Friday, February 27, 2009

Night of the Living Story Ideas

You know how I described the idea center in my brain as like those hoppers they use to pick lottery numbers, with the little balls all being blown and bouncing around until one pops out? Well, that's what was going on in my brain last night, those little balls flying around, popping out and bumping into each other. I haven't been sleeping well all week, and a lot of it is that my brain wouldn't shut up, but last night, it seemed like every idea or idea fragment I've had in the last couple of years suddenly popped up and demanded attention. I had scenes from stories I'd only roughly outlined playing out, complete with character voices. I had one case of two idea fragments colliding violently to create one story that I think now makes a lot more sense and really works. But it was like mental whiplash, going from genre to genre, all with totally different settings and totally different character voices. I went from a steampunky mystery to a time travel to modern day high school to high fantasy, and in between I think I even "wrote" an episode or two of various TV series (I believe I fixed House back into a show I actually like). It was like channel surfing in my head.

As a result, I woke up utterly exhausted. It didn't help matters that I'm currently reading a book about someone who gets locked away in a "home" because she's seeing things that aren't there -- only to find that she's actually seeing things that are there but that others can't see. So it was a little unnerving to have all these vivid voices in my head (maybe I shouldn't be discussing this so publicly ...). I had hoped that because of post-ballet exhaustion, last night would be the night when I finally got to sleep, but it was even worse (though I got a lot of work done).

I'm thinking about going to a movie this afternoon to try to clear my mind. The thing about seeing movies at the theater is that it's forced unitasking (well, unless you're a text-messaging-addicted teenager, apparently, which is why I generally go to afternoon matinees on school days). I can't do anything but sit there in the dark and watch the movie, which is one of the reasons I don't go to many movies. If I'm watching something at home, I'll do crossword puzzles, read or brainstorm a book while I watch. I almost feel like I'm wasting time by going to a movie theater, but it does work for calming the brain down. But I'm also tired enough that I might fall asleep during a movie. On the other hand, there's an errand I need to run that I could take care of at the Wal Mart next to the movie theater, and I wouldn't have to get in the car. Or I could skip the movie and make a quick trip to Target and then take a nap. Decisions, decisions.

On the up side, I have enough ideas to last me for years. Now, if only I can sell them.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Even More Convention Advice

First, a couple of additions to yesterday's "how to be a good con guest" post:

Rule #9: Don't introduce yourself or start off talking on a panel by saying that you don't know why you're on that panel.
If you don't know why you're on a panel, the time to ask is as soon as you get your schedule from the convention (usually at least a couple of weeks in advance), and the person to ask is the person who's in charge of programming. You never know, there could be a method to their madness. They may want you to give the outsider viewpoint, be the voice of dissent or provide a different perspective. Someone else on the panel may have listed you among the people they want to be on panels with, and this is the only panel where your schedules line up, or this could be the only place they could put you on a panel with someone you said you wanted to be with. If you don't want to be on a panel you've been assigned, if you're uncomfortable with the subject matter or just think you don't know enough to be a decent panelist, it's okay to turn down the panel. But do this as soon as you get your schedule so the convention has time to find someone else to take your place and maybe even find something else for you to do. It's better for everyone that you don't do a panel you have no interest in because it keeps you from looking uninformed and it means the audience will get an interesting panel made up of knowledgeable speakers. That face time will not significantly make or break you, and doing a panel you aren't really suited for may do more harm than good. Besides, if you have no interest in that subject, there's a good chance that the target audience for what you write will have little interest in that subject and won't even be at that panel. If you still decide to do the panel, then for goodness sake, don't say you don't know why you're on the panel. You can be a good listener, you can smile and nod and you can even ask the other panelists questions. The moment you say you don't know why you're on a panel, you totally destroy your credibility. Why should the audience even listen to you?

To prove that I practice what I preach, I turned down a panel at Worldcon, where panel slots can be hard to come by, because I knew I'd have nothing to contribute to that panel. When it comes to programming, quality is far more important than quantity. It's better to be on one really good panel where you have something to contribute and can sound witty and intelligent than to be on a bunch of panels where you don't really have anything to say.

Corollary to Rule #9: Don't do the "I don't know why I'm on this panel" thing as a form of false modesty or a joke -- as if you're really saying there should be no doubt why you're on the panel because obviously everyone knows you're the expert on the subject. If the audience knows who you are well enough to understand why you do, in fact, belong on the panel, the joke is unnecessary, and if they don't, then it falls flat and they wonder why you didn't just tell the programming people you didn't belong on the panel. Or you look insecure, like you're fishing for compliments (as though the rest of the panelists are supposed to hurry to tell you that of course they couldn't have this panel without you). About the only time when pretending you don't know why you're on a panel might be funny would be if the panel was specifically about your work or about something you're widely known to be involved in (like if it's a panel about a TV series you write for or were otherwise involved with).

This next is probably not so much a rule as it is a tip. Because they have not yet invented the Auto-Con 9000 robot to run conventions, they are still run by human beings who are fallible. It's a good idea to check the schedule sent to you against the schedule in the program posted at the con's web site to make sure they match, and then let the con know if something doesn't match. That will decrease your chances of entirely missing a panel you were supposed to be on that wasn't on your schedule or of feeling silly when you show up for a panel your schedule says you're on that doesn't list you in the program.

Other tips:
Take time to fill out the programming questionnaire thoroughly, and let the con staff know about any scheduling limitations you have as soon as you're aware of them.

If you're in a group reading, try to treat it like a panel and arrive before it starts and stay to the end rather than coming or going while someone else is reading.

Once you get to be a bigger name, be aware that the size (and maybe enthusiasm) of your fanbase means that they may be infringing on others. You aren't necessarily responsible for the behavior of your fans, but if you notice that their efforts to follow you are being detrimental to other guests, it's nice to say something about it to encourage them to behave otherwise. That includes coming and going during readings, behavior during readings when you aren't the one reading, blocking access to other authors during autograph sessions and mobbing the table after a panel discussion so the next panel can't get started on time.

Finally, be aware that if I notice bad author behavior, there's a good chance I'll have more material to post ...

And now I must get groceries before getting down to work.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How to Be a Good Con Guest

This is something of a follow-up to my "promoting yourself without being a jerk" post from last week, but getting a little more specific about conventions. If you write science fiction, fantasy, anything paranormal or even mystery, attending conventions is a fun way to promote yourself. By definition, people who go to conventions to talk about things they're into are people who talk about things they're into, which means they're the best people for spreading word of mouth. They're in contact with other fans, whether in the real world or online, and they're often "early adopters" who like to be among the first to discover something, so if they discover something great, they'll want to make sure everyone knows what they've discovered. Conventions give you a chance to discuss your work in formal settings like panels and readings and in informal settings like the con suite and parties. People who like you may be inclined to pick up your books, but there are also pitfalls if you don't handle yourself the right way at a convention, and negatives spread far more quickly than positives on the fandom grapevine.

So, here's a quick guide, purely from my own perspective, of how you can be the kind of convention guest who doesn't annoy people. This isn't the final word, just one opinion. And while I usually will say this isn't directed at anyone who might be reading this because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, I suspect that the people who most need to hear it don't think it applies to them, so let's just say that if you're absolutely sure this doesn't apply to you, that probably means it does (the ones it doesn't apply to are probably stressing over whether they might have ever done one of these things, even if they haven't -- and it's that kind of thinking that makes them good guests).

1) Don't be a panel hog.
I think this is rule number one and needs to be embroidered on throw pillows. Panels are like show business -- leave 'em wanting more. If the audience is intrigued by the things you said in a panel but wish you had said more, they will find you later in the lobby, bar, con suite or at a party to talk to you some more about the topic. If you hog the panel and go on and on and on, particularly if you keep the person the audience most wanted to hear from getting a word in edgewise, they'll be sick of you. Yeah, you'll have made them remember who you are, but probably not in a good way that will result in book sales. In general, each panelist should get approximately the same amount of time, but not all panelists are created equal. The more prominent panelists who are the ones the audience most likely is there to hear (bestsellers, award winners, the guest of honor, etc.) should probably get more of a chance to talk (that doesn't mean that if they're not chatty they should be forced to speak, but it does mean that the other panelists should allow them to get a word in edgewise and shouldn't butt in when audience members ask that person a direct question).

Corollary One to this rule: It's always safest to assume that you are the least prominent/important person on the panel (unless maybe you're a multiple Hugo winner, national bestseller, a Grand Master or the convention's guest of honor). Just because you haven't heard of the person, it doesn't mean that he/she doesn't have a room full of fans ready to hang on his/her every word. Even if you are more prominent, it's far better to have the audience directing questions to you because they want to hear more from you than to have the audience rolling their eyes and wishing you'd get over yourself.

Corollary Two to this rule: If you think you're the most prominent person on the panel, you probably aren't. I don't think I've ever seen someone who deserved to hog a panel or who could get away with hogging a panel actually do so. The panel hogs are almost always first-time authors, people who've had a few e-books published or people who've sold a few short stories and who think that makes them special.

In reality, panel dynamics will vary. It's up to the moderator to make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, but there will be quiet people who have little to say and people who are on a panel about their absolute favorite thing who have more to say and who are capable of being interesting while doing so. Just don't interrupt other people, don't jump in on someone else's question or turn talking until they're done, no matter how important whatever you have to say may be, and stop talking when the moderator jumps in with something to the effect of "I'd like to hear what this other person has to say about this." That's the panel equivalent of the Oscar ceremony orchestra raising the volume and it means that it's time to shut up.

2) On a panel, introduce yourself as briefly as possible while still giving the audience enough context to know who you are and why they should care what you have to say.
This goes back to that Swedish belief that the person who has to brag probably isn't any good. The more you say about yourself in an introduction, the more it looks like you're a nobody who has to give a detailed introduction before anyone will know who you are. Larry Niven can get away with introducing himself on a panel as "I'm Larry," and most of us can't do that. But reciting your entire bio with every accolade you've ever received only makes you look like you're either very pleased with yourself or very insecure. Leave that in your bio in the program book, and if people are interested in it, they'll find it. I generally stick with saying what I'm most known for, my latest book and, if applicable, any particular reason that I might be on that panel.

3) You have to share space as well as time on panels or multi-author readings.
It's pretty common to put a couple of books or book covers on the table in front of you so that people can see what you write. Just remember that each person on the panel should get a similar amount of space. Clipping your book cover posters all over the table, building a fortress of books around you on the table or having a mile-high stack of books that partially obscures the person sitting next to you or keeps that person from being able to show a book even spine-out is greedy and selfish. I've heard different schools of thought as to whether or not it's bad to stand the books upright. On the one hand, there are those who say it creates a barrier and on the other there are those who say it's pointless to have the books out without showing the cover. I'd say just don't hide behind the books or infringe on other people's space. If people can't see your face, lay the books down, and limit it to your most recent or maybe the one you're most famous for instead of a copy of every single thing in print that has your name in it.

4) If you're doing a reading, prepare for it.
Very few cons do single-author readings these days, except for the big names, but your schedule sent to you as a guest may not tell you who you're sharing your reading with. Always check before the con on the posted schedule to see who else is in your reading slot. Subtract about five to ten minutes from the overall time in the slot, divide that time by the number of people who are reading, then prepare something to read that fits into that amount of time. Print it out, mark it or otherwise do something to make it easy for you to find right away. Don't get to the reading and then leaf through your book to find your selection or spend part of your reading time playing "I know it's in here somewhere" on your laptop or PDA. Don't take more than your share of time so that someone else gets cut off or cut out.

5) Talk to people.
This one is hard to put into a hard-and-fast rule because personalities and convention dynamics do vary, but you're not going to get a lot of promotional value out of your attendance at a convention if you hide in your hotel room the whole time when you're not on panels or only associate with your friends. The whole idea is to meet people. However, the more time you spend on the convention circuit, the blurrier the line between "hanging out with your friends" and "mingling with the fans" becomes. You may also find yourself in particular comfort (or even safety) situations where you need a buffer zone of trusted friends because someone of the opposite sex has mistaken your general guest author friendliness for romantic interest or because you've picked up a stalker who thinks you are the ticket to his future publishing success and who wants to tell you in excruciating detail about his 1,000 page fantasy epic so you can recommend it to your editor or agent. I probably cling more to my friends than I used to because I've made more friends among the regional con crowd and this is my chance to catch up with them and because I do quite often pick up the unwelcome romantic interest and having friends around allows me to be distantly friendly without landing in an uncomfortable one-on-one situation. Whether you're doing so alone or with a few trusted friends, try to spend at least some time at every con in the con suite or lobby and try to make the rounds of the room parties. It's fine to network with other authors or publishing professionals, and one of the perks of being an author guest is the chance to hang out with bigger names as a professional peer, but try not to get too cliquish or snooty about it, like you're too good to associate with the nobodies. You still need to be available to the fans. On the flip side, it is okay to take time out occasionally to recharge, so if you're a raging introvert and need an hour of alone time so you can be at your best for socializing at evening parties, you should probably give yourself that time.

6) Have something to hand out and put on the freebie table.
Even if someone is blown away by your wit and intelligence, they may have trouble remembering which person of interest you were in the blur of a convention. It's good to have something to leave with people you meet. The old stand-by of a bookmark listing your books works, as do fliers and postcards. If you want something fancier, you can do other giveaways like pens, keychains, coasters, etc. So far, I've just gone with bookmarks. I can leave them on the freebie table for people to pick up and I can hand them out like business cards if someone I'm talking to asks what I write.

7) Remember that your appearance is part of your "brand" as an author, whether or not you put any thought into it (so you may as well put some thought into it).
You don't have to go for the full-on professional attire at a convention, but you do need to be aware that your appearance will leave an impression on people. I think what's appropriate varies depending on the nature of the con, the people who are attending and the specific event. You might not want to wear your Klingon costume or your elaborate fairy outfit when you're on a panel -- especially if that panel includes an editor you'd like to have think of you as a professional -- but you'd probably score points with some of the fans if you participated in a masquerade or costume contest. Most authors don't wear costumes for panels or programming, unless the costumes are related to or part of the programming. There aren't really any fashion rules (beyond public decency laws) for conventions, so costume-like elements often make their way into non-costume attire, and some authors wear things at conventions that they might not wear in their ordinary lives. I think it's probably going to leave a better impression if you're not too obviously "HEY! LOOK AT ME!" when participating in programming -- the visual equivalent of avoiding being a panel hog. Meanwhile, you probably don't want to come to a panel looking like you spent all night in the gaming room (even if you did). Personal hygiene is your friend.

8) Stick to the schedule.
This should go without saying, but apparently it doesn't. If you have been scheduled for something at the convention, you need to be there. If something comes up that will keep you from being there, let the convention staff know as soon as possible. It's also probably a good idea to let your panel moderator know directly if you're not going to make a panel so the panel won't be sitting around waiting for you to show up before they start. Stick to your appointed time so you don't run over into anyone else's time. That includes autograph sessions, and that includes set-up and tear-down time if you do an elaborate display for an autographing. The next person on the schedule should be able to sit down and start signing at the very beginning of his/her signing time, which means your stuff needs to be cleared out by then. Failing to follow this rule is rude to not only the next author, but also to that author's fans, who may be waiting for the start of that autograph session. And, let's face it, unless you're the big-name guest of honor who has a long line, you're probably not going to stay busy the whole hour, and anyone who's going to come see you will likely have done so by the time you reach the 50-minute mark.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Jennifer Banash

It's Mardi Gras, so here's a handful of virtual beads (and no, you don't have to do anything to "earn" them. Please!), and maybe I ought to dig out my Dixieland CDs for the day. I was actually in New Orleans for Mardi Gras one year, but the week before Fat Tuesday, which I suppose means that I technically was there during the Carnival season, not Mardi Gras, since Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday." Anyway, there was a trade show that week, and my hotel was on Canal Street, so I saw one parade from the safety of the hotel doorway with the doorman nearby (those crowds were kind of crazy). It was one of the lesser krewes (I guess as you're more prominent, you get later parades), so the floats were really lame and the costumes consisted of robes and plain masks, but the marching bands were cool. The New Orleans high school bands must stay busy at this time of year. To be traditional, I should probably make pancakes for dinner, but since I'm still sniffly and have a slight cough I may make Bev Hale's cure-all chicken soup instead.

I have another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest today, but first I'll give you a little background on the circuit, since I know new people are showing up around here all the time. The Circuit started back in 2005 as a way for women authors to support each other. Very few authors get real book tours, and newspaper book review sections tend to focus more on male authors (whether intentionally or through a selection bias where men are more likely to write the kind of stuff that newspaper book editors tend to focus on). So, we could create a virtual "tour" for the authors in the group by hosting each other on our blogs and exposing more readers to our work. The group was successful enough that a couple of years ago we split into two groups, one primarily for adult books and one that's young-adult friendly (either YA books or books that might be suitable for younger readers). I went with the YA group because the adult group was tending more toward literary fiction or book club type books and I thought my books would be of more interest to the readership of the YA group, and the books promoted in the YA group would be of more interest to my readers. We can feature the books/authors however we want, as long as we tell something about the book. I generally do interviews. So, there you have it.

This week's guest is Jennifer Banish, author of In Too Deep, the latest book in The Elite, a series about a Midwestern girl who gets transplanted to Manhattan's Upper East Side -- think Pretty in Pink meets Gossip Girl.

The Bramford building’s newest resident and small-town transplant Casey McCloy is adapting to life in the Big Apple and loving it. She’s got the look, the attitude, and a delish new boyfriend, Drew Van Allen. But she’s starting to have second thoughts as to whether the “New York” Casey is the real Casey. And she’s not so sure she likes herself much anymore. She’s not the only one.

Madison Macallister has always had her Manolo Blahniks firmly planted on the top rung of the social ladder—until that corn-fed cow Casey stole Drew away from her and made her look the fool. So what if Madison wasn’t exactly dating Drew at the time? She wanted him. And everyone knows that Madison gets what she wants, like Drew—and a little revenge.

And now the interview:
Was there any particular inspiration behind this book?
Reality TV! I'm obsessed with it, and since the girls end up getting their own reality TV series in this book, I wanted to structure the plot as much like a reality series as possible.

What, if anything, do you have in common with your heroine?
I can be really shy and unsure of myself. I tend to second guess every move I make, and I worry way too much about things that probably don't really matter in the grad scheme of things.

You went to high school on the Upper East Side. How would you compare your real-life experiences with what happens in your books (or on Gossip Girl and stories like that)?
There were certainly kids that came to school in limos or who had drivers! But the kids I knew had real problems, despite the fact they were wealthy, and I wanted my books to reflect that idea, while also somehow still functioning as an escape for readers.

How does having ridiculous amounts of money or living in New York affect the usual things teenagers go through with friends, boyfriends, school, etc.?
It doesn't make then any easier to deal with, that's for sure. What money can buy you is time, and freedom--it can't help you get a guy to give you the time of day, and it certainly can't mend a broken heart.

Now that you live on the other coast, how do you stay current with that New York world for your books?
I read a lot of blogs, and I have friends in NY that I talk to regularly.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on a new YA series about a girl who's family moves from Malibu California to a huge dilapidated castle in Romania. I can't really tell you more than that though, because the series isn't sold yet.

(Oh, but doesn't that sound absolutely delicious? I love castles!)

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
If you like drama and scandal tempered by doses of reality, you will love IN TOO DEEP. The third volume in THE ELITE series, SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE, hits shelves in July!!

For more info, check out Jennifer's blog. You can also buy the book from Amazon

And now since I do have some direction and a strategy on what I should work on now, I will be huddling under a blanket with a spiral notebook to do some serious work on The Nagging Idea.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tales from the Con

I'm in post-convention recovery mode today, which means it's taken time to form coherent thoughts. I saw someone wearing a button that said something to the effect of "Parties are extreme sports for introverts," and that seems to sum things up for me, especially with it falling in my extreme introversion/borderline agoraphobia phase of the year. A convention becomes something of an X-Treme Enduro Iron Man Pentathlon event. It's fun while I'm doing it, but then it leaves me drained of all energy. It doesn't help that either there was a fast-acting Con Crud, I picked up something from someone last weekend or else it was yet another drastic weather change, because by the end of the weekend I was seeing the beginning signs of something that looked a lot like something several of my friends seemed to be recovering from. I kind of needed today to be a gray, rainy, crawl under the covers kind of day because sunny days make me feel like I should be doing something productive.

Still, in spite of feeling like I was run over by a truck now, I had a great weekend. The biggest giggle fit was triggered by Brad Sinor, and it was not in a panel I was on. It kind of had to do with a chick in chain mail, a dragon and a cat, and you had to be there, but just thinking about it makes me grin even now. Sunday I just had a bad case of the gigglies in general because everything set me off. I spent a good part of the panel I was on that day shaking helplessly in laughter for no specific reason I can think of (okay, I was sitting next to Selina Rosen, and if you've been to cons in this area, that probably explains a lot for you).

The local Steampunk group had an afternoon tea on Saturday, which was rather delightful. There's something about the idea and look of Steampunk that appeals to me (probably my fondness for Victoriana), but I'm not sure about actually getting into it beyond reading and maybe writing because doing the costuming and all that looks suspiciously like it might involve work and effort. And probably leaving the house. I do like the hats, though.

Otherwise, there was much hanging out with friends and talking books, TV, movies, generational theories, publishing business, etc. I think the dealers sold a few of my books or else I had a number of fans there because I didn't get bored during my signing (and that wasn't just because I got a few giggle fits and was very sidetracked a few times). I had some of my writing processes validated by Jim Butcher on a panel. Shannon Butcher and I realized we had the same watch, except I had the black watch face and she had the white, which is kind of the reverse of what you'd expect given what we write.

There was one really thought-provoking question asked by an audience member during the Sunday panel on "mythological plotholes," and it's got me still thinking. Fantasy is the genre where the legends are real -- where the magic works, the dragons, beasts and monsters really exist, where the heroes aren't just the figments of someone's imagination. But is there room in fantasy for myths and folklore that aren't literal or true, that are just stories? I've been running that through my mental processor, and I can't think of too many cases where there's a mention of a story in a fantasy story that's just a story without any literal truth to it -- the fantasy world's equivalent of Cinderella, etc. Using the example the questioner gave, why can't there be a story about the monster in the lake in a fantasy world without there being an actual monster?

I suppose to some extent, it has to do with what you focus on in stories. There's not a lot of conflict or drama that will impact your characters in a story that's pure fiction, so you're not going to spend a lot of time talking about a monster that isn't there. Your story is about the monster that is there. But I can see where the stories a culture tells could be part of the worldbuilding and can set up certain expectations that can be used. So what if there is a story about a monster in the lake, and everyone's pretty sure it's just a story, but that's part of the local folklore and they even have lake monster festivals where there are contests to build the best lake monster boat, or there's a ritual "sacrifice" where they send a boat full of flowers into the middle of the lake with much ceremony (and plenty of souvenirs and snacks on sale beside the lake). Those people are going to be really surprised when a real monster comes out of the cave on the hill overlooking the town.

And I think I just plotted my short story for the FenCon program book.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Promotion for Non Jerks

In light of yesterday's post about networking, I thought I ought to talk about a specific subset of networking: book promotion, or how to promote yourself and your books using networking tactics without being a jerk. The following is based on what works for me in my own promotions and what works for and annoys me as a reader. I probably err on the side of caution, as I'm a very reserved person and I spent much of my career doing public relations for Ericsson. The Swedes are very leery of marketing. In fact, they have an underlying suspicion (with a colorful Swedish idiom about it that I don't quite recall) that anyone who promotes themselves too much probably isn't very good because if whatever they did was any good, it would speak for itself and wouldn't need all that promotion. Yeah, that was a fun job doing public relations for people with that attitude. While that belief isn't entirely true because people have to know about you in the first place to discover if your work is any good, there is some truth to it, and the spate of publishing scams means there are a lot of desperate authors out there trying to hawk books out of the trunk of their car after their "publisher" made them buy a bunch of copies, so I think there's perhaps a suspicion in the marketplace that anyone who seems to be working too hard may be one of those people. Meanwhile, these days even the legitimate publishers are more or less outsourcing promotion to the authors themselves, except for the big stars who get promo budgets. How do you strike a balance and find ways of promoting your work without turning people off?

Here is the Gospel of Shanna. Your mileage may vary.

1) Your address book should not be your promotional list. Set up a newsletter list, Yahoo list or some other method for sending out promotional notices and let people sign up for it themselves. Do not just put people's addresses on that list unless they've asked you to. You can use your address book once, and that is to notify people about how to sign up for your promotional list. Sending all your promotional notices to everyone in your address book or subscribing your entire address book to your promo list is a good way to piss people off, and the more remote your relationship, the more likely they are to be annoyed. I've found myself on the mailing list of someone who once wrote to me and to whom I responded, and that is the extent of our relationship. That tends to generate a "what the huh?" reaction when I get a newsletter or promotional mailing rather than a "ooh, new book" reaction.

2) Don't spam mailing lists. If you're posting to a mailing list, you're already hitting multiple people with one message, so it won't kill you to write a message specifically for each list instead of just sending out one blanket e-mail and copying a bunch of lists. That allows you to target your message specifically to that group. You should have different information for people you actually know in real life who are local, aspiring writers, published authors, readers of various genres, fan groups, social groups, etc. You'll get far better results with a targeted message, plus, if someone is in multiple groups with you, they won't get repeats of the same message and will get slightly different information each time. Of course, you should only post promotional messages if the group's rules allow it, and you should actually participate in the group beyond posting promo messages.

3) Take it easy when promoting your blog. Someone must have written an article about this as a great idea because lately every writing-related mailing list I'm on has become little more than a listing of "I blogged about this topic today" posts, either promoting the author's own blog or her participation at a group blog. Stop. It. Please. I've withdrawn from a lot of lists I used to enjoy because of this practice. I especially find it annoying if the list is discussing a topic and someone's response is to say "I blogged about this today" with a link, and that's all that's in the message. The discussion group exists to, ya know, discuss, not drive traffic to your blog. In fact, the attempt to drive traffic to your blog may even be counterproductive. I'm probably not going to follow the link to the blog, but I would have read what you had to say if you'd posted it in the group. Just posting a link means I'll ignore your post. And, really, driving those people from the list to your blog doesn't do you any additional good because, hello! they're already seeing your name in the group.

Now, if you did happen to blog about something that's being discussed, you could mention that, then provide the gist of what you said that's relevant to the discussion, and then give a link to your blog and say that there's more there, or that the comments are interesting, or whatever. That way, you've contributed to the discussion in the group and even people who don't want to follow the link can continue the discussion based on what you posted, but those who want to see more have the option. A good rule of thumb is that anything you post to a message board or mailing list should have some content other than just a link to a blog post you've made either at your own blog or at some group blog.

4) Don't hijack other authors' efforts. This can happen online and in real life. It makes sense that people who are interested in another author's books might be interested in your books, especially if they're similar, so being present at things that author does can promote you. That can actually be a smart strategy, but you have to be very, very careful because it can also make you look like a massive jerk. Here's what to do (and not to do):
- Don't post your own promo messages on other authors' blogs, MySpace pages, Facebook pages, etc. I don't approve MySpace comments that are nothing more than promotion for the commenter. My MySpace page is about me. It's not a promotional forum for other authors or publishers. But if you post something about me and your name and avatar show up, people will see that. If it's something you want me to see, send me a message. Putting it up as a public comment on my page means you're doing it for my readers to see, which is hijacking my page.
- Do participate in discussions on other authors' blogs. Most blogging platforms allow you to link to your own blog or URL in some way when you make a comment, and if you say something relevant, clever, witty or insightful, then people will be able to figure out who you are (especially if your user name is related to your real name). You may even be able to use your book cover as an icon or avatar. Trust me, people who care will track back to you. You don't have to wave a flag saying you're an author. But make whatever you post be more about what the host author said than about yourself. Ditto with commenting on MySpace or Facebook pages. Make what you say about the author, not about yourself.
- Do go to other authors' booksignings. Promotion aside, it's good book karma. Depending on crowd volume, you can chat with the author and bring up who you are or chat with the bookstore staff and mention your own books. If crowds are thin, the author will be delighted to have you there and will be glad to have someone to talk to. If there are big crowds, you can chat with other readers and eventually mention your own books.
- Don't usurp the author who's signing. Remember that it's their signing, not yours. If a reader wants to talk to the signing author, don't jump in to push your own books or hand out bookmarks. This also applies if you're participating in a multi-author signing. The fan who comes to see one author may be interested in other authors' books, but let her talk to the author she came to see without interrupting or barging in. I tend to let the other author be the one to say, "Have you read Shanna's books? If you like mine, I think you'd like hers, too," but that's probably the most cautious approach and you could certainly say something to the reader after she's done with that author without being rude. Whatever you do, NEVER lean over and say, "If you like her books, you'll love mine." (Yes, that actually happened to me once. That same author also once reached over to stick a bookmark in the hand of someone who had come to talk to me, while the person was in mid-sentence, so even if the book comparison comment was a slip of the tongue, it still represented an overall attitude or mindset.) You'll really annoy the other author, and the fan who came to talk to that author isn't going to be favorably inclined toward you if you interrupt the conversation. This is another case where making it about the other author can help. If you're familiar with the work of the other author, then you can join the chat with the reader in discussing those books. That may make the reader realize that she might also like your books, since you have something in common, and you look less like you're hijacking the other author's readers.

I guess it goes back to the networking rule of being more focused on what you can do for others than on what they can do for you. That makes people far more inclined to want to help you.

5) Don't go overboard in blowing your own horn. When discussing your books, it's probably best not to mention your review quotes in every conversation. It's fine to say that you've been fortunate to get good reviews, but if you have the review quotes memorized, that's a bit much. Talking about your book to potential readers is a lot like pitching the book to an editor or agent. You get better results if you start with an elevator pitch and then let other people ask questions if they're interested. If they're not interested and don't ask questions, let it go. Don't waste your time and theirs with the hard sell. If they don't respond to a one or two-sentence description of the book, quoting your reviews isn't going to help. Stalking is right out. If you're being obnoxious and annoying, people aren't going to be interested in your book, even if it might be something they'd like. You don't even have to mention your books in every conversation. "So, what do you do?" is a fairly common question when you're getting to know someone, so it is possible to talk for a while about other things, and someone may eventually ask you what you do, giving you a valid reason to say you're an author. Or if you're at a con, people can map your name from your badge to the program guide without you saying anything, or they may have seen you on panels. You don't have to tell everyone you're an author.

Remember that every reader is important, so don't snub some average guy to go after someone more prominent or prestigious. You get the same royalties/sales numbers if John Doe Fan buys your book as you do if Big Name Famous Author does -- and it's possible that Big Name Famous Author will be able to get a free promo copy from the publisher instead of buying it. Big Name Famous Author might have more of a platform for talking about your book or you might be able to hit him up for a blurb on your next book, but if John Doe Fan feels like you snubbed him to hobnob with important people, he may also be able to spread negative buzz about what a jerk you are (and with the blogosphere, it's possible that a John Doe Fan who's active in fandom could have a broader audience than Big Name Famous Author). If Big Name Author notices that you snubbed a fan to hobnob with him, he may worry that your bad karma cooties will rub off on him, and he may try to disassociate himself with you so John Doe Fan won't think he's a jerk, too.

Also be very, very careful about thinking you're just way too awesome because you're a published author, especially at conventions. That person you've been bragging to about your one book, like you think that the fact that you're published makes you superior, could turn out to be a multi-published bestseller. I have seen it happen in con suites, and it's like a train wreck. You know disaster is inevitable, but you're powerless to prevent it because once one of those blowhards gets going, there's no way to intervene and point out who he's talking to. The best I've been able to manage is to get a word in edgewise and say something to the more prominent author about her books and hope the blowhard gets a clue. I admit that the temptation is there to watch him crash and burn, but I'm too nice for that. Meanwhile, everyone else in earshot will be watching in amusement, and you'll have totally destroyed your credibility with those people.

6) Be patient. Unless you're getting a huge push from your publisher, or unless someone famous with a big platform (like, say, Oprah) starts pushing your book, building buzz takes time, and some of the best buzz happens one person at a time. I'm always hearing from people who bought my books ages ago after meeting me briefly or stumbling across my blog and who then told their friends -- or from people who heard about my books from friends. You never know which contact you make will end up paying off in multiples down the line.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I got tired of waiting for people to respond to me about stuff yesterday, and since it was a nice, warm day before it got cold again today (and then warm again Friday, then cold again over the weekend, ARRGGGHHH), I took I nice, long walk, which was good for thinking and clearing my head. I think I'm starting to get a case of "new car effect" (where once you buy a new car or start thinking of buying a particular kind of car, you suddenly start seeing that kind of car all over the place) because some of the thinking I've been doing keeps being reinforced by stuff I suddenly keep running into all over the place. For instance, on marketing guru Seth Godin's blog this morning, there was this, which I think may be my motto for a while: If you're not happy with what you've got, what radical changes are you willing to make to change what you're getting?

Now I have to figure out what I want and what I'm willing to change about what I'm doing to get it. Piece of cake.

I was asked the other day about networking, but since I don't think what I'm going to say will be particularly useful, I'll address it in a regular blog post instead of in one of the "official" writing posts that also gets e-mailed to a list.

I do connect a lot with other writers, but I'm not sure I'd call it "networking" since that implies that you're doing it for some business benefit. I've been a member of Romance Writers of America since 1991 and have gone to a lot of regional and national conferences, as well as being a member of my local chapter and various national special interest chapters off and on over the years. I used to be fairly active in a number of writing-related e-mail groups (not so much now that the lists have been swamped with "I blogged about this today, come check it out" posts and little else). I go to science fiction/fantasy conventions. I'm a member of SFWA and have been to a few SFWA events. I'm a member of the Fangs, Fur & Fey urban fantasy community and the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit blog group. I've gone to a few non-RWA-related writing conferences.

As a result, I know a lot of people -- agents, editors, authors, artists, etc. But what that mostly means is that I have people to talk to at parties and that I seldom walk into any event even slightly related to books or writing without knowing at least somebody there. I'm not sure that it's had any major impact on my career, though. I suppose you could say that I did get something out of one conference in that an editor I met there ended up buying a book from me, but I don't think it's necessarily directly related. I may have had a slightly faster read, but I don't think the personal connection was the deciding factor because it really is about the book. In spite of knowing pretty much everyone, I found my agent the old-fashioned way, by submitting a query following her guidelines, and the editor who bought the first books in my series was one I hadn't even heard of.

I'm sure that some of my failure to benefit from networking relates to my personality. I'm not the kind of person who goes to an event, collects business cards and then makes a point of following up with people on a regular basis just to maintain the connection. I feel almost intrusive about contacting even my friends unless I have a specific reason for doing so. I certainly won't be dropping a line to near-strangers just in case I might need them for something someday. I also hate asking people for things. I would have to need something very badly to be willing to ask even a fairly close friend for a favor. I'm not going to be asking other writers to refer me to their agents or editors. I have asked for cover blurbs (with very mixed results) but prefer to let the editor or agent handle that. I'm mostly a floater in that I don't belong to any particular cliques of writers, I don't have a critique partner or critique group, I don't have a "posse" I stick with at conferences or a regular conference roomie.

However, I'm not saying that knowing a lot of people is bad. I collect people, in general. I just like meeting and knowing interesting people because that enhances my life. I don't particularly care about using them for any other benefit. I suppose in a sense I'm following one of the guidelines I've seen about networking, which is that you should focus on what you can do for other people rather than on what they can do for you. Supposedly that will make them more likely to want to do stuff for you, but I generally haven't found that to be the case, unless maybe I've been piling up cosmic brownie points that will all pay off when I really need it. But that doesn't mean I feel like I've been wasting my time. The benefits I get are more nebulous. I learn things about writing and about the business from listening to people and talking with people. Book people are fun people, and it's enjoyable to hang around with them. Having a lot of writer friends means I know I'm not the only person in the world who is crazy in this particular way. These are the people who can truly understand exactly what I'm dealing with. It's nice to know there are people I can go to when I'm having a panic attack because my editor just got fired and my agent hasn't responded to me in days and the world is coming to an end, and they'll know how to talk me off the ledge because they've been there, too. There's also some promotional benefit from other authors knowing who I am, since authors do talk about books with people who like books, and then there are times when opportunities come up for things like joining promotional groups or participating in anthologies, and if the people involved know you, you're more likely to be invited.

To sum up, I don't think that networking will make or break your career, but it can make your career more fun and less crazy-making.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How Long Should it Be?

I've got another question from a reader (and if you have a writing question you'd like me to tackle, let me know!).

How long should a book be, and who decides this, the author or the publisher?

There's a practical side and an artistic side to this.

On the practical side, there are some publishers who have specific target word counts they're looking for. This is especially common in category romance (Harlequin and Silhouette), where books are part of a line and are packaged within certain parameters. If a publisher has a length requirement, it will generally be in the publisher's guidelines.

For adult genre fiction, the "standard" length is about 80,000 to 100,000 words (I don't know what the standards are for young adult or children's books, but they're generally shorter). These days, they're edging closer to the lower end of that range. That doesn't mean that all books fall within that range or that they must fall within that range, but that's how they base a lot of their planning (costs, shelf space, how many books fit in a box for shipping). If you're a new author, you may have better luck staying within that range -- or, at least, not going way over it. The reason is simple economics. Longer books are more expensive to produce. They use more paper and ink, the covers have to be bigger to wrap around the fatter spine, they're more expensive to ship, and they take up more shelf space, which may mean fewer books on the shelf, which means fewer sales opportunities. There are a couple of ways publishers can avoid a fat book being less profitable, and neither of them are good for new authors. They can raise the cover price -- and do you really want your book to be more expensive than the other books like it? Or they can shrink the margins and type size and make the book smaller, which can turn off a lot of readers. It's kind of like in screenwriting where they encourage new writers to come up with scripts that will be cheap to produce (small cast, few locations, few special effects or stunts). If a company is having to take a financial risk on an unknown, they'll be more comfortable with a smaller risk.

Of course, if you've written an absolutely brilliant book that has "bestseller" written all over it, they may not balk at a 200,000-word manuscript. But books that fall within the standard range will probably have a better chance of being published, especially in today's economic climate. "Name" authors have more leeway, but right now, I'm trying to keep things in the 90,000 word range, myself. Even after you've been established as an author and aren't trying to sell your first book, they may ask you to trim a book. They're not going to tell JK Rowling to cut 20,000 words, but on my last two books they asked me to try to trim about 10,000 words when I was doing editorial revisions.

On the artistic side of things, I like the way one of my journalism professors said you should judge the best length of a news article: It's like a bikini -- it should be big enough to cover the important things and small enough to be interesting. A book should be as short as it can be and still tell the story. It should use as few words as possible to tell that story. That doesn't mean you have to cram an epic fantasy into 80,000 words, but it does mean that you'll probably have a better book if you can trim a 125,000 word manuscript to 90,000 words.

That's because when you do that kind of cutting, you're eliminating anything that's not essential, and the result is that you shouldn't have any boring or unnecessary parts where the action slows. You'll have eliminated redundancies in wording and in scenes. You'll also probably find any place where one particularly powerful word can do the work of many. All of that adds up to a book that's a real page-turner and that will require fewer resources to publish it, which makes it even more attractive to publishers.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Genre Prejudices

For some weird reason, I woke up this morning thinking it was Sunday. It's not because it was a holiday yesterday that felt like a Saturday because I probably did more work yesterday than normal and didn't take it as a holiday. I forgot to set my alarm last night and woke up thinking I was going to be late for church. I guess my brain is just being wacky, but I still can't get used to the idea that today is Tuesday. It's right up in the corner of my computer screen, next to the time, and yet everything I've read online today about it being Tuesday has given me a shock.

It's a gray, cloudy day, which is usually good for writing, but I'm not entirely sure what I should be working on. There is a lot of uncertainty in my life at the moment, so I suppose it should be no surprise that I'm not even sure what day it is.

Speaking of uncertainty, I'm right out of questions about writing to address, and I have a writing post scheduled for tomorrow. Is there anything you're dying to know about the craft of writing, the process of writing, the publishing business, etc.?

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to write about today, but I've got a minor rant bubbling beneath the surface, so I might as well let it out to play. I often talk about the reading "shoulds," the way the Literary establishment often acts as though there are "worthy" books that we should be reading and "trash" that shouldn't even be published. The worthy books are about things like injustice and death, have supposedly realistic endings where nobody is happy and are most likely to be reviewed in newspapers or magazines. The unworthy books are anything genre or anything with a happy ending that involves the good guys beating the bad guys or people falling in love. That kind of snobbery bugs me, and I think it has a lot to do with why more people aren't reading for pleasure. They were force-fed a diet of "worthy" books in school and turned off reading, and most efforts to encourage people to read involve more "worthy" books, then there are all the sneers you're likely to get for reading non-worthy books, and it's little wonder that a lot of people don't see that reading can be fun.

But there's a certain amount of reverse snobbery at work. I suppose those of us who write or read genre fiction, who are used to getting our reading choices sneered at by the literati, can get a trifle defensive. The romance genre really gets smacked around a lot, with the term "bodice ripper" being used to describe all romances and "Harlequin romance" being used as a generic term for a trite, bland love story (or, quite often, for something that has zero to do with anything Harlequin would publish). But within the romance world, there's this weird kind of groupthink going on, with the attitude that if you don't read romances, then you're narrow-minded and ignorant and probably have a terrible sex life or aren't into sex. After all, they say, you can find elements of just about every genre in romance -- there are fantasy romances, futuristic/science fiction romances, romantic suspense, etc., etc., etc., so whatever you like to read, you can find a romance novel like that, and you should, therefore, be reading romance novels.

While I do agree that it's silly to assume you dislike an entire genre out of prejudice or misconceptions, and I agree that it's also silly to decide that just because you don't like something, that something is no good, I also think that you can be a good person and still dislike romance novels. I don't even think you have to read a number of them to decide that they're not for you.

I don't like horror. I haven't really read horror, but I don't have to read it to know I probably won't like it. I know that I don't enjoy being scared or grossed out, so I'm probably not going to like a genre that's all about being scared or grossed out. I don't think it's ignorant of me, or that I'm too uninformed about the genre to be able to decide that it's not for me. There may be individual horror novels I might like, but the odds of me wandering into the horror section of a bookstore and finding a book I'd like are slim. The only way I'm likely to find the books I'd like is if someone whose taste I trust and who knows my taste and my interests recommends a specific book.

So, I think it's perfectly reasonable for someone to know that they're not likely to enjoy romance novels, even without having read one. If you're a person who finds the romantic relationships in stories to be the least interesting part, if you skip over kissing scenes, if you're an anti-shipper for TV shows, you're probably not going to enjoy romance novels, even the ones that fit into a romance subgenre that maps to a genre you like. That's because, by definition, a romance novel focuses on the development of a romantic relationship, even with all the other stuff going on. So if you like mysteries or police procedural series but you want the man and woman working together to just be partners and to never get together romantically, a romantic suspense novel about a man and a woman falling in love while solving a mystery probably won't be your cup of tea, and I don't think you're being narrow-minded to think that without actually trying to read one.

I'll go even further out on a limb and say that even if you do find relationships interesting, you may not like romance novels because there's a very particular way of presenting the relationship in a romance novel that may or may not be what you want to read. I like love stories woven into other plots, but I have to admit that I don't really like romance novels, especially as they're written today. I want more subtlety in the development of the relationship than romance novels allow. I love science fiction but haven't really liked any futuristic romance I've read. I love fantasy, but the only fantasy romances I've really enjoyed were those published as fantasy rather than romance. I love relationships that develop over time between characters in a mystery series, but I'm not a fan of romantic suspense. And, yes, I've read all of the above. I've even had five romance novels published. I think, perhaps, to some extent I've changed, but I also think the genre has changed, and it's changed away from me.

So I kind of get riled up when romance writers post blogs about how stupid people who don't read romances or don't think they'll like romances are. And I'm seriously thinking about whether or not to renew my RWA membership this year. On the one hand, it's the only major writing organization that seems to get into craft and education, and I know I don't know it all. But while just about everything I write contains some kind of romantic element, I can't imagine myself writing anything that would be published as romance, and the organization as a whole seems resistant to opening up to much genre evolution.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Weekend of Love and Cheap Shoes

In spite of being totally single, I had a wonderful weekend of ubiquitous commercialized representation of romance. For one thing, I had fabulous shoe shopping luck. I found the perfect pair of shoes for my needs, a pair that was soft and flexible enough that it shouldn't cause blisters and yet with enough support and cushioning for walking. Even better, they were on clearance, so I got a pair of Anne Klein shoes for less than a Target price. Since I was so under budget on that purchase, I let myself indulge in another clearance pair, some brown suede wedge-heeled Mary Janes that feel like sneakers. They look cool and semi-dressy, but are so comfortable I can imagine that they'll become my stand-by neutral shoes. This was yet another very expensive pair of shoes that I got at a Target price. Yay! Then on Sunday, I ran a few errands after church and caught the Dove dark chocolate hearts at half off at Target, then they had my favorite kind of bagels on the bakery clearance rack at the grocery store. Plus, the weekend wasn't without love. I got showered in kisses. Okay, so they were from a dachshund and were mostly on my hands and ankles, but it was the cutest dachshund with the sweetest face, and puppy kisses totally count. And I got to see the new Wallace and Gromit short, which was absolutely adorable. So, yeah, good weekend.

Now it's back to work. It's time to get strategic, given the woes of the publishing industry and the fact that my editor was caught in a round of bloodletting, leaving me orphaned. I have several projects in the works and need to select the one that's the best use of my time right now.

In other news, I haven't remembered to mention this, but I'll be at ConDFW in Dallas this weekend. I don't have a lot scheduled, just a panel on Saturday and one on Sunday, plus a reading and an autographing (one on each day, but I can't remember which one's on which day). I probably won't be around on Friday, as there's not a lot going on at the con that day, but I'll be hanging around most of the day on Saturday and Sunday and can likely be found at the FenCon party Saturday night. One of the panels I'm on includes Jim Butcher, so a giggle fit is likely (as I recall, he managed to set me off the last time). However, I don't seem to be moderating any panels, so the Wand of Moderation won't be making an appearance.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Geeking With Romantic Poetry

This has been one of those long/short weeks -- it seems long in the sense that I can barely remember Monday, which feels like it happened a decade ago, and short in the sense that I'm surprised it's Friday already.

As the season of ubiquitous commercialized representation of romance reaches its culmination, I thought I'd share my favorite/most romantic poem. I suppose I indirectly have my college English lit professor to thank for me discovering it. The class was supposedly the general English lit survey course, but the professor had this odd thesis that he used as an organizing principle for the entire course. He was hung up on the transition from Catholicism to Protestantism in England and believed that it also marked a transition in the sense of public and private life. He claimed that in the Catholic era there wasn't the same sense of personal privacy as started to come about after the transition to Protestantism, and he believed this showed in literature. So we spent a lot of time analyzing poems by Milton and Shakespeare for evidence of this. It was one of those smile and nod situations because I'm not sure his thesis held up. I must have smiled and nodded well because I made an A in the course. For whatever really odd reason, he was very hung up on the fact that, apparently, Elizabeth I used to hold court while sitting on the toilet (he used this as proof of the lack of a sense of privacy, but I'm not sure how that fit his theory, since she was Protestant). If it hadn't been for the cute ROTC guy in my class, I'd have had to force myself to go to class, and after about the tenth time he told us about Bess on the toilet, even staring at the cute ROTC guy wasn't enough to keep me from losing it, so I figured if I was actually going to learn anything about English literature, I'd have to do it myself, and I started reading the textbook in class while the professor got really excited about a past in which people apparently had no qualms about engaging in various bodily functions in settings we'd consider public. And that's when I found this poem:

When You Are Old
by William Butler Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

It's the second stanza that really gets me because it seems to me to be about a man seeing something special in the woman's soul that others don't necessarily notice, and that he sees that on her face. That stanza gives me the warm fuzzies.

And because there is no subject that I can't turn into a geekfest, I seem to recall that a part of this poem was used in an episode of Space: Above and Beyond (which got me very excited when they quoted my favorite poem). If I remember correctly, the guy used it as his way of telling the woman he loved that he loved her. (As an aside, I wonder how well that series holds up in time, if I'd still like it if I got it on DVD.)

But now, this poem almost sounds to me like it could be about Doctor Who. In a way, it seems to describe the Doctor/Companion relationship, because it always seems to be the "pilgrim soul" that he's drawn to in choosing sidekicks, and then he goes on to hide his face amid a crowd of stars while she's left, as a human, to grow old and remember the time they had together. It especially fits the "School Reunion" episode.

Speaking of geeky things, The Sarah Conner Chronicles is back tonight, in the Death Slot. Dollhouse is also premiering tonight, but I must say that I'm not overly enthused about it. Granted, I haven't been enthused by the concepts of all of Whedon's series, and I ended up loving them. I probably wouldn't have watched Buffy if I hadn't already had my TV on that station and was too busy to change the channel or turn it off. Then Angel was one of my least favorite characters and I wasn't much interested in a series about him, and I ended up liking Angel as a series better than Buffy. But the concept for Dollhouse is more "ew" than "don't care" to me. And it's opposite Friday Night Lights. I can get FNL on OnDemand, I suppose, but I'm still not sure I even want to watch Dollhouse. So, I guess we'll see.

Now I will actually leave the house today because I have to drop off some newspapers at the church so the youth group can use them for some project, and then I think I will stimulate the economy. I desperately need a pair of what I think of as "travel shoes." I need some black shoes that are sort of business casual that I can do a lot of walking in while still looking semi-professional, and that are slip-on for easy transit through airport security. I had a great pair that wore out, and then I replaced them with a pair I thought was identical, but they weren't, and I've finally convinced myself that these shoes will NEVER be comfortable. Since I'm going to New York next month, I will need shoes like that. The quest begins.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Crushes From Afar

I have a feeling this is going to be one of those "force myself to work" days. Not so much the writing stuff, since I'm in thinking/brainstorming mode, so that's always going on in the back of my brain. But I have lots of little business-type tasks to do and a to-do list full of stuff like sending an e-mail to someone and for some odd reason I find myself strangely reluctant to do so. I may clean my kitchen and bake cookies for something I'm going to this weekend.

I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit book/author on tour this week, and the book ties in pretty well with my theme for the week of acknowledging the season of ubiquitous commercialized representations of romance. The book is Miss Match by Wendy Tolliver, and here's the plot info:

Sasha Finnegan has always had a knack for setting people up, and at sixteen, she's turned her talent into an online business, molding high school crushes into true love. But Sasha finds her toughest match yet when hottie Derek Urban asks her to set him up with Sasha's gorgeous sister, Maddie. It's not that Derek isn't a good catch. In fact, after spending so much time with him, Sasha can't help but think he's perfect -- for her, that is.

Can Sasha push her feelings aside for the sake of her business? Or has this miss finally found her match?

My life might have turned out totally different if there'd been someone like this when I was younger. Not so much in high school, since I went to high school in a very small town, where it was pretty much impossible to have a crush from afar, since there was no "afar." I knew and interacted with all the boys I may or may not have had crushes on, so the fact that nothing came of those crushes meant either that they just weren't that into me or that I was inadvertently sending out signals that were the opposite of the way I really felt so they decided it wasn't worth trying (I suspect a lot of it was my usual problem, that the ones I like aren't interested in me, and I'm not interested in the ones who are interested in me). But in junior high and college, I was the QUEEN of the crush from afar. We're talking so afar that a lot of the time, I didn't even know the guy's name. It was almost like having a celebrity crush, except that there was the tiniest tantalizing possibility that we might possibly meet (although, you know, I've had more real-life interaction with actual movie stars than I had with some of those boys, because while I didn't talk to any of the actor-type people, I did make eye contact with some of them).

So, naturally, I asked Wendy about that matchmaker thing:

Did you have a high school crush, and if so, could you have used a matchmaker to get you together? What would a matchmaker have needed to do to help you?
I had a gazillion crushes, and yes, I think I could've definitely used the help of a matchmaker. The matchmaker would've needed to amp up (or feminize) my wardrobe (which pretty much consisted of jeans and baseball shirts) and give me pep talks so I wouldn't be so embarrassed to talk to him. It wouldn't hurt if the matchmaker had cupid-like powers, either.

Hmmm, I had a pretty feminine wardrobe, and I thought I was stylish (though I do cringe at the thought of some of the things I wore). But yeah, the big problem was the fear of talking to these guys, and cupid-like powers may have been necessary. I might have even had a problem with telling the matchmaker about the crush in the first place because I wouldn't even talk to my best friends about my crushes (in junior high, there was a very high risk that all the girls would giggle furiously whenever the guy came on the scene and do things like point and say loudly, "Look! There he is! I think he's looking at you!"). In college, my "crushes" tended to be more along the lines of picking out a guy in my huge lecture hall classes to look forward to seeing each day. There was one guy who got to be my target in two classes -- in my English class my sophomore year and in a European studies class my senior year. All I know about him was that he was in ROTC and he looked very nice in that uniform.

But in light of some of the things I've been talking about for the last couple of days about fun with fictional relationships, I'm not sure that I wanted or needed to meet some of those guys. Since I knew nothing about them, they were as much a fantasy construct as any fictional character, and the fun part was the room for imagination, thinking of various ways we might meet and how that would go. Mostly, they provided a reason to look forward to going to school and an incentive to look my best that probably raised my spirits overall. Actually talking to these guys might have ruined that.

And now, more about Wendy and her book and writing process, etc.:
Do you have any particular writing habits or rituals?
I usually do all my email, blogging, promo stuff in the morning over breakfast, then my major writing in the afternoon when my toddler is napping. Typically I do not listen to music (with three little boys, peace and quiet is what I crave) and I used to do the Diet Coke thing but my New Year's resolution was to cut it out, so now I just drink tea, water, and an occasional glass of red wine while I write.

Chocolate: milk or dark?
I like milk for the taste but I also like dark and since it has some health benefits, I'll usually choose dark.

What are you working on now?
LIFTED, the story about a transplant to a parochial school who learns that not all students are as pious as they seem when she’s inducted into a shoplifting clique and soon finds herself in over her head. It comes out with Simon Pulse April 27, 2010 and I’m so excited.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this book or the process of writing it?
I loved writing MISS MATCH. In its early days, I had some girls from Snowcrest Junior High (the high school in my book is Snow Crest) read it and give me input. It later went on to be a 2007 finalist in the YA category of the Romance Writers of America's Goden Heart contest. It used to be called "Cupid Girl," but we changed the title because there's another Simon Pulse Ro-Com called "Cupidity."

For more info on Wendy and her books, visit her web site. Or, you can buy the book from Amazon.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Series Relationships

I had a fairly eventful evening. First, there was the homeowners association meeting, which reminded me that I'm not so much allergic to meetings as I am allergic to stupid people. There always has to be someone who didn't go to any of the previous meetings, has no information and doesn't bother to listen to the information being presented before asking stupid questions or making stupid and irrelevant arguments. This person also usually seems to think that there's some kind of conspiracy against them and that the people in charge have no idea what they're talking about. I'm sure my blood pressure was going through the roof, but since it is the season of ubiquitous commercialized representation of love, I didn't kill anyone. I didn't even say anything other than under my breath (though I did cackle loudly and go into a giggle fit when someone made a hilariously snarky response to one of those people). And then about fifteen minutes after I got home, a big storm hit and the tornado sirens went off. I'm not sure why the sirens went off, since I was watching the radar at the time, and there wasn't anything that close to us. The bad part of the storm didn't really hit us, and it was over in about fifteen minutes. There are a lot of convenient landmarks near me, so I can generally spot almost exactly where my house is on the TV radar map, and I could tell exactly what was hitting me.

Following up on my post from yesterday, I've realized just how difficult it is to make a relationship work in a series, whether book or television. I can only think of a few relationships that I've enjoyed and found satisfying. On TV, the big winner for me is Farscape. That show beat the odds by getting better when the main couple got together. I think that one worked because they allowed the relationship to grow organically and took their time without resorting to tired will they/won't they, break up/make up plots to stretch it out. Far too often, they go from 0 to 150 in 4.3 seconds, with the couple going straight from seeming to hate each other and bickering constantly to realizing they're in love and then going straight into a full-on sexual relationship and then fizzling because they don't know what to do next. That's where you get Dave and Maddie on Moonlighting or Joel and Maggie on Northern Exposure going straight from years of bickering, having little in common and not seeing eye-to-eye on much of anything to rolling around on the floor with each other. It seems to me that if you've thought you've disliked someone for quite some time, even if some of that dislike was denial or mislabeling of attraction, then it would take some time to get your head around the idea of actually loving that person. I think that's what worked on Farscape. They acknowledged that John and Aeryn falling in love was a huge step for both of them, and that they were both having to overcome their individual histories, as well as having to learn an entirely new way of looking at the universe. It really mattered that they were from two different worlds (literally) and that being together would mean one of them having to sacrifice and leave everything familiar behind forever -- and they didn't take that lightly. They were both cautious about progressing into a relationship with that kind of end point. Do you even want to get involved if you know that either you'll have to leave everything familiar behind and be in a strange place surrounded by strangers, or he will? And so, there was a long time between them acknowledging to themselves and to each other that they did have feelings and them moving the relationship to the next level. During that time, there was a lot of emotional intimacy and there was affection, caring and concern while they negotiated all the landmines of a potential relationship, so that by the time they did get together it seemed genuine.

Otherwise, I do like what they're doing with Jim and Pam on The Office, but I feel like I'm in the minority with that. I'm okay that they've mostly moved beyond the drama of the will they/won't they angst and are now dealing with life as a couple in a way that seems pretty realistic to me (though it seems like a lot of viewers and critics think this is boring). It helps that they're just one part of an ensemble and that the documentary format of the series means we seldom see them away from work, so we only get glimpses of the relationship in the way it pertains to life in the office.

I just spent a few minutes staring at my bookshelf, looking for book series with long-term relationships that work for me, and I mostly came up blank. I like the way the relationships were handled in the Vorkosigan series, but most of those relationships were dealt with in a single book within the series rather than spanning books. I really like the relationship between Carrot and Angua in the Discworld books, but that's a sub-sub-sub plot amid a lot of other stuff going on. I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me about this, but perhaps my favorite series-long relationship development in books is Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books. It rang very true to me in the way that they struggled with friendship vs. crush as they got older and became more aware of each other, the way that their feelings made them especially vulnerable to each other so they were able to hurt each other, and the way they were so afraid and so sensitive about each other that they almost imploded. Then I really loved the payoff because it was something specific that had been built up over all the books (and I don't know how they'll be able to do that in the movie because the movies have dropped the subplot that whole scene was built around). True, their behavior to each other was often awful and I would have hated that relationship in adults, but they were kids, and that was very much the way I acted at that age and was treated at that age by the boys who were my friends who I thought maybe might have been something more but who didn't do anything about it other than confuse and frustrate me. I suppose it was literary validation to have a fictional version of that finally get his act together.

In general, it does seem to help if the relationship takes place in the context of an ensemble cast, so there's a lot of other stuff going on. If you've got essentially a two-character series, then more hinges on the relationship between the characters, and if the relationship doesn't work well, then the series tanks. Having an ensemble also means that there are other things and people to provide conflict once a relationship comes together and then takes a backseat to other story elements.

I'd love to write a truly long-term, slow-build series relationship, but in order to do that, I'd have to have a guarantee that I'd get to finish the series. I kind of felt like I got Owen and Katie together sooner than I'd have liked, but when I wrote the second book there was a chance that would be the last book, and I felt like I needed to give at least a hint of closure, just in case. So maybe some day when I'm a big bestseller and they're guaranteed to publish my grocery list, so I know I'll get to write exactly the length of series I want, I can try my hand at this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Friends or Lovers?

After starting the week talking about falling in and out of love with TV shows, and with something I have planned for later in the week, it looks like I've got a good theme week for Valentine's Day set up, so I may as well go with it. Not that I really do Valentine's Day, and it's not just because I'm not in a relationship. Even if I were in a relationship, I don't like the idea of assigning a calendar date to something that should be genuine and spontaneous. Plus, I'm already tired of those "He went to Jared!" gold diggers in the commercials that come on constantly (and, really, aside from the commercials, I've never heard of Jared. I'm not sure I've seen a store. I certainly wouldn't get so excited to get a gift from there that I'd text message all my friends in the middle of a date. I might be mildly excited to get a little blue box from Tiffany, but even there I'd wait until maybe the next day to mention it to anyone).

But still, love is in the air -- or, at least, the commercialized representations of romance are ubiquitous -- this week, so it looks like I've got a blog theme. Yay.

Yesterday on the Fangs, Fur & Fey community there was an interesting discussion about "the friend zone" in books (and other forms of entertainment). The initial question was how can you make it clear to readers that your characters are just friends and aren't going to get together, but then the discussion progressed into discussing reader expectations, storytelling norms and the way human brains are wired.

When you think about it, it's incredibly rare in book series or in TV series for any man and woman who work together or who are good friends to remain just friends. They almost always end up together romantically -- and even if they don't, a large percentage of the fan base will desperately want them to be together. Even the best intentions to keep things in the friend zone can crumble under the weight of 'shipper demands. Look at The X-Files -- in the first few seasons, Chris Carter was constantly saying that Mulder and Scully would not become romantically involved. I remember a specific quote about how some fan told him that if Mulder and Scully ever kissed, he'd throw his TV out the window, and Carter said his goal was to keep that fan's TV safe. And then by the end of the series, they were together, were kissing, sleeping together and calling each other affectionate names. But even that was kind of a cop-out, as it was one of those "Oops, when you weren't looking, they totally got together" relationships that wasn't satisfying for anyone.

But is it because of seeing any couple that works together or is close in any other way ultimately getting together throughout almost all entertainment throughout recorded history that we expect this, or does it have something to do with the way our brains are wired?

The only way anyone in the discussion could really come up with to convince readers that, really, they're just good friends was to have one or both members of the pair in an outside relationship. And I would add that the outside relationship needs to be more compelling than the possibilities of the working relationship, or else needs to show that it gives the character something he/she doesn't get from the working relationship. The best example we were able to come up with was Mal and Zoe on Firefly. They were close friends and comrades in arms who'd gone through hell together and who trusted each other absolutely, but they were just friends, and that was okay because she was married to Wash. With Wash, we saw a totally different side to Zoe where she was funny, warm and even giggly. She was more human with him, with all her rigid control and emotional barriers dropped in a way she never was with Mal.

But, you know, there was still plenty of fanfic about Mal and Zoe being together, so you can't please everyone, no matter what you do. You also can't dictate how people will respond to what you write. No matter how compelling you make a relationship on the page, there will still be somebody who wants a different couple to be together -- and some of those people will be totally convinced that all the evidence points to that being what should happen.

And then it occurred to me that maybe it has nothing to do with the writing. Based on my years of Internet discussions and thinking about what I like, I suspect that a lot of the fun for many people isn't so much in seeing a happy couple together, but rather in exploring possibilities for something that's a little more ambiguous. Subtext is a lot of fun to play with. When it becomes text, it's not as much fun because there's less room for the imagination. I generally classify myself as an anti-shipper for most series, but really what I mean is that I don't want them to overtly get together until near the end. The series relationships I enjoy the most are the ones that take place in that odd little twilight zone where the relationship couldn't be called purely platonic because there is something going on beneath the surface, but it's also not yet overtly sexual or romantic, either because of internal issues for the characters (they're not ready for a relationship or worried about messing up the relationship they do have) or because of external issues (sexual relationships between partners are against regulations, and they'd rather be able to keep working together because that's what matters most at the moment).

In that zone, there's a lot of room for subtext, where each little touch, look, comment, response or action can take on multiple layers of meaning. But because the relationship has not yet gone to a truly romantic or sexual place, there are also lots of other motivations that could be a factor. In that zone, the characters may have to think about and consider the implications of dealing with their feelings -- and contrary to what seems to be the prevailing trend in American popular culture, not every feeling has to be acted upon. Denial and restraint can be extremely sexy. Plus, if they're even a little bit in love, whether or not they admit it, and they aren't sleeping together, that means they have to find other ways to consciously or subconsciously express that, and in fiction that leads to a lot of little things that add up to being sexier or more romantic than scenes of naked people writhing around in bed. It's like the way old movies made during the days of the strict Production Code can be so very, very hot, because they had to get really creative to convey those emotions when they weren't allowed to show so much as a long kiss.

Of course, the trick then is that when you do finally allow the characters to have their happy ending at the end of the series, you have to live up to a LOT of expectations. Part of the problem with both books and TV series is that you seldom know when the series really is going to end. Authors probably have a little more leeway than TV writers in deciding to end a book series when they want it to end instead of getting it dragged out beyond that, but both fall prey to premature cancellation.

So I guess I have to re-label myself from "anti-shipper" to "end-of-the-series-shipper." I like lots of good friend stuff with a little zing to it, followed by them finally getting together in a satisfying way that pays off everything that went before. Easy as pie, right?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Falling In and Out of Love

As if I needed more reasons to love my local library, now they're doing me the favor of bringing in my writer friends as guest authors for library events, so I can walk a couple of blocks and see writer friends I normally only run into at conferences and conventions. This weekend, the guest was Rachel Vincent, who writes the werecats series. While I was there, I found that they now have my whole series in my neighborhood branch (and they are trying to schedule me to do a guest author presentation, so they're not ignoring the author in the neighborhood while bringing in outside people).

It does seem to be obligatory at almost any book/author event that someone will ask a question about how much the author paid to get her book published. I suppose I have a skewed perspective on this, since I've been involved in writing groups and the publishing industry for going on twenty years, but I don't think it ever crossed my mind that I should have to pay to get published. Even when I was in junior high and first got the idea that I wanted to be a writer, I knew that the idea was to get paid and I knew that something was wrong if you were expected to pay a publisher. In seventh grade, I knew which publishers published the books I liked (at that age, it was mostly Ballantine/Del Rey), and then I found the Literary Marketplace in the school library and looked up information on how to submit a book to them, which told me how much they generally paid. I suppose with computers being more common there are more people trying to write and it's easier to get into "publishing" so there are more scams, and the Internet makes it easier to market scams. But the Internet also makes it easier to research the publishing industry. I just don't see how someone with any interest in being an author could manage to be so oblivious about the business that she might think it's normal to pay a publisher to get a book published. It's terrible that there are scammers out there preying on people's dreams, but authors also have to take responsibility for themselves and do at least a little work to learn about the business they want to get into.

This weekend, I fell back in love with a TV show and out of love with another. I had cooled somewhat on Battlestar Galactica over the past season or so. I liked the space adventure with depth that had good drama and space battles with those cool little flippy Viper ships, or else good chases and gun battles and all that. I got pretty bored when they started focusing on Cylon mysticism and politics. I don't like hearing people talk about politics in the real world where they actually affect me. I certainly don't like spending hours listening to imaginary people talk about fake politics that don't affect me. It was like C-SPAN in space with more attractive people. But the last two episodes brought back so many elements of what I loved at the beginning. Plus, we had Starbuck and Apollo back as a team. In the first couple of seasons, their relationship was one of my favorite TV relationships ever. I don't mean that in a romantic sense. I just loved the idea of them being best friends and comrades in arms, how they could be so badass when they were together in a tense situation but then they could also be silly and act like kids when they were having fun. She was the person who could make him smile and laugh, and he could make her think. They could say horrible things to each other and then get over it and remain friends. And, yeah, they were maybe a little in love with each other but were both afraid of dealing with that, so they didn't. I really hated what they ended up doing with that relationship, but in the last couple of episodes, it seems like we got a bit of that back, with the two of them working as a seamless team, taking names and kicking ass and even being a little funny, in spite of how dire the situation was. It was enough to make me get out my DVD of the original miniseries. Ah, how shiny and new everything looked, and how young and innocent everyone was. It was a little sad knowing what would become of so many of those people, but it was also fun to see the seeds of what was to come. I may move on to season one tonight, since there's nothing else on.

At the same time, I think I've now given up on House. I had remarked when my parents hooked me on NCIS that it was a good thing House was moving because I would have switched loyalties -- but then it turns out that there are two networks rerunning NCIS (ION and USA) opposite House on Mondays, and I'm still catching up, so most of those episodes are new to me, and now Chuck is back in that same timeslot, so House lost. They show the previous week's House on USA on Friday night, and it seemed like the perfect way to chill after Battlestar Galactica, so I thought I'd catch it then. And I actually turned it off in mid-episode. I realized that not only did I not care, but I also found those people highly annoying. It's a little sad because that used to be one of my favorite shows, but they got rid of characters I liked (well, they kept them, but marginalized them), are focusing on characters I dislike, and they've lost track of what made House himself interesting. I guess I may still occasionally try to catch the USA rerun, but I won't worry at all anymore about Monday night VCR priorities. (Plus, they now have Chuck OnDemand, so I can watch it whenever, and the OnDemand version of the 3D episode wasn't in 3D, so it wasn't painful to watch.)

And now I will spend the rest of the day delving into my characters' childhoods.

Friday, February 06, 2009

25 Random Things

I've had that 25 things about me meme pop up as a tag for me in Facebook a few times, so to be a good sport I'm going to go through with it, but I refuse to tag anyone else. I hope those who care will find this. It should automatically pop up as a note in Facebook, but remember, I am a complete idiot when it comes to Facebook, so forget about it if you're expecting to get tagged back or anything like that.

So, without further ado, let's see if I can come up with 25 vaguely interesting things about myself ...

1) I can read languages I've never studied -- not enough to read something like a novel, but I can generally make out a few basics. These are all Romance languages, so it probably has something to do with studying Spanish, singing a fair amount in Latin and being exposed to just enough opera Italian and ballet French. (I can read a lot of German, but I've actually studied the language a little. I'm only counting languages I've had no classes or study of any kind in.)
2) I don't play games. I don't mean that in the metaphorical sense of being a very straightforward person and not playing mind games or power games (because those kinds of games are fun). What I mean is that I don't play board games, card games, video games, role playing games, sports or anything of the sort. I don't have any games on my computer unless there's something that came with it that I haven't bothered to find. I don't own a board game (though there are a few at my parents' house I got as a kid when the commercials convinced me they might be fun). I have one ancient deck of cards. The closest I come to game playing is the occasional game of Solitaire (using real cards, no computer stuff) or if I get guilted/forced/tricked into something like Trivial Pursuit or Pictionary at a party. There's no real reason for my game aversion other than the fact that I don't find games to be much fun. If you want to see me vanish from a baby or wedding shower, break out the cute party games. I really loathe those. If you feel obligated to invite me to a gathering but don't really want me to come, declare it a game night. I will have a sudden cold/flu/plague come on.
3) Although I never seem to leave the house, I love being outdoors. I just have to be in the right setting and have something to do or somewhere to go (because I can walk for hours).
4) I've sung with a jazz band at a cafe in the French Quarter in New Orleans when I was just there as a patron -- at the request of the band. Then I got requests from the audience. And I was stone cold sober. And the band asked me to come back the next day to sing with them again. (Perhaps I missed my calling.)
5) The senior girl I had to share a music stand and band folder with when I was a high school freshman is now the director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. She was our drum major then, and I was so intimidated by her that I don't think I spoke more then three words to her the whole year. Even though I live in the neighborhood where the Dallas Cowboys are headquartered, I haven't run into her, but I imagine I'd still be intimidated by her.
6) I spent more than ten years thinking I was allergic to chocolate and avoiding it entirely. It was a Doubletree Hotel chocolate chip cookie, eaten in absolute desperation when I was on a business trip and there was no other food around and I was starving, that made me realize that either I never really had the allergy or I'd outgrown it. I think that may be why I love chocolate so much now. I really appreciate it.
7) My first job was in the kitchen at a ritzy summer camp when I was in high school. I've tried several times to write a young adult book about that experience, but it hasn't come together yet.
8) The eye color listed on my driver's license isn't really accurate. My eyes change colors and are mostly a mix of green and blue, with some gold thrown in, and at the time I got my driver's license, I thought that was what "hazel" meant (and that fit in the blank better than "your guess is as good as mine"), but then later found that hazel is technically more of a greenish-brown color. My eyes have settled down to be mostly dark greenish blue with gold in the middle, so I'm still not sure what color I'd put on my license, and I'm not sure they'll let you change something like your eye color.
9) My hair color has also changed throughout my life. At various times, I've had black, blond, red and various shades of brown hair, all natural. Of course, when it had to pick a color to settle on, it had to be a mousy shade of brown.
10) I am afraid of the telephone (I may have mentioned this before). I have to be desperate to place a phone call, and I scream and jump when the phone rings.
11) I didn't have a curfew when I was a teenager. (That's not much of an issue for someone who never leaves the house, so it's not as though my parents were extremely permissive.)
12) I taught myself to touch type, but I never got around to learning the numbers and symbols, so while I type words very fast, I have to stop and hunt and peck to type numbers or symbols (that top row). My typing test score will vary wildly depending on whether or not it includes numbers and symbols.
13) I attended eight different schools from kindergarten through high school.
14) In my lifetime, I've lived in 19 homes that I can recall (counting only places where I lived at least a month and also counting each dorm room I lived in). My current house has been my longest-term residence, at going on 11 years.
15) I've had four cars since I learned to drive.
16) All of my cars have had manual transmissions.
17) I've only driven in five states: Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado and California. That's mostly because of the above factoid, since rental cars generally don't come in manual and I'm not comfortable with an automatic transmission, so I avoid driving when I travel if I can't take my own car.
18) I'm not sure I'm interesting enough to come up with 25 facts about me.
19) I didn't start wearing glasses until I was in sixth grade. Then I stopped wearing glasses for grades 8-11. Then I only needed to correct one eye, so I wore one contact lens until I was in my 20s and the "good" eye suddenly became worse than the "bad" eye.
20) I don't drink coffee. I can sort of almost maybe tolerate it if it's loaded with cream and sugar and has vanilla in it, but I'd really rather drink almost anything else.
21) I've never been drunk. I may have reached mildly buzzed (which takes about one drink), but I don't really like that feeling, so I never drink enough to go beyond that.
22) Although I don't have a pet, I love animals. If there's an animal around, I have to hold it, pet it or otherwise play with it. That includes cats, dogs, horses, birds, bunnies, etc. And they generally seem to like me.
23) It may be un-American, but I'm not a huge fan of ice cream, mostly because I don't like the cold. I don't dislike it, by any means, but it's not something I keep in stock or even think about buying, other than to put on a pie or cobbler.
24) I have a good sense of direction and can navigate foreign countries using maps written in foreign languages, but I can get lost on the back streets of my own neighborhood and my home town. In both cases, they're not streets I use often, and they don't follow any kind of logical pattern, so if, for some reason, I have to use them, I am likely to end up in the wrong place.
25) This whole exercise has felt creepily narcissistic.