Friday, December 31, 2010

My Year in Review

I figured out why I seemed to be so blocked on the scenes I'm rewriting: Lack of information! Since these things came out of nowhere, they weren't elements I'd researched, and when I tried to just make stuff up without a factual foundation, it was lifeless. Fortunately, I had some of the key references for one of the subjects among my texts for my journalism history class (thank you, Dr. Olasky! You never know what from your college coursework will end up being vital in your actual work), and those directed me to a few other things that I might be able to get via Project Gutenberg. Then I guess I'll have to make a downtown library trip next week. Oh, and I've added a book to my year in reading total, which may bring the classics up higher in the genre list and which ups my total of work-related reading.

Since I work for myself, I don't have to go through the usual annual review, but I do like to take stock of the year and set goals and plans for the coming year.

I don't feel like I have that much to show for this year, but there was some groundwork laid that may come to fruition early next year. I spent about half the year working on a book that is currently backburnered and the other half of the year working on a proposal that's currently on submission. Even without selling a new book, I think once I add up my income and subtract expenses, I may have come close to earning what I did in my old job, thanks to movie option renewal, foreign sales on old books and royalties.

My work goal is to really intensify the writing output. I don't currently need to market anything, so most of my work time should be spent on writing. I'm determined to sell something new next year, so I'll have to keep writing on new projects until I find the one they want.

Personally, this was a decent year. I spent the summer doing physical therapy on a bad shoulder, I taught Vacation Bible School for the first time, and I started co-directing a kindergarden choir. I traveled to Denver and came back by train on my first really long-distance train trip. I got to meet one of my writer idols. I really expanded my cooking repertoire and started a cooking blog that I haven't been very good about updating. I experienced eggplant for the first time and have explored the neighborhood Indian markets.

I suspect my personal goals for the year will be about the same ones I always make. I really do want to get my house, and especially my office, organized. I'm not sure how to go about it, though. I've tried all kinds of methods and organizational systems, and nothing has stuck. I did have some success with the Flylady system, where you do little bits each day, with reminder e-mails, and very gradually declutter the whole house while creating new habits and processes to keep it clean. I lasted about a year with that back in 2002-2003 and got and kept the house in pretty good shape, but I also got almost no writing done during that time, and once I did start really writing (the first draft of what became Enchanted, Inc.), it all fell apart. I also got tired of all the sappy inspirational e-mails that come with all the e-mail reminders of what tasks to do. I tried taking the Clean Sweep approach to my office, emptying it entirely into boxes and then sorting through those boxes to put everything back. Most of the stuff is still in those boxes because I got busy before I finished, but I can't just throw away the boxes because I keep having to dig through them, looking for stuff. I've tried the 43 folders approach to organizing things to deal with, since most of my mess is work or business-related paper clutter, and getting that under control would instantly improve most of my house, but that seems to languish after about a week (I forget to check the daily folder or keep moving things to future folders). I tried dividing the house into zones and tasks that could be done in a short amount of time, and that failed after about two weeks. I would say that I need a deadline, like throwing a party, but deadlines are largely why my office is in the state it's in, after everything from the rest of the house gets tossed in there to hide it. When I try to do a little each day, I get discouraged from not seeing enough progress and give up. When I try to do it all at once, it's more than I can tackle, I get overwhelmed and give up.

Mind you, we're not talking Hoarders material here, except maybe in the office, which is totally out of control and has spilled into other rooms. It's just a case of someone who's used to moving every three years spending nearly 13 years in the same house. I normally do that clean/sort/purge thing when I move and don't have the habits for doing it while in the same house. If you have any systems or ideas that you think might help, I'm open to suggestions. What I may do is try to come up with some kind of point system and related rewards for the early days, when there's not a lot of visible progress. I need to sort out and set up my filing cabinet so there will be a place to put everything else, for instance, and that's not the kind of thing you can look at with a sense of accomplishment that encourages you to keep going. Maybe I'll embarrass myself by posting photos and then use the general public to hold me accountable to finishing the project this time around. I feel like everything else will just fall into place once the house is in order. That may be overly optimistic (Mr. Right will not just appear on my doorstep once my house is the way I want it), but I do think it would save me time and make my work more productive.

There are a few other things I want to try this year, but that will all depend on what deadlines come up and what my work schedule will be. I want to be more physically active because that helps with the work, and I want to keep expanding my horizons in general because that also helps with the work. I'm giving myself permission to be a workaholic this year, but there's a lot of stuff beyond just typing that counts as "work."

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Year in Review: Books

I'm going to have to force myself to focus today because I really want to rewrite the scene I've been working on, but I seem reluctant since it means totally rewriting it. I may disconnect from the Internet after a quick bank/post office trip and force myself to get started. Starting is always the hardest part.

Now that I've finished reading All Clear, and since I doubt I'll finish reading another book this year, I can do my Year in Review for books.

This year, I read 101 books, which is down from last year, when I read 116, but a lot of the books I read this year were classics that took some wading through, and I read a lot of reference books that could qualify as heavy tomes. I also did more writing this year, I think. My heaviest reading month was July, which was when I went into heavy research mode for the book I'm currently working on. Low months were August and November, both of which were heavy writing months.

Nearly half of the books I read, 50, were in some way related to work -- reference books, works in the genres I was researching, market research, writing how-to, psychology, etc. I'm not counting novels that fall within my broad genres, only books I read especially because of their specific connection to a particular project. Forty-two of these books related to the current project.

My biggest genre by far was fantasy, with mystery in second place. Young adult and non-fiction tied for third. There may be some overlap to the categories because when a book could fit in two categories, I counted it in both. So a YA fantasy would count as both YA and fantasy.

Twenty-six of the books were books I'd read before, but in some cases, I hadn't read them since childhood. I read one book, Blackout twice within the same year. As usual, Terry Pratchett shows up a lot on the list, but this year a lot of my re-reads were by Dick Francis, since I sort of went on a binge after his death.

My Book of the Year goes to Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, which I will discuss in more detail next week. I'm counting it for this purpose as one book because it is one story divided into two volumes, probably because otherwise it wouldn't fit into the binding and for publishing business purposes. This book was a magnificent accomplishment that blew me away and both inspired me and made me feel like a talentless hack who should just put in an application at McDonald's because obviously my writing career can't amount to much in comparison. I'm going to try to focus on the inspiration part and use it as motivation to do better. I don't think this one will top To Say Nothing of the Dog as my all-time favorite because it's a little too heavy for constant re-reading, but a future re-read will determine its place on the all-time list. My mind is still so blown from the first read that it's hard to judge.

My New Find of the Year was Rachel Aaron, whose Legend of Eli Monpress series (The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, and The Spirit Eater) was a refreshingly fun take on magic. I think I liked the middle book best, which is unusual in a trilogy, and I'm looking forward to the next book. It was so nice to find something that was more fun than dark and that wasn't about vampires and tough chicks with tattoos.

Meanwhile, I read 15 classics this year, digging into the kinds of books you probably should be forced to read in school but which I, oddly, wasn't. Some of them I'd read before on my own (like Jane Eyre), but a lot of them I hadn't tried before. There does seem to be an alarming tendency in "classics" to have depressing endings where nothing really works out and life is meaningless. I won't be turning into a literary snob anytime soon.

The next idea churning around in my brain will require a ton of reading and research, so I imagine that's what will make up most of my reading for next year. I don't yet know of any books scheduled for next year that I'm eagerly anticipating. The publishers' web sites are incredibly unhelpful in that respect.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year in Review: TV

I have a book hangover today. I finally gave up on trying to write until I finished reading All Clear, since all I did when I tried to write was stare into space and wonder what would happen next in the book I was reading, so I was wasting that time neither reading nor writing. I finished it at almost 1 a.m. and then had a hard time getting to sleep because my brain was buzzing so much. Then I had weird dreams about the book, so my sleep wasn't restful. But I can now move on and focus on my own writing, even though at the moment I feel rather like a talentless hack. I can also do my year in review for books, but I will save that for tomorrow because I have some data analysis to do and I need to gather my thoughts to report on All Clear.

In the meantime, I'll talk about TV this year. It wasn't a prime year for TV. I think I stopped watching almost as many shows as I started watching, which I suppose is good for uncluttering my schedule on the "add something new, remove something old" principle, but most of the new things I've added fall more into the "well, it's there" category than into the "love it!" category.

New shows for this calendar year in the "well, it's there," category include Covert Affairs and the new Hawaii 5-0. I generally watch them OnDemand later in the week, and if they disappeared entirely, I might not notice unless I got really bored one Sunday afternoon. Human Target is a step outside this category. It's not something I care that much about or am addicted to, but I do enjoy it when it's on and would probably miss it if it went away. The one addiction show for this year for me is Haven on SyFy. I wasn't planning to watch it but watched it OnDemand when I needed background noise for my physical therapy exercises and was instantly hooked. I would have missed this one if it had been cancelled, but it wasn't and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Not new, but new to me this year was Phineas and Ferb on the Disney Channel. I discovered this by accident, and now it's a major topic of conversation among my friends. This seems to be one of those cartoons that's fun for kids but really written for adults.

Doctor Who is in a special category, as it's by no means a new series, but this year was a complete re-boot with a new cast and new showrunner, and the way it is now seems to be custom-made for me. There's so much I love about this take on the Doctor.

On the down side, some former favorites fell off the schedule for me this year. I'd followed House all along, stuck with it through some questionable story arcs, the woobification of House (did we really need to make him such a victim?), the dropping of the old team, the hiring of useless people and even the relationship with Cuddy. But when they hired a third-year medical student for a postdoctoral fellowship, my suspension of disbelief snapped, and I'm done. Meanwhile, I loved the concept of Glee but came to the conclusion that I didn't like any of the characters. NCIS: Los Angeles was never a brilliant show, but it was fun in the first season. I'm not sure what happened this season or why they felt the need to tinker with success, but the last new episode crossed the threshold where it was too annoying to watch. If I hear that an episode was brilliant, I may catch it OnDemand, but it will have to be a really boring Sunday afternoon where I need to drown out the sound of my neighbor's barking dog with the sound of the television so I can work my crossword puzzles before I decide to watch new episodes of this series again. I never liked Stargate: Universe, but reached the threshold where the snark potential wasn't enough to make it worthwhile midway through the second episode after their mid-season hiatus. Now it's been cancelled.

Masterpiece Classic looks like it will have some good stuff this season, and White Collar will be back soon. Otherwise, I may get a lot of writing done.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Year in Review: Movies

Today I reaped the consequences for yesterday's procrastination. It was sunny but cold yesterday. Today isn't as cold, but it's rainy, and I had to go grocery shopping. Carrying groceries out to the car and then from the car to the house in the rain isn't fun. Note to self: next house will have an attached garage. There are downsides to having a house that faces a courtyard rather than a street.

I thought I'd figured out what I needed to do with the new scene idea I came up with, but then had an inspiration during my evening reading binge. It wasn't so much a thing I wanted to copy/steal as it was an awareness of how a certain element really intensified things in the book I was reading and then the realization that this element really should have been in what I was writing, but was missing. Now I need to tinker again with the last scene, and it should end up with a good emotional sucker punch effect. Today should be a good reading/writing day. The trick will be to focus on the writing when I'm tempted by the reading (curse you, Connie Willis!).

It's the time of year for all the "year in review" lists. I may have to save the book list for next week because I'm still reading one of the big books of the year. I don't think I'll get to any more movies this year, so I'll go ahead and do that. The problem is that I don't really remember all the movies I saw this year. I think I'll take one of those journals I've received as a thank-you gift for speaking at a library or writing group and start listing the movies I've watched the way I do books.

I think my favorite movie of the year would have to be Tangled, with Toy Story 3 a close second. The fact that my top two were Disney cartoons may say something about either my maturity level or the state of the film industry. I'm leaning toward the latter because to me it's all about story. There's a real dearth of good romantic comedies, and Tangled actually works as a romantic comedy because the hero and heroine both have arcs, they clash, then mesh and change each other, and I actually wanted them to end up together (which is rare in most of these movies, where either the guy is an idiot or the woman is a bitch). Add the fairy tale elements and the music, and it's like a movie that was custom-made for me. Then Toy Story 3 was an animated movie about toys that probably had more impact on adults who remember when they reached the age of leaving their toys behind than it did on kids who are still playing with toys. Pixar did their usual trick of making a movie that looks like it's for kids but which is really for adults.

I didn't see anything at the theater that I really hated, since I see very few movies at the theater and only go when it's something I truly want to see. Sherlock Holmes and Tron: Legacy could have been truly brilliant with better writing and better casting. Both of them fell down in choosing their female leads. I've loved Rachel McAdams in so many things, but she was totally out of her league as Irene Adler in Sherlock Holmes. The woman who manages to outwit Holmes should be more of a peer, and that role shouldn't remind me of the 22-year-old supermodels playing nuclear physicists in a Bond movie. Meanwhile, it may be because I hate her on House, but Olivia Wilde just has this weird blank, dead-eyed look to her in everything. I don't get why she's currently such an "it" girl. It's hard for me as a straight woman to judge, but I don't even think she's that hot.

I liked what they did with the first half of the last Harry Potter movie, but it's hard to judge without seeing part 2. I enjoyed Inception and found it mindblowing, but I'm almost afraid to watch it again because I suspect it will lose something now that I know what's going on.

I do plan to see The King's Speech, but that will probably have to wait until next week, so it may fall onto my list for next year. When I will be keeping a list so I can do a better job than this and even deal with the "wait for HBO" movies.

Monday, December 27, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas ...

I'm home again and in the "returning to somewhat normal" phase of the holiday season. I say "somewhat" because I'm coming more and more around to the idea of the liturgical calendar, where Christmas starts on December 25 and continues to the night of January 5. What we generally call the "Christmas season" is actually Advent. I like the idea of all that time being for preparation, and then you really start the party on Christmas. Otherwise, it seems like a lot of buildup for just one day. Not that I'll be doing serious partying, other than New Year's Eve. I just like the idea of living outside "normal" (or what passes for it around here) for a while.

In other words, I have to return All Clear to the library January 2, and I'm only halfway through a re-read of Blackout, which is feeling almost like a first read because I'd forgotten it all (I'd have been lost in the second book if I hadn't re-read), so this may be a big reading week. Good thing I have no ballet or choir, and there's nothing on TV.

I had a wonderful Christmas. We watched a lot of Doctor Who (LOVED the Christmas special, and getting to see it on Christmas night). We ate. We read. I got some new cookbooks and baking pans (I think I should make something for tea this afternoon). My brother added to my tea supply with a red tea, non-caffeinated spiced chai, which should be great for drinking at night when I want tea but want to sleep at a reasonable hour. My mom and I went in together and got my dad an e-reader so he could sit comfortably while reading some old favorites of his that he'd discovered at Project Gutenberg. It may be one of those signs of parent/child role reversal when you're buying your parents toys for Christmas and you're getting (and asking for) housewares.

I've already talked myself out of running errands today because I think I just need a quiet day at home to read and to get back into the swing of things -- and back to work on the book. I stayed off the Internet the whole time, aside from checking my e-mail a couple of times on my phone and doing some tech support for my parents. I like occasionally disconnecting from the virtual world, but then getting caught up again can be a pain because the rest of the world never seems to disconnect entirely.

Maybe we need to have a big "don't post anything online" day so we could all take a break without missing anything or having to catch up.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmastime is Here

I'll be off for Christmas in a little while, so there may or may not be any posting the rest of the week. We will resume our normal broadcast schedule next week. Maybe.

A very merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Moon Gazing

I had another late start on the day, this time thanks to a rare all-nighter. The weather geek on TV was all excited about the lunar eclipse, talking about how it was around 400 years since there was a lunar eclipse in conjunction with the winter solstice. I don't really believe in literal magic outside the pages of a fantasy novel, but I figured that if any time happened to be magical, this might be it. Plus, it would be a long time until the next total lunar eclipse. So, I stayed up very, very late, and while I was staying up late waiting for the eclipse to start, I was getting a lot of writing done.

First, I hung around outside to see the very beginning. At that point, the moon was almost straight overhead, so the best viewing was lying on my back on my sidewalk. Fortunately, most of my neighbors know I'm a writer, so there's a certain amount of eccentricity that's accepted or even expected, and I'm probably letting them down on that front as I'm actually pretty boring, and so far, my eccentricity has amounted to being so quiet and never seen outside that a neighbor will occasionally check to make sure I'm alive in here. So I figured they wouldn't raise an eyebrow at me lying on the front sidewalk after midnight. Then I went back to writing. I came really close to the halfway point, and then something happened that was unexpected but that I really liked. It turned out that what I had planned as the Ordeal (in hero's journey terms) was really more an Approach to the Inmost Cave, and this new situation was the Ordeal. But since it was unexpected, that meant I had to think about it, so I made a pot of dark peppermint hot cocoa. While I was making the cocoa, I discovered that I could now see the moon from my patio, so I spent about 45 minutes sitting on my patio, drinking cocoa and watching the moon. I tried taking some pictures, but I don't have a tripod and it's hard to brace the camera against something at that angle, and that kind of shot requires a long exposure, so the pictures amounted to a weird streak.

When the eclipse neared totality, the moon started to dip below the roof line, so I went back out front to lie on the sidewalk again. The sidewalk was cold and not that comfortable, but then I came up with the bright idea of bringing out my exercise mat. Then, since I was lying on the exercise mat, I figured I might as well do some exercise, so I did a few leg lifts and some stretches. Exercising at two in the morning while lying on the sidewalk might have gone beyond "eccentric," but fortunately, no one seemed to be up and around, and since my house faces a courtyard and isn't visible from the street, no one driving by could see me. I was surprised by the amount of traffic on the main road behind my house at that time of the morning. Most of the cars on the road seemed to either squeal their tires when taking off at the traffic signal or play very loud music. Or both.

After a while, it started to get a little chilly. It was a very warm night for this time of year, but there was a cool breeze, so I got the fleece throw off the couch. Then it was a good thing no neighbors saw me because it looked like I'd gone to bed on the front sidewalk, and while the moon was fully eclipsed, it just looked dimmer and an odd color, so if you didn't know what was going on, you might not immediately know why someone might be spending the night outside. It was only during the partial stages when there was a really bright part and a really dark part that it was obvious. I kept watching until the bright part reappeared because I just reread Hogfather and after all that stuff about making sure the sun came up again, I had to make sure the moon came back. I finally fell into bed sometime after three, and then woke up at my usual time.

There will likely be napping later.

This may not have been the brightest thing to do when I have so much to get done today before I head out of town for Christmas, but it's a once-in-a-lifetime event. I feel all astronomical now.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Movie Monday: Holiday Edition

According to the schedule I made during a burst of planning and organization at the beginning of the year, I'm supposed to be on holiday this week. But I have work that has to be done today and then I'm actually in a mood to write (I even wrote Friday night), so instead I've just shaken things up a bit. I took the morning off, then am doing my "morning" stuff in the afternoon. My posting the next couple of weeks may be sporadic, as I may use the "business" part of my schedule as my holiday time while still doing some writing.

It was a busy movie weekend, so I've got a lot of reviews for Monday Movies. I'll do them in chronological order (the order in which I saw them).

On Friday, I went to see How Do You Know, and I liked it more than the reviewers apparently did. It may not have been entirely satisfying as a romance, though I think that's partially because it's more about the decision to start a relationship, as opposed to the development of a relationship. Mostly, though, I found it interesting as an exploration of how people react when life pulls the rug out from under them and things aren't working out the way they planned. What I did like was that they avoided most of my romantic comedy pet peeves. The main couple was opposites in some ways, but that wasn't the whole point of their relationship. They didn't bicker constantly over meaningless things. "Mr. Wrong" wasn't evil. He was kind of a jerk, but he was a sweet, clueless jerk, so it felt like an honest choice between the two men rather than an obvious villain vs. hero comparison. I also liked that they didn't hit us over the head with the character development and the reasons the characters did things. That made this a fun movie for people who like to psychoanalyze fictional people. And then there was Paul Rudd. I've always liked him in nice-guy romantic comedy mode, but I've never really thought of him as an actor. In this, though, he was amazing. His face was so expressive that you could practically read his mind (very much like Amy Adams -- ooh, that might be my dream romantic comedy pairing).

Unfortunately, the bad side of seeing a romantic comedy in December is that you're forced to see the trailers for the romantic comedy dreck that tends to get released (or, considering the quality of the movies, excreted) in January and February. It looks like we'll be subjected to a lot of male-fantasy "romantic" "comedies." There was the one about the middle-aged men getting a free pass from their wives to spend a week as though they weren't married (yeah, right) and the one about a "friends with benefits" relationship where she didn't want them to develop feelings. Natalie Portman may get hit with the Eddie Murphy curse, where what seemed like a surefire Oscar nomination gets tanked when the same actor appears in a truly awful movie released right around nomination time.

Then on Saturday I saw Tron: Legacy. I hadn't seen the original, so I may have missed some of the nuances, if there were any. This was your basic popcorn movie that looked really cool, and the action sequences were exciting (due largely to a great soundtrack), but I found myself looking at my watch whenever there was a dialogue scene. I saw this in 3D, and I did like that they did the Wizard of Oz thing with it, where the "real world" scenes were like a regular 2D movie, and it went into 3D when we entered the virtual world. The 3D was used more for world building and less for the "oooh, stuff is flying off the screen at you!" effect. The main problem with this movie was that they were making the Airplane! of science fiction/action movies without being aware that's what they were doing. It was pretty much a cobbled together collection of tropes and even entire scenes from other movies in the genre. When two rows of people (I went with a big group of friends) says the exact same line from the source material at the same time, you might have hewn a little too closely to the source material. These guys had seen Star Wars. A lot.

As for the 3D, this was my first experience with it. 3D things tend not to work for me, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I put on my glasses at the "your 3D presentation will begin momentarily" slide, so when the "put on your glasses now" thing came on and a pair of glasses came flying out of the screen, I actually screamed a bit. From what I saw in the 3D trailers, I think I'd avoid 3D for any movie where I cared about the plot because it would be too distracting -- unless it was really part of the storytelling and world building. Mostly it seems to involve "ooh, stuff is flying out of the screen at you!" Which I can live without. When something comes flying at me, my instinct is to scream and duck, which is how I almost failed volleyball in 8th grade PE, and I'd prefer not to spend the movie screaming and ducking.

Then on Sunday night my HBO OnDemand movie was Pirate Radio, which was written and directed by Richard Curtis, the guy behind Love, Actually (and the "Vincent and the Doctor" episode of Doctor Who). It's about the time in the mid-60s when BBC radio wouldn't play rock music, and so pirate stations located off-shore provided the rock music. The movie focuses on the group of oddballs working on one of these pirate stations, as well as on the government official trying to bring them down. I liked this movie, but it wasn't as good as it should have been. Like Love, Actually, it had the cast of thousands and lots of little stories going on, but that one was more like an anthology of short stories. With this, it just seemed episodic, and nothing was ever really developed. It might have been better to focus on and really deal with a few stories instead of being so scattershot. However, there is a big moment near the end that I must say was one of the most goosebump-causing, tear-jerking moments of triumph I've ever seen on film. I'm kind of glad I didn't see this in a theater because I actually shouted "Yes!" and jumped off the sofa, and that would have been embarrassing in public (though it's possible that everyone else would have been doing it, too).

I think I'll save The King's Speech for after Christmas because it will involve a trip downtown. I may try out the new rail line and make a day of it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Comes Early

I got a little early Christmas present this morning with the news that a nice-sized royalty check is on its way to me. It's not life-changing money, but the amount does have a comma in it, and it was totally unexpected. Thank you, Japan! The practical side of my brain pointed out that half the check would go toward making my January estimated tax payment, and then there's neighborhood HOA fees that are due in January, but then I reminded myself that I'd have had to make those payments anyway, so I'm still coming out ahead.

I think I'm going to buy that new computer I've been talking about. I'd been holding off to put it on next year's taxes, but now I may need the tax break this year. I'm not brave enough to hit an Apple store the week before Christmas, but I may go on a weekday morning between Christmas and the end of the year. It'll probably still be more crowded than non-holiday times, but that's okay. And I might even indulge in an iPod so I don't have to keep burning playlist CDs for my car. But my priority other than the computer will be a new dishwasher.

I didn't do any writing yesterday in the sense of adding words to the manuscript, but I think I finally worked out the scene I've been wrestling with. The major element was something I hadn't even considered before, so if I'd tried writing the scene before, it wouldn't have been right. Sometimes, you just have to give the subconscious some time to work.

Today, though, is office party day. I think I'm going to hike up the hill to Commercial Alley, run a quick Wal-Mart errand, maybe pick up some lunch, then see a movie, and then head home via the Starbucks, since I have a gift card from a library event I haven't used and it's a good hot chocolate kind of day. And then tonight, I think there will be mulled wine and a movie marathon. In between, I may try writing that elusive scene now that I've got it worked out.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fake Your Fantasy Life!

I got a late start this morning after a party last night, even though it wasn't even a late party. For some reason, I was utterly exhausted afterward. I did have some leftovers of the eggplant and tomato relish and crostini I brought, since there was just too much food, so I may have my own little cocktail party tonight. I haven't had my "office party" yet.

It feels weird today not to have a deadline or any place I have to go or thing I have to do. Maybe that means I'll actually get some work done. I do have to do some laundry, but that can happen while writing.

I saw an ad on TV during the noon news today that really disturbed me. There's this company that does photo sessions with green screen, so you can have pictures of yourself doing all kinds of amazing things that you never actually did. The ad shows people posing on a surfboard in front of a green screen, then the final image of the person riding a wave, or lying on a platform in a weird pose, that in the final image is sliding into a base. That may be taking the virtual fantasy thing too far. Why bother taking any steps to live your fantasy and actually doing something when you can have a photograph faked and pretend you did it? The fact that someone can apparently sustain a business doing this says something sad about our society. The one thing they showed that actually was a fun-looking idea was what appeared to be a family Christmas card photo with the family flying Santa's sleigh. I think I could even deal with pictures inserting yourself into something like Star Wars. But when you're faking photos of yourself doing things that it is possible to actually do instead of doing them, that's getting weird. Why would you want to have a poster-sized picture of yourself surfing if you don't surf? What would you say when people asked you about it? Lie? Is this bringing the things you say about yourself on the Internet into the real world? Is this going to be a tool for people meeting in person their online dating matches? "Oops, I told her I won an Olympic medal. I'd better get a medal ceremony photo done for when she comes to my place." You don't have to do anything to create your fantasy life other than show up in the right outfit at the photo studio. That's sad. I wonder if they also Photoshop you into looking like you could possibly do those things you're pretending to do. With this sort of thing, we can just live in our little pods, never getting off the sofa, and still have souvenirs of the lives we have in our videogames.

They must have taken it literally when the self-help guru said to picture your ideal life and visualize yourself living it. But the point of that is that you then go on to do the things it would take in order to have that life. You don't just fake a picture of yourself having that life, unless maybe you're using it as motivation to encourage yourself to do those things.

I wonder if they can fake a photo of me getting some writing done. That would count, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Hero's Journey: Reward

I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday, and I just have the choir party tonight (and I have to cook something for that), and then the "must do" stuff for the season will be out of the way. I also had my last ballet class of the year last night. Now maybe I can get back to getting some work done, or I can at least do some relaxing and thinking to be ready to really hit the work in the new year. I do still need to do things like wrap presents, but that's not a huge issue.

So, now for the last writing post of the year (I'm taking a break for the holidays).

We're getting close to the end of the stages of the hero's journey, as distilled from Joseph Campbell's work by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer's Journey. If you don't already have this book, I'd recommend putting it on your holiday wish list.

We've just completed the Ordeal, which is usually the big action or emotionally intense sequence around the middle of the story. The next step is the Reward, though I think that's kind of a misnomer. In modern storytelling, this stage is largely about pacing. It's a chance for the audience -- and the characters -- to catch their breath after getting through the Ordeal before they have to gear up for the final push. You need to ease back on the tension a bit so you can start building it again as you head to the climax of the story. But that doesn't mean that this isn't an interesting scene without action or tension. It's just a different kind of action or tension that offers a release from what we've just been through. This is the "whew, we made it!" scene where they celebrate getting through the Ordeal and deal with the consequences of the Ordeal. They may tend to their wounds, mourn their losses and rehash what just happened, either reveling in their successes or discussing and laying blame for what went wrong. Mostly, these are character-driven scenes that let us get to know the characters a little better while we also get a sense of how they've changed so far. We get to see how the characters are responding emotionally to what they've just experienced.

This stage may be a time of deeper bonding among the characters. The complete opposite buddy cops who'd been bickering and hating each other will have gained new respect for each other from going through the ordeal so that they can now work together as a team. This is also a common place for love scenes, where our bickering couple has been brought together by the ordeal, and the adrenaline high from having survived whatever it is they've gone through leads to them acting on their physical feelings. Even if they don't actually act on the feelings, this may be where they start to notice them. For instance, in the romantic comedy Leap Year (it's currently on HBO, so it's top of mind), I might consider their rush to catch a train, leading to the muddy slide down a mountain, then realizing they've missed the train and then having to convince the landlady at the only B&B for miles that they're married in order to get the only available room the ordeal. And then they have to spend the night together in the tiny room. They don't even touch, but it still feels like a love scene because they've gotten past their superficial dislike of each other to start really noticing each other. Other examples: the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Marian tries to find the spots on Indy that don't hurt so she can kiss them as she tends to his wounds. Or it's the scenes in The Terminator where Sarah and Kyle have escaped from the Terminator at the police station, and then he tells her about the future, then later he confesses that he came through time for her and they make love. Or in Aliens, it's the scene where Hicks teaches Ripley how to use the gun -- a quiet moment in a brief break from all the terror where the characters get to function on a human level.

In the classic myth structure, this is where the hero takes possession of the quest object. He's got the sword, grail, ring, amulet, elixir, or whatever he's after. His job isn't done because he still has to get it home or to the ultimate destination, but he's got step one taken care of. In some respects, this is another reason why love scenes are common here, because the hero is taking possession of the romantic object.

This also may be a time of initiation. The hero has proved himself worthy with what he's accomplished during the ordeal, so he may be knighted, get a battlefield promotion or may be inducted into whatever society he's been wanting to join. If the mentor survived the ordeal, this may be when the mentor shares one last bit of crucial information that he didn't think the hero was ready for before. The mentor has accepted that the hero has become worthy or become a man who deserves that last bit of knowledge. In the film version of Prince Caspian, after dual ordeals of the battle and then the temptation by the White Witch, Caspian then learns the truth of who his mentor the professor really is, what really happened to his father, and what the professor's plan was all along. It's common for the hero to learn new truths about himself at this point, like that he's the destined, chosen one or the long-lost heir.

Facing death during the ordeal may have changed the hero. That tends to give someone a new perspective. He may have new insight into what's going on, so that he may be able to see who's really on his side or who's betraying him or so that he realizes the truth of what's really happening. In supernatural stories, the hero may have gained new powers or learned new aspects of the powers he already has from using them during the ordeal. This is also a time when the hero may come to terms with who/what he is in a way that will give him more power (literally or figuratively) as he heads down the final stretch.

Although we in the audience know that it's not over, the hero may not yet be aware of this. He might think he's won for good, that this is the final celebration and not just a temporary respite. Then he'll be blindsided when the villain pops up again.

In really intense, fast-paced stories, the Reward stage may be shorter or may not be a full respite. They may be saying, "Yay, we made it!" while still on the run, but there does still need to be a little easing of the tension, and if something is happening even while the tension is lower, you don't risk the story losing steam.

I'll be taking a break from these posts during the holidays, so I'll return in the new year with the end of the story.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Attack of the Killer Brain

I think my brain is trying to kill me.

It's bad enough when I have one book swirling around in there. It got difficult a couple of weeks ago when the new idea got charged up, so I've been musing on a difficult scene in the current project while I keep having the opening scene for this new idea trying to play itself out. I'm almost at the point where I may just write it to see if that gets it out of my head, but then there's always the danger that writing it will only breed the next scene. Meanwhile, another project I'll need to work on in the coming months is starting to wake up.

Then last night, for whatever odd reason, I found myself mentally writing scenes for someone else's series. I think it may have had something to do with the fact that there's a character I find intriguing, but the series so far hasn't really developed him as much as I'd like and the last book I read wasn't all that satisfying on that front, so my brain is trying to develop it the way I would. It's bad enough having all those ideas of my own in my head. I do not need to be fixing someone else's ideas.

And then this morning I woke up mentally writing a screenplay based on an old book I haven't even thought of in six years. I spent way too much time on this book back during my last publishing dry spell and even broke up with an agent over it (not because of what she thought of it but because of how she handled the communication over it and the fact that she had told me she submitted it and didn't understand why we weren't getting any response at all, so she suggested I try rewriting it, then hated the rewrite, but then when I later talked to the editors who supposedly had it, they'd never heard of it). When I got my current agent with Enchanted, Inc., I sent her this proposal, since an editor still had it, and she told me it was the kind of thing that might work in a movie, but she didn't think it would work as a book and told me why. There was something in a Lifetime movie I watched last night that bothered me, but it reminded me of something in this book, and as I thought about it, I remembered that the way I handled it was different. So I guess my subconscious decided that this story would make a good Lifetime romantic comedy and went to work on the screenplay. A whole hour went by after I first woke up without me even realizing time was passing as I imagined how the opening scene would work in screenplay form. I'm not even sure how I'd go about selling a TV movie script, if I even had time to write it. I do have an agent who handles my movie rights and she also represents screenwriters, and I do know her personally, but her screenwriting clients tend to win Oscars. I'm not sure she'd stoop to a Lifetime movie, and I'm not sure of the protocol for trying to approach her.

That was after waking up from a "real job" nightmare in which I had to go on a last-minute business trip, didn't get the agenda for the conference I had to attend on behalf of a client until late the day before I had to leave, and I found out that the events I'd have to go to required an entirely new wardrobe, but my boss wouldn't let me leave early to get ready for this trip.

No wonder my brain was coming up with a variety of potentially profitable projects. It was terrified at the thought of going back to a real job, if I could even get one. I haven't worked for anyone but myself in nearly ten years.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Antidotes

So, it's Monday, and it's less than two weeks until Christmas. Ack! I did finally put up some decorations, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to skip the tree this year, unless maybe I put up the little one in my office.

I did try to watch the Sci Fi channel's version of a Christmas movie, Ice Quake, Saturday night, but I only made it about half an hour into it because it contained two of my pet peeves. One was a whiny, entitled teenage girl of the type who would probably get her whole family killed while in witness protection because she'd call all her friends and tell them where they were and invite them to come over, since it's all so UNFAIR that she can't hang out with her friends even though the Russian mob, the Mafia and a Colombian drug cartel are all out to kill her. Not that this happened in this movie (that I know of), but it was that type of character. A major natural disaster is happening, and all she can think of is what it means for her social life. "Like, omigod, the world is coming to an end? But I wanted to go to that party this weekend! It's so unfair! Why do these things happen to me?" Second was the wife who doesn't seem to grasp what her husband does for a living and how that might affect her plans. If your husband is a geologist who works with the Army Corps of Engineers and several severe and unexplained tremors have happened, along with a major event on the polar ice cap, and you're in Alaska, then yes, your husband might have to go to the office, even though it's Christmas Eve. The earth isn't going to stop shaking, regardless of what day the calendar says it is. Which is worse, your husband going to the office on Christmas Eve, or your husband staying home and your whole family getting killed because no one figured out what was going on and how to stop it? Okay, so he did end up going to the office briefly before spending that quality time with the family, but then it turned into a "disaster as family bonding experience" movie. I'd have far preferred it if he'd been single and had to work with another scientist or Corps of Engineers soldier type and they'd bickered about what to do before bonding and falling in love during the disaster, but I guess you don't get that in the Christmas disaster movie.

So, to get my dose of people falling in love at Christmas, I ended up with Lifetime movies on Sunday, but learned that it is possible to overdose on that kind of thing, so I had to balance it with a CSI marathon. Switching back and forth between the two could be rather disconcerting. "I love you! And look! It's snowing!" Click. "I've found a rare insect larva inside this wound in the corpse."

And now I have a reading dilemma. I had All Clear by Connie Willis on hold at the library, and I had bought a paperback copy of Blackout to re-read in preparation. My grand plan was to read them back to back as one book, playing all my big band music in the background to create the mood. But I'd hoped to get the book from the library in November. Instead, I just got it this weekend. But those books don't really fit the holiday mood. I'm already uncharacteristically moody, so I'm not sure I can deal with the Blitz right now. I'm more likely to want to curl up with a Christmas-set romance/chick lit kind of book, listen to Christmas music in the background and drink hot cocoa. I have All Clear until January 2, so maybe that will be my week-between-holidays indulgence. Or I could find myself not in the mood for the Christmas stuff and this will be my literary equivalent of the CSI marathon.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Back from Narnia

I've been having one of those "can't deal" days, so it was a good one for escaping to the theater. I had some grand plans about going to the theater near the mall and finishing my Christmas shopping and taking care of a couple of errands, but changed my mind rather abruptly this morning. Instead, I decided to walk to the neighborhood theater for Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

If the Katherine Kurtz Deryni books were the "Twilight" of my teen years, the Narnia books were the "Harry Potter" series of my pre-teen years, only without having to wait years between books, since they'd all been written before I was born, and without the sense of everyone else reading them at the same time. I'd read The Horse and His Boy during my horse phase in third or fourth grade, but I didn't connect that book with a series, so my real introduction to Narnia was when I was in sixth grade and for some reason was meeting my mom at her office after school. I already felt very grown-up riding the base shuttle bus from the school to the post where my mom worked, and then when I got there, she gave me a copy of The Silver Chair, I guess to give me something to do until she got off work. It was around the time I'd read The Lord of the Rings, but I don't remember which came first, only that this was what really sealed the deal in making me a fantasy fan. The thing that was so great about Narnia was that it involved kids from our world who got to go to this fantastic place, so that made it possible to imagine going there, myself. Although the books had all been published already, I must have rationed them instead of reading them all right away, because I know I didn't read the last one until sometime the next year.

This all came about at a time when I really needed Narnia. That was a difficult year. The fall semester was just about perfect for me. My teacher was our neighbor, and I loved her. The upper elementary was in the same building with the junior high, so that meant sixth graders got to be in the junior high band and choir. I was in Girl Scouts with my best friend. I was a class officer and generally pretty popular. We had a great house right on the edge of the woods and a lot of kids in the neighborhood to play with. And then in February we moved, and I lost it all. At the new school, sixth graders couldn't be in band, and the choir was already formed, so I couldn't do that (which seems weird for a military base school). We had an apartment in the largest American military housing area in the world, and it was like a tenement area, just miles and miles of apartment buildings all crammed together (and I went back about ten years ago, so that's not just a skewed memory from childhood). The kids in the new school hated me (it turns out that a well-meaning but not thinking teacher had pretty much torpedoed me by the way he told the class they were getting a new student). I was being emotionally and psychologically bullied by the popular group of girls, although I didn't realize that until the next year when they got fed up with me not noticing I was being bullied and got physical with it, so I had to notice. I didn't like them, either, so I didn't much care what they thought of me, and most of the things they used to taunt me didn't actually bother me. The problem was just that I felt like nobody liked me because there was something wrong with me, and I was very lonely because I had no friends. I got home from school and escaped into Narnia, and I imagined what I would do if I could go there. So, yeah, those books hold a special place in my heart, and I spent so much time dreaming up mental fanfic about Narnia that the lines between what's actually in the books and what I came up with are kind of blurry.

However, these movies seem to have come out of my imagination because even when they don't follow the books, they have a sense of familiarity to them, like it was the way I pictured things or it was additional stories I made up in my head. I really enjoyed Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It's been long enough since I read the book that I couldn't tell exactly where they changed the book, but there were quite a lot of moments where I had the "ooh!" reaction when I suddenly remembered something from the book, and I didn't have any major "you're doing it wrong!" moments, so I consider that a success. This one is more of a quest adventure so there aren't any of those epic battles from the first two movies. It's more of an intimate story. I was really impressed with the kid playing Eustace because he went all out with the obnoxiousness, which made his transformation really work. Since my introduction to Eustace was in The Silver Chair, where he was the "good" kid, that's always colored my reaction to him in this book. I could never really hate him, even when he was a jerk, and in the movie he's a hilarious jerk. I do hope they get the next movie made (one reason I went on opening weekend to vote with my dollars), but I hope they wait enough to let him grow up a little because I think he'll make an interesting leading man, and I've liked what they've done in the movies of making the older kids in each film be teenagers and not just children. I rewatched the first two movies this week, and it's a treat to see how the other two have grown up. They did some great casting because Lucy now looks very much like Susan did in the first movie, which made the subplot where Lucy wishes she was as beautiful as Susan even more touching. I think that's a common thing, to have a skewed perspective of your own looks and to forget that the older kids were once your age.

I've not had a great week, so this was a good time for me to escape to Narnia, and I will confess to getting a pang similar to that I got in sixth grade when I found myself very sad that I couldn't actually go to a place like that myself. You know you've got a good fantasy story when it kind of hurts and makes you a little sad to know that this place isn't real. You feel a sense of loss for a place that doesn't exist.

If you read an older edition of the books, you should stay for the closing credits for a burst of nostalgia. They used the original book illustrations for the closing credits, which is a bit disconcerting at times, since Caspian is blond in the book and therefore in the closing credits and is very not blond in the movie.

I wonder what I'd find if I pushed to the back of the closet downstairs. There's probably enough stuff in there to hide a whole magical world ...

Off to Narnia

And, boy, do I need a good imaginary world vacation. Back later.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


I've had a very sidetracked day. This morning I got sidetracked on a Christmas gift research project, and then I had to run some errands. You know it was bad when I got home from the errands and went to make my afternoon pot of tea and found this morning's second cup still in the pot. I've been sidetracked and undercaffeinated. And then while making tea I for some reason decided I absolutely had to wash dishes and clean the kitchen.

Usually, this means the subconscious is busy and needs me to get out of the way. I sure hope so. I finally figured out the right location for the big, pivotal scene (it helps to consider the problem from the perspective of the right people, the ones everyone else will react to), but I don't have the events and imagery quite right.

In the meantime, there's baking to do for the weekend, and tomorrow is Voyage of the Dawn Treader day, along with finishing the Christmas shopping.

Maybe I'll be more coherent tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Magic and Magical Immunity

I've been fighting with a particular series of scenes in the work in progress for about a week. It's a big, pivotal sequence of events (the Approach to the Inmost Cave/Ordeal part of the book), so it has to be right, but it's felt all wrong. I figured out yesterday that the reason was that I was doing it wrong. The events were happening in the wrong place, and being in the wrong place changed the events. So I did some research to figure out the right place and did some re-planning, and the scene started playing out in my head. But then last night I realized that was still the wrong place, and there was only one location that makes sense thematically. Now I have to imagine how that would work. It's coming, but it's not quite there yet.

Now I believe I'm due for yet another Enchanted, Inc. question/answer post. I had a question about how the immunity reversal works, but I think I'm going to expand that to talk about how the magic and immunity thing works in my world. This is going to get really spoilery for all four books, so if you haven't read the whole series and have plans to, you might want to stop here and come back tomorrow.

The idea of magical immunity pretty much came from me being a brat -- or rather, a long-time fantasy reader who is well aware of the cliches of the genre. I'd come up with the idea of mixing elements from fantasy and chick lit to do a fantasy taking place in a familiar modern setting, including the corporate world and modern friendships and dating life. It made sense that my main character would be a newcomer to the magical side of things because the discovery of magic is a good way to have something change to kick off the story and having a newcomer allows you to fit in the explanations and world building without resorting to "as you know, Bob" type of clumsy exposition of people telling each other things they already know. I wanted the sense of discovery and wonder that comes from a newbie. Besides, the very first germ of an idea that kicked it all off was my joking wish as I headed to work one morning that in that morning's e-mail I'd get an offer for my dream job. That became a magical job, and from there a series was born. Because that was the spark, I wanted to include that moment in the book.

But about half the fantasy novels ever written are about someone seemingly ordinary (or even less than ordinary) who then finds out that he/she is actually a wizard/long lost royalty/the destined, chosen one (see Potter, H.). I thought it would be boring for my twentysomething single gal heroine to suddenly find out she has magical powers. It's been done so many times. Then the contrary part of my brain snarkily said, "What if she finds out she has no powers at all?" And then it occurred to me that being utterly non-magical might be useful. Meanwhile, I'd had an idea simmering in my head of doing a book about a small-town Southern girl going to New York and being kind of the anti-New Yorker -- the person who still notices odd things that New Yorkers take for granted, who smiles and speaks to strangers on the street, etc. The two ideas came together with a click that was practically audible. The magical immunity was almost a metaphor for common sense and outsider status, which fit with the small-town girl who hasn't been jaded by the city and who can still see the "magic."

When I was writing the first draft of the first book, I was still working a lot of the magical system out, so sometimes I'd find myself raising and answering questions on the page. During the job interview scene where they reveal the existence of magic to Katie, I found myself wondering why there weren't more magical immunes, where they come from and what happens to them, and I guess I'd seen one too many "ask your doctor about this magic pill" pharmaceutical ads on TV because it popped into my head that with an overmedicated society, if medication affected the ability, it would become rare. And if you're seeing people with wings and gargoyles coming to life, you're probably being medicated. Then as soon as that remark was made in the scene, I realized it would have to be something that would happen to Katie in a future book because once I raised the possibility of losing the ability she thought finally made her special, it would have to happen. I haven't talked about this in the books, but I suspect that what happens with that potion and with the drugs is that, unknown to the pharmacologists, what's really happening with these drugs is that they put just enough magic in the bloodstream to make magical veilings work, and that way these people don't see the weird stuff anymore. The drugs also do all the other things with brain chemicals to have other effects even on non-magical/non-immune people, so they work for them, too.

The idea that there was a close link between magical immunity and magical ability came in the fourth book. I decided it was probably the same gene, and whether it was turned off or on would make all the difference. In that book, I'd originally planned for another character to be the local wizard, and when I was halfway through the book, I decided that was obvious and boring (Mom figured it out when she was reading my first draft). So, I decided to really complicate matters by making it be Katie's brother, and I was able to justify that decision mentally with the genetic theory that made it possible to have both immunes and wizards in the same family. From that, I decided that the grandmother was also magical, so she got caught in the trap they set to catch the wizard that also ended up catching the brother. There's probably something to do with recessive genes and pairs of genes and all that that makes it more likely to get immunes when a wizard breeds with a non-magical person, but I haven't delved that deeply into it.

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that it's magic, so it doesn't necessarily follow earthly rules, and this is essentially a comedy, so it's not meant to be taken all that seriously. I figure that covers a multitude of flaws and holes.

I think I've now addressed all the essay-worthy questions in my queue, so ask away if you've got any more. The ground rules are: No questions about plans for future books or that I might address in future books, no questions about when the next book is coming (that's not something I can do anything about), and questions should lend themselves to an essay kind of answer, not be just a nitpicky detail thing (though if I get a bunch of those I may do a post answering lots of short questions). Questions can be about characters, the world, events that happened in the first four books, etc., with the above guidelines in mind. I would say that aside from obvious things like "what will happen in the next book?" the first guideline above is more for me to worry about, so if you've got a question, ask, and it's up to me to decide whether that falls into the "for future books" category.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Holiday Movies

I guess I wasn't as eager to work yesterday as I thought. I completely ran out of energy by early afternoon. I did manage to write about three pages and do most of my freelance med school work, but otherwise, it was a day for lying on the sofa and watching movies. There was even a new holiday-themed movie on Lifetime.

Holiday-themed movies are kind of my guilty pleasure. I might even consider myself a connoisseur of them. I do have high standards, though. Or, considering the quality of most of these movies, maybe I should say I have particular standards. For one thing, I don't like the movies that are actually about Christmas, mostly because they aren't really about Christmas. They're about some genericized, tangential, commercial/secular thing that gets called Christmas, so it annoys me when the movie acts like it's really and truly about Christmas. I'm not sure a holiday-themed anything has been bold enough to actually address the true meaning since Linus's speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas. So I'm not a fan of just about anything that's about someone discovering the "true meaning of Christmas" when the "true meaning" is something like peace, love and generosity, with no mention of why those are part of the true meaning of Christmas. If you're not going to take it to the source, then don't bother pretending you're uncovering something meaningful. It's like those bland cards that are designed not to offend anyone by actually mentioning the reason you're sending a card.

As much as I love A Christmas Carol, I'm ready to call a moratorium on any updating or reimagining of that story, as well as the It's a Wonderful Life story. I'm tired of the stressed career woman discovering the true meaning of Christmas by magically waking up one day as a wife and mother, or vice versa. I'm tired of the driven executive changing after revisiting the past, seeing what's really going on in the present and getting a glimpse of the future. It's time to come up with another structure for a Christmas-themed story. I also avoid any holiday movie in which Santa Claus is an actual character, whether it's someone having to become Santa, Santa needing a wife, Santa's daughter/son needing a spouse, or any of those permutations.

Instead, what I like is using the holiday season as a setting to tell another story that possibly could have been told at another time of year but that is magnified by taking place during the holiday season. For one thing, there's the pretty factor. Twinkling lights, falling snow, fireplaces and all that are inherently romantic and fun to watch. Then there's the fact that the holidays amp up the emotional level. People who are perfectly content to be single eleven months out of the year may find themselves feeling lonely and wanting a partner at this time of year, whether it's because of the pretty, because of going to too many parties that feel like Noah's Ark with everyone else paired up, because of imagining a Christmas future being sad and alone, or because of questions about why they're not married yet at family gatherings. That can lead to people making decisions they otherwise wouldn't -- or being open to possibilities they otherwise wouldn't be. The holiday season also offers a change in routine that can create possibilities -- travel, being away from work, revisiting home towns, parties, neighbors/friends having family members visiting, the general holiday spirit that may get total strangers speaking to each other in public. The fact that the holiday season does end can even create a ticking clock, giving things a deadline -- things will go back to normal, you'll go home, the other person will go home, etc.

My preference is for well-done, big-screen movies. For classics, there's Christmas in Connecticut, in which a single woman who has adopted a perfect wife and mother persona for her newspaper columns has to play host to a war hero -- at her perfect Connecticut farm that doesn't actually exist -- as a publicity stunt. Then there's Love Actually, which really deals with that holiday season as stress issue. And The Holiday, which uses the change in routine to kick off the story. I'm also fond of While You Were Sleeping, which deals with the way the holidays amplify loneliness, and About a Boy, which also addresses loneliness vs. community (that one isn't strictly a holiday movie, but the main character is living on the royalties of a novelty Christmas song his father wrote, so Christmas does come up a lot and is pivotal). For non-holiday movies that contain pivotal holiday scenes, I include When Harry Met Sally and Bridget Jones's Diary. Since a lot of these also stretch to the new year, I often use these for that week between Christmas and New Year's Day when there's nothing much going on and nothing but bowl games on TV. A good film festival is a great way to beat the post-Christmas blues.

Then there are the made-for-TV movies, where we really get into the "guilty" part of "guilty pleasure." I'm less fond of the ABC Family movies, since those tend to go for the Santa plot or the "learn the true meaning of Christmas" plot. I lean more toward the Lifetime movies. Eleven months out of the year, I barely watch anything on Lifetime because I'm not a fan of the "my abusive husband left me while I was coping with my child's potentially fatal disease and being stalked" genre, but then the entire network changes in December and becomes the home of supremely cheesy romantic comedies set during the holiday season. They all seem to be filmed in Canada, so I guess a huge subset of the Canadian film/TV industry is devoted to these things. Some of them aren't all that bad while some make you wonder if there are any standards at all. A lot seem to be based on novels, which is why I have it on my literary bucket list to write a book that can get turned into a Lifetime holiday movie. I suppose I could make more money and cut out the middle man by writing a script, but I suspect I'd have an easier time selling a novel. These are all great for a boring Sunday afternoon when you want to lie on the sofa under a blanket, eat popcorn and drink hot cocoa, and possibly read a book while halfway paying attention to the TV.

There was one on last night that utterly baffled me. It was based on a book, so I now have that book on hold at the library so I can read it, compare and then discuss.

Meanwhile, I think I've made an executive decision not to put up the Christmas tree this year. The part of my holiday decor that I really like is the lighted garland on the loft and stair rail and over the fireplace, and that's what I can see from the places where I usually sit. I might even put up the little tabletop tree in my office. But I just don't want to deal with the furniture rearranging and everything else I have to do to put up the big tree. I think that maybe taking a year off and then doing something different with it next year will make it more special then.

Monday, December 06, 2010

I Survived the Weekend (Plus, Steampunking the Tree)

I managed to survive the crazy weekend, and I'm not even that tired and burnt out from it. My kindergarden choir was utterly adorable, and there was only one minor stage-fright meltdown before we sang (among the kids, not me -- but dealing with a crying child distracted me from my nerves). Then I think all the other choir stuff went pretty well. I was starting to lose my voice, but since a lot of what we were singing was jazz and I was singing the second soprano part, it wasn't a problem because I didn't have to sing that high and was mostly on the low end of my range. When we were warming up Sunday morning and going down to the low notes, I was hitting notes some of the tenors couldn't hit. The director teased about a soprano going lower than they they could. The evening concert coincided with the end of a suspenseful Cowboys game, so there were quite a few smartphones being held behind choir folders, with the ESPN app being constantly refreshed for updates.

A sign of how crazy my weekend was: I didn't realize until this morning that I hadn't turned my heater on in my house. We had a cold snap hit Saturday evening, and from Saturday night until Sunday night, I seemed to be constantly on the go, so that when I was at home I was either cooking/eating, getting dressed (with an electric radiator in the bathroom to warm that space) or going to bed (with an electric blanket). When I got up this morning, I finally had the chance to notice that the house was cold. It took the heater nearly an hour and a half to get the house up to 55, so it must have really been cold.

I kind of have an urge to write, so in spite of planning to give myself a day off, I think I will do some work. I may also put up some Christmas decorations.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was thinking about steampunking my Christmas tree. One of the issues I've found with steampunk, whether it's in clothing, decor or writing, is figuring out where regular Victorian ends and steampunk begins. Even in a steampunk world, not everything is going to be all brass goggles and Colt laser pistols. A schoolteacher, for instance, would probably be the same as in the regular Victorian era. She'd have no reason to wear brass goggles, though I suppose the Colt laser pistol would depend on where she was teaching school. I'm not sure I get the sticking gears all over the place, unless it's just a way of incorporating an interest into personal ornamentation, like the Victorian fascination with insects meant that there were a lot of insect themes in jewelry of that era. I guess wearing jewelry that incorporates gears would be no different from wearing bumblebee brooches.

My Christmas decor (and really a lot of my home decor) is already pretty Victorian. My Victorian tree involves silk flowers, some dried botanicals and ribbons and was inspired by a Christmas tour of Victorian homes I went on about ten years ago. I think what would tip it over to steampunk would be swapping out the botanical elements for more industrial elements.

After a recon mission to a couple of craft stores, I've decided this project will have to wait until next year because it will take some time to create the decorations with a mix of craft store items and hardware store items, as no one seems to currently have a steampunk line of ornaments. To steampunk the tree, I might do garlands of brass jingle bells and use some brass hardware on moire or velvet ribbons as ornaments. I've seen some LED lights that look like small bare globe electric lights that might fit the theme. There are some snowflake ornaments where the snowflakes look kind of gear-like. I do need to rethink my Christmas decor, as it hasn't changed much in ten years, but this isn't the year for that. I need to think further ahead. Maybe I'll hit some post-Christmas sales this year and keep an eye on hardware stores during the year. This year I don't have the time or money to redo it all.

In other news, I finally watched Avatar on HBO OnDemand this weekend. There was a lot I liked about it, but I lost a lot of interest once they got to the big, climactic stuff near the end because it was just so very heavy-handed, to the point it seemed unrealistic to me. I found it hard to believe the bad guys would do what they did because their motivations were so simplistic and they were so cardboard cut-out, and when your bad guys become cartoon villains, it ruins the credibility of the whole story. I think it would have helped if we'd seen how they were using this unobtanium (unobtanium? Seriously?), how it benefited them aside from making money and what would happen if they didn't get it. As it was, it came across as them just being mean, and that's not very interesting. You can have killer robots from the future or alien creatures who just kill mindlessly because that's what they do, but I think human villains need more nuance than that.

Friday, December 03, 2010

War of the Characters (plus a programming note)

Ugh, I just thought I'd managed to shove the new idea aside. Here's a sample of what was going on in my head yesterday:

New Characters: Psst! What do you think of this scene?
Current Characters: Do you mind? We're busy here. We're about to go into the major mid-book action sequence.
New Characters: You know, we think it would work out better if our situation were a little different. You ought to think about it for a while.
Current Characters: WE'RE WORKING HERE!!!
New Characters: Okay, okay, we get it. But here are some things that you'll probably need to read for research before you write us. And wouldn't it be fun to start watching the world-building, mood-setting stuff?
Current Characters: Now, before we were so rudely interrupted, where were we?
New Characters: We wonder what we'd be wearing in this time period ...
Current Characters: That does it! We give up. Make her start thinking about clothes and it's over.
Me: All of you shut up. I'm going to bed.

And then they proceeded to alternate scenes in my dreams.

It doesn't help matters that an opportunity came through yesterday, plus the current project went out into the world in search of a home yesterday, so I know exactly which editors will be reading it. If that project sells and if they buy into the trilogy, then between that and the new opportunity I will be very, very busy next year. Not that this is a bad thing. That's the way to build momentum for a career. But the kind of working pace I'll need to keep up next year to do it all is a little daunting, especially considering that I'll then also need to be ramping up promotional efforts. It may be a year before I can really work on this new idea, aside from the preparation reading I'll need to do. This has also created some warring impulses. Part of me wants to buckle down and get to work now, because the more work I do now, the easier next year will be. And part of me is thinking that this could be my last deadline-free time to relax and enjoy myself until late next year, so I should make the most of it to gather my resources and be ready to plunge in full-speed ahead after the holidays. I'm not very good at balance. I seem to go into all-or-nothing mode, and if I'm not frantically working, I'll be feeling guilty about it, but if I try to work, then I'll get distracted and slack off. I just need to be better about managing my time and making the most of my working time. If the other characters would shut up and wait their turn, that would make things a lot easier.

Today may be one of my "balance" days, since I know the weekend is going to be so hectic and I'm still a little run-down after my cold (I almost slept the clock around last night). I may get some work done, but anything I accomplish will be considered a bonus. Otherwise, my main task for the day is baking some cookies for a church missions fundraiser. And I may load my Christmas music into iTunes and create a mix CD for driving around. I wish I could get a good recording of this year's choir stuff. We're doing jazz for Christmas, and it's awesome.

On a programming note, tonight the Disney Channel is showing Phineas and Ferb's Christmas Vacation, which is an extended episode, so it will run from 7:30 to 8:10 (central time). Because it overlaps Supernatural, I'll probably tape for viewing after Supernatural (and so I can pause the tape to laugh). Then Eureka and Warehouse 13 will have their holiday episodes on Tuesday night on SyFy. From what I understand, the Warehouse 13 episode takes place outside the current series timeline, like maybe in a holiday season we didn't see that happened in between events on the series. It won't be resolving the cliffhanger from the most recent season finale. If SyFy is going to do holiday episodes for their summer series, I'd love to see what a Haven Christmas would be like, but they couldn't do that this year because a holiday season hasn't fallen during the events of the series so far, and they'll have to resolve the current cliffhanger before going further.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Tangled, Plus Noisy Ideas

I mentioned yesterday that I went to see Tangled Tuesday. I absolutely loved it. That's one I'll be getting on DVD as soon as it comes out because it's a sure cure for a bad day. I think the last time I laughed that hard in a movie was when I saw Toy Story 3 last summer. Plus, it fits my personal guidelines for a fantasy/paranormal romantic comedy. It's very much like a screwball comedy from the 30s and 40s, with the madcap "princess" exploring the world outside her comfort zones and the lower-class man serving as her guide. It's basically It Happened One Night with magic, musical numbers, a little more danger and adventure and a lot more hair.

The mythology/folklore/fairy tale geek in me was intrigued by the way they took the major beats of the Rapunzel tale and molded them into a new story. I like the way the more recent Disney fairy tale movies have allowed the relationships to grow, so that the hero and heroine actually spend time together instead of them falling in love after dancing together once. However, they did the usual Disney thing of casting a guy with a great voice and giving him a line in one song and a verse in another. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is the next Disney Broadway production (though dealing with the hair might be a challenge) because it's very much that kind of story and music, so I hope in that the hero gets a new song or two (like they did with Beauty and the Beast).

But this movie really messed with my head. It sort of sparked an idea. I have a character from a project that didn't work out who refuses to go away. I still like this character and character situation/backstory, but wasn't sure what to do with it. Something in this movie gave me the sudden inspiration of what I could do with this character. When I got home, I did a brain dump, taking a piece of notebook paper and writing out everything I knew about this idea. But everything I wrote down sparked more ideas, and soon I had two pages filled, a world built, characters sketched out and the outline of a plot. These characters took over my brain and started playing out scenes. I both love it and hate it when this happens. I love it because that's how some of my best ideas develop, but I hate it because it makes it difficult to work on the current project when characters from another idea are being loud and obnoxious. I have learned that it's best not to just jump into a story, no matter how excited it makes me. It will be even better when I've had the chance to let it develop more, and I need to finish what I'm working on.

I didn't get anything done Tuesday because I was dealing with brain dump and distraction, but yesterday I managed to get back into the current project and even wrote five pages when I hadn't scheduled any writing time at all.

And now I'm off for my major holiday grocery shop. I'd planned to save it for next week, but there's a slight chance of serious winter weather next week, and the way things seem to work, if I've stocked up on food, we won't have any problems, but if the cupboards are bare, we're sure to get snow and ice.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Hero's Journey: Ordeal

I'll have to talk about Tangled and the crazy effect it had on my brain (and possibly my hair) tomorrow because today is writing post day and it's also a kind of busy day.

On the hero's journey, as outlined by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer's Journey, we're up to a stage called Ordeal. I have the first edition of the book, which calls this Supreme Ordeal, but I understand it was changed in later editions because it was confusing. This isn't the big showdown in which the hero accomplishes his goal and defeats the villain. That comes later in the story. This is the crisis the hero faces near the middle of the story that raises the stakes for what comes later. In the classic myths Joseph Campbell wrote about, which were mostly quest stories, this is the part where the hero obtains the quest object. At the time, this seems like he's accomplished his goal and triumphed, but he soon learns that getting the sword/chalice/grail/ring/elixir was the easy part. Now he has to get away from the temple/palace/underworld/realm of the gods with his prize and get it back home to where he can make use of it to save his people. In modern storytelling, especially film, this is the action sequence in the middle of the story between the major turning points.

In screenwriting terms, this is often called the "crisis," as compared to the "climax" that comes near the end of the story. I've also heard the metaphor calling this the "midterm" before the "final" that comes at the end, but I think it would be more accurate to call this the practice test. The hero may learn a thing or two more between here and the end, but the climax of the story essentially tests him on the same material as in the crisis. This part of the story shows where his strengths are while also revealing the weaknesses he'll have to overcome before he can ultimately prevail, so it's like taking the practice test at the back of the SAT registration booklet so you'll know what you need to work on before you take the actual test.

I've heard writing teachers say that if your story is going to end on an up note (as in most commercial fiction) -- the hero actually obtains his goal -- then this part of the story needs to end on a down note. I'm not sure I'd take this as a hard-and-fast rule, but the hero can't exactly be totally triumphant here or the story would be over. If he has some triumph here, it has to be of the "yes, but" sort, where he escapes the peril, but at some cost or sacrifice, or at least there's the knowledge that the job isn't done. In a tragic story, the hero may be triumphant and seem to achieve his goal, only to soon have it all crumble around him (you see that a lot in stories about bands -- this is where they've risen to fame and have their big concert, and then after this the band starts to dissolve in petty spats and personality conflicts).

This is also where the hero starts to transform. He may be wiser, have more information and more skills than he had at the beginning, but until now, he's still essentially the same person. Going through the ordeal starts to change him as he's forced to dig deep inside himself to find resources he never realized he had or he's faced with a concrete demonstration of his priorities and the consequences of his choices. There may be an encounter with death at this point -- either the hero faces death, seems to die or watches someone else die. Mentors drop like flies at this stage of the story. They've guided the hero along the way, got them this far, and then die, often in some kind of sacrifice to allow the hero to escape. It's like the training wheels have come off and the hero has to go on alone.

This segment may be a series of events instead of one big event. The original Star Wars is a good example of this. The whole sequence on the Death Star is the Ordeal of that movie -- Luke helps rescue the princess, they escape through the garbage chute, Luke appears to die when the creature pulls him under, then they face death when the walls converge. After escaping that, they're on the run from the Stormtroopers, they face the chasm that requires the daring swing, Luke watches Obi Wan die, then they escape on the Millennium Falcon and have a brief space battle. They escape, but they still have to find a way to stop the Death Star, and they know they've been tracked. Likewise, there's the Raiders of the Lost Ark sequence, with the escape through the snake-filled catacombs (the hero often faces his worst fear during this phase), the fight in front of the airplane, the car chase as they try to catch up to the Ark, and the fight to take control of the truck carrying the Ark.

In a less action-oriented story, this may be an emotional crisis. If a couple in a romance has been together up to this point, they may be separated. If they're still in the bickering phase, they may come together during this part. In romantic comedies, this is often where the love scene falls and where things start to look good for the couple -- only to have things go horribly wrong later when secrets are revealed. There's usually something that's happened to force our opposites attract pair to work together instead of fighting, and that creates a bond. Or this may be when the couple that was together gets split up because of something that happens in the ordeal -- one of them finds the truth the other was hiding, one appears to betray the other (for what usually turns out to be a good reason), or the villain grabs one of them.

This section is kind of the heart of the story and is often what people will remember most. It's not one of the two major turning points in a three-act structure, but it pays off all the set-up that's come before and showcases the hero at his best and at his worst while setting up the final confrontation and climax.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Romantic Comedy Cold Cure

In spite of still coughing and being tired, I managed to write 20 pages yesterday, and I think I even like them. I "met" a character who's been lurking around the corners, and I already think she'll be a lot of fun.

Since romantic comedies are sort of my "comfort food" viewing, I figured that the best way to complete the cure of my cold would be to spend the rest of the weekend after I got home watching romantic comedies. Leap Year was on HBO Saturday night. I discussed that when I saw it at the theater, and I rather liked it then. I found it mostly annoying this time around, at least until they passed the constant bickering point. There was the aforementioned awful guilty pleasure Lifetime holiday romantic comedy on Sunday afternoon.

Then Sunday night I watched It's Complicated on HBO OnDemand, and my response to it would be complicated. The story is about a divorced woman (Meryl Streep) with three grown children (the youngest graduates from college near the beginning of the movie) and a shaky but at least superficially cordial relationship with her ex (Alec Baldwin), who left her for a younger woman, to whom he's now married. When his wife doesn't come with him to their son's graduation, a friendly drink and dinner ends up in the bedroom, and soon this woman is having an affair with her ex, who suddenly seems to appreciate her in a way he never did when they were married. Meanwhile, she's met a nice architect (Steve Martin) who really seems to get her. She's enjoying herself, but isn't sure where it's going or what she wants.

I loved Meryl Streep, and her scenes with her family were lovely. I thought she also had a nice chemistry with Steve Martin. Alec Baldwin, on the other hand, was highly annoying. I liked him in Hunt for Red October, but other than that, he irks me. In this movie, he's supposed to be a jerk. I don't know if he's like that in real life (oh wait, there's taped evidence that he is), but he really pulls it off here. I think he's also supposed to be charming, but he mostly comes across as self-centered and immature. To some extent, that seems to be the point, but it takes Meryl a long time to realize that. I'm not sure I can imagine her ever marrying him in the first place (though I guess if he looked like Hunt for Red October Alec Baldwin, I could maybe understand).

There was an angle I found interesting that was never addressed outright, so I'm not sure if they meant it. John Krasinski plays the oldest daughter's fiance, and he seems to have fallen into the role of "dad" for the family, even though he's not much older than the younger kids. Their real dad is a lot less mature than the oldest daughter's fiance, and the fiance is the one they turn to for the kinds of things a dad does, like helping them move, hosting a graduation party and being the emotional rock when things are going crazy. For me, the funniest scene in the movie is when he accidentally learns of the affair from what he sees while he and his fiancee are meeting with a wedding coordinator at a hotel and he tries to keep what he's seen quiet so it won't freak out his fiancee, even while he's freaking out. They never talk about his role as "dad" or the fact that he's more of a man than the real father who's old enough to be his father is. I guess that means this angle is still wide open for exploration in another story. Hmmm .....

But this film does resort twice to one of my pet peeves in movies (and books, too, I guess), especially in romantic comedy type films: the use of alcohol and drugs to create turning points. It's not just that I'm a puritan (though I kind of am) and not crazy about the idea of glamorizing drug use or alcohol abuse. I mostly think, though, that it's lazy writing and a bit of a cop-out. Instead of coming up with a reason for the characters to open up to each other and lower their guard so they can bond, just have them get drunk or high so that they'll say or do things they otherwise wouldn't. I'm well aware that in the real world there are a lot of relationships that begin (and end) and births that come about because of the influence of mind-altering substances, but fiction is all about character choices, usually made under some kind of pressure. That's what develops the characters and drives the plot. When you remove the choice by putting the characters into a situation where things just happen and they've lost control over what's happening and even their own reactions, you've made the characters passive instead of active. I suppose you could consider the drinking or the using drugs to be a choice, but it's seldom actually treated that way in these movies. They almost never address the choice to get drunk or high and the consequences of that choice, focusing instead on the fallout from the things that "just happened" while the characters were drunk or high. It's just a shortcut to get that "opposites attract" couple to stop bickering, loosen up, bond and possibly fall into bed so the story can progress. And I think it's the least interesting way to break down the barriers between people because not only are they not making choices, they're not consciously dealing with their circumstances. I figure that if you can't come up with a way other than drugs or alcohol to get your characters to talk to each other and start to see something they like in each other, then you haven't developed a good reason why these people should be together at all.

I suppose I have to give this movie the first incident because something had to kick things off and the movie was all about the aftermath, but I think it's like the use of coincidence in stories (which is also about removing the element of conscious choice) -- you get one use per story, and while you can use it to get things rolling, you can't use it to set up a turning point or advance the plot.

In other movie romance news, I ran across a funny article at Cracked about the things people do in romantic movies that would get you prison time in real life. They do address the mad airport dash past security in order to catch the true love. Though aside from Love, Actually, for the most part, the post-9/11 romantic comedies have taken the "pay an outrageous amount of money for a plane ticket that will get you past security" approach to the mad dash to catch the true love before the plane leaves.

And now I'm off to see Tangled, which I sincerely hope won't rely on the characters getting high on pixie dust or getting drunk in order for them to get together.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Avoid Thanksgiving Overeating

I somehow managed to come down with a killer cold the afternoon before Thanksgiving (very soon after reaching my parents' house). On the bright side, that prevented me from overeating. My head was so stuffy that I couldn't taste much of anything, so I wasn't really tempted by anything. My mom had even just made chocolate candy, and I didn't eat a bit of it the whole time I was there. I pretty much spent the holiday lying on the sofa and watching football with my dad. I made it through an entire Cowboys game for the first time in years and watched parts of a few other games where I wasn't entirely sure who was playing. In the state I was in, I wasn't really following the games. My parents how have HD, so I was appreciating football on the "oooh, pretty picture" level.

I started to feel moderately human and coherent by Saturday, so I was able to drive back home, and now it seems to have mostly run its course, aside from a lingering cough and a lot of tiredness (which probably has something to do with the cold making it difficult to sleep). As often as I've been sick this fall, I'm wondering if I have a bit of first-year teacher syndrome. Apparently, people who haven't been around kids much who start teaching school, especially with younger children, get sick a lot their first year because they don't have any immunity to all the bugs kids pass around. I'm only around the kindergardeners once a week, but that may be enough to keep me coughing and wheezing.

I need to get back to normal quickly because the Christmas season is going to hit with a vengeance, and quickly. This coming weekend will be the crazy one, which I hope will mean the rest of the season is easy. Saturday morning, I've got a choir rehearsal and then there's a community service project going on at the church that I'll do some work on while I'm there. Meanwhile, the next town over is having a holiday festival on the old downtown square, with the festival doubling as the grand opening of the new rail station, so I may swing over there while I'm out and about to check out the new station and see if I can feel festive from looking at an old town square all decked out for the holidays. That night, I'm going to a party. Then Sunday morning, my children's choir is singing in the early service and then I'm singing with the adult choir in the late service. We're doing our community Christmas concert that evening, so there's another rehearsal that afternoon before the concert. I hope I get my voice back by then, and I suspect the following Monday will be a veg-out day.

Otherwise, I just have events on both of the subsequent Saturdays. I'm not sure when I'm going to get around to decorating my house. I'm not really in a holiday mood yet. I did watch my first bad Lifetime holiday movie of the year on Sunday when I was huddled on the sofa with a pot of tea (the movie was mostly interesting because the actor who plays Nathan the numb but sensitive detective from Haven was the romantic hero, but he had spectacularly unfortunate hair. Like, I couldn't even look at the screen when he was on and not wearing a hat). There are years when I contemplate skipping the holidays, aside from external events. Like, I'd still do the choir stuff and go to parties and buy gifts and visit my parents for Christmas, but I wouldn't bother decorating my house, listening to Christmas music at home or watching Christmas movies. Taking a year off might make it more special later. But then I like doing all that stuff and would probably miss it. When I'm feeling better and have been exposed to a bit of the usual seasonal things, then maybe I'll be more in the mood.

I am going to try to stay in the writing groove. My grand plan is to find balance, to spend the days when I have no other plans doing serious writing, even into the night, but then take some other days off. The plan is kind of for today to be a writing binge day, since I don't feel much like doing anything else.