Monday, November 30, 2009

Back to "Normal"

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

And then I woke up this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dealing with Rejection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vacation Book Report

First, a little housekeeping note: If anyone has been following me on MySpace (or knows someone who was), they've "updated" their site to the point that I can no longer access it with my current browser. I can't upgrade my browser without upgrading my operating system, and I can't upgrade my operating system on my current computer. Since everything else I need on the Internet seems to work perfectly fine with my current computer, I don't see the need to buy a new computer just to access MySpace, so I'll no longer be posting my blog there, adding friends, or anything else.

Now, about the only thing vacation-like I've managed to do while I've been taking a break is read, I've got a good-sized book report. In chronological order:

Elfland by Freda Warrington -- I suppose this would be an example of "suburban fantasy" that we were discussing in a FenCon panel. It's a contemporary fantasy set in an English village and the countryside around it, so it's not really "urban fantasy" the way the industry seems to see it. It deals with a fairy-like people (called Aetherials here) who fall somewhere in the middle ground between the cute fairies (which I'm admittedly guilty of using) and the punk street gang type fairies of a lot of urban fantasy. The Aetherials are from a kind of otherworld, though some of them live in our "real" world, which is connected via a set of magical gates to the otherworld. But the gatekeeper closes the gates due to a feared threat, and that may rip apart the community. The first half of this book has only the slightest touches of fantasy elements and is more of a drama about two families that are linked while being at odds. Then the fantasy elements become more and more important. The writing is very evocative, and the author managed the impossible: she actually made me end up liking the bad boy jerk character. It looks like this will be the first of a series, and I'm curious about what happens next because this book felt like it had a real, definitive ending. I also thought this book had some of the most beautiful cover art I've seen in a long time. I'm not a visually oriented person, so I usually don't even notice cover art, and I'm not usually a fan of fantasy art because it can get kind of twee -- it's okay for a book cover, but not something I'd want hanging on my wall. With this book, though, I wouldn't mind having a painting of that cover.

Restoring Grace by Katie Fforde -- This would probably fall into the category of "chick lit" in that it's a female coming-of-age story, but it doesn't have the stereotypical chick lit tropes -- urban setting, shopping, gay best friend, etc. Our heroine, Grace, lives alone in an empty old (like, centuries old) home she inherited from her aunt. Her siblings inherited the furnishings (and resented only getting that much) and removed everything that wasn't nailed down, but that was okay because her husband had furniture. But now her husband has left her for someone else, taking the furniture, and her siblings are hounding her to sell the house and give them some of the proceeds that they think they deserve. Grace ends up taking in a struggling young artist who finally got the nerve to dump her selfish boyfriend and her ex's teenage daughter from his first marriage, who feels unwanted after both her parents find new partners. The three of them team up to find a way to get their lives back on track and save the house from dry rot. Katie Fforde's books are like crack for me -- I can sit down to just read a few pages, and next thing I know, it's two in the morning. She tends to cover subjects I find interesting, like restoring old houses, canal boats and cooking. In this one, there's the old house plus cooking, as well as a bit of art. I don't think this is my favorite of her books (I thought it ended rather abruptly), but it's a nice "comfort food" read.

Looking for Andrew McCarthy by Jenny Colgan -- I'd been looking for this book for ages, but her books are hard to find in the US (I first discovered Jenny Colgan on a trip to England), then I found the British edition in a used bookstore here. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to the anticipation, mostly because the plot was so outlandish, in the category of "nobody in the history of ever would really do that, right?" The book is nearly ten years old, so the characters turning 30 were 80s teens, and they realize that adulthood hasn't quite turned out the way they thought it would, based on all those Brat Pack movies. Ellie figures that Andrew McCarthy might have some thoughts on the subject, since his career was so hot in the 80s but he then fell off the face of the earth, so she comes up with a scheme to go from England to America, find Andrew McCarthy, and talk to him, which she's sure will help her figure out how to deal with her life. It turns into a cross-country road trip when she neglected to do even the most basic research and automatically went to LA, since that's where movie stars are, and then discovers that Andrew McCarthy lives in New York. Unfortunately, that reveals some research issues, as you get the feeling that this British author may possibly have been to New York or LA, but has certainly never been anywhere else in the US, so she has no sense of the scope and gets a lot of details badly wrong -- like the book takes place in November, but the characters run into a high school prom at a hotel along the way, and they go to a county fair in Missouri (Texas has a late fair in October, but up north, the agricultural expo type fairs take place much sooner). I guess I also had trouble relating to the premise, in spite of being in the same generation as the characters. I didn't see any of the Brat Pack films until I was in college, so I never really had those people as teen idols. When you're a mature, sophisticated college woman, a high school character is sooo beneath you (never mind that the actor was probably older than you even when the movie was made). The supporting characters and subplots are a lot of fun, reminding me of a lot of those British romantic comedy movies where the main characters are a bit annoying, but the supporting cast of their wacky friends is great. I suppose this was a fun read, but it didn't quite live up to the "I've been searching for this book for ages and finally found it!" anticipation.

Witches Incorporated by KE Mills -- this is the sequel to The Accidental Sorcerer, which I read on my trip to New York in August, and I think I may like the second book better. The first book was setting up the situation, but then this one was more of a fun adventure. Our hero Gerald has been tested and trained to be a kind of magical secret agent, and while he's off doing the testing and training and then going off on his first assignment, he hasn't been allowed to see his friends. In his absence, his best friend Monk has inherited a house that gives him room to conduct his crazy magical experiments, and Princess Melissande (from the first book) has escaped her royal duties to go into business with Monk's kid sister and Reg, the witch queen trapped in the body of a bird, in a sort of "No. 1 Ladies' Magical Detective Agency." A seemingly petty case reunites them with Gerald when their paths cross, and he has to decide between following orders and having success with his case by getting help from his friends. I LOVE these characters, and after plowing through this book I immediately wanted more, but the next one isn't out until February 23 -- and it's called the final book in the trilogy. That makes me sad because I felt like this book set up a situation that could run for many books. There doesn't seem to be a major plot arc linking the books, just a character arc, and I'm not yet ready for it to end. There may be pouting. I've said before that it's usually the guys that get me into a book, and while I adore Gerald as a hero and would love reading any book with him in it, I also would be totally willing to read a book entirely about "the girls" (as they're referred to in the story) because they're the kind of female characters who can carry a book for me. "Princess Pushy" (as Reg calls her) is so delightfully stubborn and practical. Reg is a hoot. And the kid sister, Bibbie, seems like the kind of character I'd hate -- basically a Barbie doll, ridiculously gorgeous and seems like an airhead -- but then she turns out to be something of a mad genius who does not like being patronized.

I was surprised when I went to Amazon to see when the next book was coming to find that the reader reviews were pretty negative. I feel like these books are the closest I've found to being along the lines of what I write -- that scratch that particular itch -- without me having to write them. The setting is different, but I think the tone and characters are similar in style. Gerald, Monk and Owen would totally be best friends (and the world might not be safe if the three of them teamed up), and Katie might fit in with the girls, even if she did want to knock their heads together every so often.

Now I'm in the mood to read more of something like that, and there isn't really anything that I've found, so I don't know what I'll read next. My parents have the new Dick Francis book, so I'll be reading that over the holiday, but now I have to figure out what to read today and tonight. I have hundreds of unread books on my shelves, but I'm not really in the mood for any of them.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Blast from the Past

I continue to fail at vacation. In fact, I've given up on calling this a vacation. It's more of a rest/regrouping. The only thing I've managed to cut out of my schedule is the fiction writing. Otherwise, the business end of things keeps coming up, with stuff to deal with. Some of that was because of just coming off finishing a book, so it had piled up, but otherwise it's just bad timing of things coming up while I'm trying to take time off.

So, basically, "vacation" has meant business as usual except for the fun part. I may gripe a bit about the agony of writing (or, really, the agony of rewriting), but still, making up stories is the reason I do this. Unfortunately, I can't think of a way to eliminate the tedious business end of things for a week while I still take time to do the "play" part.

I was kind of stressing myself out about my failure to "vacate," but then I decided to re-label it. I do need to regroup and get my brain into the space to work on something different, and spending additional time just reading and catching up on errands has been nice. Once I get a few more business tasks done, I may even be able to relax better, and the rest of this week I shouldn't have any real business stuff to deal with (though I do have a book club meeting tonight I've been invited to, but that doesn't feel like "work" because some of the people I knew from my pre-author days).

I may go "light duty" during December. I'll never be able to entirely eliminate the business stuff, but I'd like to focus on writing because I'm in the rough draft mode on the project I'll be working on, and that's playtime. In fact, that book is already seeping back into my brain.

I've been mostly a slug, which has been nice. I've done a lot of reading, caught up on OnDemand TV, and Saturday night I had a real blast from the past, thanks to one of the HBO channels. They showed Xanadu. The movie itself is pretty awful, but boy does it bring back memories. I was living in Germany when it came out, and we had the soundtrack album even though the movie hadn't yet made it to the base theater. The album had a lot of stills from the movie, so my friends and I tried to figure out what the movie was about based on the music and the pictures. There was some big band stuff, the Electric Light Orchestra stuff, the Olivia Newton-John stuff, and then photos of Olivia in clothing from a variety of eras. We were guessing at time travel or something like that. That was the album we played on the boom box when we went to the school parking lot to roller skate on weekends. Finally, the summer after seventh grade, one of my friends got a bootleg copy of the videotape, and we got to watch the movie at her birthday slumber party, and our reaction was a resounding "HUH?"

I don't think I've seen it since then, and yeah, it's still pretty bad, but the music and the musical numbers are actually decent. The duet between Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John is really nice. The mash-up between big band and modern (circa 1980) rock is still kind of awesome. The context for the skating on the rooftop scene was silly, but the scene itself was nice. The animated sequence is really cute (and I wonder if any of those animators went on to work on The Little Mermaid nearly a decade later, because the character design was eerily similar), and there was Gene Kelly dancing to ELO. I don't know if it says something about how sadly uncool I am or maybe about my capacity for learning and memorizing music, but I still had most of the songs memorized, and I still like that music (hmm, I have that album on vinyl, and my parents have a turntable. Guess what I may be listening to at Thanksgiving).

It's just a pity about the plot, which has a huge fundamental flaw -- Our Hero is supposedly a very talented artist, too good to be wasting himself in a job where all he does is copy and enlarge album covers (didn't they have machines for that, even back in 1980?), but he's lacking the spark of inspiration about what to paint when someone's not giving him orders. So he gets a real, live, official Muse to inspire him -- and she inspires him to open a roller disco? We don't even see him painting cool murals at the disco. Her solution had nothing to do with his problem. It might have kind of made sense if maybe he'd aspired to be a painter but lacked the talent, and she turned his creativity in a different direction, but they went on and on about what a brilliant painter he was and how he just needed some inspiration, but then the inspiration of the Muse had nothing to do with painting. Meanwhile, we were supposed to see it as horribly tragic that she had to go back to Mount Olympus, and he was left feeling like life had no meaning with her gone, but we never really saw anything of their relationship other than them skating in a musical montage. Then again, actually developing their relationship would have required giving more dialogue to Olivia Newton-John, and that wouldn't have been good for anyone (especially the audience) and probably wouldn't have helped show that there was anything to their relationship.

Now I'm almost curious about what they did with the stage musical, if they fixed the plot at all. Apparently, they kept the roller skating, so I'm guessing they didn't change that much. It wouldn't take much to fix the plot -- just make Our Hero a struggling musician instead of a painter, and then it makes sense for him to make friends with the old musician and let them inspire each other -- though I'd have them create a really cool sound that mixes big band touches with modern music instead of opening a roller disco, especially since we know how quickly that trend flamed out, so we know they didn't exactly have any kind of long-term success in living that dream.

I'm not sure if it's a reflection on my current age or on the fact that quality is timeless, but even at the age he was in this movie, Gene Kelly was way hotter than the young leading man. Though that could also have something to do with the fact that the young leading man was kind of a drip, was a terrible actor and wasn't at all hot.

In other news, I just saw a report on the noon TV news about the Twilight phenomenon, and according to the "experts" they interviewed, the main reason people are so gaga over those books and movies is that there's no actual sex, just a bunch of longing. Huh. I write books with no actual sex, and as far as I know, people aren't having lines from my books tattooed on their bodies. I suspect there's something else involved. Or maybe my lack of sex is a different kind of lack of sex.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Vacation Fail

I'm starting to see why I haven't taken a real vacation -- as in extended time off, without any work -- in forever. I totally fail at vacation. I'm not even really vacating yet. Part of it is that this comes right after crunching a book, so that I shoved everything else aside, which means I still have a lot of work and personal stuff to wrap up before I can really relax. Yesterday, I did one set of radio scripts (the writing I know I'm getting paid for, so that can't slide) and the research for another set. I didn't quite make it on the supply run because I was just too tired. I did manage a couple of hours of reading a book I didn't write, which was bliss.

Today, I have another set of radio scripts to do and a bunch of business and personal e-mail I need to reply to. The e-mail is going to be a problem because anything I got on my personal address before yesterday is trapped in my client that the server will no longer accept, so I'll have to copy addresses into web mail to reply. And now I really, really have to make that supply run, not just to have some fun vacation treats but also to have any food at all in the house. Plus I have to make a trip to the post office. I never thought of myself as a workaholic, but the work never really seems to go away entirely, even when I'm not actively working on a book.

If I stay quiet for the day and stay hydrated, my voice should be back enough to sing the soprano part of The Messiah tonight, so that's good.

And then tomorrow maybe I can enjoy true vacation. I was thinking that tomorrow might be my big day out -- maybe playing tourist locally, go to a museum, take the train somewhere. Right now, though, I kind of just want to hang around the house and chill. I think if I have the energy, going out would be a good idea because that will jolt the brain into the sense of it not being business as usual, and it would force me to stay away from the computer all day. Friday's supposed to be rainy, so I think that will be my curl-up-with-a-book day. I'm thinking Saturday I'll go hiking down to the river, and I might go for "Glee: The Live Version" because the local high school show choir has a concert.

But for now, I have to get some groceries. And answer e-mails. And write medical radio scripts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Done! (Really!)

Now I'm really done. In a new record (I think -- at least since I broke out the stopwatch -- I logged 9 hours of work time yesterday. I read the entire book out loud. I don't know that I'd recommend that for the future, as I have next to no voice left and will have to remain almost entirely silent today so I can sing at choir rehearsal tomorrow. Normally I do the one-day read through and the read out loud as two different passes, so I don't try to read the whole thing out loud in one day. The one-day read-through is to approximate the reader experience. That's when things like pet words and phrases really pop out at you -- read it once in a day and it's not a problem, but five times in one day, and you cringe. That's also when continuity errors show up or when I notice that I made a similar joke in two different places in the book. Reading it straight through is a good way to see how the plot flows, and that's when I can force myself to admit that some of my "darlings" really have to go, that there are cute scenes that are actually kind of boring and annoying, and they have zero purpose in the plot. Meanwhile, reading aloud is a good way to catch typos, missing words and other errors, and it ensures that the sentences aren't too awkward. If I stumble over reading them out loud, then they might cause a mental glitch when reading silently, so they need to be fixed.

Now I just need to send it to my agent, if I can fix the current e-mail glitch (why does AT&T feel the need to keep changing e-mail settings overnight, without bothering to notify anyone, so you have to go to their help site and get the new server address in order to connect through a client? I can use web mail, but I have everything organized through Entourage).

And then I'm on vacation. Sort of. I still have to write my radio scripts for the week, and I think I'll go ahead and do two weeks for good measure so I don't have to worry about it next week and they can get a jump start on the holiday. Then I need to make a supply run. So I guess today is kind of a half day. Still, I hope to have the time to finish reading the book I've been reading for the past two weeks. I really like it, but it's not a book best enjoyed a paragraph or two at a time.

I may try to keep up the blog posting while I'm on "vacation," but my goal is to stay off the computer as much as possible. The way to get the benefits of a vacation while staying home is to really change your usual routine, and I spend most of the day on the computer, so to feel like I'm on vacation, I need to stay away from it. I've also tended to use unplanned goof-off time for playing on the computer, so that's a big reason I haven't felt I could justify a vacation in years.

Now, though, I logged more than enough hours to meet my vacation goal. I didn't get my house hotel clean, but at this point, I don't care. I just want a break. I'm hoping that after Thanksgiving I can try to establish some better work habits so I can maintain the steady work production without going insane.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Done! (Sort of)

The latest draft was finished shortly after 1 in the morning on Saturday (so it was a very late night Friday night).

And then my next-door neighbor's clock radio alarm went off at 4:50 Saturday morning. Which explains why one of my grand success fantasies is selling the townhouse and getting a house where none of my walls connect with anyone else's. Or else finding a way to soundproof the connecting wall (because moving would be a real hassle, and I'd have to do a lot of work on this place to sell it even in a decent economy).

I had zero brainpower left, so my weekend mostly involved spending the days with friends and the evenings with the television. Saturday night, I was such a zombie that I couldn't even manage to read, and I couldn't follow anything on TV that was too complex or intense. So, I watched last week's CSI crossover trilogy OnDemand.

And how did I not know about CSI Miami being the funniest show on TV? It's like the Saturday Night Live version of a CSI show. I laughed until I think I broke something, and I definitely laughed until I cried. Mostly, it's the acting. Most of the cast sounds like they're reading the script for the very first time off cue cards, and they're stumbling over the hard words. Then there's David Caruso, who somehow manages to deliver every single line as though he's a bad soap opera doctor giving a terminal diagnosis. "I'm afraid it's (dramatic pause, then in an ominous whisper) cancer." Except, in this context it's more like, "We should dust for (dramatic pause, then in an ominous whisper) fingerprints." Now I know what to pull up OnDemand if I've had a bad day and need to laugh myself silly. Or maybe that was just the effect of the zombie Book Brain, and at any other time it would just be excruciatingly bad.

Sunday, we gathered for a viewing of a certain British "medical drama" that had a new episode in the UK (ahem). And then that night, I caught up on my taped TV from the week before.

Now, though, I have a marathon stretch ahead of me, with one last pass through the book. I have my list of "remind me to go back in time and put a trash can here" items to Bill and Ted, and I'd like to cut around 1,000 words, which means I probably need to cut more than that because the Bill and Tedding will add words, though there may be some reverse Bill and Tedding, as I think there are a few things I set up and didn't end up using because I changed my mind when I got there. And then tomorrow (or whenever I finish), the vacation starts. Yay!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Not There Yet

I thought I would finish yesterday, but I didn't quite get there because I'm still not entirely sure of how the ending should go. When I called it a night last night, I was leaning toward something along the lines of "and then a bomb drops and everyone dies. The End." Or maybe a meteor. I still worked for more than six hours, and I even taped my usual Thursday TV to work instead, so I was a little mad at myself that I had so little to show for it. And then I realized that I probably wrote about twenty pages of new material, which isn't bad for a day's work. I also spent a lot of time on research, trying to find the right place for something to happen and to find details on that place once I decided on it. And then when I got to that point in the book, I changed my mind and used an entirely different place. Even though it's a place I know, I decided I'd better look it up, and sure enough, that place has changed pretty dramatically in the time frame the story covers (it involves finding something that was put there a while ago, so it has to be something that hasn't changed since then).

I think I may have figured out how the new ending should go. I'm going to review the stuff I wrote yesterday, and then I have some library books to return, so I'll walk to the library this afternoon and then maybe get a cup of tea and sit on the patio by the water for some brainstorming. Then I'll probably skip Stargate: Whatever tonight to write. And then I'll let myself take the weekend off entirely (I actually have social events on the calendar), then do my rapid re-read on Monday and then go on vacation.

I need to get some books out there to be sold because my biggest recurring dream/nightmare lately involves having to find a real job. The dreams have mostly been about going back to my old jobs or working with my former clients, but last night I was working in a school, and there was some kind of certification program for people coming to teaching from other careers that I was supposed to be doing, but I kept insisting that I was just a long-term substitute, that I wasn't interested in a teaching certificate. Let's just say that made for some nice motivation to get to work. I would make a lousy teacher.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Length Question

I might finish the book today. I have about a chapter and a half to go. I know what happens in the rest of the chapter, but I'm not really sure about the last chapter/big finish. This wasn't supposed to be this big a rewrite. My agent thought it would require just a few little tweaks. But the questions she raised sparked ideas, and then those ideas led to a few little tweaks -- but then those tweaks has this massive domino effect that changed more and more until I pretty much had to throw out the last few chapters entirely. It's going to take some re-envisioning to re-do the last chapter because that ending was something I'd always pictured, and this particular project is an old partially completed project that I decided needed to be finished, so that ending's been in my head for years. I even researched that setting, but it turns out that I'll probably end up using research I did for an entirely unrelated book that I may never write for the setting for the new ending.

Then I'll have to read the whole thing straight through for proofreading and to do some minor Bill and Tedding, and I'll be done! I think at this point, I would push back on any further rewrite requests because I don't think they'd make the book better. They'd just edit the life out of it or make it my agent's book and not mine.

While I'm battling Book Brain, I'm answering some reader questions. If you have questions you'd like me to address -- about writing, publishing, me, my books, etc. -- leave them in comments. I don't promise to answer all of them, but I'll do a post if a question inspires me.

I don't know about anyone else but I'm still confused about word lengths.

Some debut ya fantasy novels are 80K-90K. Some like Twilight are 120K. Some like City of Bones are 130K. Yet agents all say that the word count should be under 120K or's confusing. What's a good length for a debut writer (writing in that genre)?

I don't know a lot about the young adult market, but my agent did a blog post a few months ago about that. Her view was that length is the wrong thing to ask about when it comes to middle grade or YA books. Those markets are all about the pacing, so a fast-paced book with lots of twists and turns can be really long and still hold reader interest. That applies to the adult market as well, but younger readers do have shorter attention spans, in general.

If the length comes from lots of action, lots of tension, conflict and suspense, and if the plot has a lot of surprises and reversals, then you can get away with a longer book. A lot of these longer books read very quickly. That doesn't entirely explain Twilight, as I thought that book moved very slowly and had very little going on in it, but I suppose it was loaded with emotional tension, and since I am Spock, that didn't do a lot for me. Obviously, millions of readers disagree with me there and felt that book was engrossing (since that series has outsold mine by more than a million times, and that's not dramatic hyperbole, she must have done something better than I know how to do).

You're right to be looking at debut books instead of established authors, since established authors have a lot more leeway. Would an epic tome with the length and pacing of the last few Harry Potter books have sold as a debut book? I don't know.

It is safer to aim for shorter, since shorter books are cheaper to print and tend to be more economical than longer books (though that economy of scale tends to vanish when the book is a huge bestseller and rakes in tons of profits). Shorter books require less paper, are cheaper to ship, can ship with more books in the box, take up less warehouse space and less shelf space. If your debut young adult book is more than about 80,000 words, then it had better have something really, really special about it, something that grips readers by the throats and won't let go, because a super-long length will be a hurdle to overcome and it will take an agent falling in love with it to be able to convince an editor to give it a shot, and then that editor will have to become a passionate advocate within the house.

You'll have to be really objective about your work to evaluate whether it absolutely has to be that length, if you've cut all fat and fluff, if there's tension, action, conflict or emotion on every page, and if it really is engrossing enough that the pages fly by. If it can be shorter, it probably should be. That applies to adult books, as well. These days, even the desired word count for adult novels is shrinking to the 85K word range.

In journalism school, one of my professors liked to say that a news story should be like a bikini -- big enough to cover the important parts but small enough to be interesting. I think that applies to novels, as well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Driving Needs

I only did a little more than five hours of writing yesterday. I was hoping to do more when I got home from ballet, but I was just too tired. It was a frustrating two-steps-forward/one-step-back kind of day, as I got midway through rewriting (and it was a lot of original writing) the next chapter when I realized some of the scenes were a repetition and I could telescope events, and then rearranging some things really amped things up, so after an hour of work that came to nothing other than this realization, I had to go back and re-do the previous day's work. It's for the better. If I'm really good, I might be able to finish this draft tomorrow. Then one more good read-through, and I'm done. Too bad I have choir tonight. It's frustrating having obligations when I really want to write. I hope I can carry this enthusiasm forward.

I learn a lot about writing from watching TV. Most of the time, it's from things that are done well -- if I fall in love with characters or find certain plots particularly compelling, I can try to figure out how they work so I can apply that to my own writing. But sometimes I can learn a lot from what isn't working, and there's a current science fiction series that shall remain nameless that isn't working for me, and I think I've figured out a big reason why -- and that discovery/reminder is helping me in the book I'm currently revising.

I think one of the most important thing to know about a character is what he or she needs -- what drives that person, even aside from the story plot. There may be a story goal: beat the bad guys, rescue the maiden, find the quest object, solve the crime, escape from the bad guys, save the world, get home again, etc. But even before the story kicks in, what makes these people tick?

Answering that question will tell you a lot about the way the characters react to and approach the story goal. And the answer to the question can't be something as primal and universal as survival, since just about everyone wants to survive -- unless maybe that character has raised survival to an art form and is so driven by the need to survive unscathed that he's willing to sacrifice anything and everything to do so.

Before the Herald figure shows up to issue the challenge and send the hero off on his quest, what drives the hero in all the things he does, even in his ordinary world?

Does he need to find the answers and figure out how everything works?
Does he feel inadequate and unworthy, so he needs to prove his worth over and over again on a daily basis?
Does he need to be in control of every situation?
Does he need to feel loved and accepted (but fears he isn't)?
Does he need to feel like he's doing the right thing?
Does he do everything out of duty?
Does he want harmony, so that he avoids conflict?
Does he need to be respected?
Does he need to be right in any argument?
Is he afraid of being alone?
Does he want to be famous?
Does he want to belong to the community?
Does he want to do his own thing and be independent?
Does he want to avoid as much effort as possible?
Is he fascinated by the new and different?
Is he clinging to the status quo of his comfort zone?
Does he need to defend those he perceives as weaker?
Does he need to be defended by others?
Is he a thrillseeker?

You get the idea. This is just a list of plot-independent needs that came to the top of my head. Each of these needs will drive a person to respond in a different way to whatever plot events come up. If you put together a team where each person has a different need, those needs and drives would differentiate the team members from each other and would create the team dynamic as their needs either clash or reinforce each other. These drives are also going to affect the plot because the way the characters react to events will send the story in different directions.

Once you know these drives, they need to remain consistent throughout the story, unless something happens that is powerful enough to change the character's need, and that usually comes with a major transformation -- often something that comes close to a symbolic death and rebirth. Aside from that kind of transformation/rebirth, these drives/needs can never be fully met by achieving a goal because even if the character seems to have met his need, he will either want more or be afraid of losing it. Someone who wants to be famous and who achieves fame is then going to fear becoming obscure (notice some of the crazy things flash-in-the-pan celebrities do to remain in the public eye). Someone who wants control may become king of the world, but then he'll do anything to stay in power. He doesn't stop needing to be in control just because he has achieved control.

If you don't know this very basic information about your characters, you may end up with a muddle, and readers will have a hard time finding a connection with your characters. You'll really frustrate readers if the characters' needs seem to change depending on the situation -- if the guy who needs to do the right thing in one scene then goes and does something dishonorable in another scene without any particularly good reason.

You can also use these drives to create some really interesting conflict by finding situations that will pit the characters' drives against their survival -- if the only way out is to act against type. Force your control freak to put his fate in someone else's hands. Make the loner work as part of a team. Make the person who needs harmony take a stand that generates conflict. Once readers are aware, even if it's just subconsciously, of what drives these people, they'll recognize the dilemma.

Knowing these driving needs is a good way to find your way out when you get stuck. When you need to figure out what happens next, go back to the core of your characters and think about how those needs will make the characters react in that situation -- what actions would they take, and how would those actions among the various characters come into conflict with each other?

(And yes, this was how I solved my dilemma in this book.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On a Roll

I am on a roll now. I worked for 6 1/2 hours yesterday -- and that's actual time spent on activities leading to the production of a manuscript, as timed by a stopwatch, not just going by start/stop time or even PR agency timekeeping standards, where doing any work within a quarter-hour period is a quarter hour of work. That time does not include other work-related activity, like reading e-mail, reading industry news or blogging, nor does it include bathroom breaks, meal breaks, making tea, refilling the tea cup, etc. I'm not sure I want to think of how long a regular office workday that would translate to. I won't be able to put in that kind of time today, since I have ballet tonight, which kills the entire evening, unless I'm really energized instead of tired when I get home.

In that 6 1/2 hours, some of that did go to working on radio scripts, since that is paying work and is writing, but otherwise I reviewed/edited two chapters and rewrote two chapters. In the "rewriting" I'd guess that nearly half was entirely new material, and any existing material required extensive rewriting. I'm not sure how many words I produced, but the word count on the total manuscript was 2,000 words higher at the end of the day than it was at the beginning, and I also cut about ten pages of material.

We'll see what I can get done today, as I'm getting a slightly earlier start.

Meanwhile, it seems that we got our October and November somehow reversed this year. I tend to think of November as cold and dreary, while October is glorious -- cool enough to be outdoors, but not cold, and with bright blue skies. But this year October was cold and dreary, raining most days out of the month, while so far, November has been glorious and much warmer than October was. Now, watch it all change next week when I go on vacation.

Really, though, I think I'd be okay with whatever way the weather wants to go. If it's nice outside, I can go hiking along the riverfront or take a field trip to somewhere in the area. If it's cold and dreary, I can curl up with a good book or watch a movie. And I am so ready for a vacation. I haven't taken a deliberate, extended, restful break in more than ten years. I may have had stretches of not doing much since I went freelance, but they weren't what I'd consider restful or relaxing because I was considering myself to be in "work" mode and if I wasn't working, I felt guilty. That last break wasn't entirely planned. I was changing jobs and decided to give myself a week between jobs to recharge, but then my boss at my old job had real issues about people changing jobs (it was like working at The Firm), so when I gave my two-week notice, I got escorted out the door. I guess it was to stop me from being able to take any files with me or recruit other employees, but since I'd seen it happen with others, I'd already removed everything I wanted from my office and recruited the employees I wanted before I gave notice. And then I had nearly three weeks off. I took a weekend trip to visit some friends and a weekend trip to visit my parents, had an actual date, and otherwise mostly relaxed. I took long walks every morning, did some writing, read a lot and finished unpacking and organizing my office (I'd moved into this house that summer).

But before I can vacation, I have to finish this book.

Finally, in other news, my essay on Pride and Prejudice is this week's free essay at the Smart Pop Books site. It will be available through next Monday.

Monday, November 09, 2009


I figured out my plot (I think)! It did take a mixture of all the things I was trying. I had an odd little scene that had popped up in daydreaming, and after reading through the rest of the book, I put that together with what I knew about the character, and suddenly the heavens opened and my path appeared before me. And yes, it really was that dramatic. I might have even heard a heavenly choir. I've already made it past the spot where I was stuck before, and I have scenes envisioned for most of the rest of the book. I'll be able to recycle a few scenes, so it's not all starting from scratch, but if this book gets published, there will be a lot of deleted scenes that fall into the "what could have happened" realm. What's really cool is that there was a scene earlier in the book that I was wavering on whether or not I should keep it, and now it turns out that it sets up something pretty crucial.

If I'm really, really good and manage my time well, I could get it done this week, and then I can take that long-awaited vacation next week, creating an extended Thanksgiving break.

In addition to having a creative breakthrough this weekend, I also finally watched the first episode of V. I think I'm still on the fence, but I suspect that has more to do with where I am mentally and emotionally than anything to do with the show itself. This seems like a show that's going to take itself very seriously. It is Important Television, for the most part, and I don't have a lot of patience for that right now. I don't remember how quickly the big reveal in the original miniseries came about, but I think they made a wise move in doing it in the first hour here, since it's not like we didn't already know there's something wrong about the Visitors. I really like the plot line of the resistance movement and the female FBI agent and the priest. I could do without the junior alien scouts/bratty teenage son/family drama plot line, and Baltar the Journalist already annoys me (I know he's supposed to, but that doesn't mean I enjoy watching it). Since it's on a night when I'm always out and I have to watch on tape, I may fast forward through the annoying parts and just watch the parts I like, unless those other parts become utterly crucial.

I have to admit that my main thought upon seeing Morena Baccarin and Alan Tudyk in the same science fiction show again was that she could use her super alien powers to bring Firefly back, and then I'd be really happy. Now, there was a show that managed to have some serious, scary, even dark stuff without coming across as overly pretentious Important Television.

Meanwhile, the folks at White Collar are taunting me. That guy, holding the ancient-looking tome and digging through old books? Arrgghh. I did not want mental casting because I don't want to feel let down if a movie goes into production and they cast someone else.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Getting Unstuck

I'm still struggling with the Book Brain. I've tried a few different things, so we'll see how any or all of them work.

1) Go back to the characters
I've been stuck on what happens next, especially given what I've just changed, and it occurred to me that what's most important is that the characters react in ways that make sense for them. What would this person really do in this situation? So I took another look at my core archetypes for these people to think about what drives them.

The problem I'm running into now is that one of the events is a huge one, the kind of thing that makes a person question everything about himself. So, would someone react according to type to something like that, or is it big enough to change the type entirely and change the way he'd react? I'm still not sure. I've made lists in both directions of things he might do, but both are still existing as possible futures.

2) Trust in the subconscious
I read something this week about getting your subconscious to solve problems for you. Just before you go to sleep at night, read over some notes about the project, and then as you fall asleep, focus on one main question that you need to resolve. Then maybe your subconscious will give you the answer in dreams.

I haven't been getting answers in dreams (oddly, I dreamed about an entirely different book), but I have been doing some daydreaming type thinking as I fall asleep and then again in the morning when I'm sort of awake but not fully conscious. I let myself imagine scenes with these characters, not even worrying about whether or not they belong in the book -- kind of mental fan fiction for my own book. I have discovered something I think I can use while doing that, and it takes the story in a new direction that I think I like. Maybe I should try daydreaming about those different possible futures and see the "movie" for each in my head.

3) Go back to the beginning
I'm going to have to go back to the beginning and make another pass at the book to do what Mom calls "Bill and Tedding" -- "remind me to go back in time and put a trash can there" -- to fix things that need to be set up for later events or to correct things changed by decisions I've made along the way. So I may as well do that now. Tweaking those little changes will help build toward the new direction of the last quarter of the book, and going through the whole book fairly rapidly instead of devoting three days to a chapter may help give me a running start toward the end while immersing me in the story, so that when I get to the stuck place, I'll know where to go.

I suppose we'll find out if these things work.

I got a jolt of awe/inspiration about plotting from something I saw on TV last night. My local PBS station is showing MI-5 (aka Spooks), and they're now in the season where A&E suddenly stopped showing it on a cliffhanger a few years ago (I know we're many seasons behind). The episode last night had some of the twistiest plotting ever, where you go through most of the episode thinking one thing is going on, but then that turned out to be a set-up for something else, and that then turned out to have been planned based on how the villain knew the good guys would react to the something else, so that their reaction played into the evil plan, and then when they thwarted that plan it turned out to be about something else entirely -- and all this made sense, and I didn't see any of it coming. My brain is depressingly linear, so I'm not too good at twists and surprises I really have to work at it. Any twists or surprises that come in my books come from me having plotted it one way and then changing my mind midway through the book when I realize that's too obvious. The red herring is actually my original plan.

Hmmm, maybe that's my problem here. Should my original bad guy be the red herring? And if so, who is the real bad guy? Or do I need a better red herring?

Writing is hard sometimes. At least, doing it well is.

Keep the questions coming. I'm making a list of post prompts.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Book Brain

It was quite a relief to find that I'm not the only one who can't seem to deal with graphic novels. I was feeling so bad about that because I have friends who write them, and then there's the TV show "extra seasons" thing, where I would prefer to have a regular novel. Though I must admit, the Pushing Daisies world would lose something without the visual element.

I have a bad case of Book Brain -- but not the whirling storm of ideas I can't capture fast enough kind. This is dangerously close to writer's block. I made one little change in the backstory -- something that doesn't even happen in the book itself -- and that ended up changing the entire plot for the last part of the book because it changed what was really going on and it changed everyone's motivations. I don't yet know for sure if that change was right, after all, but I won't know until I explore that path for a while.

I'm trying to remember which character this was -- possibly the Doctor on Doctor Who or maybe Rose when she had the burst of Tardis energy -- but I recall seeing or reading something about a character seeing not only the past and future, but also the possible pasts and futures, the alternatives to what actually happened, all existing simultaneously. That's kind of what I feel like at the moment. I'm seeing something like a branching flow chart of events, so that multiple possible futures all exist simultaneously and side-by-side, and I'm trying to figure out which makes for the best story. That is why my brain is exploding.

As a result of the Book Brain, I'm woefully short on blog topics, so here's your chance -- ask a question or suggest a topic about writing, the publishing industry, books, me, my books, my characters, cooking, TV, ballet, movies, geekery, travel, whatever. I can probably write something to a prompt, but my idea generator is currently running on overdrive elsewhere and is not available for blog topics.

And now to the store before I have a serious tea crisis.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Words and Pictures

Ballet class was killer last night. I think it will ultimately be good for me, and I know of a few exercises I now want to work into my daily routine because they attack some of my weaknesses, but for now, I'm aching all over, and it's entirely possible that I will be barely mobile tomorrow.

However, if I do work those exercises into the daily routine, a few months from now I will have amazing legs.

Still banging my head against the wall with the book. Every time I solve a problem and move forward, I come up against another problem, and solving it requires going back to fix a few earlier things. If I do get it all worked out, this could be the best thing I've written (and I really hope it gets to see the light of day). Or else I will be a quivering pile of jelly by the time I'm done and the book will have dissolved into gibberish.

I have a tendency to be a bundle of contradictions -- like my favorite ambient temperature is being both warm and cold at the same time, or I'll order onion rings as a side while requesting no onions on my hamburger. Well, here's a new one that may eliminate several points of geek credibility:

I don't like comic books or graphic novels.

It's really not a snob thing, where I think they're for kids or childish or anything like that. And it's not because I haven't tried reading the good ones (I really, really tried reading the Sandman series because I love Neil Gaiman's writing, but I couldn't follow the story). I have. I just don't get them, and I think it has something to do with the way I process information. I'm very, very verbal and not very visual at all. When I read comics or graphic novels, all I see is the words, but if it's a good one, the idea is that the pictures are essential for telling the story. I don't seem to process the words and the pictures at the same time, and as a result, even after reading a graphic novel, I have no idea what happened and I can't really follow the story.

This generally wouldn't be a big problem, but now it seems like all the TV shows I've loved that died before their time are being continued in comics form. I want to know what happens next and I want to follow those stories, but even if read the comics, I still wouldn't know what happened. For instance, I read the comics that came between the Firefly TV series and the movie Serenity, and I still couldn't tell you anything that happened or how it related to either show or movie. I've read at least one other Firefly comic and retained absolutely nothing. The Buffy and Angel stories are also continuing in comics, and then there's Farscape and apparently even an upcoming Pushing Daisies comic. What I need is a text-only recap so I can know what happens.

But here's where the contradiction comes in: I LOVE newspaper (or newspaper-style) comics. My favorite part of the daily newspaper and a big reason I still subscribe is that I love reading the comics while I eat lunch. My local paper has cut a lot of comics in recent years, and I've started following all those online, plus have added some new ones to follow. Then I discovered that you can also get "classics" as daily strips, so I'm back to getting a daily dose of Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes. As a real bonus, also has Berke Breathed's first strip, Academia Waltz, which was the precursor to Bloom County that ran in the Daily Texan at UT. As a former Daily Texan staff member who was at UT not too terribly long after that strip ran, it's fun and nostalgic to follow that strip because life at the university wasn't that different in my time and because you can see the seeds of a lot of the Bloom County elements there. Bloom County is a lot more fun to me when I know that Steve Dallas is really a UT frat boy. One of the fun things about reading comics online is that some of the sites have comments like blogs, and some of the artists even join the conversation. I liked the strip Lio when it was in our paper, but I love it even more online because the artist will post comments and engage with people discussing the strip. I guess my visual information processing issues continue even with the simpler and easier-to-absorb format of a newspaper strip because there's always some visual gag I didn't even notice until someone points it out in the comments.

I'm not sure quite why I can love newspaper comics but not get comic books. The shorter form may help me absorb all the information. I may just enjoy the humor more than the serious storytelling. Or it could be that this is what I grew up with. Instead of reading comic books as a kid, I was reading compilations of newspaper strips. In general, I don't like pictures in my books, aside from the sections of photos that come in some non-fiction books. The visual thing sometimes even applies to TV and movies. I listen to TV more than I actually watch it, and I'm likely to lose interest in shows where too much of the information is given visually instead of in dialogue. I have to find a show absolutely compelling and be really emotionally involved before I can just watch with my full attention and even notice the visuals.

I'm also starting to discover web comics, which mostly seem to work like the traditional newspaper strip. My friend Rob Chambers -- who did the cartoon artwork on my web site -- has just launched a new web comic that I think my readers might like. It's a humorous fantasy comic called MeatShield about a barbarian on a quest and the student bard trying to record his adventures for her thesis. It's still new enough that it's easy to go back to the beginning and catch up, and it now posts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Be sure to read the commentary with each strip and the background on the characters. So, check it out, and if you leave a comment, tell him Shanna sent you.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Book Report: Cities on the Rampage

The good news: I think I've figured out what I need to do to improve the plot of the book I'm revising.
The bad news: It will require rewriting pretty much the last five chapters. A few scenes can sort of stay in a different context, but I think for the most part everything will change. Ack.

I made my second vat of soup of the season, since I'd already eaten my way through the first batch. I pretty much live on this stuff at this time of year. I'll have it for my lighter meal of the day (sometimes lunch, sometimes dinner) or have it as a vegetable side dish with the heavier meal. Someday I ought to do a cost analysis, figuring out the cost of all the ingredients and dividing by the number of servings to see how it compares to just buying soup in a can, but I think this tastes better, there's probably more nutrition in it, and I know there's less sodium because I don't put any salt in it and canned soup is really, really high in sodium. Keeping a batch of soup handy is also part of my flu prevention strategy. I only seem to get sick when I have no good "sick" food in the house, so I figure if I've got several servings of vegetable soup in the freezer, I won't get sick.

I have done a bit of reading while doing the writing/banging my head against the wall.

First, I managed to get my hands on the new Terry Pratchett book, Unseen Academicals (Mom, it's due on the 14th, and if I get the book done in time, I'll bring it over so you can read it, but work has to come before travel). This one wasn't my favorite of the series, but I can't really say if that's because of anything to do with the book or if it was because it was a book that didn't focus on my favorite aspects or characters of the Discworld. I suppose this would be classified as a "wizards" book, though the major characters are all newcomers, with the wizards mostly in the background. I have liked other books where the main characters weren't series regulars and the series regulars were in supporting roles, but I wasn't overly fond of at least one of the main characters here. She's the kind of person Pratchett usually skewers, and while she did come in for a bit of skewering and learned a few big lessons, I spent most of the time leading up to that point wanting to slap her silly. At any rate, I'll have to re-read this one to really judge how I like it, and it may take reading the next one to put it in context, but this time around I may have been distracted from the story that was actually there by my wondering where Vimes and Carrot were and what they were up to, or if Moist von Lipwig was running the tax system yet.

The plot was essentially about university athletics. The wizards at Unseen University have discovered some fine print about a major bequest requiring them to field a football team, and if they don't, they lose the money, which might trim back their snack allocation. Problem is, football is rather frowned upon and is something generally played on the streets as part of a rivalry between neighborhoods. But then the Patrician decides to legalize and formalize football, imposing rules and order, and the university's team will play in the first big game. Meanwhile, there are things going on among the university's below-stairs staff, including a bright young man who seems to be a minority of one (no one's entirely sure what he is) but who may be smart enough to help mold the wizards into an actual team. And there are a number of other little subplots, including one about modeling and ambition. I plowed through the book in one afternoon, and it had a number of laugh-out-loud moments, plus the usual insightful social commentary, but I tend to have to read these at least twice before all the details really sink in.

Then there was Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, which is a young-adult, post-apocalyptic steampunk adventure. In the very far future on a devastated earth, cities have become mobile, roving the earth and scavenging smaller cities or towns, with airships used to scout out prey. And I have to say that this concept is utterly cool -- so cool it was almost distracting because I'd pause in the reading to imagine what that would be like. Dallas wouldn't get very far because the different parts of the city would all want to go in different directions, so it would just sit there, rocking back and forth. But I can imagine that Fort Worth would either absorb or ally with the Mid-Cities, and then it would go rollicking across the prairie, six-guns blazing, with a mighty "Yee Hah!"

Our hero, an apprentice historian, finds out that things in London aren't quite what they seem when he saves the life of the city's most famous historian, only to get himself shoved overboard by the man he just saved. Soon, he's on the run with a young radical who lives for revenge, and they get captured, rescued, captured again, enslaved, escaped, etc., in a series of adventures as they travel on airships and pirate suburbs in their attempt to get back to London. Meanwhile, the engineers of London have discovered a piece of ancient technology from the last war that they think is just what they need to take over the world.

This was shelved in the teen section of the library and the main character is 15, but the writing style struck me as more of a children's/middle grade book, except then a lot of the events were probably better suited for more mature readers (it gets really violent and there are a lot of pretty horrible deaths, including some major characters). That made for a slightly disconcerting mix, to be reading something that at times seemed almost childish, only to come across something a little too intense even for me as an adult. That's a fair warning for parents because I'm not sure where I'd say the target audience would be -- it's a little immature in a lot of places for teen readers, but probably too intense in places for younger readers. Which means it's just right for adults who no longer care whether what they're reading is too "babyish." I will be grabbing the sequel because I was really intrigued by this world and I liked the characters who actually managed to survive (did I mention the number of deaths?).

On a television note, the new version of V premieres tonight. Sci Fi was running the miniseries on Sunday, but I found I could only stand to watch a few minutes of it (I recall being very into it when I was a teenager). I'll be taping because I have ballet tonight, and then I don't know when I'll get around to watching it. It may get moved to my Friday line-up, before the ritual mocking of Stargate: Universe.

Speaking of Terry Pratchett and Friday-night television, I've decided that White Collar is essentially "Sam Vimes and Moist von Lipwig team up to fight crime." And now I want to read that book.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween Survival Guide

Wow, it's November. When did that happen? (Yeah, I know, yesterday, but it was a rhetorical question.)

I had a fun Halloween at our gang's annual party. The great thing about hanging out with fellow geeks is that you don't need to write a brochure to explain your geek-related costumes. People just get it. This year, my friends and I were Warehouse 13 agents. The clever thing is that meant we pretty much just wore normal clothes but had purple gloves, "Tesla" ray guns and silver artifact collection envelopes. However, the goodies we brought to the party also fit the costumes, as my friend brought a cake that was an artifact -- Julia Child's first cake, which has all kinds of effects if you're brave enough to eat it -- and I brought cookies -- fudge cookies, to further fit the theme. So, here we are in secret agent mode:

We watched an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, then we watched a film suitable for that and provided our own commentary. I didn't catch the title of that film, but it was H.P. Lovecraft Meets The 70s and involved a very young Dean Stockwell using Sandra Dee as a book stand in a way that gives a whole new meaning to the term "bibliophile."

From this film, I have developed a series of handy survival tips to ensure that I never get put in the same situation:
Tip #1: Do not go out for drinks with the creepy guy who just tried to steal your library's copy of the Necronomicon.
Tip #2: If you disregard tip #1, when the creepy guy who just tried to steal the Necronomicon just happens to miss the last bus home, do not offer to give him a ride.
Tip #3: If you disregard tips 1 and 2, if the creepy guy lives in a creepy old mansion on a cliff overlooking the sea (and what bus route was that on, anyway?), slow down as you approach his driveway and shove him out of the car. DO NOT go inside with him.
Tip #4: If you disregard all of the above, DO NOT drink anything the creepy guy gives you, especially if there are occult symbols all over the house and his grandfather looks like the "caretaker" in any Scooby Doo cartoon.

If you disregard all of those, you're on your own and have bigger problems than I can help you with. You are probably too stupid to live. I won't even get into why you should be worried that a single man who lives alone with his grandfather in a creepy old mansion on a cliff overlooking the sea happens to have a sheer black nightie in the guest room closet.

And now back to the book revisions. I will not be doing National Novel Writing Month, as I've got at least a week's worth of work to do on this book, and then I really need that vacation before my head explodes.