenplay format, adding in ideas for illustrations and sidebars. It was an absolute thrill to write, and to have the opportunity to work with an illustrator for these characters and situations I’d created.

Did you already have the backstory of your characters planned before writing the "backstory" book, or was this something that you developed for this project?
The backstories were already created in my mind, though I did add a couple twists to make things more interesting and mysterious.

You've got suggested playlists for your books -- is music a big part of your creative process?
I use music to help get me into a particular mood. I think it can be a useful tool for writing a scene. But, other than that, I find music distracting while I’m writing.

How do the playlists suggested by readers fit with what you had in mind while writing the books?
I choose the winning playlists carefully, based on not only the variety of music, but how much care the reader took to relate the music to a particular scene, and the degree to which the selected song resonates with the scene itself. The winners I’ve selected accomplish all of those things.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m currently working on DEADLY LITTLE GAME, the third book in the TOUCH series.

For more info, excerpts, book trailers and playlists, visit Laurie's web site. Or you can get BLACK IS FOR BEGINNINGS" and DEADLY LITTLE LIES" from Amazon.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Back to "Normal"

Now my "vacation" (such as it was) and holiday are over, so it's back to normal. Actually, the plan was to be better than normal. Last night, I was so gung-ho about what I wanted to accomplish going forward. I made lists and an ideal schedule for the day and planned everything out.

And then I woke up this morning.

It was cold, and I was so cozy all snuggled up in bed. I was having pleasant daydreams. So I was about 40 minutes late for my idealized schedule and haven't really caught up. It didn't help that I mostly stayed off the Internet over the weekend, so just reading my usual industry blogs took longer than normal.

Still, I'm eager about the writing part of things. I was getting antsy over the holiday. I found myself thinking about the book I was working on earlier, before the latest round of revisions hit. I even spent part of the holiday weekend reading a book on writing and thinking about how it would apply to this book. I think that's the main benefit of taking time off. Forcing myself not to write really makes me want to write.

I have a few errands and things to deal with today, and then I'm going to fall back into this book. I'm trying to avoid going all gung-ho about it to where it's an all or nothing thing, since this is a really busy month in general, but I'd like to have the dedication I had toward the end of those revisions on the days I do work or have time to put in that time (when I don't have choir rehearsals, performances or parties).

My Thanksgiving was delightfully boring, just a lot of eating, football and TV with my parents, plus a lot of reading.

My weekend movie was Australia, and I have to agree with my mom, who said that the scenery was fantastic -- and the shots of Australia were nice, too. That may be my favorite Hugh Jackman role. He looks equally good scruffy and cleaned up. As for the movie, I think it might have worked better with some editing, or else as two separate movies. There was the save the ranch story and then the WWII story, and they didn't really connect, aside from the characters and the mustache-twirling villain. I liked the second half of the movie a lot better, as it seemed tighter and I was less likely to find myself mentally editing the story.

And now I need to make a quick trip to the library, as I have no books checked out and have made a serious dent in the pile of books I've bought but haven't read, and I don't currently have anything on the shelf that I'm in the mood to read.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dealing with Rejection

The Internet was really buzzing last week with the announcement that Harlequin, a well-established major publisher, would be starting a vanity publishing venture and marketing it in rejection letters to people who submitted to their usual publishing lines. The legitimacy and worth of vanity publishing is its own topic, but the part that bothered me the most about this announcement was the fact that they'd be advertising in rejection letters. In other words, they'll be telling people whose books they reject that this book isn't good enough for us to publish, but you can still have your dreams come true through this other opportunity where you pay us money to have your book put in print.

People receiving rejection letters are in a vulnerable state. They've just been told that their baby is ugly, that their book isn't good enough. They've just realized that their dream isn't going to come true this time. To me, it's on a par with ambulance chasing to hit people at this vulnerable time with a sales pitch, especially one that holds out the very slim hope that having your book published this way may increase your chances of them publishing it the real way. Again, that's its own topic (short answer: don't hold your breath), but I thought it might be useful to offer some tips on dealing with rejection so you'll be less likely to fall prey to this sort of thing. Rejection is something I've developed a lot of expertise about, believe me.

1) Start writing something else as soon as you submit a project to an editor or agent.
I suppose this is pre-rejection advice, but it's not necessarily pessimistic. If they like what you submitted, it's good to already have something else ready to go. I wouldn't necessarily recommend writing the sequel if what you submitted was the first book in a series, but it might not hurt to have the first 50 or so pages of the sequel and a synopsis written. Otherwise, write something entirely new. That way, you've got your bases covered. If they like what you submitted, having something else is good and could get you a two-book contract. If they like your writing but not this book and ask to see something else, then you've got it. And if it's a flat-out rejection, your emotional energy will be tied up in your current project, which makes the rejection sting a little less. I find that when I'm already writing something else, getting a rejection on something I wrote months ago feels more like, "Oh yeah, that," than a true slap in the face.

2) Let yourself have an emotional reaction.
Unless you're a robot, getting rejected hurts, and it doesn't get that much easier as your career progresses. Give yourself a day to feel the pain. Cry, yell, curse, throw things, vent, eat chocolate, take a bubble bath or do whatever allows you to get the hurt and anger out of your system. I wouldn't recommend doing so publicly, like on your blog or on a public message board where you can be identified because editors and agents have been known to Google authors before deciding to work with them, and you don't want to look like an unprofessional diva having a temper tantrum. You also don't want to advertise to the industry that you're being rejected. And you really don't want to name names while ranting about that person's lack of literary judgment because editors and agents generally reject books, not people (unless you've shown yourself to be a person they don't want to deal with). You may find yourself working with this person in the future, and having a public rant about this person won't help that relationship. You may want to shred or burn the rejection letter, but make a copy first. You'll need it for tax purposes and you may get helpful information out of it.

3) Put it in perspective.
After you've had your temper tantrum and told yourself that this editor/agent wouldn't know good writing if it slapped her in the face, get over it and get over yourself. Remember that they are rejecting the book, not you, and the rejection may or may not have anything to do with the quality of your work. Books get rejected for a lot of reasons. They may have just bought something too similar to your book. You may not be hitting the current trend at just the right point. The editor may be in the wrong frame of mind for your book. True story: After Enchanted, Inc. was published, an editor bought a copy in a bookstore, read it and loved it, and then called my agent to complain about not getting a chance to publish it. But she'd rejected it -- and it was probably the meanest, nastiest, most critical rejection letter I got on that book. The manuscript only went through copy editing after she saw it, so what she read in the book wasn't that different from what she rejected.

Or it could be your book. If it's not just a form rejection letter, is there anything in there that gives you any information that you might be able to use? Be aware that there are form rejection letters that don't look like forms. There's one publisher that basically puts the marketing copy for the line you submitted to in the rejection letter as "we're looking for books that ...." with the implication that what you submitted wasn't sweeping, intimate, emotional, or whatever they're promoting about that line. After a few of those, I figured out what they were doing and realized that didn't mean that my book wasn't any of those things. But if there is anything personal in the letter, read and analyze it.

If the letter asks you to rework and resubmit, do so. They mean it when they say that. They're not just being nice. On the other hand, even if they offer you pages of advice, if they don't ask to see that project again, they don't want to see a re-worked version of it.

4) Take another look at your manuscript.
It's probably been a while since you finished that book, and you've been working on something else (haven't you?), so you'll have an entirely different perspective on that book now. Re-read it with any comments from the rejection letter in mind. If there was feedback, is that feedback valid when you look at your book? Even without feedback, be honest with yourself and assess whether the opening grabs you, the plot holds together, the characters are interesting, etc. If you were browsing in a bookstore, would you buy this book? Can you think of ways to improve this book?

5) Consider the market and develop a plan.
If it was an agent rejection, there are lots of agents out there, and they all have different tastes. Depending on what you write, there may be other options for publishers, as well. What one editor says about the state of the market may not be what another editor thinks.

If you spotted ways your manuscript could be improved, then improve it and submit it again to someone else. If you're absolutely certain that this book is the best it can be, then go ahead and submit it again elsewhere. If you're not sure, put it aside for a while longer and keep working on your current project, submit that, and then take another look at the other book.

6) Re-evaluate with each rejection.
If one editor/agent says something, then that's one person's opinion. It's something to take into consideration, but it doesn't mean that person is right. If you hear the same thing from multiple people, then that's something you should probably take a look at. Chances are, you'll get a lot of contradictory feedback. I've had one editor say that the premise is clever and the characters are fun, but the writing doesn't live up to the premise, and then another editor say that the voice and the writing are lovely, but the premise is trite and the characters are boring -- about the same book. You'll go nuts trying to please everyone, so you ultimately have to go with what feels right to you and hope you find an editor who shares your vision.

7) Don't throw it away.
Unless this book now strikes you as so amazingly awful that you don't want anyone to ever see it, don't trash it. Hang onto it. You may someday be inspired with a twist that can make this book sing. One of the characters may be perfect for another book. The current trend may change, and this book could then be exactly what they're looking for. The annual publishing turnover could happen, so you'd have a whole new range of people to submit to. You may sell something else, and then you could work with an editor or agent on the older book to make it something they want to publish. You could hit it big, and then they'd be willing to publish anything you happen to have lying around.

I would consider vanity publishing to be throwing it away because unless you really hit it big with the vanity-published version (and though there have been self-publishing success stories, that's a different ballgame, and it's still incredibly rare), having that book "published" makes it less appealing to other publishers. Before you go the route of paying a publisher to print your book, at least try some of the electronic publishers. You may not make an advance, but the money flows in the right direction, and you can build up an audience there. I still think, in general, that unless you're really pushing boundaries so that the problem isn't with your writing but rather with the fact that you don't fit into any comfortable niche, you're better off shelving a widely rejected project and working on something else instead of taking any opportunity to publish that project. You have to be really, really honest with yourself about whether it's a niche thing or a writing thing because it's comforting to tell ourselves that we don't fit the niche rather than to admit that our writing isn't good enough, but until you can be that honest with yourself, you'll probably keep getting rejected.