Friday, January 30, 2009

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Diana Rodriguez Wallach

I actually got praised for doing something really well at ballet class last night -- and then I promptly messed up the next thing I did. It doesn't look like ballet will be a viable fallback career if this writing thing doesn't work out. In writing news, I think I've settled on a setting for the Nagging Idea, but the danger of doing location research is that it makes me want to travel (and in this case, it also makes me homesick for a place I used to live).

Before I go dig through old photos and wear out Google, I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest author, Diana Rodriguez Wallach, author of Adios to All the Drama.

Mariana Ruiz thought she left her summer fling in Puerto Rico, that is until she finds Alex sitting across from her at the breakfast table. Living two doors down from her visiting old flame isn’t easy, especially given the unresolved sparks still lingering for her locker buddy Bobby—and they don’t exactly go unnoticed.

Her best friends are little help as Madison deals with her IM-only “boyfriend” and Emily sinks into secret mode after her parents’ recent breakup. The only relationship that seems to be working is her estranged aunt Teresa who’s tying the knot on New Years with Mariana and her cousin Lilly as bridesmaids. But the last wedding detail left unplanned is who will Mariana kiss at midnight?

Now the interview:
What was the inspiration behind this book?
Well, Adios to All the Drama is the third book in the series. So it was inspired by the two books that came before. However, the first book in the series, Amor and Summer Secrets, was initially inspired by a conversation with my agent, Jenoyne Adams. She had mentioned seeing a recent increase in interest from editors seeking multi-cultural novels, and she asked the infamous question, “Got any ideas?” I didn’t. But by the end of our conversation, I had pitched the story for what became Amor and Summer Secrets.

Part of the inspiration was derived from my first trip to Puerto Rico after I graduated from college. I met my relatives there for the first time, and I got to see where my dad grew up. I wanted to share some of those experiences with my character while showcasing that the stereotypes about Latinas are just that—stereotypes.

What (if anything) do you have in common with your heroine?
Well, clearly I gave my main character, Mariana, my ethnic background. There aren’t a lot of Polish Puerto Ricans out there. So that’s a dead giveaway. And many of the experiences that Mariana faces while coming to turns with her multi-cultural identity are similar to my own.

Additionally, the town in Puerto Rico where Mariana’s family is from, Utuado, is the same town where my dad grew up. And I gave Mariana’s father, Lorenzo, some biographical tidbits from my dad’s life. But the story is entirely fictional, as are the character’s personalities.

How does this new book relate to the previous books in your series -- could readers jump in here, or should they read the earlier ones, first?

I would definitely suggest reading the others first. While each book is a story in itself, there is background information needed to full appreciate each tale. And I think it’s important to see how Mariana grows from the first book Amor and Summer Secrets to now the third book Adios to All The Drama. The stories are a direct continuation. So each book picks up exactly where the last left off; and by that I mean the next day.

What was the biggest drama you faced as a teen, and how big does it seem now to you, in retrospect?
Physics. Wow, do I suck at physics. You have to take into account that I was in the National Honor Society, and I’m a typical Type-A overachiever. As a teen, I wasn’t used to having to work hard for anything. And then along came Level 1 Physics. It was the first time I was actually studying and still failing tests. I fought with my parents constantly—screamed, stormed out, the whole works. They eventually got me a tutor, and it still didn’t help. I seriously thought I had a Physics-specific learning disability, because I could not solve those word problems for the life of me.

Ultimately, I insisted on being dropped down to Level 2. My parents weren’t happy (hence, where I get my overachiever gene) but the decision saved my sanity. It was the first time I stood up to my parents, did what I thought was best for me, and was forced to realize that it was okay if I wasn’t good at something.

Now, when I meet a physicist, I give them the Wayne’s World “I’m not worthy” wave, because I truly know their brains work on a level completely separate from my own.

(That's one drama I was spared, and boy, was it potential drama, as my dad was the physics teacher at my school. But I had to have two years of Spanish to get into the college I wanted, and the only Spanish II class was at the same time as the physics class.)

Do you have any writing quirks or habits?
I’m not a morning person—at all. So I usually don’t start writing until the afternoon, and consequently I don’t turn off my laptop until midnight. Overall, I wouldn’t say I’m very ritualistic, but when it comes to the first draft, I almost always write at the desk in my house and listen to music on Comcast TV (either the ‘90s channel or ‘adult alternative’). For revisions, I’m more flexible. Since I live in Philly, I’m a slave to the seasons, and often a victim of cabin fever. So when it’s warm, I’ll work on my patio. And when it’s cold, I’ll move to a coffee shop.

Chocolate: dark or milk?
Dark, always dark. And it has less calories.

What are you working on now?
I am hard at work on a new young adult story. It’s a complete departure from my Amor series—lots of spies, suspense, fight scenes and, of course, a love triangle. I’m really excited about it. Plus I get to travel because I’m setting some scenes in Europe. And the main character is a lot of fun to write. She’s much cooler than I am, all about girl power, and her dialogue is very punchy. I hope to have it ready for the publishing world soon!

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

And now I think it's time to start chocolate loading so I can watch Battlestar Galactica tonight without feeling the need to slit my wrists.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

One More Harry Potter Thing

The ice appears to be on its way out. My porch and sidewalk are almost clear, but the driveway was still a skating rink first thing this morning. I may be able to leave the house today!

After posting about my notebook/journal collection habits, I've started using one of the nice leather-bound journals to record the books I read. I'd been keeping that list in a spiral notebook, but since the point of keeping the list is being able to refer to it later, and since spiral pages tear out so easily, keeping it in a nice journal book makes more sense. However, the journal I first unwrapped to use for that purpose turned out to be something different. It's not just a blank book. It seems to fit into some kind of daytimer system, or maybe it's meant as a diary. It's not date-specific, but each page has a blank for the date at the top, then most of a page of blank lines. There are perforated notches on the top corner of each page, so you can tear them off to show which page you're on, I guess (though it also has an attached ribbon bookmark). The really odd part is that the bottom inch and a half or so on each page is a separate section. On that is a grid of little squares, three down and eleven across, and that section is perforated separately, so you can detach that part from the page. I've never seen something like that, and it didn't come with instructions, so I have no idea how that's meant to be used. Has anyone seen anything like this before, and can you explain it to me? I'm sure it's some kind of organizational/planning system that will change my life, so I don't want to miss out.

A comment yesterday reminded me that there was one more thing I liked about the Harry Potter series that I forgot to mention. I like the treatment of good vs. evil and nice vs. nasty.

Spoilers ahead!

On the cosmic level, Good and Evil were white and black, absolutes. You were either opposing Voldemort and what he stood for, or you were at least passively allowing his ideas to prevail. A recurring theme in the series was that it wasn't even okay to side with the bad guys to save your own life, that there are causes worth dying for and that evil must be opposed, no matter what the personal cost may be. Saving your own life by betraying others means that the rest of your life will be worthless, as shown by the fate of Peter Pettigrew, who betrayed his friends to save his own life, and then spent the next ten years as a rat and then who spent the rest of his life after that as an abused flunky, only to be killed by Voldemort, which was the fate he'd been trying to avoid in the first place. On the other hand, those who were willing to die for their beliefs managed to gain some benefit from that, such as the power that came from Lily's sacrifice for her son.

But on a more earthly level, there were a lot of shadings. For one thing, being on the side of cosmic Good didn't mean that someone was necessarily nice. Snape may have been vindicated as having been on the good side all along, and he was a hero for the cause at great personal sacrifice, but he was still a jerk who held petty grudges, showed favorites as a teacher and who was quite a bully -- yeah, he had some reason for hating Harry (not that it was Harry's fault), but he tormented Neville just because he could. I liked that Rowling didn't fully redeem Snape. She vindicated him, yes, but he never saw the error of his ways, never apologized for his behavior, and he never changed. Sirius and James were shown to have been bullies as kids, and Sirius was still a hothead who got his priorities skewed at times. Lupin was an emotional coward. And then on the Evil side, there were still people who had positive impulses. Narcissa Malfoy saved Harry's life (and thus saved the day) because her love for her son was greater than her allegiance to Voldemort. Again, she wasn't really redeemed because she never recanted her belief in the things that Voldemort stood for. She just had other, personal priorities that happened to be positive and good.

So, you could be Good and still be nasty to people you didn't like (even people on your side), and you could be Evil and still be nice to people you cared about. And disliking someone personally doesn't mean that person is evil.

There was also the fact that mistakes didn't have to be permanent. Good people could screw up and redeem themselves, and evil people could see the error of their ways, repent and join the side of good (more Christian symbolism). On the minor side, there was Ron, gifted with the Deluminator that would always allow him to find his way back. There was Percy the Prodigal, who rejected his parents' teachings to pursue his own ambition, which meant he ended up working against the side of Good, and then he came back into the fold at the critical time. There was Snape, who joined the Death Eaters, then turned his back on them and went to work on the side of good (though he still had to deal with the consequences of his earlier actions). Dumbledore had toyed with the ideas Voldemort later represented, and he was able to recognize his personal weaknesses to avoid that temptation again. Even Voldemort had the chance to face what he'd done and accept that pain, and he could have been saved.

I suppose you could say that I liked that Good and Evil were absolute, but that there were still nuances within that.

I finished my amateur Shakespeare yesterday, so now I have to think about how that applies to the Nagging Idea (or even if it does). I also have some research to do.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Revisiting Harry Potter: What I Loved

I think I really impressed my agent with how on-the-ball my blog readers are. Y'all had given me the heads up on the screenwriter announcement long before the film agent forwarded the Variety article to my agent. In fact, my e-mail to my agent asking if she knew about it arrived just before the film agent's e-mail. I had known they were in talks with a screenwriter, and I knew who it was. I just didn't know that it had become a done deal. Even though it was an announcement of something I already knew something about, seeing the announcement was really exciting. I never imagined there would be something about me in Variety! It pretty much distracted me the rest of the day.

Now, though, it's back to reality, even though it's sort of a snow day. All the school districts around here are closed because we got a fair amount of rain last night while the temperatures were in the 20s. It's still not above freezing, but the ice seems to be melting where the sun is hitting it. Unfortunately, my front porch and front walk don't get direct sunlight, so it's like an ice rink out there. I just got an e-mail saying there would be choir tonight, but I will wait to see what conditions are like before I go. If the walk is still icy, I'm not going anywhere, and after the melting, if it goes back below freezing after dark, it could get really ugly. The icicles are pretty, though. I have a tile roof, which means the icicles are perfectly spaced along the eaves.

So, now that I've criticized the Harry Potter series, I'll talk about what I liked, and I'll have to narrow it down to a few big things. I was probably predisposed to like it, since I love whimsy, I love things that butt the magical world up against the real world, and I've always had a thing for books taking place in British boarding schools. But here are some specific things I particularly loved about the series (and there will be spoilers here for the whole series):

I loved the detailed plotting, the way something that seemed like nothing turned out to be major later, like the way there was all that talk in the very first book about how impossible it would be to break into the bank, and then in the last book they had to break into the bank (and I wonder if that was planned all along, or if all the talk about how impossible it was became an inspiration to make the characters have to do it), or like there was a throwaway line in the fourth book when Ron makes a wisecrack about how it's too bad Draco's mother loves him (because she wouldn't let him go to the more far-away school), and then Draco's mother's love for her son turned out to be the deciding factor that was the turning point of the whole thing. That really gave a sense that Rowling knew where she was going with the series and had a plan. It also meant that each time I re-read the earlier books, the most recent book would have changed my perceptions of them, so it was almost like getting an entirely new book.

I loved the characters and the way the children grew from 11 to 18 over the course of the books in a fairly believable way. Our three main characters seemed like real kids. They may have been good and brave and managed to save the world from bad magic, but they also complained about doing their homework, got into the kind of silly spats real kids get into, went through growing pains, had teachers that were out to get them, dealt with bullies, learned to realize that their favorite teachers weren't necessarily the best teachers, and a whole host of things that were easy to relate to. One of my tests of good fantasy characters is if they'd be interesting to me even if you took the magic out of the mix, and I think these would be. I've already talked about how Hermione is basically me from that age, but I also had a lot I could relate to in Ron and Harry. I even liked the adult characters, and the fact that their relationships to the kids changed as the kids got older. I think the fact that the adults were real characters and not just Charlie Brown "Mwa mwa mwa" people may have been part of the reason these books went so far beyond the child/teen audience. They were books about people of all ages that just happened to be told through a child's perspective.

I liked the sense of innocence. The kids may have been expected (especially as they got older) to do some pretty adult things (like saving the world from bad magic), but socially, they were allowed to be kids, something that's pretty rare these days. These were teenagers to whom a kiss was a big deal. There wasn't any peer pressure for rainbow parties (Mom, you don't want to know), sex, drugs or heavy alcohol use -- the kinds of things a lot of young adult authors throw in to try to make their books "relevant" or "contemporary." Rowling didn't even attempt to be edgy. I think that's going to prove to be a good call for the potential timelessness of the series. Although she ended up placing them specifically in time in the last book with the grave marker giving actual dates, there's a sort of timelessness to the wizarding world, and by making no effort to give the kids "contemporary" touches, I think she kept the books from being something that will seem dated ten or twenty years (or more) from now. In fact, future editions could even change the dates on that grave marker, and it wouldn't really have to change anything about the rest of the series.

I must admit to cackling with glee when I got near the end of the last book and realized that it was turning out to be the most overt Christian allegory since The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, especially given the over-the-top fear response to these books by certain portions of the Christian community (what I have sometimes called the East Texas Taliban). I'd had a sneaking suspicion things were heading in that direction from the start because I'd noticed a lot of symbolism and imagery, but I wasn't sure how much I was reading into it because of my own worldview. And then, just to make it very clear, Rowling admitted to it all in the big NBC interview. I love the validation of the fact that fantasy is not automatically anti-Christian. So, yeah, I found it highly ironic that all those religious groups were burning something that actually was in support of their beliefs. I'm equally impressed with the way that I think you can still enjoy the series on the surface level without taking the theological approach.

Most of all, though, I loved the sense of community that built around these books, and I'm not talking about the fandom factions online, the wizard rock, the conventions, or any of that stuff. There was just something cool about reading something at the same time as a lot of other people. I had jury duty the Monday after the release of the fifth book, and that created an instant bond as so many people in the jury pool room were reading the book. I've been able to get into conversations with airplane seatmates about these books. Just before the release of the last book, I was in the middle of a re-read of the earlier books and had one with me when I took the train downtown. Half the people in my car were reading one of these books, and when the train stopped abruptly between stations, someone commented that it looked like the Dementors had stopped the train, and the whole car got a chuckle out of it. How many books are there where you can make an offhand (and even a little obscure) wisecrack relating to a book, and everyone around gets it? Wouldn't it be lovely if books could permeate society like that more often? If reading a new book on release day became as big a deal as seeing a movie the day it comes out -- and more often than just one or two series?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Newsflash: The Enchanted, Inc. Screenwriter

Since it's been announced in Variety, I suppose it's safe for me to announce this:

They've hired a screenwriter for the film version of Enchanted, Inc.!

The screenwriter is Steven Rogers, who did the screenplays for P.S., I Love You (oops!), Stepmom, Hope Floats and Kate and Leopold.

Although I did have issues with the parts of P.S., I Love You that I was able to watch, I loved Hope Floats and Kate and Leopold. In fact, I got a lot of inspiration for the way Philip, my former enchanted frog guy, would act in modern New York from watching Kate and Leopold, and Hope Floats was one of the movies I watched in my inspiration/mood-setting "retreat" before I wrote Don't Hex With Texas. It would seem that he gets both small-town Texas and odd or magical stuff in New York, so I think he's a good fit.

Now, before anyone gets too excited, hiring a screenwriter doesn't mean the movie is definite. It's just a step in the process. But it is a step along the way.

If you want the official details, here's the article in Variety.

It's also on Sci Fi Wire. And MovieWeb. And a number of either science fiction/fantasy or film-related blogs. It seems like there's a lot of discussion about similarities to Enchanted or concerns about it being Sex and the City meets Charmed. Anyone who cares to comment at any of these blogs based on having actually read the book is more than welcome to do so.

Revisiting Harry Potter: The Criticisms

First, I'd like to wish my parents a happy wedding anniversary!

I don't know if it's a case of "cold and rainy, yay!" or if I really am starting to recover from the January groggies, but I was up and at 'em way earlier this morning than I have been lately, and I'm even moderately alert. It's a good thing I hit the grocery store yesterday, as we've got ice storm warnings now. It's hovering right at freezing and is raining, with the temperature dropping. Judging by the speed of the cars on the road going past my office window, I'd say the roads haven't iced up yet (and if they keep going this speed after it ices up, it will be highly entertaining. I may make popcorn.).

So, as I mentioned, since Christmas I've been re-reading the entire Harry Potter series, and since I never discussed the seventh book at all, I'll address the whole series now. That means there will be spoilers for the whole series, but I figure that since it's been a year and a half since the last book came out, if you care, you'll have read it by now.

I think I was more critical in this read-through than I have been in the past, especially in the earlier books that I'm more familiar with. I'd read criticisms about the writing, and this time, when I wasn't necessarily so caught up in the story that the words themselves became invisible, I have to admit that I noticed that the writing was a bit clunky in places, especially once things got to the point that they quit editing because they were rushing the books into production. I would say that the writing in the third book is the strongest because she had obviously grown as a writer since the earlier books and she was still being edited. For the most part, I would say that Rowling's writing style is mostly invisible -- the words don't get in the way of the story or call attention to themselves, and they exist purely to tell the story. However, she has a few bad word habits, like having an obvious "pet" word in each book and using it repeatedly. It's one thing when it's a minor word like "just," but when it's something like "comprise" (and it's not even used correctly), it starts to jump off the page. Especially when it shows up about three times per page.

The biggest plotting weakness is a danger for either first-person or tight, sole-viewpoint third-person narration, and that's the tendency to indulge in a lot of "telling" near the end of the book, when the hero learns everything that was going on in the background all along by someone telling him what was happening. There's a lot of what I call "Shawshank Redemption" plotting going on, where all the events make total sense in the initial context, so that they don't jump out as clues the first time through, and then you find out what was really going on, and all those seemingly innocuous things take on an entirely different meaning in that context. Unfortunately, that tends to lead to a lot of "My evil plans, let me tell you them" scenes. The absolute worst was in the fourth book, where we had about a chapter of Voldemort telling Harry everything he'd been up to during that book, the previous three books, and for the ten years prior to the books starting. And then Harry got back to Hogwarts and we got another chapter or so of Barty Crouch Jr. telling everything he'd been up to during the entire book (a scene that was more interesting in the movie version, largely because it involved David Tennant bouncing off walls and feasting on the scenery instead of the book's monotone recitation). I suspect even Rowling realized she'd fallen into a pattern because after that she brought up the link between Harry and Voldemort so that Harry got glimpses into what the villain was up to throughout the book and we didn't need the recitation of evil plans, but then she fell into the pattern of having a chapter or so at the end of each book with Dumbledore explaining to Harry everything that had really been going on, or, as in the sixth book, getting someone else to tell the whole story.

The third book handled this best because the revelation of all the stuff that had really been going on was more of an active scene. There were more people involved, with even more people showing up throughout to change the scene and add their input, and the scene kept shifting on its axis, so that it went back and forth between who you thought was good and who you thought was bad, as well as constantly changing who was in control of the situation. As a result, there was a lot more going on than Harry listening to someone explain the whole plot. It was dynamic rather than passive, and Harry got to actually play a role in doing something and making decisions.

I really like the sixth book. It's pretty fun to read because of all the character stuff going on, but it struck me on this read-through how much it's essentially Harry Potter and the Book Without an Actual Plot. The through-line plot that actually drives the ongoing story of the series is kept as mostly a sub-plot and most of the action takes place in the distant past, with Harry observing Tom Riddle's life story. Nothing much really happens in the present, plot-wise, until the end, and that's where the only real action in the book is. Otherwise, I guess it's Harry Potter and the Raging Hormones, which is fun to read if you love the characters, but that's a lot of pages without much story momentum. So, I'm torn on that book. I wonder if there might have been a way to deal with the trials and tribulations of being a teenager while still telling more of a story. Then again, the school stuff was always my favorite part of the series. Yeah, bad wizard taking over the world, big scary snake, blah, blah, blah, but are Ron and Hermione ever going to get over their individual issues, fears and pride and admit that they're crazy about each other?

This sounds like I'm being very negative, but this is really the first time I've acknowledged that there were things I didn't like about this series. I have generally been a raving fangirl blind to its faults. Tomorrow I'll get into the things I liked.

And now it's a return to Amateur Dramatic Hour. There's a Shakespeare play that provides a lot of the inspiration for the Nagging Idea, so I need to read it, and I've found that the only way for me to really follow Shakespeare and get any meaning out of it is to read it out loud. I'm not really trying to act it full-on, but I am trying to get some characterization and inflection into it.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Ghost Torturer

I allowed myself a delightfully lazy weekend when either the mountain cedar pollen levels or yet another drastic weather change (or maybe both) gave me a bad case of sniffles. I retreated under a blanket with a pot of tea, some books, a bottle of Benadryl and the TV remote. It must have worked because I feel a lot more awake and alert today than I have in ages. I even got up reasonably early, early enough to have a phone chat with Mom and to go drop off my recycling and do my grocery shopping.

I managed to finally finish my Harry Potter re-read. It took me almost a month, though I'd been waiting for appropriate reading conditions to finish the final book. I'll be posting my thoughts on that later this week. Meanwhile, I started reading the books I'm judging for the Romance Writers of America Rita Award.

Note to people trying to write anything that's supposedly romantic: It really, really helps if I can figure out why these people like each other, beyond just the fact that they're hot and they stir each other in a way they've never felt before. All the hot sex in the world doesn't come across as romantic if there's not also some affection and if I don't get the sense that these people actually enjoy being around each other when they're not in bed.

Or maybe I'm out of touch with the genre, since I don't think I've read a genre romance that was published in the last twenty years in at least two years. I'm spoiled by fantasy or mystery with a romantic subplot and by Georgette Heyer.

Stan the 80s Bachelor Airline Pilot Ghost had a busy weekend. First on Saturday afternoon he managed to cause a big ruckus. I was upstairs in the office on the phone with Mom when there was such a loud clatter from downstairs that Mom heard it and suggested I go check to see what it was. I walked through the whole house several times before I realized that one of the things stuck in my kitchen tools jar on the counter had apparently shifted, which knocked the top off the hot-air popcorn popper, which knocked something else over. I'm not sure how/why the initial thing moved to set off the chain reaction, and the noise seemed louder than you'd expect from those few things. So, I blamed Stan.

And then that night, I finally found my Songs for a New World CD. It's been missing for more than a year, which hadn't been a problem when I had my old car because I mostly listened to it in the car, and I'd taped it to play on the car's tape player. But the new car only has a CD player, so I'd really been missing it. Last night, I had this odd burst of insight, reached behind some books on the bookcase behind my desk, and there it was. The odd thing is, I had searched that bookcase when I was looking for it. I guess Stan got tired of it and brought it back, or else he decided it was the lesser of many evils with all the bad show tunes he's been subjected to lately.

You see, I discovered quite accidentally that I now get the digital music channels on my cable service. I know I didn't have them before, but now they're suddenly there. My cable company is really bad about letting their customers know when they're getting cool new stuff. I only found the music channels because I thought the "music" button on the menu worked like the "sports" button, where it gives you a list of upcoming programs in that category, and I was looking to see if there would be a Live at Lincoln Center anytime soon. But instead, it took me to the music channels, and they have a Show Tunes channel. It's very eclectic, with some classics, some stuff I own on CD and some stuff that's obscure even to me. And not all of it is that good. Whoever does the programming there is really into the Broadway version of Young Frankenstein, as something from that show has played every time I put that channel on, and while I'm sure that's an entertaining show to watch, the music doesn't really work out of context as something to just listen to. Ditto with Spamalot. Hilarious show, but not all that great musically (at least there I'd seen the show and could insert appropriate mental images). Avenue Q has good music, but it doesn't work that well out of context when you can't see that it's puppets. One of the singers sounds disconcertingly Henson-esque, and it's rather upsetting to hear someone who sounds way too much like Kermit singing about sex. And then there's Xanadu. Oh my. I can't believe they made a musical out of that, and I can't believe the way they seem to have done it. I will confess that I own the movie soundtrack album. It was a major part of my seventh grade year. That album replaced the soundtrack from Grease as the record you went to your friends' homes after school to sing and dance to. But we were living in Germany at the time, so we didn't get the movie until much, much later, and we had no idea what the movie was about. We'd made up our own idea of the story, based on the songs and the pictures from the movie on the album cover. And then we saw the movie, finally, and were all, "What the heck was that?" But the Broadway show apparently incorporates other Olivia Newton-John songs, like "Have You Never Been Mellow," so they're pulling more of a Mamma Mia than a Disney musical where they write new songs to incorporate into the existing soundtrack. From the sounds of things, for whatever reason, it seems like some of the singers are using funny "character" voices instead of straight singing, and out of context that doesn't really work.

As a result, I seem to have driven my ghost so insane that he returned my decent show tunes CD so I'd have something else to listen to. Now I wonder what else I could get him to cough up for me. There are at least two more CDs I haven't found in a while ...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Teri Brown

I had my regular ballet teacher back last night, and I felt like much less of an idiot in class, but today I'm very, very stiff and sore. Ouch. While I sit around and moan, I've got a Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest. Teri Brown has one of the most clever concepts I've seen in the novel Read My Lips.

Serena just wants to fly under the radar at her new school. But Serena is deaf, and she can read lips really well—even across the busy cafeteria. So when the popular girls discover her talent, there’s no turning back.

From skater chick to cookie-cutter prep, Serena’s identity has done a 180…almost. She still wants to date Miller, the school rebel, and she’s not ready to trade her hoodies for pink tees just yet. But she is rising through the ranks in the school’s most exclusive clique.

With each new secret she uncovers, Serena feels pressure to find out more. Reading lips has always been her greatest talent, but now Serena just feels like a gigantic snoop….

And now the interview:

Was there anything in particular that inspired this book?
My niece is profoundly deaf and after she was diagnosed, my mother-in-law became very active in deaf advocacy. She used me as a sounding board for her ideas and the seeds of Read my Lips were planted during that time.

Do you read lips, yourself?
No, I don’t read lips, but my niece does, very well. My launch party was at the Washington School of the Deaf and those kids were fabulous at lip reading, as well. And I would love to be able to do that! As a writer, I love to listen to people talk in coffee shops and restaurants. Some people call it eavesdropping, but I call it research!

(I had some hearing issues as a kid, so I kind of read lips, but I generally also need auditory cues. I have a habit of watching people's mouths when they talk, and I can put that together with what I hear to figure out what they said. I can't usually just read lips without the sound, but it drives me nuts when the sound and picture aren't perfectly in sync on TV, and I'm really bad about not making eye contact with people who are talking to me because I'm more focused on watching their mouths. My hearing is fine now, but it's a habit. It also comes in handy at noisy parties when it's hard to make out what people are saying).

Something that could be seen as a weakness ends up being the key to your character's rise in popularity. How do you think that could apply to something less extreme than deafness for other kids?
I think it’s all about viewing your talents and weaknesses differently. In accepting them all as part of your unique self.

What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
Like Serena, I’ve always felt like a fish out of water , especially in high school where I was both too smart and too rebellious to be successful at it.

Do you have any odd writing habits or quirks?
If leaving everything to the last minute is an odd writing habit or quirk, then I have them in spades! Other than that, not really.

What are you working on now?
I have several proposals started but at the moment, I’m working on a book that’s very different and very special. I don’t think I’m going to say anything about it right now except that it is really stretching me as a writer. Which is a good thing…sometimes.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
This book was a labor of love. My Mother-in-law, who is partially responsible for the newborn hearing screening law here in Oregon, died of cancer before the book was finished and sold. I dedicated the book to her, but it wasn’t the same as having her here to see it.

For more info, check out Teri's web site. Or you can buy the book from Amazon.

And now my house is driving me nuts, so I think today is a housework day. If I can make my body move.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More About Jerks

I've been thinking more about that Jerk With Layers vs. Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy idea, fine-tuning it in my head. I guess I started thinking along these lines when I realized that some of the criticism I get from editors for my work is that it isn't "edgy" enough, and what's really hot right now seems to involve the dark, tortured characters. I don't think I could write a truly dark, tortured character if I tried (unless I was doing a parody of the type), but that doesn't mean all my characters have to be incredibly nice, knight-in-shining-armor types. So I started a mental list of characters I really like, those who get me emotionally involved in various books, movies or TV shows, and then when I found some who weren't the nice guy, knight-in-shining-armor types, I tried figuring out why I liked them and how they worked. I think I could pull off a Jerk With Layers as a way of having a little more edge without going all the way to Dark and Dangerous.

Then again, the Depression era was known for fluffy comedies and making Shirley Temple the Queen of the Universe, so maybe my time has come and darker heroes will go out of vogue. Still, I don't think it would hurt me to expand my horizons and at least dabble in writing some different kinds of characters.

I have realized that I'm having trouble coming up with good examples of Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy characters who are not villains. It's possible that some of that is due to the fact that if I like a character, I tend to classify him as a Jerk With Layers, since I don't like bad boys. Most of the Dark and Dangerous types I see people swooning over are villains (or come very close to being villains), and it's more the fans who seem to see them as sexy than the writers trying to paint them as tarnished, tragic romantic heroes. Because I tend to be anti-bad boy, there's a strong possibility that I just avoid things with bad boy heroes (which is why I don't read a lot of paranormal romance). The only Dark and Dangerous heroes I can think of are House (my initial example) and Kara Thrace (Starbuck) on Battlestar Galactica. I consider that someone is dark and dangerous instead of just a jerk when his/her behavior is really self-destructive, to the point that it will harm even their allies. House's behavior has at times harmed personally or professionally just about everyone who tries to get close to him, and Starbuck is so screwed up that she actually avoids anything good or healthy and she outright tries to hurt anyone who gets too close to her. I'd say that the behavior of the Jerk With Layers is like a scab on a wound, while the Dark and Dangerous type has gone beyond wounded to damaged, with the wound festering and scarring.

In the romance world, the "healed by love" plotline is popular with the badder types, which may be another reason why I avoid books with those types of heroes. While I do believe that love can be a powerful healing force, I also believe that it takes more than finding a good woman to love for someone that damaged to turn into a good guy and loving suburban husband and father (I've seen that mockingly referred to as the "magical hoo-ha" story, where sex with this particular woman has all kinds of transformative properties). On the other hand, I think the Jerk With Layers could be changed through a good, healthy relationship, because most of the time all he really needs is a boost of confidence, and someone showing him unconditional love and accepting him can do a lot toward allowing him to lower the facade and be himself.

But then there are a lot of other factors that come up in trying to classify characters. Is inner pain and turmoil essential for a Jerk With Layers? I'd kind of consider Han Solo to be a Jerk With Layers, as he mocks others, is sarcastic, is sometimes even crude and rude, and he acts like he's greedy and selfish, but then he's reliable in a crisis and always there for his friends, even to the point of self-sacrifice. He does have moments of sincerity. But I never got the feeling that his Jerk layer was masking any kind of deep, inner pain. Then again, that character was about 98 percent Harrison Ford's personal charisma and about 2 percent a character who was actually developed in the script. I suppose the pain or insecurity doesn't have to be major or traumatic. It could merely be something like growing up in a tough neighborhood where earnest and sincere would get you beaten up, or, in Han Solo's case, the fact that he worked with criminals and thieves, where it would be dangerous to give them any ammunition by revealing his true self.

Most of the examples of Jerks With Layers I initially thought of were sidekicks, and this character type does work well to balance a more earnest hero (that Trickster archetype). It can be a challenge to make the Jerk With Layers sympathetic enough to be a hero. I thought of Dave (the Bruce Willis character on Moonlighting), and then Shrek in the movies was suggested. I've been trying to decide if Mal on Firefly fits this. My initial impulse is to call him a Jerk With Layers rather than Dark and Dangerous, but then that's largely because I like him and I don't like Dark and Dangerous heroes, so I want to call him a Jerk With Layers. But I think it holds up when I think about it more. He seems to want to be a Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy, but he never quite gets there because he can't seem to help being basically a good person. Given the choice, he'll do the right thing, even if it costs him. I think if he'd gone off alone instead of forming a crew around himself, he could easily have become Dark and Dangerous, but even though he snarls sometimes at his crew, I think he knows he needs them.

Perhaps the Jerk With Layers hero needs to be part of an ensemble rather than a loner hero because we need to see that interaction with the people he cares about to see the layers. It's also probably easier to get away with in TV or movies because the personal charisma or history of the actor can give a difficult character a halo effect, and you can't rely on that in books. If we know and love the actor from other roles or if he is very sexy, attractive, charismatic or obviously having fun with the role, we may be willing to cut his character some slack. I think a lot of the villains/dark and dangerous types that fans swoon over owe their popularity to the incredibly sexy actors who play them rather than to the writing. Snape in the Harry Potter books is a snively jerk who really needs to grow the hell up and get over high school, but in the movies he speaks in Alan Rickman's voice, which changes the picture entirely. On paper, I'm sure the character of Guy in the BBC Robin Hood would come across as a social climbing stalker, but he's played by Richard Armitage wearing black leather (I'm sure I'd like the actor elsewhere, but I must admit that the character does zero for me, which I get the feeling is a very unpopular opinion).

You'd definitely have to do "showing" rather than "telling" to get across the Jerk With Layers because any internal monologue on his part to describe his inner pain could easily come across as justification for his own bad behavior. I suppose you would have to introduce him with his good side showing and then show the facade sliding into place or else introduce the reasons why he might be a bit of a jerk at the same time you introduce the character. That's the way Ron was introduced in the Harry Potter books. We see right away that he's surrounded by older brothers who've distinguished themselves, that everything he owns is a hand-me-down and that two of his brothers have made him the victim of their practical jokes, so by the time we see his defensive sarcasm and prickly sensitivity to criticism, we totally understand it.

I'm still wrestling with my Nagging Idea, and I've decided that since this time of year is terrible for actual writing, I may as well go with the idea generation since it does seem to be a good time for thinking.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Dealing With Difficult Dialogue

I'm managing to gradually get an earlier and earlier start on the day by setting my alarm clock (this is the only time of year when I seem to need to do that on days when I don't have to be somewhere). I still hit the snooze button for a while, but I still get up earlier, and I think the alarm going off in the first place is helping me reset my internal clock.

I have another reader question for this week's writing post, though I'm expanding it to cover a broader topic.

How do you deal with characters who have unusual speech patterns -- especially if there's a possibility that those speech patterns could be annoying to readers?

It's good when characters have distinct voices and have their own ways of talking. They may have accents or speak in a dialect, they may not be native speakers of whatever language predominates in your story, they could stammer or lisp, they could be hyper and run on at the mouth, they could fall heavily into technical jargon, they could have unusual catch phrases they repeat all the time. Those things are good, up to a point, but they're also the kinds of things that can bring a story to a screeching halt if readers have to stop and decipher it or that can turn off readers if they find the book just too annoying to get through.

The short answer is that you want to give enough of the distinctive speech to establish the character and give the proper flavor but not enough that it detracts from the story. Here are a few ways I've thought of to do that:

1) Remember the context.
Characters and the way they talk don't exist in a vacuum. They may alter the way they talk depending on circumstances. Other characters may also react to them, and that will change depending on the circumstances. The excitable technical expert who has to explain how the watch was made before he can give you the time has to interact with other people who may or may not put up with that. If he's the technical expert for a law enforcement team and seconds count, they're going to interrupt his hyper, long-winded explanation for what he's found and force him to get to the point. If he's already provided the vital clue for solving the crime and saved the day, the others may indulge him and let him explain at length how he found it. Depending on what else is going on in their lives, other characters may or may not feel compelled to complete sentences for a stammerer, cut off a long-winded person or correct a non-native speaker's mangled idioms. That gives you an excuse to show just enough of that speech pattern before cutting it off in time to avoid being annoying. For a movie example, think about the Joe Pesci character in the second Lethal Weapon movie, who would go on with, "Okay, okay, okay," and then some jabbering. The other characters were always interrupting him in mid-jabber, so we knew he was a jabberer, but we didn't have to spend a lot of time listening to him.

2) Don't forget about point of view.
The viewpoint character who's listening to this other person is going to have different perceptions. For one thing, if the viewpoint character speaks in the same dialect or language, he's probably not going to notice the language quirks. A Scotsman isn't going to notice all the "dinna ken" type stuff the way a non-Scotsman would. His brain is going to understand that as "don't know." Likewise, if all the characters are speaking a foreign language, you can assume that the book is the subtitles and you don't have to throw in random untranslated words.

With the potentially annoying speech patterns, the viewpoint character may hear the start, realize the other character will be babbling for a while and tune him out to think about or notice other things, tuning back in when it gets to the important stuff. That's another way of giving a hint without subjecting your reader to the whole thing. You could also have the viewpoint character mentally translating the other character's difficult to understand dialect or jargon.

3) Use just enough to get the point across.
It may be important that a character speaks in a particular way, but you never want a reader to have to read the dialogue out loud in order to decipher it. Pick one or two words or phrasings that will get the point across and use them consistently, then only add more in places where it's really crucial. If it's important to the plot that there's a communications breakdown, then by all means make that little part difficult to get through, but do that sparingly. If your character is a hyper babbler, establish that, then work around it (using the above methods) except for any particular scenes where there's a reason to have the hyper babbling.

4) Watch TV
You can get a good feel for how to handle different speech patterns by watching TV. A TV series has a limited amount of time to tell the story, so they can't waste it on extraneous stuff, and they also need to make the characters distinctive while making it possible to understand the characters, since you can't go back and re-read the dialogue if you don't understand it. Watch how they work in just enough speech quirks to make the differences clear without eating story time. This is especially good in any kind of "team," show, where they bring in people with different areas of expertise, like the computer expert, the scientist, the foreigner, the highly educated person, the tough guy, etc., who all have distinct ways of expressing themselves. Usually, the team leader will demand that the technical experts speak English after they spout a line or two of jargon, and they'll cut off the babblers to make them get to the point or finish sentences for hesitant stammerers. The foreigners will use just enough foreign words or mixed-up idioms to remind us that they're foreign. We're left with the impression of lots of jargon, babble, stammering or dialect, but when you really look at it, there isn't all that much.

I'm still collecting questions, so keep 'em coming!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Loveable Jerks

I think I may have figured out part of my lethargy when it comes to work: I'm somewhat lacking in motivation because I'm not entirely sure what could become of anything I might be working on. I have two projects on submission or about to go on submission, and any of the things I might work on now would fall under the option clause if I sold those projects, so I wouldn't be able to turn around and sell any of the things I'm working on anytime soon. Plus, the projects on submission are first books in potential series, so if those books sell, the next thing I'd work on would be the sequels. So, almost anything else I work on now would be a worst-case scenario project, something to have handy in case what's going out now doesn't sell. It's good to have that kind of thing so there's not a huge gap if the worst-case scenario does come about, but it's hard to get enthusiastic about working on something with that in mind. I've also been distracted by a new idea taking shape -- well, not an entirely new idea, but one I got last fall is really taking form in my head now. I suppose that since nothing I'm working on is on any kind of deadline, there's no harm in taking some time to play with the idea that's at the top of my mind at the moment. There's a reference I need to look at to develop that idea a little further, so I think I'll walk over to the library this afternoon to get it.

Meanwhile, one thing the bad case of The Groggies has been good for is thinking. I may not be able to put words together in a coherent way without a great deal of effort, but I have been able to do a lot of thinking/analyzing. One thing I like to think about is the things that really draw me in as a reader/audience member and why I like those things. One thing I've realized lately about myself is that while I still have zero interest in the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy as a character, I do seem to have a soft spot for the Jerk With Layers.

I think this character type falls somewhere between the Nice Guy/Best Friend/Boy Next Door and the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy. Like the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy, he uses somewhat anti-social behavior as a defense mechanism to protect himself. And like the Nice Guy/Best Friend/Boy Next Door, he's got a soft, mushy inside and is someone you can absolutely rely on when times get tough. In fact, he may be even softer and mushier inside than the Nice Guy because he needs that harder outer shell to protect himself.

The Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy may also have a soft, mushy inside that he protects with his hard outer shell, but the difference between the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy and the Jerk With Layers is that the Jerk With Layers isn't actually bad or dangerous. He's just a bit obnoxious and seems to be insensitive. He'll make the wisecracks, pick on people, find ways to get under their skin, may even be a bit of a verbal bully. He may act like a womanizer or a player. He may act like he doesn't really care about his job and may seem to be lazy. But there's a line he won't cross. He doesn't actually do anything all that bad or wrong. He may talk a big show about his conquests, but you'd be totally safe with him (and might even have to tackle him if you want to get something started). He stays on the good side of the law. And while he pretends to be irresponsible, he's actually pretty reliable and will be there for you. When the situation calls for seriousness, the goofing off stops, and in those moments of rare sincerity, he's almost like another person. That's when you realize that the jerky behavior is a carefully cultivated defensive maneuver. If he acts like a jerk and you think he's a jerk, then he's won. If he acts like a jerk and you still manage to like him, that's a bonus. But on the other hand, if he tries to be a nice guy and you don't like him, he comes out as a loser. So, obviously, it's safer to act like a jerk. I think another distinction between the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy and the Jerk With Layers is the potential for change. The Jerk With Layers is a nice guy underneath all along, so all it takes for him to really step up and reach his potential is gaining the confidence or the trust in someone to drop the act and be himself. The Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy really would have to do some kind of turnaround and really change in order to be redeemed.

I've realized that a number of characters I'd been mentally classifying as the Nice Guy/Best Friend are actually Jerks With Layers. I guess I just saw past all the defenses and saw the nice guy beneath, then disregarded the jerk aspects. For instance, as I've been re-reading the Harry Potter books, I've realized that Ron is probably more Jerk With Layers than Nice Guy. Yes, he's mostly reliable and basically decent, but he can be rather obnoxious. We realize through the course of the books that he's actually very insecure, but he masks that by being a jerk. Another example might be Chase (remember him?) on the early seasons of House, where he wasn't so much an outright jerk as he was an apparent slacker who let others assume he was a spoiled rich kid playboy. On the other hand, I think House himself comes closer to Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy because I don't think his jerky exterior is actually a facade. He really doesn't like people, he really doesn't want to follow the rules, and he really is rather self-destructive. Chase was able to change merely by dropping his jerk facade and really being the person we got occasional glimpses of. House would have to do a major personality turnaround to change. I suppose Rod in my books is another Jerk With Layers. Now I wonder if I could pull off writing someone like that as the primary hero rather than as a secondary character.

I guess I've been thinking in these terms because the major characters in the Nagging Idea would both probably fit into this type (male and female). With this idea there are also two vastly different ways I could go with it, and I'm not sure which is best, so I may have to start out writing it both ways and see which way clicks.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Introverts Unite!

Oh, man, I seem to have had the kind of weekend I need a weekend to recover from, since I'm still dragging and groggy. It wasn't that crazy, just a party and a wedding, but I think I maxed out my introversion when combined with the January agoraphobia, which means I used up all my emotional energy reserves. At this time of year, just leaving the house requires an act of will that is draining. I have fun while I'm out once I get past the leaving-home phase, but then that means I'm more tired than I usually would be afterward. And the extreme introversion means that social occasions are tiring, even if they're fun.

One of the most life-changing moments I've had in understanding myself was the first time I took an official Myers-Briggs personality assessment. It was at a professional conference, and they gave all the attendees the official test. I was really surprised when it showed that I was pretty extreme on the introvert scale. I'd been thinking in the more common usage of the term and because I'm really talkative and generally pretty bubbly and outgoing, I thought that meant I was an extrovert. That meant I didn't know what was wrong with me when I looked forward to quiet evenings at home and wasn't the life of the party.

But in this sense, the introversion/extroversion scale just comes down to where you get your energy. Some draw their energy from being around other people. They go out and interact with people to rev themselves up. Those are extroverts. Then there are people who need to be alone to recharge their batteries and who use up their energy in interacting with people. Those are introverts. Being an introvert doesn't necessarily mean you're shy, quiet or not particularly social. It just means you need a certain amount of alone time in order to be social. Introverts are more likely to have a few close friends than a huge social circle, and when someone reaches that close, trusted state, being with that person can be almost as good as being alone and isn't as draining as being in a crowd.

This isn't tested on the Myers-Briggs, but I think I'm also pretty high on the empathy scale, in that I tend to pick up on and even mirror other people's emotions. I have this odd quirk with live theater, where if the actors are really into their performances, I'll cry, no matter what the actual emotional content of the show is. It's almost like I'm picking up on their emotions, and the tears are my outlet. I'm more drained from situations where the people around me are stressed, which is why I'm less and less fond of the RWA national conference. So many people there have this idea that this event is absolutely crucial to their future careers, and it's exhausting, even if I have no expectations for my own career. There are more people at a WorldCon, but I don't find that nearly as tiring because most of the people are there just to have fun.

I think weddings come in very high on the stress scale, so they're tiring for me. With this one, I also helped set up and clean up, and then had to do some emergency assisting with finishing the cake. Then I provided the "something borrowed" when the chain on the bride's necklace broke right before the ceremony, and I happened to be wearing a plain gold chain in the right length. That's my one piece of "real" jewelry, and it's a lucky piece in that I won it in a promotional drawing at a jewelry store. So now even if I'm not married, my jewelry has been.

And now to maybe take a walk and then pump more caffeine into my system to see if I can make my brain function.

Friday, January 16, 2009


I felt like I had the magic touch yesterday, or else my electric personality was showing. Everything I touched shocked me. I don't have that problem at home, but in the grocery store, if I take something off the shelf, I get a jolt. It's worse if I pick up a can or try to open the refrigerator case. Yesterday, I went through the store going "Ouch! Ouch!" Then my car got me, and I even managed to get a jolt from my car key. Some of those shocks were pretty severe, and my fingers were tingling up to the first knuckle. I felt like I could shoot lightning bolts out of my fingers.

We've got some pretty good TV coming up. Battlestar Galactica starts again tonight, for the final run of episodes. As much as I love that show, I'm kind of glad to see it coming to an end, mostly because they're doing it on their own terms because the story is coming to an end. That's something that happens very seldom on American television. Either the series isn't an instant hit and gets canceled before the story's told, or it is a hit and it gets stretched out long beyond its natural lifetime. I think this particular series would suffer if it got stretched out indefinitely, so it's good to see it coming to an end with the end of the story.

We also get Friday Night Lights back on network TV tonight. I've heard good things about this season from its satellite airing, but I'm not sure I'm in the mindset to get back into it.

Sunday night, Masterpiece Theatre is doing Wuthering Heights. I have to admit that I don't really get the appeal of that story. I don't see it as all that romantic, but I'll be interested in seeing how this adaptation works. I suspect I'll get inappropriate giggles because I'll be thinking of the Monty Python skit of Wuthering Heights in semaphore, with Healthcliff and Cathy waving flags around. After that, they're going on a Dickens binge, though some of those shows must be from the vault, since one of them is a very nice production of David Copperfield starring a wee little pre-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe as the young David.

I've got yet another busy weekend ahead of me, so I hope it's a little warmer. Today looks like a good curl-up-with-a-book (either reading one or writing one) day.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Notebook Madness

I did drag myself out to choir last night (we're doing Mozart, yay!), but then that must have exhausted me because I slept very, very late this morning, and it was deep sleep, not just lying in the warm bed, daydreaming. I gave up on work that required much thought yesterday because I'd catch myself thinking of something else while typing, and as a result I'd have two words merged -- the start of the word I was typing, but the rest of the word would be what I was thinking. And I didn't even notice I was doing it until I re-read what I had just written and couldn't decipher it. So instead I did more "active" stuff like putting away laundry and doing some sorting/cleaning.

One think I've realized in the early stages of this ongoing sorting/cleaning/decluttering project is that I really like notebooks -- large and small spiral notebooks, little bound books, journals, etc. I've bought a few for myself (mostly the spirals because I can't seem to resist cute notebooks on clearance at Target), but I get a lot of them as gifts. That's a pretty standard writer gift. I have a nice journal-type book I got from my publisher, I'm pretty much guaranteed to get at least one in any thank-you goody bag I get for speaking at an event, and I have this really cool one I got from my agent that's hand-made, including the paper itself.

Oddly enough, most of them remain entirely empty. I have used the spiral notebooks, as the small ones are what go in my purse to take notes at conventions or to have handy for random thoughts that occur to me while I'm out and about. But most of the nice bound journal-type books are still blank. I'm not sure what to do with them. I seem to have inherited my grandmother's tendency to keep nice things "for good." That is, some things seem too nice to use for everyday purposes, so you put them aside to save them for something special (which doesn't ever seem to come about). I don't keep a journal other than a blog. I got a one-year diary when I was in second grade and I still haven't finished it. I do all my brainstorming type writing in spiral notebooks that I get at 10 for a dollar. It just seems like a really nice, leather-bound journal should be used for something deep and profound, like writing poetry (which I also don't do). I really can't imagine writing my grocery lists in a notebook with hand-made paper.

I got a nice quill and ink set as a thank-you gift for speaking at a library, so maybe I'll learn to use that, and then write in the hand-made book with that, if I ever get a deep thought. Maybe I should start keeping my "books I've read" list in one of the nice bound books instead of in a spiral notebook. And I will institute a moratorium on buying new notebooks.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Love is on the Screen

I managed to get up a bit earlier today, and yet I'm somehow not at all ahead of schedule. I think I'm moving more slowly, or something, though I have done two loads of laundry, which could have something to do with it. I still could go right back to sleep, and I suspect it will take a force of sheer willpower to get me to choir practice tonight. I did finally get to actually writing yesterday. Even though this is technically a rewrite, the first scene was going to be entirely new, so it was like starting a new book, and that's a pretty scary part of the process, coming up with that very first line, that very first scene. But I wrote the first scene, and I know it needs some tinkering, but it's written. Yay!

It's time for another rant about romantic comedy films. Yeah, I go on about this a lot, but that genre is kind of my guilty pleasure. I certainly do love movies with spaceships, swordfights and explosions, but there are times when nothing will do but a good romantic comedy. Sadly, finding the "good" is something of a challenge.

Normally, Turner Classic Movies is a good source for good old movies, but I actually found one I couldn't manage to watch, for various reasons. I stumbled across Theodora Goes Wild about ten minutes in, and then only made it through about half an hour. The idea was kind of intriguing, but it was painful to watch. A nice, small-town girl who played the organ at church and lived with her elderly aunts somehow wrote a steamy novel that became a huge bestseller (there was a scene with a scandalous uncle, so I'm guessing she either wrote down his stories as her novel, or she published his diaries as her novel). I came into the movie as she was visiting her publisher in New York and was rather disconcerted when the publisher insisted on introducing her to his wife, who was a big fan, and the illustrator who'd done the cover art was really intrigued by her because she didn't fit his idea of what the author of that book would be like. She'd written under a pseudonym and was trying to keep her real identity a secret. He then more or less started stalking her to figure out who she really was, and that was when I had to turn the TV off. I find the "courting by disrupting someone's life" plot to be creepy, and I didn't think him showing up in her hometown and standing in front of her house, whistling loudly, was a grand romantic gesture. On top of that, he pretended to be down on his luck and in need of a job (it was a Depression-era movie) and she couldn't reveal who he really was and how she knew him without revealing to her aunts that she'd written a steamy novel, so the aunts hired him as a gardener and let him stay in their garden shed. Then he started whistling loudly and constantly, even late at night, which kept the aunts awake. I thought that was too rude to tolerate in the supposed romantic hero. Plus, the sound of it was driving me insane. I'm not sure why they thought making the audience's ears bleed was a great idea.

Then there was P.S. I Love You, and my goodness, but that was horrendously awful. I first tried to watch it on HBO OnDemand but barely made it through the pre-credits sequence that I think was supposed to show us what a wonderful relationship this couple had, but it was pretty dysfunctional. I suppose it's a personal hot button of mine, but I hate relationship loyalty tests, where someone makes it as difficult as possible to put up with them, and then when you can't take anymore, they go into "I knew you didn't really like me" victim mode. The whole opening scene was this woman being a raging bitch to her husband, then when he got angry about it, she challenged him to go ahead and leave her, and then when he stepped out the door, she cried and was overjoyed when he came running back and he swore he'd never leave her. So I was predisposed to hate the main character and sort of thought the poor guy may have been lucky to die young. However, the cast was pretty interesting, with Harry Connick Jr., Jeffrey Dean Morgan, James Marsters and Gerard Butler, so I thought I'd give it a try again. I've tried various times when it's been on any of the various HBO channels opposite something else I was watching, and I've flipped over during commercials. I still haven't managed to watch that movie long enough to get through a whole commercial break. I even flipped back to Snuggies commercials. Just about every scene is utterly painful. Hillary Swank may have a couple of Oscars, but she has zero comedic timing. They committed the unforgivable sin of making both Gerard Butler and Harry Connick Jr. unappealing. It was fun getting to see James Marsters with dark hair, American accent and being the nice guy best friend. The only scenes I could get through were the ones with the friends -- Lisa Kudrow, James Marsters and a blond chick I think was supposed to be Hillary Swank's character's sister. That was a fun bunch of characters, and I kind of wanted them to make a break for it and escape to a better movie. I haven't read the book the movie was based on, so I don't know if the problems stem from the book or the movie, but I must admit I wasn't crazy about the other book I've read by that author, and I could see patterns from that book in this movie. I suspect I have a very different view of the world than this author does.

Then I had a pleasant surprise. I was intrigued by the idea of Til There Was You when it first came out because I'm a sucker for "people fated for each other don't quite manage to meet until the right time" stories (although I'm not a big fan of Sleepless in Seattle), but then the trailers that consisted mostly of Jeanne Tripplehorn falling down a lot and the really bad reviews turned me off. I finally caught it on HBO and it wasn't at all what I expected. The mistake was that they were trying to pitch this as a romantic comedy when it was neither all that romantic nor all that funny. It's really more about people having to get their acts together before they're ready to have a decent relationship. In a way, it's the anti-romantic comedy because it was mostly about the woman needing to get over her romantic comedy ideals about relationships before she could quit waiting for prince charming to show up and really live her life. On that level, it really worked, and I enjoyed the movie. It just would have worked better if they hadn't bothered trying to force it into the comedy mold by throwing in all the pratfalls. The falls seemed to be mostly to keep the main characters from seeing each other until the happy ending, but they were unnecessary because one of the things that I liked about it was that it wouldn't have ended the movie if they'd met earlier because the whole point was that their previous moments of passing by each other didn't mean anything until they were at a point of being ready to meet. My other complaint was that the movie was apparently sponsored by the tobacco industry. There was more smoking than in your average 1940s movie. The fact that the hero and heroine both smoked seemed to be presented as a clue that they were perfect for each other, even before they met, and they were always complaining about how nobody else smoked anymore, yet almost every time they asked someone if they minded about them smoking, the other person turned out to be a secret smoker. I was hacking, wheezing and getting itchy, red eyes just watching it.

January and February seem to have become the big release period for romantic comedies, either because most of them suck and this is the dumping ground for bad movies or because they're going for the Valentine's Day date/single women hitting the theaters because they have no Valentine's date crowd. There are actually a few coming out that I'm interested in, so I may make a rare trip to a movie theater in the coming weeks and shall report to spare others the pain and misery or to tell which ones are safe.

And, memo to movie producers: people falling down a lot isn't as funny as you think it is. You need to have more than people falling down a lot for a film to be considered a comedy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Winter Bear Brain

Well, what do you know, there is a Facebook for Dummies. I suppose I'll have to check that out, but it's very low on the priority list, as at the moment I have nothing much to promote, other than, I suppose, to nag that people who've bought the first book really need to get all the rest.

After an afternoon of back-and-forth brainstorming with my agent, I believe we've found a title for submitting The New Project. Which will likely be changed by the publisher when/if it sells, but even a published author at least needs a working title to submit a proposal. It's funny, but we started off with all these complicated titles and ended up with two words, one of them "the." Short titles are good, unless you're going for a particular effect with a longer title, because they can be printed larger on the cover and are easier to remember. If the book comes out and after everyone's read it, I'll have to share my dad's title suggestion, which was hilarious.

I have all these grand productivity ambitions, but it's hibernation time for me, which means that it takes me at least an hour to make myself get out of bed in the morning, which then gives me a late start. That is valuable thinking time, but I need to be doing more work. I haven't been feeling all that great, and that doesn't help matters. For the most part, it's just January, and I'm part bear, I think (hmm, has that come up in any of the were-whatever books, where because of the animal influence, the person tends to want to sleep a lot in winter? I suppose that wouldn't make for a very exciting book if that person were the hero, but it could be highly entertaining in a sidekick who drives the hero crazy. Or it could be a villain's weakness. Would dragons hibernate?).

I'm sure I could think of plenty of clever and witty things to say, but I need to write today, so I'm going to go do that.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Social Networking Failure

I think I'm going to start the actual writing part of revising the NaNo book. I've worked out the first few scenes, and I suspect that there's no point in planning too intently what happens later on until I've got the feel of those first few scenes. It's almost going to be a complete, from scratch rewrite, though there are a few scenes I think I'll be able to salvage. Meanwhile, I'm still straining my brain to come up with a good title for The New Project (which may need a new code name). This is less of a quirky comedy, so the pun-type titles I've been doing won't work, but it's also not deadly serious. It essentially has a lot of the hallmarks of a classic epic fantasy, but in a different setting and a lot of twists. So, I need a title that gives some of the flavor of the epic fantasy, but with a clear signal that it's also different. And this is when yet another neighbor is doing some kind of work involving very loud power tools that operate exactly in the frequency range that seems to make my bones reverberate. I'm starting to have vivid fantasies of remodeling my house extensively and connecting the power tools to amplifiers.

I suppose eventually I will have to tackle the backlog in my inbox, which seems to be mostly Facebook notifications. I have a shameful confession here: I seem to be utterly clueless about social networking.

I get blogging. I started on LiveJournal, because that's where so many of my friends already were. Then I had to get a Blogger account to be part of a group blog I used to participate in, so I thought I might as well copy and paste the same blog there (I've been informed that it's the site that isn't blocked as often by corporate filtering protocols). And then I heard about this newfangled MySpace thing, and every author had to be there, so I got an account there and started posting my blog there. I resisted Facebook until I met some people professionally who use that as their primary personal communication. So, I set up a profile and arranged for it to get my LiveJournal blog feed.

Perhaps because I started there, I get LJ. It makes sense to me. You post and people respond, and the responses go in threads, so it reminds me of Usenet (ah, I used to LOVE Usenet). The friending doesn't have to be mutual, so I can friend the people I want to follow, and people can follow me without me having to follow them, which is nice when you're kind of a moderately public figure and the idea is to have a lot of people following you. I almost never make a friends-only post, so you're not missing much if I haven't friended you back, and the only friends-only posts go to an even tighter filter for people I actually know on some kind of personal basis. I can use LJ for promo type stuff to stay in touch with readers, but also for keeping up with my actual friends.

Blogger I guess I understand, but I don't respond to a lot of comments there because I don't get many and because they don't thread, which I find annoying and frustrating. I'm sure I'm not using the full extent of MySpace. As many friends requests as I get, and with it being mutual friending, it's pretty much useless for really keeping up with people. There are a few people who use the messaging there to stay in touch, and I guess that kind of works, but it's more of a pain than just using e-mail. Blog commenting is a real pain, probably because they make money off of page hits, so they make you go through as many pages as possible. I have it set up to require approval on all comments, since I was starting to get a lot of icky spam, so I'll get an e-mail telling me I have a comment to approve, then I have to go to the site to approve the comment, but I can't reply right then and there. That requires going to the blog page, and then that brings up another page or two. So I have to really, really want to say something to reply to a MySpace blog comment.

Facebook utterly terrifies me. There are so many little applications, and I can never tell what they actually do. It seems like the only way to find out what they do is to accept them, which bugs me. So I only seem to go there when I get a message from someone I know that I have to reply to or when my in-box gets full of notifications I need to deal with. I haven't really publicized myself there, so while I do seem to be getting some reader friend requests, my friends there are mostly the sf writers clique, friends from the regional con circuit, local friends, people I knew in high school and my best friend from fourth grade. I think there's a way to group friends into clusters, but I haven't found any documentation about that. Is there some kind of Facebook for Dummies resource that explains the stuff you can do there? I understand that there's some kind of status update feature, since I've seen the parodies of popular books or TV series presented Facebook style, but who has the time to update what you're doing at every given moment? Most of the time, I can't even remember to add a mood to an LJ post.

At any rate, I am not ignoring you, personally. I'm pretty much ignoring everybody. I also have a policy of only commenting when I have something to say, and I'm trying to spend less time online and more time writing, which means that figuring all this stuff out and what to do with it is very low on my priority list at the moment. Now I have to return to my title brainstorming. And couldn't you know, just when the metal cutting stops, the city landscaping crews go to work on the corner behind my house with weed whackers and leaf blowers.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Eileen Cook

I did get the Ballet Nazi last night, and we've got him for one more week. Ouch. It didn't help that I barely moved off the sofa throughout the holidays, so now I've realized that I am woefully out of shape. I have semi-decent muscle tone, but no cardiovascular fitness. Time to start walking daily so I can get through a ballet class without gasping. Meanwhile, I seem to have established some cool cred with one of the ballet girls I was chatting with in the waiting area before class when I knew what she was talking about when she mentioned The Middleman. She was shocked that I knew what that was.

Now I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit author visiting (this must be a big time for book releases), and for this one, I almost felt like part of a clandestine operation, as all messages had to be relayed through intermediaries since my ISP apparently decided it didn't like her ISP and refused to accept her messages directly. But now I'm able to bring you, through a top-secret intermediary, Eileen Cook, author of the new novel What Would Emma Do?

There is no greater sin than kissing you best friend’s boyfriend. So when Emma breaks that golden rule, she knows she’s messed up big-time. Especially since she lives in the smallest town ever, where everyone knows everything about everyone else….and especially because she maybe kinda wants to do it again. Now her best friend isn’t speaking to her, her best guy friend is making things totally weird, and Emma is running full speed toward certain social disaster. This is so not the way senior year was supposed to go. Time to pray for a minor miracle. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Emma to stop trying to please everyone around her, and figure out what she wants for herself.

And now, the interview:

Was there any particular inspiration for this book?
I had recently re-read the Crucible. In the play a group of people begin blaming others of being witches and the situation burns out of control. It got me thinking about what would be the worst thing you could accuse someone of today and how easy it is for the mob mentality to take over. Those thoughts were the beginning of the story that would grow into What Would Emma Do.

What, if anything, do you have in common with the heroine of this book?
Both Emma and I share a strong sense of curiosity. Neither of us are content to accept someone's opinion of something we want to find out for ourselves.

Are there any "girl laws" you think should be enforced (aside, maybe, from not kissing your best friend's boyfriend)?
My friends and I enforced a no left-overs policy. If one of us dated someone then even once the relationship was over no one else could date that guy either. It served us well.

(You know, I think that's a benefit of having mostly male (and straight, at that) best friends. We never had to worry about this rule.)

Were you been tempted by a friend's boyfriend (I promise not to tell the friend!)?
I was never seriously tempted by a friend's boyfriend, but I did kiss one of my college roommates boyfriends. She and I didn't get along and she used to steal my laundry detergent all the time, but I still felt bad about it after it happened. I'm lousy at keeping secrets (thus my career aspiration as an international spy was thwarted before it ever began) so sneaking around on someone wouldn't work for me.

Do you have any unusual writing habits or rituals?
I love my office, but I write about half of the time there and the other half of the time wherever my laptop and I end up. When I’m stuck I tend to write better in public like a coffee shop or the library. If I am really stuck then I write by hand. I think I’ve convinced myself that if I’m touching the paper I must be closer to the story. I am aware that this is completely illogical- but it works for me so I go with it.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on another YA, which is currently called Black and White. (Stay tuned the title may change.) It is a story of revenge, classic movies, friendship, and love. I’m having a lot of fun coming up with all sorts of evil plots for the revenge part. Turns out I have a very evil side.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
I think every book is an adventure. I had a great time writing this book and hope people enjoy reading it!

For more info, visit Eileen's web site. Or you can buy the book at Amazon.

And now I actually want to get to work because new scenes for the revised version of the Nano book started flooding my brain last night. I think that's a good sign that the Idea So Big It Made My Head Hurt was just what I needed. And then I have a busy weekend ahead of me. It's hard to be a good recluse and agoraphobe when people keep scheduling events I want to go to that require leaving the house.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Cover Power

After thinking some more about the Idea So Huge It Gave Me a Headache, and after finally writing it out and then bouncing it off Mom (who agreed that it was probably the best way to take the story, once she was reassured that it wasn't who she was afraid it was), I think that's the way I'm going to go, so now I need to re-outline the whole book with that in mind. The headache is mostly gone, so now it's more of a ghost of a headache. Note to self: In the future, avoid frowning in intense concentration for long stretches of time. Now I'm okay as long as I stay warm. The moment I get cold again, I guess I tense up and the headache returns. But ballet starts up again tonight, and that will either cure me or kill me. It's warm in there, and the movement will be good, but it also requires concentration. I wonder if we'll get our regular teacher back or if we'll still have the Ballet Nazi whose role model is Dr. House.

I have a follow-up to yesterday's post, another question from the same reader that wasn't specifically about the writing process, so I'll tackle it now.

How much influence does the author have over the cover, text on the cover, etc.?

The short answer is, it depends on the author, the editor, the publisher and sometimes even the book itself, and that applies to the cover, the cover copy (that text that tells you what the book is about), anything else on the cover and even the title. The only things my contract says I have absolute approval on are the photo of me (which I had taken and then sent to the publisher) and my bio.

An author who has more power -- one where the publisher needs the author more than the author needs a publisher, since every publisher in town would love to get that author's books -- is going to have more control over things like cover, title, and all that. If Stephen King doesn't like a cover concept, they're probably going to say, "Yes, sir, Mr. King!" and adjust it right away. On the other hand, an author in my position, where I need the publisher more than they need me, has very little control.

At my very first publisher, I got zero input. The first time I saw the cover and anything written on the cover was when I got my author's copies of the books. At my next publisher, they had a multi-page cover input questionnaire, with questions about physical descriptions of the main characters (hair color, hair style, eye color, skin tone, facial features, body type, etc.), tone of the book, setting, any key scenes that would be good to depict on the cover, and so forth. And then they promptly ignored it all and did whatever they wanted to do. The first time I saw anything that went on the cover was when I got the printed cover flats -- the actual cover that would be wrapped around the book, but still flat. By then, the covers had already been printed, so it was too late to do anything about it if I hated the cover. With one book, the cover copy misspelled the name of my main character, and it was easier to change it in the book than on the cover, so it got changed in the book. With my latest publisher, when I sold the first book in the series, my editor and I had a long chat about how we imagined the cover looking, and she asked me to send her links to pictures of book covers I liked. I was the one who suggested the white background, and we agreed that we wanted something fun and cartoony. They e-mailed me the artwork long before it was set in stone. I loved what they did, so I don't know what would have happened if I'd hated it. I did ask for a minor tweak on the second book (the fairy's feet were way too huge -- they still are, but you should have seen the first draft), and then on the third book my big fuss was that originally the title was in a pale teal color that I thought looked totally washed out, so they sent me several other options and I picked the purple. On the foreign editions, I pretty much have zero input (but I'd love to meet the Japanese cover artist because there's so much detail from the books on the covers that I get the feeling the artist has read the entire book).

With my latest publisher, I've had a bit more say on the cover copy. I pretty much wrote the cover copy on the first book when the first draft they sent me didn't work at all (but my "real job" career was in marketing communications, so they knew I knew what I was doing). I think I made only minor changes on the next two books, and then on the last, I edited what they sent me, then my editor edited what I sent back to her, and then I edited that, and then we finally had something we all liked. They treated that as a collaborative process. I came up with the "Hex and the City" tagline on the cover of the first book, the publisher came up with the "Fall in love, just for the spell of it" one on the third (which I argued about because I thought it misrepresented the book, and I lost), and then I edited the one on the fourth to make it more alliterative and to fit the book.

With titles, I never really was crazy about the title Enchanted, Inc. My working title was Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc., which I admit wasn't brilliant, and I expected the publisher to change it, but I didn't like what they changed it to, and I sent pages of other suggestions, but they were pretty much set on that. I thought that at least the Magic, Spells, and Illusions, Inc. title sounded like a company name, even when you said it out loud, and it also fit the comedy rule of threes, where you set up an expectation, then twist it, so we have three things that sound magical, then throw in something associated with business. Meanwhile, their title sounded like you were talking about magical writing fluid (enchanted ink), and I found myself constantly having to explain it when talking about the book. Besides, it wouldn't be "Enchanted Inc." as a company name, it would be "Enchantments, Inc." And there's nothing about either an Enchanted or Enchantments Inc. anywhere in the book. I still don't know who was really "right" about that (though it does seem like the most criticism I've seen in reader reviews about that book tends to hinge on the fact that there's no Enchanted, Inc. in the book so the title is wrong). But it was my first book with that publisher and I didn't think it was the time or the place for an all-out diva hissy fit. The publisher came up with the title for the second book when we found out that another book with the same title I'd been using was coming out right before my book, and the new title has grown on me. The last two titles were my ideas, and the publisher loved them. So that's also a collaborative process, with the publisher getting the deciding vote.

But I'm sure this process varies widely by publisher, and even the previous publishers I worked with may be doing things differently now. It also does depend on where the author is in the pecking order, how much of a control freak the editor is, whether the author can intimidate the editor or even how powerful the author's agent is (a powerful agent who's well-connected with the higher-ups at a publisher and who also represents that publisher's star authors can sometimes pull strings for a less powerful author).

But you know who the real power people for book covers are? The major chain or Wal-Mart buyers. If the buyer for Barnes & Noble likes the book but says the cover won't sell, that cover will be changed in a heartbeat. If Wal-Mart is considering carrying a book but says they won't put that cover on their shelves, that cover will change. The sales force within the publisher also has a lot of say. I had a friend whose cover got vetoed by the sales force when they said they wouldn't be able to sell that cover, based on results they were getting at the time with similar covers. It's possible that even a big-name, bestselling author wouldn't be able to trump the say of the store buyers, or possibly even the sales force (and it would be pretty stupid of an author to try to do so, since it would be a purely ego-driven move).

Yet again, I'm sure that's more than you want to know.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

From Manuscript to Book

I have what can only be described as an idea hangover. Yesterday I was being a diligent little writer-type person, working on revisions on the NaNo book, and I realized there was a major problem with the book: it's too linear and obvious, with no big surprises. Our Heroes figure out what's going on early in the book, they know who the bad guy is and what he's up to, and then the book is mostly them trying to play cat-and-mouse games while staying one step ahead of the villain. That can work in some stories. For instance, there's never even the slightest doubt that Darth Vader is the bad guy, and that works. But I think this is a story that needs twists and surprises, and I may have been mainlining too much NCIS, thanks to my parents hooking me, where the first, most obvious suspect is never the bad guy. Even if he was overheard saying something that made it sound like he was talking about killing, was found covered in blood near where the body was found and had a motive to kill that person, if he's the first one Our Heroes focus on, he's not really the killer. So I realized that I had a first, most obvious suspect who shouldn't be the real bad guy. But who should be the real bad guy? So I went through my list of supporting characters and possible new supporting characters, and one came through clearly with motive, means and opportunity. And I hated the idea because it changes everything, but I also loved it because it will have a lot of impact, but just thinking about it made my head spin. I wasn't even willing to commit the idea to paper to re-outline the book. I spent the rest of the day staring into space, trying out how this would work with all the major turning points in the book, just getting used to the idea. And then I think I dreamed about it (though I can't remember it) and I woke up with a splitting headache.

But now it's time for the first "official" writing post of the new year. This is also available by e-mail by subscribing to the Write With Shanna Yahoo group, and I do one of these posts every other Wednesday.

Today, I'm addressing a question from a reader, who wonders what happens with the book after the author finishes it.

I'm going to assume that the book in question has already been sold because that's a totally separate process. So now the author is turning the book in to the editor. The process will vary by publisher, by editor and sometimes even by book and by author, depending on a lot of factors, including how much time is available. I'm going to go through each of these steps, but in reality, they may be combined or skipped.

One of the first things to happen is that you'll get editor feedback, often in the form of a revision letter (or e-mail). These are big-picture suggestions, the kind of comments where there's no one particular place to write them on the manuscript because they involve the story as a whole. A lot of these may be "more" or "less" suggestions -- more action, more humor, more romance, less introspection, less angst, whatever. The editor may mention a character who's really great and should be used more. These notes may also address tone and pacing.

Then, after the author has fixed these things to the editor's satisfaction, the editor will do a line edit. This is where the editor fine tunes the story. If she finds a grammar or spelling error, she'll correct it, but this edit is really more about the story itself. This is where the editor may cut entire scenes or paragraphs, rearrange things, suggest different wording, cut out excess adverbs and adjectives, clarify dialogue, etc. It's a lot like the kind of editing the author does after the first draft, but it's a fresh pair of eyes looking at it with a different perspective, since the editor does this for a lot of books by a variety of authors and is more objective. Sometimes the revision notes and the line edits may be combined, with the revision notes being sent as the cover letter with the line edits, as something to think about while making all those other changes. The author enters all the editors' suggested changes (or her own take on the changes -- often I can see what the problem is but disagree on how to fix it, so I find my own way to fix it) and sends the editor a clean copy of the manuscript (these days, that usually involves e-mailing an electronic copy). I've heard that some publishers are going to doing line edits electronically in track changes mode, but so far, I've received a big, marked-up stack of paper.

If the editor is satisfied with these changes, then the manuscript goes to a copy editor. The copy editor is usually a freelancer who doesn't work directly for any one publishing company, and she's essentially a professional nitpicker. The copy editor checks for grammar, spelling and punctuation, as well as word usage. If you're particularly fond of a word and use it a lot without really thinking about it, the copy editor will point that out. The copy editor also makes sure that when you've used proper names of real people and places, you've spelled them properly. And the copy editor (if you've got a good one) will notice continuity errors or even things that look like continuity errors ("You mentioned on page x that she was wearing a hat when she entered. Is she still wearing a hat here? If not, when did she take it off and what did she do with it?"). Even if you turned in an absolutely perfect manuscript, getting the copy edits can be a little intimidating because the manuscript will be covered in red pencil marks. That's because the copy editor also modifies the manuscript for house style. If there are multiple correct ways of doing something, the house style is the way that publisher has chosen to do it. That's things like whether or not to put a comma before the "and" in a list of things, whether to spell out numbers or leave them in numerals, etc. The house style also designates a particular dictionary that dictates spelling, so the first version of a word with multiple spellings as listed in that dictionary is the "correct" way to spell the word. The copy editor also inserts typesetting codes, that are kind of like HTML, for things like chapter headings, the way the first paragraph in a chapter starts, bold, italics, long dashes and so forth.

The author is supposed to go through the copy-edited manuscript, reviewing all the suggested changes. If you think a change is wrong and will change the meaning, you can "stet" it, meaning that it should be the way it was originally written. You're supposed to address all the copy editor's questions or queries, and this is your last chance to make your own major changes. Any changes are to be written on this copy of the manuscript, in a different color pencil from what the copy editor used. If the changes are extensive, you type them onto a clean page as an insert, label the place where the insert goes, and then stick the insert into the manuscript. Then the whole mess goes back to the editor. I think at least one publisher is starting to do this step electronically, as well. I like to put all the changes made in the copy editing process into an electronic copy of the manuscript, using the track changes function, so I'll have a copy that matches what the publisher is working with. Depending on how extensive the line edits are and the time that's available, the editor may send the copy editor the line-edited manuscript, so the author then sees changes from the editor and the copy editor all at once.

Then the manuscript is typeset, with all the copy edit changes inserted. At this point, it starts to look like the way the inside of the finished book will look. The author gets sent a set of galley pages, which are the typeset version printed on regular paper (though at least one publisher does this as a computer print-out that just includes the typesetting codes). This is the last chance to look at the book before it gets printed. The most important thing here is to make sure nothing got screwed up while the copy edits were being entered -- things like accidentally deleting a paragraph instead of a line when inserting something, or the typesetter misreading the correction. That's another reason I enter copy edits into my own copy. I can then sit down with the galleys and check them against the copy-edited manuscript. The author isn't supposed to do any real rewriting at this point, just fixing any outright errors. Some contracts even say that you'll get charged for excessive changes that aren't correcting publisher errors at this point. If you get an advance copy of a book, like a review copy or bound galley, you're getting the same content the author gets to review, so it's not necessarily the finished book. At times, I've found entire paragraphs missing. So bid for it on e-Bay if you want a collector's item or a sneak peek (though it's not really legal or ethical to sell advance copies like that), but know that you're not getting the finished book. Then those changes are entered, along with anything noticed by the proofreader, and the book goes to the printer.

How long the process takes depends on how much time is available. I usually get a bit more time because I tend to turn my books in early, which I understand isn't exactly common (on my last visit to my publisher, my editor invited other editors to come meet the author who turned books in early, like I was an oddity in a carnival sideshow). It's usually nine months to a year (or more, if they change the publication date on me, like with my last book) between the time I turn a book in and the release date. For hugely bestselling authors, the process may be severely truncated, not so much because those authors become divas who have the clout to demand that not so much as a word of their precious prose be touched (though that does sometimes happen). It's more a case of time being money. Those books are usually bought with huge, multi-million dollar advances, and the publisher doesn't get a return on that massive investment until the book goes on sale, so they're not too keen on delaying the sale. With authors who have huge followings, the publishers know that fine tuning the book won't increase sales enough to justify delaying the release. The big, bestselling author type books are often turned in rather late, as well, which makes the publisher even more frantic to get the book out there. In fact, one of the reasons for the publishing woes in the fall was that several big bestselling authors who had books scheduled for release in the fall hadn't turned their books in, which meant that cash flow projections that had been based on income from those books fell short. Theoretically, that's a breach of contract, but no publisher is going to tell its cash cow author to take that book somewhere else because it's late. But you know when those books do get turned in, they're probably not going to spend a year revising, editing and copy editing them.

So, there you go. More than you probably wanted to know about what happens after an author finishes a book. Any other writing-related questions?