Friday, October 30, 2009


I did finally finish revising The Chapter From Hell. And now I'm having to rethink the next chapter. ARRGGGGHHHH. Ahem.

At least I have my baking done for my Halloween party goodies, and I have a couple of things to finish for my costume. It's nice going to a party full of fellow geeks, so I can do something not entirely mainstream and everyone will still get it. It's also nice to do what's generally a pretty low-key "hanging out" party because I'm not that big on Halloween.

Which shouldn't come as much of a surprise, given that I'm a huge weenie who doesn't enjoy being scared. I don't even go to haunted houses. Why bother with the effort of a haunted house when I can get the same effect from being in a quiet room and having the phone ring? My parents' toaster does a nice, loud "Ding!" and that can practically launch me into orbit with a piercing shriek. Someone in a zombie costume jumping out at me would be overkill.

I did go to a haunted house once when I was a kid. My mom took me and some friends to the Jaycees' haunted house in downtown Lawton, OK, when I was in fourth grade. I know it was daylight, so I'm pretty sure it was a watered-down kiddy version, but I still recall it being pretty scary. At least, it was scary enough to send my friend into a massive asthma attack. She had really serious asthma, to the point of being hospitalized pretty often, and I don't know if it was the shock or the dust, but she started wheezing badly. My mom began running interference, calling ahead to warn people not to jump out at us because we had a child with an asthma attack and we just needed to get out of there.

All the costumed characters then became very concerned and very helpful, but they were still pretty hideous, so they were still rather scary while being helpful. That became a problem in the next room we got to, which was done up as the Phantom of the Opera's lair -- and it was the scary Lon Chaney version of the Phantom, long before the more romantic musical theater version. The Phantom was very well made up, one of the scarier costumes I've ever seen. And the Phantom totally forgot that he was the Phantom and went into crisis response mode when he saw a kid in respiratory distress and rushed over to help.

Needless to say, having a hideous Phantom rushing toward her did not help my friend, as my mom had to point out when she had to fend off the Phantom. Soon, they got a non-costumed person to us and got us out one of the emergency exits. Then my mom took us for ice cream. I thought it was pretty cool that my mom fought off the Phantom of the Opera. I've only been to one haunted house since then, eleven years ago on a date. I've pretty much decided that they fall into the category of Not For Me. I love fall, but Halloween isn't really my holiday.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thursday Thinking

Funny, I got a 40 percent off any book coupon from Borders in my e-mail today (though I doubt it's a direct response to my ranting). The sad thing is, after last Friday's unpleasant experience, I found a couple of the books on my list at the library and read a review by someone whose tastes I trust that gave criticisms of the another book I was thinking of getting that would probably have annoyed me. So I'm not sure what I would buy, even at 40 percent off. There's probably some fine print in there to restrict choices. The book I really wanted is apparently not in stock at any Borders nearby. The B&N nearest the Borders has it, but it may just be easier to throw it into the next Amazon order I make because it really is out of my way to go up there.

I did like what one person said in comments to that rant about "communing with the books." That's exactly what it is. Choosing a book isn't really a scientific process. Sometimes you just have to stand there and see which one speaks to you, no matter how much research you've done. I also use bookstore visits to get a sense of the market -- what seems to be the trend, what doesn't exist, etc. We're still overrun by tough chicks with tramp stamps, I'm afraid. I'm ready for something different. There has to be something else to do with an intersection of magic and the real world that doesn't involve acting like a PI.

I've come to the conclusion that what I want is pretty much the USA Network of books -- character-driven, a mix of drama and humor, some quirkiness, serious things happening but without true "darkness" and with a sense of hope, where the characters have some goal to shoot for. Plus, great character interaction. They apparently do have an actual checklist of these items for their original series, and they tend to pick shows for syndication that also fit the model. That's what I want in books, and it seems to be working for USA, so why isn't it showing up in books?

Meanwhile, I'm remembering why revisions are sometimes harder and take more time than writing the book in the first place, as I go into the third day of rewriting one chapter. In the first draft, you just write it. To revise it, sometimes you have to take the time to unthink what's already there so you're freed up to write what needs to be there. Day one was trying to fix what was already there. Day two was realizing that I needed to go further back and make some adjustments before I could move forward while also realizing that most of what I'd written can't be fixed and that things should happen an entirely different way. Day three will be scrapping the middle and rewriting entirely. I might finish this chapter today. I'll have to see if my plan works, since it involves cutting some action and instead building tension, since I realized that the action didn't make that much sense. I can usually write a chapter in a day. There may be dents on my desk and on the wall by the time I'm done with this.

A big storm front just came through, so it's almost at nighttime levels of darkness, even in a room with a wall of windows and a skylight. I also don't have to go anywhere at all, so it should be a good writing day. I might even be able to move on to the next chapter. We'll see if I hit the Thursday 4 p.m. blahs this week or if I can power through. I also need to do some baking, as the food I'm bringing to the Halloween party is also part of my costume.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Busting Publishing Myths

Wow, it seems I struck a nerve with my Borders rant. I've read about that handselling policy online, but I only have visited that one store, so I don't know if that store's manager takes it more seriously than others or if I just look approachable enough that I get the full onslaught (plus, I tend to be in the store in off hours when I may be the only customer). Aside from the personal irritation, I mostly feel bad for the employees whose performance evaluations are tied to this silly practice and who have the impossible task of trying to make everyone buy a book chosen at the corporate level. I do know that if I get desperate enough to look for any kind of day job, I won't be applying at Borders. I can talk about books all day, but I can't sell something aggressively (I couldn't even sell Girl Scout cookies).

Now, for the semi-weekly writing post:
From my regular excursions around the Internet and from the way I see the book industry portrayed on TV, I get the impression that there are a lot of false impressions out there about the way publishing works. To help clear things up, I'll address some myths and realities about publishing. (This would be more fun if it were on Mythbusters and I could literally blow things up, but I'm stuck using words.)

Myth #1: You have to know somebody to get a book published. It's all about who you know.
Reality: It's mostly about the book for a first-time author. For other authors, it's about the sales numbers on previous books in addition to the quality and the potential sales for this book.
Exception: If you're famous for something else, it may be easier to get a book published -- if you're already known as a journalist, actor, model, singer or reality show personality, your novel will probably sell on the basis of your name instead of on the merits of the book itself. Sadly, there are people out there who will buy something just because it has a famous person's name on it, and famous people have a better chance of publicizing a book because they can get on talk shows and get other interviews. But I would consider this more a case of "who knows you" than "who you know."
Explanation: It doesn't hurt to know people in the business, but just knowing people isn't that big a help. It might get you a faster read instead of languishing in the slush pile, but it still comes down to the merits of the book, and they're not going to buy a book they wouldn't have bought otherwise just because they know you. I know a lot of people in the business. I'm personal friends with a lot of editors and agents. But when I sold the Enchanted, Inc. series, the agent I went with was one I'd never met, and I approached her in the same way anyone else would, by sending a query letter according to her guidelines, and the editor who bought it was one I'd never heard of. I've never sold a book to an editor I already knew pretty well. Where knowing people -- whether in a personal friendship or just by following blogs -- helps is in helping you know what's going on in the industry, what kinds of books are selling and what various editors' and agents' particular pet peeves or interests are. Not that you should stick dogs in your book just because you learn that a particular agent is a dog lover, for example, but if you've written a book involving a dog, then you might highlight that aspect of your book in your query to that agent, or if the dog dies in your book, you'd know that agent would likely be turned off.
Bottom line: Make contacts and do your research, but don't count on that selling the book for you. The only "easy" shortcut is to go become famous elsewhere and then try to sell your book. (Good luck with that.)

Myth #2: Once you sell your first book, it's easy sailing because you have your foot in the door.
Reality: Some things get easier. Some things actually get harder.
Explanation: This myth tends to come up in the context of complaints about the Catch-22 of publishing, that you have to have sold a book to get an agent, but you have to have an agent to sell a book, so once you sell a book, you've broken out of that catch and have it made. Already being published can help -- you may already have an agent and don't have to jump through the query process hoops with each new project. If you don't already have an agent, you are likely to be more attractive to agents with a sale under your belt. You already have a relationship with an editor and don't have to jump through the usual query hoops with each new project. However, you also now have a track record and numbers that go with your name, so they're not just guessing how well your book will sell based on sales of similar titles, they're projecting based on your actual sales numbers. A brand-new author could be the next big thing, but an existing author who wasn't the next big thing has baggage. An author who has sold a book may also be pigeonholed into a certain area so that publishers resist trying something new.
Bottom line: You have to be really successful on a consistent basis before this business becomes "easy."

Myth #3: Authors are wealthy.
Reality: Some authors do get rich, but most authors don't earn enough money to make a living from their writing and have to have other jobs or spouses to support them.
Explanation: We generally hear about the big, mega-selling authors because they're famous and because they sell a lot. You don't hear about Joe Author who gets a four-figure advance because nobody would care. Advances in the $5,000-$20,000 range are far, far more common than the six-figure or multi-million dollar advances, and most books don't earn royalties beyond their advances.
Then remember that this is a gross amount. From that, deduct 15 percent for the agent's commission and any business expenses -- which include just about any promotion and publicity the author wants to do, since the publisher doesn't pay for that. Unless they're lucky enough to have a spouse with a good health plan, authors have to pay for their own health insurance at individual rates. Authors also have to pay self-employment taxes, which is the amount that would be deducted from a paycheck for stuff like Social Security, plus the amount an employer would usually match (it's approximately double what's deducted from a paycheck). I have had years where my gross writing income was in the neighborhood of what I was making when I had a day job, but I've yet to have my net writing income match my take-home pay from my day job, even from when I was working part-time, and I wasn't working in a high-paying field. I don't have a day job, but I do some freelance writing, and I went into this with a large savings account from years of living frugally while I had a day job. Most years, I couldn't live on my fiction writing alone.
Bottom line: You could get lucky, but in general, this is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Myth #4: Publishers are only interested in "safe" books that don't push boundaries, and they'll reject anything too unusual.
Reality: Yes, and no. This is a business, so they're going to focus on making money, so they need to publish the books likely to appeal to the broadest base of readers. But most people who work in publishing are there because they love to read, and they'll work to make it happen if they come across something unusual that really knocks their socks off.
Explanation: This is generally a sour grapes myth -- the kind of thing people say when their books are rejected. It softens the blow to think that it wasn't the quality of what you wrote but rather the fact that it was too good for them. It's also easy to look at the bookstore shelves and think that they only want more of the same. To some extent, that is true, especially in tough times. They're going to go for the thing that they know for sure there's an audience for over the thing that's likely to have a smaller audience or that will require a lot of work (and money) to promote enough to get people to try it. Most of the books that seemed to come out of nowhere to become mega-bestsellers were rejected left and right before they sold. On the other hand, the odder your concept, the higher the quality your writing needs to be to get accepted. I have learned this one the hard way. I had a really out-there concept that did get rejected for being too weird, but I know that means that I didn't write well enough to pull off that concept (and someday I'll revisit it and see if I can write it better).
Bottom line: It is possible to be too out there, and the more out there you are, the better your book has to be. Of course, the better your book is, the better your chances are, whether you're writing something tried-and-true or something truly weird. Unfortunately, "good" is a subjective value.

Myth #5: You have to follow proper manuscript format to sell a book.
Reality: This is another one of those yes and no answers. You do want to present your manuscript professionally, but proper format is not a magical formula that will somehow elevate your book above the rest.
Explanation: If you're writing screenplays, you do need to follow a standard format because that's how they determine how long the produced film will be. Some short story markets are also picky about exactly how something is formatted. Most book publishers just want it to be double-spaced, with type that can be easily read, black ink on white paper. Supposedly, "standard manuscript format" involves 12 point Courier type, but I've heard editors and agents say they prefer other fonts (they don't agree on a font, which means there is no industry-wide standard). One of my former editors, who'd been in the business for years and who was a senior editor at a major publishing company, actually didn't know what "standard format" was (so I would assume you wouldn't be rejected for not using it). I used to write for a house that supposedly has a very specific format they want, and I'd sold two books to them before I learned this, so it must not have been crucial (and I didn't sell more to them once I started using their "standard" format). To play it safe, go with 12 point type in a reasonably standard font (Courier, Times New Roman, or something of that ilk -- no script, Gothic or Dingbats), double space, and use 1-inch margins all around. If your targeted market has a standard format they want to see, use it. Most editors and agents aren't going to reject a book just because the format isn't perfect if they otherwise love it, but if it's a pain to read, they may be more inclined to give up and stop reading sooner. Meanwhile, absolutely perfect formatting won't save a book if the content isn't there.
There is no standard length for chapters. It depends on the pacing and the way you want to structure your story. Some authors make each new scene its own chapter, some use chapters for point-of-view shifts, some vary chapter length and some keep the same length for each chapter. Typically, you would start each new chapter on a new page with the chapter heading about a third of the way down on the page.
Bottom line: Be professional and make it easy to read, but worry more about the story than the formatting because the story is what sells the book.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Borders

The rainy-day marathon was a big success. After a slow start when the cold, dark, rainy day just made me want to nap, I was able to figure out a particularly knotty problem and then move forward. And then I realized that the "forward" came at the very end of the day, fairly late at night, and I'd spent hours re-working what I'd already done so I could reach the "forward" part. Today, though, I really do hope to move ahead.

One thing I did this weekend, in addition to going to the show on Friday and the neighborhood social and the library on Saturday (it was a rockin' weekend, for sure) was swing by Borders, since they'd sent me another one of those tempting coupons. As a result of that visit, I have this open letter to Borders (which I will likely send to their management):

Dear Borders:

I know times are tough and you need to do anything to make a buck. I also know that you think you're being innovative by having your employees hand-sell certain books whose publishers are paying you to do so.

But, speaking as a customer, I have to say Stop. It. Now. It's the most annoying thing ever, it cost you at least one sale this weekend, and it's making me reluctant to go to Borders anymore because it makes book shopping intensely unpleasant.

I had only a few minutes to spend in your store because I was on my way somewhere else, but I'd been lured by a coupon, and I had a list of specific books I was looking for. I had just enough time to look for these books, decide which one I wanted, and then get through the checkout line. But then I got waylaid by your employee, doing the mandatory book-pushing duty. She shoved a book into my hands and told me I would love it.

I don't mind handselling when it's true handselling, when a bookseller who knows me as a regular customer or who has taken the time to get to know what I like recommends books based on her knowledge of my tastes. This program is the opposite of handselling. It's attempting to make books a one-size-fits-all item. There is no possible way that booksellers can honestly tell every single customer that he or she will like one particular book. This book was so far beyond what I'm remotely interested in reading that I practically threw it back at the bookseller in reflexive revulsion once I read the cover copy.

Unfortunately, the time taken up with having to look at this book I didn't want and then fend off the bookseller trying to push the other "make" title on me meant that when I didn't find the primary book I was looking for after searching a couple of different possible sections, I no longer had the time to look at the other possible books on my wish list and then get through checkout before I had to leave, so I just left the store without buying anything. If I hadn't been waylaid by your "make" titles, I would have probably bought a book.

The problems with this practice are numerous:
1) If customers don't realize that this isn't an honest recommendation and instead is merely another form of paid placement, it risks your booksellers' credibility when they make blanket recommendations that are outside their own areas of interest and that have absolutely nothing to do with the customers' tastes. When a bookseller pushes a book the customer has zero interest in with a "you'll love it" recommendation, the customer is less likely to listen to that person's recommendations in the future. Handselling -- real handselling -- then loses its effectiveness. If you do know it's paid placement, you can no longer trust any bookseller recommendations. A Borders bookseller can swear on a stack of Bibles that a book is brilliant and that I'll love it, and unless I know that bookseller personally, I won't believe it. I will assume it's paid placement and disregard it.
2) When booksellers have to focus on pushing particular titles, they aren't available to help customers find the books they're actually looking for.
3) Most people don't really like being rude or rejecting people, so if they have to reject a bookseller every time they walk through the door of a bookstore, they're going to quit going to the bookstore. This practice makes it less pleasant to visit a bookstore. Amazon looks better all the time. At least their recommendations are based on actual data, and I don't feel rude for rejecting or ignoring them. Why would you deliberately create a situation that makes your customers want to avoid your employees?
4) Making me look at a book I have zero interest in wastes time I could be spending browsing books I am interested in (it's probably not smart to intercept people heading to the genre fiction section to push literary fiction) and makes me less likely to buy anything at all.

I find this practice so annoying that even your coupons may not make up for it if I have to enter the store through the cafe and then crawl on my elbows to the section that interests me so I can avoid the "make" title push. I can tell you right now that I will NEVER buy one of these books. On the remote chance that one of them interests me (so far, none of them have been of the slightest interest to me), I will make a point of buying it somewhere else because I refuse to reward this practice.

This may be a radical concept, but why not empower your employees and give them free rein to choose the books they want to push, based on their customers' tastes and interests? Or maybe develop some subject matter experts who can help customers within certain genres? I would love it if a knowledgeable bookseller could take a list of my favorites and give me some good recommendations for other books I might like or could give me insight into new titles in my areas of interest.

I hope the publishers are giving you a ton of money for these "make" titles, enough to make up for the customers you lose by making it so unpleasant to go to your stores. I have my own issues with the other big chain and go out of my way to visit Borders even though the other chain has a store a mile from my house, but my loyalties are about to shift, and I'm a very avid reader.

Love, me.

Or am I being a grouch about this? I was just so annoyed about the fact that I went there planning to buy a book and then didn't have time to choose one because I got stopped and had a book that included the words "crumbling marriage" (one of my auto-reject cues) on the cover literally shoved into my hands, even after I told the employee that I wasn't interested and that I knew she was being forced to push that book rather than making an honest recommendation. I don't ask much of bookstore sales staff. I usually just want to be left alone and can find things for myself. If I need help finding something, like if I'm not sure which section it's in, it's nice if there's a human being at the information desk. If I have time, I don't mind chatting if the bookseller notices what I'm buying and can make other recommendations. Other than that, I just need someone there to take my money.

Otherwise, are there no writing post questions? I have Book Brain this week, so you never know what I might come up with if I'm left to my own devices.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Nightmares, Nerves and New TV

For an interesting start to my day, just before I woke up, I dreamed first that I went back to work at my first job out of college, working for my first boss, and then that dream transitioned to me being on jury duty -- and these weren't nightmares. Not that they were the kind of happy dream you don't want to leave when you wake up, but I didn't have the kind of emotional or physiological reaction I associate with nightmares. I was going back to that job with a sense of resignation and a mental vow to get out of there as soon as possible. It certainly was incentive to get to work today to create something that could earn me some money so I won't have to take measures that extreme.

I wondered in my musing on darkness if maybe I was just a big weenie, and the answer may be "yes." I had something of an epiphany Friday night when I went with some friends to see the stage version of Rocky Horror and realized that I would never in a million years have the guts to do something like that. Aside from the singing stage fright, I don't think I'd have the nerve to do a whole show just wearing lingerie or to act like that. I'd want to have some kind of disclaimer that I'm not really like that. Which means that in spite of my idle daydreams, I probably never would have made it as an actress because I'm a big, huge chicken. It wouldn't hurt me to step out of my comfort zone every so often, though. I took drama classes in college, and I've pondered taking the acting class at the nearby community college, just for the loosening up that's pretty much forced upon you (acting technique is also great for characterization). But I still won't be auditioning for Rocky Horror. I was flustered enough when they came up the aisle to do the Time Warp at the finale, and I found myself dancing with "Rocky," who was wearing nothing but a gold Speedo. My social life lately generally hasn't involved nearly naked men with nice bodies, so that was ... interesting.

In other weekend news, I absolutely loved the pilot for White Collar on USA. Smart, attractive people thinking their way through cases while having a sense of humor -- yeah, I'm in. Plus, after last week's discussion on the whiny girlfriends/spouses of save-the-world guys, it was refreshing to see the FBI agent's wife being so cool. She didn't whine or make a fuss when her husband didn't make it home for dinner. She just called the dog to the table and let it eat her husband's dinner. She struck a nice balance between being supportive and showing concern about how hard he was working. When she mentioned how hard he was working, it did come across as concern for him and not "what about meeeeeee?" whining. Meanwhile, the ads weren't tricking me into getting a slight Owen vibe from the main character. The character is totally different, but there were moments where he really struck me as looking just like something I'd pictured, and the voice was even right. It was a little eerie. I'm still not endorsing any particular actor or indulging in fantasy casting, but I would certainly be on board if they wanted to cast Matt Bomer (and hey, he's already working for Universal). And now I kind of want to go write more books about Owen.

Today is delightfully dreary, and I have nothing on my agenda but writing, so after lunch I'll be hauling the laptop to the loft and settling down for a marathon working session. I'm even wearing the Fuzzy Pink Pajama Pants of Writing. I don't work in my pajamas, but I do have items in my wardrobe that are meant to be pajamas that I have designated as daytime work clothes. On cool, dreary days, the Fuzzy Pink Pajama Pants are ideal for curling up with the laptop.

One last thing: I don't have a topic in mind for a writing post this week. Does anyone have something you want me to tackle? I think I've worked through the last list I made of reader requests.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Shiny New Ideas

I managed to escape the Thursday-afternoon doldrums this week and got quite a lot done, with a few minor side trips.

The side trips being that the rabid, idea-generating squirrels in my brain are at it again. Just when I'm in the middle of the tedious part of writing one project (the rewriting) and with another project in progress, they gave me a nice, shiny, new idea that I really want to play with. This one is actually a collision of several idea fragments that have been floating around for a while, and the other day they smashed together with an almost audible CLANG to create what I think is a viable idea. There was a plot starting point/first scene, there was a vague "I'd kind of like to write a book like that" and then there was a general time/place/style setting. As soon as that CLANG happened, the opening scene recreated itself to fit the new concept, and then suddenly I had a big-picture plot with some vague outlines of characters, and now this idea keeps bubbling up from the subconscious whenever I try to work on something else. The really weird thing is that yesterday I read a blog post from someone talking about the kind of book she wanted to read, and this was exactly that book. There must be something in the air.

However, it will just have to get in line. It will take a lot of research before I can write it because the setting isn't something I've dealt with before. I've also never attempted quite this kind/style of book, so I need to read a bit more in that genre to get a better sense of the expectations and the cliches. As I have learned recently, the delay will give the subconscious squirrels more time to develop and flesh out this idea and the book will be better for it, no matter how much I want to jump in right now. I need to finish what I'm working on before I can even start thinking about the new one, even though I keep finding myself wanting to start reading relevant stuff. This is going to require a lot of self discipline.

Of course, this sort of thing happens all the time, as creativity breeds creativity, and the more you exercise the squirrels, the more active they are and the more energy they have. I just have to keep a notebook handy to jot down random things about the new idea as they occur to me, and then I can get back to what I was doing instead of dwelling on it.

Following up on yesterday's post, I am trying to write some things that may be more in line with where the market is now while still retaining the essence of me. Instead of flat-out comedy, I'm doing more of characters with a sense of humor dealing with serious situations that may have a touch of quirk to them. So far, I haven't had much luck. My "serious" is still not "dark" and my worlds are still more light than dark, even if they have some scary or bad stuff in them. I also run into that typecasting thing that gets me with the romance angle. Just as, for some reason, they think that anything I write that has a male and female main character who show even the slightest hint of interacting is a romance, they also seem to expect everything I write to be comedy, so they're disappointed if it's not funny enough, even if they wouldn't be buying a comedy anyway. Basically, while publishers don't want any more of the Enchanted, Inc. series right now, they expect me to essentially be writing something exactly like it even if that's not what they really want. Yeah, it confuses me, too. I'll just keep writing, and either the market will change or I'll come up with something they love regardless of their expectations, or else all the personnel will do their usual musical chairs and I can deal with different people. All of which are entirely possible.

Television note for Doctor Who fans: Starting Sunday night, David Tennant will be hosting Masterpiece Contemporary on PBS, and since he's being himself, that means the Scottish accent will be there. They didn't show the host intros for the past few Mystery episodes, which I didn't mind so much because all the intros they did show gave away the ending, so I don't know how much we'll actually get to see. The intros may be all I watch because I'm not as big a fan of the contemporary stories. They mostly seem to be Cod Liver Oil Television, stuff you should watch because it's good for you, not because it's at all enjoyable. It's all about Important Social Issues. Plus, I like the bonnets and top hats and all the historical stuff you get in the Classic stories.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fighting the Darkness

I gripe a lot about the prevalence of darkness in fiction because that affects me both as a reader and as a writer. I read for fun, to escape, and my personal taste tends toward the funny. I'm put off by things that take themselves too seriously, and so much of what's in bookstores today is waving the DARK! banner so vigorously that it feels like it's trying too hard. I don't mind a bit of darkness and angst, but I prefer it when it's mixed with a mostly optimistic view of the world. I guess that's why I'm a big Doctor Who fan -- it can be serious and dark and angsty and dramatic, with the fate of the entire universe at stake, but it never entirely loses that sense of fun and optimism and hope. The Doctor is never really jaded, in spite of all he goes through, and that's such a contrast with the typical world-weary urban fantasy protagonist.

It also affects me as a writer because this trend is really bad for my career at the moment. I don't think I could write something truly dark if my life depended on it because I don't see the world that way. If I tried to write dark, it would probably come across as fake and pretentious. I don't necessarily have to write flat-out comedy, but anything I write will probably fall on the lighter side of things.

Theoretically, the current economic climate should lend itself to light and funny. The Great Depression was the heyday of the screwball comedy. It does seem like funny is what's most successful at the box office right now. Even a modestly reviewed comedy will beat out almost everything else. And yet the publishing world is mostly mired in unrelenting darkness where the only humor is the occasional dry-witted quip and all the heroes are Dark and Dangerous with bad attitudes.

I was on an online chat the other night with a New York editor, and I asked about this, whether the trend was about to turn with what's waiting in the wings, since we're currently seeing the books bought a couple of years ago, but she said that lighter books still aren't selling nearly as well as the darker stuff. Readers really seem to want the dark. Her view was that reading the darker stuff made the real world seem lighter and easier to take in comparison. I can kind of see the point, since I'm the person who watches Battlestar Galactica and Band of Brothers as stress relief. But those only work for me when I'm dealing with a specific stress that I need to put in perspective (and the attractive men in uniforms also probably have a lot to do with it). When I'm just in a general-purpose bad mood or life is getting me down, that's when I want something escapist. I want something that makes me laugh. This holds even more true for books. A TV episode or movie is an hour or two, and then it's over -- it's quick catharsis. I spend hours with a book, getting deep into the characters' heads, so spending that much time in darkness is only going to drag me down further rather than put my life in perspective.

However, "light" doesn't necessarily mean "lightweight" just as "dark" doesn't always equal "deep," even though that's the way the world tends to see them. Something funny and heartwarming can still have substance and seriousness. I think my ideal combo is something that makes me both laugh and cry -- and I probably won't cry if I haven't laughed at least a little bit first. That gives me the full emotional release that eases stress and makes me feel better. If something is unrelentingly dark, my barriers go up and I feel no connection at all to it. The best lighter fare is funny because it does touch on serious truths. Take Terry Pratchett and all the social commentary he works in. He also doesn't shy away from making things difficult for his characters, but I don't think you could call his work "dark" by any stretch of the imagination. Those classic screwball comedies from the Depression dealt with some very real issues and had a strong social conscience while offering a sense of hope. This was a big reason why I loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It showed characters dealing with adversity and hard times while still prevailing and finding light in the darkness. It was a book that had enough in it to make my own life seem easier and lighter in comparison, but still wasn't dark. And, when you think about it, real life is probably going to seem easier than even most comedies because fiction needs larger-than-life conflict and strife of some kind to work. Meanwhile, it's very easy to have shallow darkness, with characters who are edgy and moody for no good reason other than that it's cool and with a grim outlook on life that doesn't actually say anything about the world or the human condition.

Since there is almost nothing light in bookstores and since books get so little publicity that it's nearly impossible to find the light stuff while darkness is getting all the buzz, I wonder how publishers can say that light isn't selling at all. You can't sell what isn't there, and when you go to the store too many times without finding anything, you quit going. At least there's one publisher brave enough to try chick lit again, and that same publisher (Sourcebooks) is reissuing a lot of the old Georgette Heyer books, so there's something I can read that I can let myself get emotionally involved in. I also liked the first book in K.E. Mills' Rogue Agent series and have already bought the second for my "vacation" reading. That got dark in places, but I wouldn't characterize it as "dark" overall. But I need more light, and it's so hard to find right now.

Or am I just a weenie who can't handle dark? Am I that out of step with the mainstream? I guess the readership here is self-selected, since if you're reading my blog, you probably read my books, so you're predisposed to like the funny. The whole thing is kind of depressing. I may have to start looking for a real job if publishers aren't interested in what I write -- and that might be sad enough to enable me to go darker. But I suspect it would just be moody and depressing and not the Sexy!Edgy!Dark that's popular now.

On the up side, with so few books I want to buy, I may be able to stretch out the bank account a little longer. Current publishing trends are great for my budget.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cliches and Rationality

While I tend to rail against cliches in books (and other forms of fiction), I'm starting to see some reason behind them as I work on some of the issues in the book I'm currently revising.

For instance, one thing that bugs me is when characters behave irrationally (or what seems irrationally to me). One biggie is when a woman (and it's almost always a woman) whose significant other has some kind of "save the world" profession -- soldier, secret agent, doctor, fireman, cop, superhero -- throws a hissy fit about his priorities when he goes off to save the world. These women always seem to want to have a discussion about their relationship or enjoy a romantic moment together right at the time that he has to get somewhere RIGHT NOW or someone (or many someones) will die, and she takes him choosing other people's lives over her whims as a sign that he doesn't love her. I guess this one bothers me because I grew up as a military brat, and while my dad wasn't really in a "drop everything and run, NOW" role, there were family sacrifices to be made, like him having to be gone for a long time or working strange hours or us having to move a lot, so I grew up with the awareness that fussing about it wasn't going to change anything. It would just make him feel bad, and that didn't do anyone any good. That seems even more important for immediate life-or-death situations because making a fuss that makes him feel bad could distract him and decrease his chances of making it back okay. Besides, it's hard for me to sympathize with a character who thinks that her momentary happiness is more important than someone else's life or the fate of the free world.

Then there are the men (and it's usually men) who have had one bad relationship where the woman turned out to be out for what she could get from him rather than really in love, so she broke his heart and now he's decided that all women are golddiggers and can't be trusted, and he might even go as far as to try to punish all women for the sins of that one (in other words, that's his excuse for being a jerk). I could see being a bit wary of relationships after a heartbreak, no matter what the cause, but it's always struck me as irrational to paint all women with the same brush after one bad one. It takes at least three points to create a pattern, so unless he's run across multiple women like that, he doesn't have enough information to make that assumption, and even there, if he's got a pattern the problem could be with him. If the way he meets women is by hanging out in high-end bars and buying drinks for the artificially enhanced women who hang out there trolling for sugar daddies to buy them stuff, then that could be the problem right there. It's not all women. It's the women he picks. I can't see that man as haunted and tortured and needing to be Healed By Love. I just see him as a whiny, immature jerk.

I tend to like rational people, so that's the kind of characters I write, and I like subverting cliches like this by having the characters respond rationally, but this brings me back to the Spock Writes a Romance Novel issue because when characters behave rationally, it decreases the conflict level and the stakes, and fiction is all about conflict. When the woman sends off her superhero boyfriend to save the world with a calm, "Be careful! Good luck saving the world! Call me when you get back!" there's no conflict, and because she isn't too upset about him going off, it could look like she doesn't really have anything at stake because she doesn't care that much. Ditto with the rational man who realizes that not all women will take what they can get and break his heart and that maybe dating a different kind of woman will be in order. If he isn't so devastated that he can't love again, then it looks like he didn't really love before, there's nothing keeping him from making another attempt at a relationship with someone else, and there's nothing at stake and no conflict. I think it may be possible to write people behaving rationally and still show that something is at stake and to have conflict, but it's very difficult to do, which is where the cliches come in. (And why I'm spending this week whimpering and pounding my head against walls while inhaling chocolate.)

Another cliche that's struck me lately, since this is the time of year when I delve into the atmospheric Gothic novels, is the Gothic trope of the guy who seems bad but who is really good. The Gothic hero was always the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy who seemed like he might be the villain for part of the book, until after a few twists and turns the heroine discovered that he was good all along. Sometimes they got really wacky and had the Nice Guy turn out to be a snake in disguise, but most of the time he was just there in the role of Safety Net -- so that during the phase when the hero looked like the villain readers could be assured that the heroine still had a prospect for a romantic happily ever after and so that the heroine had someone she could trust absolutely to be there for her when she had nowhere else to turn. Of course, that always had me thinking, "You know, if you could be afraid of that one guy and be able to believe that he could be the villain, and if you absolutely trust this other guy to be there for you in a crisis, then maybe that should be some kind of sign," but she never listened to me.

This may have seemed like a twist back in the heyday of Mary Stewart -- ha! You just thought this was the bad guy, but he's really good! Surprise! -- but it's become its own cliche. Not that it was all that fresh even in the 1950s, considering it goes back at least to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice, where it turned out that the cold, harsh, rude Mr. Darcy was actually the good guy and the nice, easygoing Mr. Wickham was the bad guy. Then there was Jane Eyre, with dark, dangerous Mr. Rochester and all his dark, dangerous secrets and St. John Rivers, the nice guy who provided a place of refuge but who got dumped the moment she found out that Rochester needed her (though he was her cousin, but apparently in the Victorian era that wasn't quite the squick it is today).

Then again, it wouldn't be all that surprising if the guy who seemed like a villain really was. I'm not entirely sure how to make this scenario fresh -- maybe by not having the Dark and Dangerous Bad Boy and The Nice Guy as the only options in the first place or by not making them so clear-cut. I did read one Gothic where the dark, dangerous guy wasn't really a villain, but he also wasn't the one the heroine ended up with, and she did end up with the Safety Net guy after realizing that Mr. Dark and Dangerous was way too screwed up to be a good relationship prospect. That was surprising, and I loved it, since I tend to like the safety net guys a lot more than I like Dark and Dangerous Bad Boys. However, I seem to be in the minority there, so it's likely that the vast majority of readers would be disappointed by that because they like the Dark, Dangerous Bad Boys.

And now I will go back to wrestling with ways to have conflict and high stakes while people are behaving rationally and not being jerks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Book Report

I mentioned that I spent Sunday afternoon curled up with a good book. I've actually done a fair amount of reading lately, so I've got a Book Report!

First, there was My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent, the first book in her Soul Screamers young adult series. I'm too big a weenie to read her werecats books, but this one was right up my alley, since it focuses on a mythology/folklore that I find interesting. Teenager Kaylee doesn't understand why she has these freaky panic attacks where she gets the weirdest feeling that someone's about to die. It's even freakier when that person actually does die. She learns that this is because she's a bean sidhe -- a banshee -- and she has to come to terms with her heritage in time to find out why teenagers are suddenly dropping like flies, for no good reason.

Then I read Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire. Words cannot express how refreshing it was to read an urban fantasy book without a single vampire or were-anything (though I'm holding out for the were-giraffe) and that couldn't ever be mistaken for a paranormal romance. This one was much closer to a hardboiled detective novel, only involving the world of faerie. I had fun with this because that's a subject I've been reading a lot about, and I liked that the author was pretty disciplined in sticking to the one area of mythology instead of taking the "if one paranormal thing exists, then they all do" approach (aka "Vampires, wizards and demons, oh my!"). There were a few moments when I felt like she was trying a bit hard to make the heroine seem tough and to have a chip on her shoulder, but I suppose that comes with the territory in this genre and I may as well give up on having perkier main characters in urban fantasy unless I write them. Who knows, maybe I'm the only one in the universe who wants an urban fantasy heroine who wears pastel florals. This one was a real page turner with some intriguing world building.

For something completely different, my Sunday-afternoon reading was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, which is currently burning up the bestseller lists, and I can see why because it was an absolutely delightful book, what I'd fit into the category of comfort food reading. It was utterly predictable -- just a few pages in and I had pretty much predicted everything that would happen and who would end up together, and I'd even figured out the big revelation about one character because it's practically required by law that all characters of that type will be that way -- but it was predictable in a good way in that these were for the most part the things you wanted to happen, and that meant the book was satisfying and a feel-good read. It's definitely not one of those that suddenly has to pull the rug out from under you and give the main characters an unhappy ending in order to appear literary. The story involves the residents of one of the Channel Islands during World War II, when they were the one part of Great Britain occupied by the Germans throughout the war. It's told entirely through letters and other written forms of communication as a British journalist right after the war gets a letter from a Guernsey farmer who had bought a used book with her name and address in it and who wants to know if she knows more about that author (I guess that's what people did before Google). The letter references the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and she's intrigued, so she writes back. Soon, she's corresponding with the people of the island, who tell her about their wartime experiences, how their group was formed and how books and reading helped get them through the war. Eventually, she travels there herself to research a book and gets caught up in their lives. I alternated between laughing out loud and weeping, and it's the kind of book you close with a sigh and a smile. It would be a great choice for a multi-generational book group because it might spur some discussion about wartime memories. It hit a number of my buttons -- involving books, England and WWII, told through letters, and involving a hint of romance. Add a dragon and a sword fight and it could be one of the best books ever. I've always found the idea of the Channel Islands intriguing, and now I want to go there.

In other news, Amazon says that they have one copy of Enchanted, Inc. left, with more on order, and it's been that way for a few days. I really wish someone would buy that one copy because it's bugging me. It makes me realize that not even one copy a day is selling, and that's depressing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cylon Cops

This was a fairly restorative weekend. Saturday, I celebrated the result of the Texas vs. Oklahoma game by going out for German food with friends (it wasn't a designated celebration, but the invitation came just at a moment when I was feeling celebratory). Then Sunday my choir sang for the early morning service, and while it was a pain having to get up so early, it was kind of nice to have been to church, run some errands, read the newspaper and had lunch before the time I usually get home from church. I'd had grand plans about using the particularly long afternoon to walk over to the river with a picnic lunch, but then I realized that I had no portable lunch-type food on hand and it was a pretty windy day and I already had some allergy issues (itchy eyes, sniffles), so I didn't think being outdoors for several hours was a great idea. Instead, I curled up on the sofa with a good book and some tea, and it was bliss. Now I think I'm even energized for the week (aside from the sniffles and itchy eyes).

I haven't done an HBO report for a while, in part because there hasn't been anything I really wanted to watch and in part because I haven't had the time or attention span for an entire movie. Instead, I seem to have developed a habit of watching crime shows OnDemand or in cable syndication. In spite of loving mystery novels, I've never been that big a fan of crime shows, aside from a junior high fondness for CHiPs (it was mostly about the attractive young men in uniforms with tight pants -- and now the sergeant is Jim's dad on The Office!). Otherwise, most of the law-enforcement type shows I've watched have been more along the lines of science fiction with law-enforcement characters, like The X-Files and Warehouse 13. But I've been developing a character who works in law enforcement, which has meant some research into the topic, which led to additional curiosity about the subject so that the TV shows became more appealing. Unfortunately, the reality and the TV world clash in ways that make my brain hurt.

Take the New York version of CSI, which is pretty much the "mama bear" just-right version for me -- original recipe is too icky with delving into "deviant" lifestyles, and Miami is too icky with the caliber of acting. I've only been able to tolerate either when there was a guest star I wanted to see (and what a waste of Adam Baldwin). The New York version isn't quite so icky (although the murder statistics seem to skew toward rich, white people, contrary to reality) and the acting is far better than Miami. However, I really don't get the concept of the series.

It seems like the people who work in the crime lab do all the work of the entire police department. They collect evidence and document the crime scene, which makes sense, and then they analyze the evidence, which I guess makes sense, though I wouldn't think that the people who collect the evidence would also be running all the tests. That seems to fall into the same fictional trope as the doctors on House who run all their own tests. And then the crime lab guys also go out and interview suspects, participate in interrogations and strap on the Kevlar and go out to take down suspects. The police memoirs I've read all gripe about how long they have to hang out waiting for the crime scene team to show up and how long it takes to get lab results, and I can see why if the crime lab guys are having to do absolutely everything on the case. They do acknowledge that some of the police work doesn't involve DNA tests and does involve legwork, and they have a designated character for that, good old Detective Drudge. A typical scene involves the crime lab guy reporting to his boss that the fibers on the victim's clothing turned out to come from a rare breed of gnu, which the local zoo happens to have, and Detective Drudge is following up on that. A few minutes later (maybe an hour in the world of the show), Detective Drudge will show up to report that the victim's brother-in-law is the gnu-keeper at the zoo, and the victim was at his house before he was killed, which could explain the fibers. There are witnesses who saw the gnu-keeper with the gnus at the time of the murder, so that rules him out. This seems to be the opposite of the way things work in the real world, where the detective manages the case, and when the crime lab sends him their results, he incorporates that into his investigation but he wouldn't have to report any of his findings to them unless it involved some new piece of evidence for them to analyze.

Meanwhile, poor Detective Drudge seems to be the only homicide detective in the entire city. He's at every single crime scene. The crime lab would presumably cover the whole city, since it's too expensive to have one in every precint, but they only seem to work with this one guy. And when he gets a little spare time, he does things like put together huge drug busts. At first I thought that maybe that was just editing, that we only see the cases they work with this one detective, but then those cases do cover the whole city and not any one particular precinct. So instead it's like the crime lab is really responsible for fighting all the crime in New York, and Detective Drudge is their pet detective who does all the legwork.

But then I realized I was looking at it the wrong way. This is actually a science fiction series set in a near-future alternative-reality New York, and Detective Drudge is, you guessed it, a Cylon (or Cylon-type robot). Due to budget cuts and advanced technology, all homicide detectives have been replaced with Detective Drudge units, so there's at least one in every precinct. They're all wirelessly linked, so they all dress the same on each day, and that means you never know which one you're dealing with. They also share info and help each other with research and legwork, which is how he's able to find needles in haystacks so quickly. Unfortunately, the info sharing also means that they all share memories of their personal problems and traumas, which maximizes the angst and suffering, but they haven't yet worked that bug out.

You know, that might make a fun science fiction story.

Anyway, thinking in those terms ups my science fiction quota (since it was starting to be heavily outnumbered by crime shows) and brings killer robots back to my television after the end of Battlestar Galactica and the cancellation of The Terminator series, so I'm happy with this concept. And hey, if you're going to make multiple copies of a guy, he's not a bad choice (dark hair, blue eyes, definitely my type, even if he is a child).

For future CSI shows, it might be fun to incorporate some reality and have them work with multiple detectives, depending on the precinct, so that the detective could be a celebrity cameo role. Who'll be there to introduce the case at the crime scene this week?

And I think I may be adding yet another crime-type show to my slate this week when White Collar starts on USA. I admit that my reasons for watching this are entirely shallow, mostly because when I see an ad for it out of the corner of my eye, my brain says, "Owen!" Which means I must watch it. Oddly, though, I never got the "Owen!" response when this actor was on Chuck, even though from the sounds of things, this character isn't much at all like Owen. I think it's the hair and wardrobe in the ads. Mind you, this is not to be taken as a fantasy casting endorsement, since I'm still trying to stay away from that and keep an open mind.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Chili Weather

In the category of "I never could get the hang of Thursdays," I've noticed for the past few weeks that something seems to happen to my brain at about 4 on Thursday afternoon. I lose all ability to focus. I'll be going along just fine, then at 4 the brain comes to a screeching halt. I wonder if that's the point where my brain has done enough writing for the week and needs to recharge or if it just happens to coincide with where I am in the work. Yesterday, I'd reached a point where I'd figured out why a particular scene that's always bothered me a bit didn't work and what other scene needed to go in its place, but I didn't know what that other scene would actually be like. I retreated to the sofa with a notebook and pen, put on some mindless TV to distract the conscious brain and did some brainstorming, so maybe today I'll be able to write the new, improved scene.

Speaking of Douglas Adams, apparently the new Hitchhiker's Guide book written by a different author came out this week. I haven't seen any reviews yet, so I'm curious to see if someone else was able to pull off the tone (but with possibly better plotting).

And while I'm on a theme, last night I made my first batch of what I like to call "Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike chili." It's my version of chili, which would probably make chili aficionados shudder but which is quick and easy to do and makes for a good meal on a cool day when you don't want to do any serious cooking. This is one of those "do it by feel" recipes.

Start by browning some ground beef -- I generally use about a pound. I try to keep the crumbles bite sized instead of going really small. While the beef is cooking, sprinkle on some dehydrated minced onions. If you want to get really wild and crazy, you could dice actual onions, but the whole point of this dish is minimal work. Drain the fat from the beef.

Get out your can opener because it's about to get a workout. Add a can of stewed tomatoes (I like the diced kind because they're easier to deal with), a can of tomatoes with green chilis (Ro-Tel is the primary brand), a small can of tomato sauce and a can of tomato paste (the tomato paste is optional -- use it if you want a thicker chili with a more intense tomato flavor, but I discovered last night that I was out of tomato paste and it still worked fine). Then add a can of chili hot beans (pinto beans with a seasoned sauce -- the major bean brands like Bush's and most store brands seem to have a version of this).

Season to taste with chili powder, cumin, ground red pepper, black pepper, salt, Tabasco sauce or whatever. The tomatoes with chilis will add some heat automatically and the chili hot beans have a lot of the chili seasonings. You can simmer just long enough for it to get hot, or it can simmer a longer time to let the flavors blend better. Serve with crackers, tortilla chips or corn bread. If you want to get fancy, garnish with grated cheese and diced onions, or whatever floats your boat. I think this will make at least four servings. For me, I get a lot of leftovers and usually freeze a couple of servings. I have used this as a burrito filling, where I put some in a flour tortilla with some cheese grated on top, roll up the tortilla and brown it in a skillet. Make the ground beef crumbles smaller, use the tomato paste, and it makes for a hearty hot dip with tortilla chips.

And now since it's a wonderfully cool, crisp autumn morning, I'm going to take a walk.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Scary Costumes

This week is weirdly both long and short. In a way, I'm like "I can't believe it's already Thursday," but at the same time, I woke up this morning thinking it was Friday, so now I'm like "you mean it's still just Thursday?" Not that Friday has the same allure to it that it did before I was self-employed. I usually end up working just as much on Saturdays as I do on other days of the week, and I'm more likely to have to get up early in the morning on Saturdays. Still, there's just something about the concept of Fridays.

I don't have to go anywhere today -- no classes, rehearsals, meetings, funerals, errands -- so I'm hoping for some quality working time. Taking apart a book and putting it back together again is a lot of fun. It's like getting a do-over.

I can't believe Halloween is only a couple of weeks away. I've got my costume planned for the party I'm going to, and it's a good thing I was able to come up with something non-commercial (as in not buying a pre-made costume) because there was a flyer for a party/costume supply store in the newspaper yesterday, and the costumes in it were truly frightening. Not in the "Eek!" way, but in the "What the hell is wrong with these people?" way.

Apparently, the only Halloween option for women is to be a slut. Almost all of the female costumes were stripper-caliber. I thought the lingering popular culture messages of "boys can be doctors and girls can be nurses" from when I was a kid were bad, but now it's "men can be doctors and women can be naughty nurses." Wherever they showed a male/female costume duo, the man was something reasonably normal, while the associated female costume was slutty and subordinate. In addition to the doctor/naughty nurse, we had the prison guard (male, fairly normal police-type uniform) with the female prisoner, in a skin-tight, extremely low-cut, miniskirt "jumpsuit." Even where it seems like the two people were meant to be peers, the woman was the slutty version, so there was the male cop with the female "cop" low-cut, miniskirt uniform or the male racecar driver in jumpsuit with the female version in unzipped minidress with push-up bra showing (you know, that jumpsuit is to protect the driver from fire, so when it doesn't cover the skin, it's sort of missing the point).

The costumes advertised as for "teens" were even worse, as all of the teen girl costumes seemed to have been made from the same French maid outfit pattern -- corset-like bodice with really short flouncy skirt -- just in different colors and with different accessories to convey different characters. In red satin with a horn headband, it's a devil. In black with fake fangs and a high collar it's a vampire, etc. But then it got really creepy when there was the slutty version of Raggedy Ann, slutty Holly Hobby and slutty Strawberry Shortcake (all of them with the same low-cut very short dress and with thigh-high stockings and platform stripper shoes). What pedophile decided to make slutty Lolita versions of children's toys for teens to wear?

There's a very fine line between "confident in your own sexuality" and "desperate for masculine attention," and most of these costumes seem to veer onto the desperate side of things. Girls and women, have a little self respect. You don't have to flaunt yourself or demean yourself to be attractive or sexy.

Yeah, I know, I'm the person who wore a midriff-baring top and pleather pants for Halloween last year, but that was to mock the typical urban fantasy book cover, not to gain masculine attention. This year, my costume will be as far from sexy as it's possible to get, but knowing the crowd I run with, it may be the kind of thing that gets me even more masculine attention because they'll be amused at what we've put together (it's a group thing). And no, I'm not saying what it is. It's going to be a surprise.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Publicity Tactics

When I made my last writing post about planning your publicity efforts, I got some questions about what kind of things a writer might do about publicity. So, this week I'll talk about some of the things I've done, with some tips on how to make them work. Remember that everyone's different, so what works for me may not work for other writers who write different kinds of things or who have a different personality. The other thing to remember is that it's almost impossible to know which publicity tactics actually work. You may hear from someone who lets you know how they learned about your book, but you can't know if that's the only person who bought the book because of that or if there are dozens you never heard from who found it a different way. In general, publicity is all about making something familiar enough that it sticks in the brain. Supposedly, it takes at least three exposures to something before a person remembers it, and this is all about creating that exposure. Ideally, it would make someone so excited that they'll go straight to a bookstore or online bookseller and buy the book, but realistically, it's more about making your book vaguely familiar, so that when someone is in a bookstore your book jumps out and catches the eye.

Depending on the publisher, you may have an in-house publicist who does stuff like send out review copies and set up booksignings. Unless you've got a lead title or are already a bestseller, that's about all you'll get, and you're expected to do some promotional work on your own. The bad news is that the kinds of things you can do on your own won't sell the number of books it would take to make you a bestseller, but the good news is that at the print run of a midlist author these days, even the small amount of sales you can influence will make a noticeable impact on your sales numbers.

Here are a few publicity tactics:

1) A Web site -- This is fairly essential because if you don't exist on the web, you risk looking invisible. Some unpublished writers like to get a site up with some information about themselves in case editors or agents do a search after looking at a submission, but this isn't essential. If you do put up a site before you're published, make sure it's something that wouldn't freak out a prospective editor or agent. It's a good idea to go ahead and secure the domain name that goes with the name you plan to write under, whether or not you actually build the site at this time.

When you do have a book coming out, try to have more to your web site than just the information you could find if you had the book -- the author bio and back cover copy. My experience and research has found that, aside from media, most people who seek out an author's web site have already read the book. They're looking for more information. You need information to help sell the book, but then you should try to have something extra to keep readers engaged, as well as information on the next book.

2) A blog -- This is one of those things that doesn't work for everyone. It really depends on how much you can keep up with it and whether it fits your personality. A blog can help build a community around you and your work and keep your readers informed and engaged between books, but if you're too sporadic about posting or if your posts don't give a reason to keep reading, you may see people fade away. The tone of your blog should be similar to the tone of your books because this can serve as a writing sample. It doesn't have to be identical, but it shouldn't give readers whiplash. There was an author whose blog I started reading before her first book was published, and it was so funny I was usually shaking with laughter and had tears running down my face. Then her books turned out to be serious literary works about death, suffering and injustice, and I was so disappointed. You can incorporate your blog into your web site or do it through a social networking community like LiveJournal, Facebook or MySpace. The up side of the social networking approach is that the network can allow you to build a readership before anyone would know who you are to seek out a web site blog.

3) Bookmarks -- I honestly don't know how effective these are for selling books, but I find them convenient for telling people about my books. When I meet someone, the "what do you do?" question tends to come up, and then when I say I'm a writer, the next question is "what do you write?" so it's handy to have something to give them, and you can fit more info on a bookmark than on a business card. They're also handy to have as giveaways at booksignings or to put on swag tables at conventions. I occasionally send packets of them to writing conferences to put in goody bags or to booksellers who request promo material. I put info about the whole series on my bookmarks, so they serve as a convenient reference for keeping track of the series books. I don't know if any of this has resulted in sales or if anyone actually looks at the bookmarks in conference goody bags, but I figure it falls into the category of exposure and familiarity. (If you've discovered my series due to a bookmark, I'd love to hear about it.)

4) Booksignings -- Booksignings are one of those things aspiring authors often fantasize about because they're a sure sign that you've actually made it -- you're there in a store with your book. The reality can be less exciting, especially for a first book when it's just your friends and family there. But even if no one shows up, there can be benefits to doing signings. For one thing, they order more copies of your book than they otherwise would, and they're often displayed prominently before and after the signing, so you're briefly getting the kind of store placement the big names get. At one signing I did, the store manager told me the number of copies that sold from the display before the signing, and it was more than the store would have had in stock if there hadn't been a signing, so I was ahead of the game before I even got to the store. Unfortunately, you can't stack the deck by arranging signings at absolutely every store.

5) Stock signings -- While you can't do booksignings at every store, you can visit stores and sign the stock they have on hand. I've heard of authors who call the stores ahead of time and arrange a visit, but I'm a big weenie about the telephone, so generally what I do is go to the store, find my books on the shelves, bring a few copies to the information desk, tell them I'm the author and ask if they'd like me to sign their stock. Then I sign them, stick in my bookmarks, and the store usually has an "autographed copy" sticker for the cover. This allows me to meet the staff of the store and bring my book to their attention. There have been times when my books weren't displayed up front on the new releases table, but once they're stickered and autographed, the staff puts them there. I've also heard from booksellers who went on to read the book once I brought it to their attention, so they became fans and then began handselling and recommending the books. I've also heard from people who saw me in the store, got curious and ended up buying books. The big chains have a handy search function on their web sites that allow you to see if your books are in stock before you go there, so you can save yourself some time. I do this locally with as many stores as I can hit around the release time, and then when I go out of town, I try to hit as many stores there as possible.

6) Conventions and conferences -- if you've got good people skills, these are a great way to build a following, depending on your genre. There are a lot of science fiction/fantasy conventions. In the romance world, it seems to focus more on writing, but there are a few fan-focused events. There are also mystery conventions. You can e-mail the programming director at a convention you want to attend with your credentials and you may get some programming slots. Make sure you meet the booksellers in the dealers' room, while you're at it.

7) Blog tours and other online outreach -- Most print publications have pulled back their book coverage to next to nothing, and if you write genre fiction or are published in paperback, you're likely to be ignored. The book review and coverage world has moved online, and there are tons of general and genre-specific book blogs. Then there are fan-oriented blogs, author blogs and topic-specific blogs. That gives you a lot of potential venues for visibility. There are formal blog circles, where the members of the group promote each others' books in a "tour" or you can approach individual bloggers about interviews, reviews or guest blogs. This can be very time consuming, but it can pay off. If you're lining this up yourself, be sure you're familiar with the blog, the blogger, the usual content and the blogger's likes/dislikes instead of making a random approach based on a Google search. It helps to be a regular reader who has made appropriate non-promotional comments in the past. Then you're part of the community instead of a publicity hound.

8) Traditional media -- see above about limited book coverage. Your chances increase with smaller venues. A major metropolitan daily newspaper or major market TV station is less likely to feature a local author without another news hook, but a suburban or small-town paper may make you the lead story. This is another case where it helps to follow the publication to see who writes the kinds of stories you might fit into. I did get featured in the major metro daily around here -- on the third book, when I'd been tracking that writer for years and knew how to approach her based on what she tended to write about.

A lot of authors love contests, but I haven't seen much benefit from them. I don't really use my mailing list because I'm paranoid about looking like a spammer, so that means I don't have much use for the addresses I collect when doing a contest. I've never made a book trailer or video, so I don't know how effective that might be. I never watch other authors' trailers, so I tend to suspect they don't do a lot of good. I haven't done a lot of advertising, but have considered looking into an online ad campaign in the future. This all goes back to what I said in my last writing post, that you need to think when planning and do something because you have a good sense that it will reach your target audience, not just because everyone's doing it or because it would be cool.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Emotional Notes

I hope it's not some kind of harbinger of the sort of day it will be that I started the day with a funeral. It's yet another one for someone I never met, but they needed a choir and I have a lenient (probably too lenient) boss. I don't have the money to donate to charity right now (I am the needy), but I can sing and I have a flexible schedule, so this is one of my forms of community service. I did my usual thing of crying more at a funeral for someone I don't know than at funerals of people I know. In this case, the widower did the eulogy, and he was so very sweet in the way he talked about his wife and their life together. I thought it was the perfect depiction of the kind of relationship I wish I could have found. Even if I hadn't heard it at the wife's funeral, if he'd said these things in my earshot with his wife healthy and nearby, it would have set me to bawling. And now I've got a bad case of sniffles because once you start crying like that, the sniffles seem to linger all day.

But getting all emotional may be what I needed, as much of what I have to do on these rewrites is raise the emotional stakes to create more of a variety of emotional notes. I'm way too even-keeled and tend to write characters who are even-keeled, and that doesn't make for the most compelling reading. I guess that's why I wasn't any good at writing romance novels. Those are all about the emotion, and with me it was like Spock writing romances:

"I feel physical attraction for you and enjoy the time we spend together." "I concur. We appear to be quite compatible. We should pursue a relationship." The End.

Or else: "While I feel physical attraction for you, I find you irritating, and our outlooks on life are too different. It is likely that I can find someone else for whom I feel physical attraction who is more compatible." And that would ruin the very concept of the romance novel.

So maybe I can channel this morning's weep-fest into something I can use.

On an unrelated note, if you haven't bought all the books in my series, know someone who hasn't yet bought the whole series, know someone you'd like to buy the series for or know of someone who might like these books who hasn't yet been hooked, the next month or so would be a really good time for that. Or if everyone you know, including your pets, has their own copies, write some Amazon reviews, mention on blogs or message boards, etc. This isn't a get your hopes up about book 5 thing, just a preparation for the annual Swinging of the Clue Stick in the general direction of the publisher, and a nice surge in sales would look good. Any sales of new books or legal e-books are good, but sales at the major chains look even better (online or in store, though in store you may have to request them) because getting re-orders from the chains would be seen as a positive.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cultural Enrichment

It turns out that I am not delusional in feeling like fall skipped us. According to the weekend weather guy, the average high temperature for this time of year is around 80. We've been hitting around 55. I actually kind of like it, though I do like the more typical fall weather, which we should have back by next weekend.

I got my cultural horizons all broadened over the weekend while discovering some cool stuff not too far from me. There was an Armenian festival at the Armenian church in the town just east of me, but when we got there, they didn't seem to be in full swing, so we headed to the old town square, where they were having a Native American festival. There were crafts, food, music and dancing, plus, we explored the square. This is an old small town that's grown up into a large "inner ring" suburb, and this square is a remnant of the old days that the town has mostly moved away from (the old "downtown" is actually on the outskirts of town now). It's kind of like something out of a movie, complete with gazebo in the middle of the square. They have a tea shop (that even does afternoon teas!), lots of antique shops, a quilting shop, a vintage clothing shop, a candy shop and an old-fashioned soda fountain/burger joint. The old movie theater has been renovated into a performing arts venue, with the seats taken out and the floor turned into a dance floor, and it turns out that they have ballroom dances there every so often. So, now I know a lot of places to go just a few miles from my house.

We finally made it to the Armenian festival so we could continue the Comparative Baklava project -- most of the festivals from that general part of the world seem to have some variation on baklava/baklawa, so we're testing them all to compare/contrast. From what we can tell (and I'm sure each family has their own recipes, so these may not be representative of the entire culture), the Greek version uses a lot more honey and is sweeter. The Lebanese version is dryer and less sweet, with more cardamom, and the Armenian version seems to fall in the middle. They use a sugar syrup instead of honey, it's less sticky than the Greek version, and I think it was a little spicier. All of them are yummy.

I got my agent's feedback on the summer project, so now I have to shift mental gears and do some revisions on that, temporarily tabling the current project. It's a massive shift to make, and I thought digging up the "soundtrack" for that book would help, but it turns out I use a lot of the same songs, just in a different order and different context, so it may take a few listens in this order to get back to what those songs mean for me in this book. This won't be a massive re-write, just a layering of some stuff, but that means I have to think it all through first. This afternoon will likely involve a pot of tea and a spiral notebook.

I think my "vacation" will come when I'm done with these rewrites, and then the "current" project will become my National Novel Writing Month project, though it won't officially count, as I've written more than 100 pages of it already.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Crossing the Threshold

We reversed yesterday's weather pattern for today. Last night when I went to bed it was hot and muggy. During the night, I had to pull up more covers, and this morning it's cold and rainy. Should be a good writing day.

Which yesterday wasn't. I was still wrestling with that scene because while I knew what the emotional undercurrents needed to be, I wasn't so sure what was actually happening, event-wise. That made me wonder what the purpose was. I knew there was a conversation in there that I really liked, but was the scene necessary? And that was when I realized that the scene was actually rather pivotal, as it was the build-up to the Crossing the Threshold moment for the secondary protagonist. Or, in Star Wars terms, it was the transition from "I'll take you to Anchorhead, and from there you're on your own" to "I want to come with you to fight the Empire."

Except in this case the scene gets trickier because the Obi-Wan of this scene isn't saying, "Come with me and fulfill your destiny and save the galaxy from the bad people." She's saying, "Oh, it's okay, you've done enough, I don't need help and I don't want to be a bother." And she really means it because she thinks he'll only get in the way, that he'll think he's helping, but he won't be, even if it does make him feel better about the situation. Only, she can't tell him why she doesn't want him involved (and the scene is from his point of view), so she has to resort to the "I don't want to be a bother" objection.

So that means I have to come up with some motivation for him that makes him overcome her objections, and I can't exactly kill some Jawas and burn the house down (which always struck me as a rather weak way to get the hero into the story -- he goes off to save the galaxy because he doesn't have anything better to do at the time and his home and family are gone, and it's not even a decision on his part, as his hand is rather forced). To some extent, the house and Jawas were burned in the past, and this has become relevant all over again, but that doesn't give me any action for the scene. So now I have to find a way to get someone who's really not up for this physically or emotionally and who is being told not to bother to decide to take on the quest. I know what the trigger is, but I have to find a way to get there, and I'd like to do it with something other than just thinking about it.

Meanwhile, I'm finding out that the world seems to be passing me by, as references I try to make turn out to be outdated. I needed to reference a magazine that would be read by film buffs who aren't really celebrity watchers -- talking more about the art and craft, less about the business and not much at all about the actors' personal antics, so I thought Premiere would be ideal. Turns out, that stopped publication a couple of years ago. Then I was thinking of how quirkily ironic it was that I was writing the kind of urban fantasy heroine who would wear Laura Ashley, and thought maybe that was how another character would describe her, as a terror in Laura Ashley. Laura Ashley clothes were kind of iconic when I was in my teens and twenties. Those long, floaty, floral quasi-Victorian dresses were pretty much the uniform of University of Texas sorority girls in the late 80s. Then in my 20s I discovered the Laura Ashley store in one of the malls, and it was a "weekend at the grand English country estate" style that appealed to my raging Anglophilia (too bad the clothes weren't cut to fit my body type -- they were making clothes to fit Princess Diana: tall, skinny women with long legs, not short, curvy women with long torsos, so the waistlines always hit me mid-chest and still hung loose if I wanted to fit my bust and hips, and the hemlines dragged the floor). But now it turns out they've closed the stores and there's just licensed merchandise sold through other retailers that bears no resemblance to what I was thinking of. I can't think of a single designer or brand name that fits the look I'm aiming for that well. "Terror in pastel florals" doesn't bring up quite the same image as "terror in Laura Ashley," but I guess if the stores are gone and the brand has mostly faded away, people who weren't subjected to 1980s sorority girls wouldn't get the reference anyway.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Thinking Days

Weird weather today. It actually got warmer during the night. When I went to bed, it was cold and misty, and when I got up, it was warm and muggy. We're supposed to get big storms today, then it will be cold again tomorrow. We seem to have skipped the transition between summer and fall that we usually get. I usually have a few weeks when I can turn off the air conditioner but still keep windows open and use the ceiling fans, but this year I seem to have gone straight from AC to keeping windows shut and using the big comforter on the bed at night.

I think I've discovered my working pattern on this book. I seem to alternate high-productivity days with thinking days. Yesterday was a thinking day. The big Ballet Class Epiphany turns out to have affected the very foundations of the story and the main character. I don't think it much changes most of what I've already written, but the last two scenes I wrote need to change significantly, and it took a lot of thinking yesterday before I got an inkling of how. Oh, man, will this little tidbit take everything up a notch.

Theoretically, this will be a high-productivity day. I do have to go to the bank, but now that my bank has taken over the bank in front of the post office, I can walk for that and it also counts as my exercise for the day. Otherwise, no classes, rehearsals or freelance projects due, and it should get rainy, so I should be able to write.

TV update:
Tonight's the big Office wedding. I may be in the minority on this, but I don't think that Jim and Pam getting together was any kind of mistake because they weren't a typical TV will they/won't they couple. Their relationship was never based on conflict. They were the only two sane people in a crazy world and gravitated together, and the conflict keeping them apart for the first few seasons involved them dealing with their individual issues. Once they did get together, their relationship didn't really change. I guess there wasn't the angst and longing, but for the most part, they were the same, so it didn't lose a lot of energy or change things. It's nice to see a TV couple you could actually imagine working in real life instead of the dysfunctional, borderline-abusive relationships that pass for "romantic chemistry" on TV.

I finally watched last week's FlashForward, and I'm still on the fence. I don't think it's necessarily anything wrong with the series. The problem is more with me. It's something I'd normally like but which isn't the kind of series I can connect with right now. When I have Book Brain, I can't deal with that kind of complexity in something I haven't already connected with. I can't fall in love with something new when I'm in the process of falling in love with a new story in my head.

However, House seems to have at least temporarily lured me back in. I remembered why I used to like that show this week when they reunited the old team. I'm intrigued by what they've now kicked off, but I worry that it's too big for a show like this to really deal with. Still, you have to wonder what these people were thinking in sidelining an actor who could hold his own against James Earl Jones in favor of a vacant-eyed mannequin.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Imaginary Conversations

I think I'm on a roll now. Not only did I write more than 4,000 words yesterday, but the book is really invading my brain. I've caught myself daydreaming and even dreaming random conversations between various characters -- what would probably be "doing laundry" scenes if I tried to put them in the book, but that tell me a lot about these people. Having this kind of insight into them when they're not saving the world makes them more fleshed out and vivid when they are. This morning I got a really late start because I lay there for more than an hour after I woke up, doing this kind of daydreaming, but that should probably count as work because one of the details that came up in one of the imaginary conversations turned out to solve a major plot problem I'd been wrestling with.

Then there's a fun little thing that's come up with my dance class. One of my characters is a dancer, and I'm finding that I'm doing better in ballet class when I channel this character. At the same time, the class is frustrating because I've spent the day in the head of this person who really can dance, imagining doing all this fantastic stuff, but then in class it's my body I'm having to work with, and I haven't devoted my whole life to this. However, on the way to class I came up with a really interesting twist that adds a new layer of emotion and motivation to the entire plot.

One of my characters is a singer, so I need to channel that for choir tonight. Maybe that's the route to overcoming the crippling musical stage fright.

And now I must run to the library because a reference I requested from the main library is ready for me to pick up at my branch.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Book Report: Recent Reading

I have made it approximately 1/4 of the way through my projected first draft on the book, but I suspect that the first draft will come in longer than projected, as it's not so much of a "draft" because I keep tinkering along the way. My process seems to change with each book. On this one, I have a big-picture outline that the story seems to be sticking to, but everything in between is making it up as I go, and I keep discovering things along the way that subtly change everything. I am trying to plan each scene ahead of time, just before I write it, so that I have a sense of the character's goal and what the conflict is and I don't end up with just a "doing laundry" scene, and sometimes a scene will require me to go back and tinker with what came before. This seems to be more of a subtle, complex and layered book than I've written before, and it's really stretching me as a writer. I'm curious to see how it all comes out.

I haven't done a books post in a while, other than talking about my likes and dislikes, but I have been reading. I just haven't read a lot that has spurred me to talk about it, or else I've been busy talking about other stuff. So, here's a quick round-up of titles I've read recently that I have something to say about.

Stalking the Unicorn by Mike Resnick -- I've been on a few convention panels with Mike (and boy, does he make me feel like a slacker), and I'd read Santiago, but I hadn't read any of his fantasy. This book was published quite a while ago (in the 80s, as I recall) but has recently been reissued, and it's urban fantasy from before urban fantasy was cool. It reads like a hardboiled detective novel from the 30s or 40s, only this private detective has been hired to find a stolen unicorn in an alternate fairyland version of New York on New Year's Eve. This book has a lot of the things I tend to look for in books. Our hero is an Everyman without any particular magical powers. He was hired mostly because he was the only detective still in his office late on New Year's Eve. It's a through-the-portal story, and it's urban fantasy in the sense of a mixing of real-world and fantasy-world elements, with enough darkness to give it heft but still with a sense of whimsy. It looks like there are more books about this character, and I'll have to read Stalking the Vampire in spite of my vampire aversion because I suspect he'll do something different with the trope.

On an entirely different note, I read the new Sophie Kinsella book, Twenties Girl, and I had really mixed feelings. Normally I don't talk about books I don't recommend, but in this case it's not that I don't recommend it. It's more that I recommend it with some cautions. There's a lot to like about the book, but most of that comes in the latter half. In fact, I wouldn't have reached the point where it got good if I hadn't seen an online reviewer whose taste I trust talk about the first part being a slog but then the story picks up. In this book, Kinsella enters the paranormal realm with a ghost story. Our heroine is at the funeral service for a 105-year-old great aunt she's barely met, who's been pretty much uncommunicative from a stroke for ages. Just before the cremation, her aunt's ghost appears to her, begging her to stop it because she has to have her necklace. Our heroine (sorry, can't recall her name) has to come up with a way to stop the cremation, then track down the missing necklace, all while dealing with her aunt's ghost, who's reverted to her youth as a flapper and who wants one more chance to live it up vicariously through her great niece. This whole quest ends up unearthing a lot of family secrets. I loved the ghost story premise and the interaction between the heroine and her great aunt. There were some nice messages in there about the fact that old people really were once young and about the idea of appreciating the life you're living while you can. I ended up loving the back half of the book, but I almost didn't get there because the first half contained a lot of chick lit cliches and comedy tropes I hate. There's a lot of embarrassing situation/humiliation humor, and the heroine spends most of the first part of the book trying to get her ex boyfriend, who dumped her and who has moved on, back in a way that makes her look really pathetic. I'd reached the point where I just wanted to know how it ended without having to slog through it all, so I skipped ahead to near the end and liked the ending enough to go back and read, but I still skipped a chapter in the middle to get to the point where it got good. I guess you sort of have to read the beginning to know what's going on in the latter part of the book, but while I ended up liking the book on a big-picture level, I can't recommend it without warning that there's something seriously wrong with the beginning (otherwise, you'd read the first few chapters and think I'd lost my mind).

Then, on recommendation from readers after my "what I like in books" post, I pulled Castle Perilous by John DeChancie off my to-be-read pile, and that was a lot of fun. I liked the way the characters came together, as well as the mystery of the castle. However, I think I've learned my lesson about waiting nearly twenty years after buying a book to read it because now I seem to be intrigued by a series I will have a hard time finding. My library doesn't have any of these books, and they're all out of print, without even a lot of used copies on Amazon. I have no idea why this book languished on my shelves for so long. I remember buying it when I was in college, but I don't think I ever even started reading it because not even the first chapter seemed remotely familiar, so it's not like I started it and then put it down. Normally, I don't shelve books I haven't read, but I guess this one got moved often enough to be shelved, and so it skipped my notice as a to-be-read book.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Fall TV Update

This may have been a close-to-perfect weekend. Friday I went for lunch with my friends to a Lebanese Food Festival at a nearby Lebanese church, and it was the perfect day for sitting under the trees and eating. Saturday morning it was one of those days when it was warm enough to be summer elsewhere but not too hot, so I walked to the library, taking the long way. When I got back, my neighbor was out walking her puppy, so I got my recommended allowance of puppy kisses and cuddles. Since it was nice outside, I finished cutting down the evil alien vines on my patio. I hadn't tackled them to that extent since I've lived here, and I'm not sure they've been cut out since the house was built, as I found all kinds of things up under them. Fortunately, there were no snake skins (that's always fun to find in the shrubbery), but I did find a couple of things that were either long-rotted tennis balls or dragon eggs. I guess I'll find out when/if the dragons hatch. Soon after I finished the gardening, it suddenly got cool and rainy, so it was good writing weather. Sunday would have been the perfect day for curling up with a book and a pot of tea, but I had a choir rehearsal. However, we're doing Messiah for Christmas, and that's always fun to sing (and that's what the rehearsal was for). Then when I got home, I got more puppy kisses and cuddles (once this dog decides she likes you, you really feel loved) and I spent the rest of the afternoon drinking tea and reading Edgar Allan Poe (my town is doing one of those "one city, one book" things, and it's the stories and poems of Poe, so I thought I'd play along).

Today it's still cool and gray, so I anticipate a productive writing day.

Now, an update on fall TV.

I caught the premiere of Stargate: Universe, and I'm not entirely sold. It kind of struck me as Battlestar Stargate Voyager, and someone really needs to remind TV writers that flashbacks are not the same as characterization. I'm really wary of the geeky computer boy, who seems to have wandered in from one of those "frat pack" so-called "romantic" comedies. That character strikes me as the result of the network or creators being cynical about their audience, like they think we couldn't possibly identify with the highly-trained or educated military and scientific types, so we need someone like us to identify with and relate to, and their image of their audience is a slobby guy who lives with his mother and plays computer games while having delusions about being a secret instinctive genius who can outthink people who have dedicated their lives to studying something. He's giving me major Wesley Crusher vibes, in that he's elevated to his position in a way that bypasses the hard way that everyone else had to take and in that I anticipate that half the episodes will involve him saving the ship in some way that all the experts didn't think of, while the other half will involve him endangering the ship out of doing something stupid.

I guess we'll have to see what the regular episodes are like. My guess, based on the set-up at the end of the pilot is that each week the ship will drop out of hyperspace and dial a gate, an away team will go to investigate and will have adventures that put them up against the deadline of the countdown clock before the ship goes back into hyperspace. So, basically, it's original SG-1, but starting on a ship instead of Earth, and with a stopwatch, but without a sense of humor. It's not like there's much else on, so I'll give it a shot, but it's not really the kind of thing I can get too excited about. On the up side, it is nice to have a show with an actual spaceship in it back on the Sci Fi Channel.

I've been catching the NCIS spin-off OnDemand, as it turns out to be the perfect thing to watch while I eat lunch and read the newspaper after church on Sundays, and that seems to be about right for the show. I adore Linda Hunt and would watch a show just about that character, but in general the premise of the show makes little sense and they seem to be trying way too hard to create the kind of chemistry that just happened on the original show. So, not must-see, but fun to watch.

My other OnDemand show is something that became a kind of guilty pleasure over the summer, CSI: New York. I started watching some of the TNT reruns when I'd watched the NCIS reruns on USA to death, and then started watching the new episodes when they came up OnDemand. I mostly watch it as an unintentional comedy, and it's good for a few laughs. It's funny how the most dangerous place in New York City seems to be an exclusive nightclub, and you'd better be careful around supermodels because people associated with them seem to die a lot. Then you can guess the bad guy based on the casting (the most famous guest star is almost always the killer). Gary Sinise is always a fascinating actor to watch, even when he's slumming mightily (I guess this is easier than a bake sale to fund his theater company), and it's interesting to see that the designated inappropriately young boy toy for 30-something women in 1990s sitcoms has grown up and become a detective (who doesn't get to do much other than be at the crime scene at the beginning before the lab techs take over the entire case). I think I've figured out why there's a backlog for testing in the real crime lab: the lab techs are all too busy interviewing suspects and running around the city with guns.

I may have had my first casualty of the season. I had a splitting headache on Thursday night and didn't think I could deal with FlashForward, so I figured I'd watch it Friday night when they repeated it, and instead watched a TNT CSI:NY episode (see above). Then Friday night I still didn't feel like watching it and taped it while watching CSI:NY, and I still haven't gotten around to watching the tape. I think that's a sign that I'm watching it out of a sense of obligation rather than because there's anything about it that catches my attention. I figure if I haven't watched that tape before the next episode, then I'll consider that a wash.

And now I have to readjust my mental clock, now that I've adjusted my computer clock. Any clock that's around me a lot seems to gain time, and my computer clock was approaching 15 minutes fast, so I set it back to real time, but I'm so used to thinking of the computer clock as being ahead that it's throwing me off. The nice thing about my cable box having a clock on it now is that the time comes from the cable company and doesn't seem to be affected by my rapid time field, but if the entire cable company starts moving forward in time, you'll know I've somehow managed to feed back into the entire system.