Friday, January 29, 2010

The Rain/Creativity Link

Although I usually think rainy day=good writing, I've discovered that different kinds of rain have different responses. A gray day with light rain means increased creativity and lots of writing. A cold, rainy day, especially after a warm, sunny spell, tends to generate baking urges. And when it's raining hard with the wind howling, then I just want to curl up with a properly atmospheric book and read. Yesterday was the latter kind of rain. I have a tile roof and a skylight, so it can get loud upstairs when it's raining hard, and the wind was strong enough to rattle the roof tiles. But I prevailed and got lots of writing done before giving myself a book break.

I even had a big breakthrough -- something that justified my idea of letting the first quarter of the book rest a while because this little twist will change some of the plot going forward. It also means that I now have clearly defined goals and purposes for all of my characters. I had a couple of people I was starting to wonder about. I liked them, and I felt like there was something important about them, but I wasn't sure quite what, but now I know, so yay! Today I have a scene that needs minor tinkering, then one more to review/rewrite, and from that point, everything else will be new. When I started, I was just past about a quarter of the way through the book. When I get done revising this one more scene, I'll be about a third of the way through, in spite of cutting quite a bit. I'm not quite sure how I managed to cut a lot from the beginning while increasing the word count, but I think what I added was more conflict/action-oriented than the parts I cut.

And now I'm starting to contemplate another trip to New York. I'd checked hotel rates and could get something cheap during the time I could go, but airfares were ridiculous. But then I got a notice about an airfare sale today, which cut the airfare in half, and now it's looking doable. February isn't ideal timing, but most of the things I need to do are indoors, and I've been in New York for a blizzard, so I know I can survive some cold/snow. It is ideal timing, work-wise, because it gives me a hard deadline to finish this draft, then I can use the trip to fact-check (deal with any little location questions that pop up while writing) this book while researching the next one. I'm not sure why all my books seem to be set in New York, but it's really the only place where the stories I come up with make sense. I have written some books that weren't set in New York, but they haven't sold. I figure I might as well go with what works. The one I'd be researching takes place in a different time period, so it will be a whole new area to explore.

In my ranting about the kind of entertainment I'm looking for but can't seem to find in books, I used Warehouse 13 as an example of something I like. Well, Sci Fi is going to start rerunning it in prime time tonight, in their late prime time slot (9 p.m. Central). They're skipping the pilot, probably because it's an inconvenient length. The first episode isn't brilliant, but it's still fun. If you didn't catch this series this summer, it's worth checking out if you like likable characters, a mix of humor and drama, plus cool quasi-steampunk gadgetry.

Finally, I feel like I should talk about the recent announcement of the iPad, but I really have nothing to say. I'm a Mac loyalist and my office is pretty much an Apple archeological dig, going back to my circa 1990 MacPlus (which I really should convert into a terrarium). But I don't see much use for that gadget (I also don't have an iPod or iPhone). I like the idea of an e-book reader, but this doesn't look like it would be that convenient for that purpose. I think I'm going to wait until the dust settles on the e-book situation before I invest. Knowing my luck, I'd end up with the Betamax equivalent that would only work with the five books I managed to buy before they discontinued that format. I mostly would love to clear up shelf space and limit my physical books to the "keepers" where looking at them makes me happy. The books I just want to read I could have in electronic form where they don't clutter my space. Then when I do travel, it would be nice to be able to carry multiple books without the weight and bulk. But that's a "someday it would be nice" thing, not a "must have it now!" thing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reconsidering Processes

Yay! It's raining, so maybe whatever stuff that's in the air that's making me sneeze will be washed away! Or maybe I'll have to admit that I have a cold. If it is a cold, it's a pretty mild one, just bad enough to be annoying but not bad enough to count as truly "maybe I should stay in bed" sick.

I found yet another "blind date over coffee at Starbucks" scene yesterday (not literally -- that's just what I've started calling that kind of scene. I may have to do a blog glossary). This one doesn't have the ticking clock that makes a long getting-to-know-you conversation seem silly, like my earlier scene, but one of the characters has a good reason to think the other character is a threat to her and while she does need to get information from him to figure out what his role really is, I don't think that something in the vein of "So, what kind of movies do you like?" is what she needs to be asking.

This seems to be my usual Chapter Two Problem, though it's harder to tell because this book has multiple converging plot lines. This scene is well beyond chapter two, but it might be in the chapter two range for this plot line. The Chapter Two Problem is that I've discovered that I usually kill my entire second chapter during the revision process. Usually, new writers end up having to kill chapter one because it's a lot of backstory to set up the book, and then the real action starts in chapter two. I tend to have a strong start that throws the characters into some kind of action, then in chapter two they regroup and start exchanging information. I've learned that even if it doesn't end up in the final book, I need to write chapter two because it's almost like a writing exercise that lets me discover a lot about my characters, and I do end up using the information from chapter two in other places.

The "blind date over coffee at Starbucks" scene seems to serve a similar purpose as a writing exercise -- throw these two people together outside the context of the story and see what they would talk about and what they reveal about themselves. From the first Starbucks scene I've already used one bit of information in a different way that I don't think needs the earlier dialogue for it to make sense. Some of these scenes may be the kinds of conversations the characters would have later in the book. The trouble is, not to brag, but I think I write really good Starbucks scenes. These have wonderful, witty dialogue that captures the characters' voices, and I usually manage to work in a subtext of the tension appropriate to the context of the scene. That makes it easy to not notice initially that these scenes are out of place.

Which brings me to something that's forcing me to rethink my writing process. I'm discovering all these things because I put this book aside while I was revising that other one. I do tend to do major revisions after getting feedback from my agent, and while she does give me a lot of suggestions and insight, a lot of the revision comes from me just suddenly seeing the problems because I haven't looked at it for a few months. With this book, I'm seeing the things my agent probably would have pointed out. I do sometimes like to let a book sit for a little while, deadlines permitting, but I don't know that I ever get out of that book's mindset to take a truly fresh look. I'm also impatient. Once I get a book finished, I want to get it out there where it can do something, and I want to move on to the next project.

But it looks like there are benefits to really letting something sit and changing mental gears in between times I look at it. I think it may also be of benefit to write the first quarter or so of the book and then put it aside before moving on. Most of the things I'm catching here won't necessarily shift the rest of the plot, but some might, and by catching them now, maybe I'm avoiding a major rewrite later because the plot will go the right way from the start. This, then means that I've got warring impulses going on -- if I'm sticking to my goal of spending a certain amount of time writing every day, then the book will come together faster, but taking more time to write the book also has benefits.

This is going to require a mindset shift because I don't think it's a good idea to write a draft and then go play for a couple of months. I need to be working on something else. Probably because of my earlier tendency to keep getting shiny new ideas that distract me from what I'm working on so that I never finished anything, I've generally gone with a "finish something before moving on" policy. I don't have a lot of projects in various phases. Now that I know I can finish a book, what I may have to do is braid projects -- write the opening of project A, then spend a month or so doing research and development on project B, then go back to project A, revise the opening and write the rest of the draft, then write the opening to project B, then go back and revise project A, then revise the opening to project B and write a draft, then do research and development on project C, and so forth.

I can do that kind of thing right now because I'm not under contract. I'm writing full manuscripts because I think that will force editors to get past their preconceived notions of how they think the story will go based on my past work (with my last partial, I didn't mean it to be a romance at all, but a lot of the rejections said it was too much of a romance for them, so I guess they assumed that because I once wrote romances and there were male and female lead characters that it would be a romance novel). And it means I'm putting my strongest foot forward in a challenging publishing market. I'm not sure how to incorporate the lag time in deadlines if I'm writing to contract. It would be hard to fit a couple of months lag time before I spend a month or so rewriting, plus the couple of months it takes for my agent to look at it. Though I would hope that my agent would find less to comment on if I'm finding my own problems by giving myself lag time. I suppose I'll worry about that when it becomes an issue. The movie option renewal helps because I'm less frantic about selling another project right away. I can afford to take some time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More Musing on Trends

Happy Wedding Anniversary to my parents!

If the way I feel now is any indication, by this afternoon or tomorrow morning I will be barely mobile. I don't know if ballet class was particularly tough last night or if I was working particularly hard, but my thighs are already stiff and sore, and usually the post-class soreness doesn't kick in until later.

I may have sounded a little whiny and self-pitying in yesterday's post about how my taste seems to differ wildly from the bestsellers and the potential implications for my career. Really, doing that analysis made me feel better. In case you haven't noticed, I tend to be a pretty analytical person, and having actual information makes me feel a little more in control of a situation because I can set my expectations accordingly.

I'm actually in about the same situation market-wise as I was when I was writing Enchanted, Inc. in that there was absolutely nothing in the market like it at that time. Now I may even be in a better position because the urban fantasy category is so strong and what I'm writing kind of fits while being rather different from what's currently on the market. So, there is a place for it to go if they're willing to take a chance on something a little outside the mold. "We don't know how to sell this" or "we don't know where we would put this" is one of the more frustrating rejection reasons, and I don't think that would currently apply to my work.

I've learned the hard way that chasing the market doesn't work for me. All I can do is write the stories I want to tell. Trying to jump on what's currently hot will only end in frustration, and I don't think I would be successful. For instance, it would be a massive failure if I tried to write a sexy vampire book, no matter how hot those are, because I don't get the appeal of those books, and I've tried. I've read the major ones, at least the first books in the series. I've read the ones where people said, "Oh, but this one is different. You'll like it, in spite of the vampires." It's not that I think the books are bad. I just don't understand why people find them appealing. I seem to be missing whatever emotional trigger makes people respond to that. If I tried to write one without understanding why people like them, I don't think I'd be writing something people would like. Ditto with werewolves. I don't like men with facial hair, so I find myself cringing instead of swooning at the thought of a man who moonlights as a wolf. I think that adding magic to the classic "noir" PI story is brilliant, but Jim Butcher has already done it in a way that comes pretty close to the way I'd do it, and I'm already so bored with the rest of the field that I'm not sure I could entertain myself by writing something like that. Sometimes I do get my best ideas by being a brat and coming up with my own bizarre take on a trend, so it's possible I'll come up with my own way to do the supernatural PI story, but so far nothing has struck me (although if the book I'm currently writing spawns a series, it would kind of veer in that direction, with this book being the origin story).

What I did notice in a further analysis of trends in fantasy is that I've got some of the elements that show up in popular books in the book I'm currently working on, but in a very different way. I've got a couple of classic story styles intersecting to create something pretty unusual. I just hope I can pull it off, that it isn't too unusual and that the publishers don't try to typecast me too much.

I think I'm more frustrated as a reader because there's so little out there right now that's to my taste. That's what spurred me to write my series to begin with, because I thought something like that should exist. It would just be nice if more other people wrote something kind of like that, so I'd have something to read. It's less fun to read if I wrote it.

The nice thing is that even if current books and movies aren't to my taste, there's a lot on TV right now that offers what I'm looking for, even if most of it doesn't involve magic. The schedule is full of shows with likable characters who have interesting relationships with each other, a mix of humor and drama and an overall optimistic viewpoint. There's Chuck, NCIS and its spin-off, White Collar (and, really, all the USA Network original series), Leverage, Warehouse 13 and the new Human Target (though it would be nice if Fox would show two episodes in a row in the same time slot. So far there have been three episodes, each of then on a different day of the week). The really interesting thing is that most of these are either Universal properties or air on Universal-owned stations (and NCIS, while not being a Universal property or first-run on anything Universal-owned, is a syndication staple on USA). So it does seem like I'm on the same wavelength with someone.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Out of the Mainstream

My writing time yesterday was diminished by having to go to the FedEx place to send some documents to Hollywood. I felt so very Important and Glamorous to be filling out a FedEx label addressed to Universal Pictures. I kind of wished that someone else would be there reading over my shoulder to see that I was sending something to Universal Pictures. What's the point of being Important and Glamorous if nobody notices?

But now I'm back to the real world, where I need to be writing a book so I can get published again. And I have come to the somewhat disheartening conclusion that I will likely never be a bestselling author, at least, not until publishing trends change. This is not because I don't think I'm any good as a writer or that I don't write good books. It's more that I suspect I will remain the kind of author who's popular within a niche without having mass appeal.

I came to this conclusion based on my reading tastes, as I seem to be in the minority for most of the stuff I enjoy reading. I don't like most of the bestselling books, and I've found when I check Amazon reviews that the books I've read and think "Huh? This got published?" have a lot of glowing reader reviews, while books I love often have a very "Meh" response. I really am not the kind of person who automatically dismisses anything popular just because it's popular. In fact, I'll usually give things that are really popular a try, even if it's just as market research so I can get a sense of what people are reading and becoming obsessed with. If I don't like the stuff that sells well, it stands to reason that what I write won't be a smash hit.

But instead of going by a vague sense, I thought I'd get hard facts. I started with the USA Today bestseller list because it covers 150 slots, is based on actual sales instead of projected sales (like the New York Times list) and includes all genres and formats. I found nine books on that list that I thought I might be somewhat interested in checking out of the library, and only two of those were in the top 30. I found one book I might have been interested in buying (but after I read more about it, I moved it to the "might look for at the library" list). There were seven I'd read already, and all of those were more than a year old. I wrote down three titles in my "things I'd like to read" list. I did notice that very little science fiction and fantasy was on this list, other than YA titles.

On the Publisher's Weekly lists, there were three adult hardcovers I might look for at the library, one mass market whose hardcover I might look for at the library and two children's/teen fiction books I might look for at the library, all of which corresponded with titles I'd already noted on the USA Today list. There were none I'd consider buying. On their library "most borrowed" lists, there was one I might check out and one I'd read.

So I moved over to Locus, which tracks bestsellers in science fiction and fantasy, and I had zero interest in anything on their list, mostly because they were almost all vampire books (and about half the list was various editions of the Twilight series). I did find one book I might look for on the January new releases list, but it wasn't an "I must go to the store now!" level of interest.

To get deeper into genre, I went to Amazon, which has some branches of genre bestseller lists. On the fantasy/science fiction list, there was one book in the top 25 that I might read someday (it's a later book in a series, and I haven't caught up on that series yet -- it's a series I like, but can only handle in small doses in certain moods). There was one book on the next 25 that I might be interested in. I skimmed around on the "Wizards and Magic" and "Fairies and Elves" lists, but anything I found interesting I'd already read. However, the Amazon lists are somewhat skewed by the cheap or free Kindle books, so that books I've never heard of were top "sellers" because they were free downloads.

This coincides with my experience the last time I went to the bookstore with a coupon and a desire to spend money but ended up buying backlist titles. They just aren't publishing a lot right now that I like, which makes me wonder if they'll like what I write -- unless things are starting to shift behind the scenes and they're maybe starting to look for something different.

On the other hand, the response to the Enchanted, Inc. series has been overwhelmingly positive, and the first book is still selling steadily, five years after publication. People who read it seem to like it, so it's possible that it would have been a bestseller if more people had heard of it -- maybe a different cover so that it didn't look so much like chick lit and had more of a fantasy flavor, maybe if it had been shelved in fantasy, maybe if it had been in mass market format, maybe if it had been more widely available. Or maybe the people who would have liked it did find it, and if it had been more widely available, everyone else would have hated it.

Ah well, maybe my time will come. Things always do change. In the meantime, it looks like I'll be doing a lot of re-reading books from years ago.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Minor Movie News

I got some good news Friday: Universal has renewed the movie option on Enchanted, Inc. What this means is that a movie remains a possibility. I knew the decision would be made on Friday, so that was a pretty unproductive day. I spent much of the day anxiously checking my e-mail every few seconds, and then after I got the word, I had to deal with some paperwork (I still have to make a trip to the FedEx place) and was generally too keyed up to concentrate. I celebrated by watching Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day that night, but perhaps I shouldn't have watched the bonus feature on the journey from book to movie, as the fact came up that Universal owned the rights to that book for nearly 60 years before the movie actually got made. I suppose it's reassuring that it did eventually happen, but it's discouraging that it can take so long. However, that situation is different from mine, in that they just have an option currently, and that does expire. I'm sure contracts were different then, but it sounds like they'd done an outright purchase and were about to go into production in 1939 when things got sidetracked by the war. Incidentally, that 1939 version was going to be a musical starring Billie Burke (Glinda in The Wizard of Oz) as Miss Pettigrew.

When I got the initial film deal, I bought a new car -- but since it was a Ford Focus, to replace an 11-year-old Saturn, I don't think it was exactly a Hollywood splurge. This time around, I'm just glad it means I can go another year without worrying about finding a real job, though I may splurge and get a new ballet leotard. I hope the recurring nightmare about going back to all of my former jobs at once will now stop. It was getting old. The commute alone was exhausting me, as I had to keep rushing from one office to the next to put in face time and convince them that I really did work there. I hate waking up tired because I put in a full day's work in my sleep.

Hmm, that might be a good plot for a chick lit book, if that genre still existed -- a telecommuter "double dips" by having multiple jobs at once, and no one knows because she's working at home. I think that would actually be pretty easy to pull off because I was so much more efficient as a telecommuter that I could have done two "full-time" jobs -- measured by work output -- in a less than full-time work week. The only difficulty would be if they started expecting a day a week of "face time," like my last job did just before I got laid off. That was silly because on that day I got nothing done while I was in the office. It was an entire day essentially dedicated to saying, "Hi! I still exist!" Those are the days that still show up in the recurring nightmares, only all the jobs I'm doing require the face time day at the same time.

But now I can eat for the year and pay my mortgage without having to get another job, thanks to movie money and my ongoing freelance job. I do hope to sell some books this year, though. It's just nice to not be in a panic/pressure situation.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Weekend Science Fiction

Still not high on coherence, for any meaning of the word. Mountain cedar is killing me. It's supposed to rain tonight, which should help, but in the meantime, I'm making great use of my brother's Christmas present -- a selection of interesting teas. There's Moroccan Mist, which is a green tea with mint, and it's lovely for opening the sinuses, and I'm really loving the hibiscus tea. They suggest serving it iced, but it has almost a hot toddy quality when served hot. Lots of hot liquids seem to be the key to keeping the sinuses open. Unfortunately, they don't help with the grogginess and fatigue that mountain cedar seems to cause for me. Writing may be a lost cause, but I've made some interesting progress in brainstorming.

For instance, it occurred to me that the problem with the scene I was working on wasn't just with the logistics I'd researched. It involved the characters doing things that I don't think these people would really do, and it happened in a way that lacked emotional impact. I dreamed the way it should really go last night, and it even still makes sense in the light of day, so that's good. Then the next scene will need work because it lacks the sense of urgency that both characters in the scene should have. Yes, they've just met and are sizing each other up to decide whether or not they should trust each other, so they would ask some questions and share information, but the way I've written it, it sounds more like a "meet over coffee" blind date. I love a lot of the dialogue in the scene, and I do want to convey most of that information, but I think it will have to be moved to a later point in the book.

I think the moral of this story is that putting something aside for a while is a good idea. What seems brilliant when you've just written it will stand out as silly or illogical later when you can look at it more objectively.

In other news, I occasionally snark about the Sci Fi Channel's Saturday night movies (I refuse to acknowledge the name change). This was the venue that gave us the brilliant Mansquito (which was actually a lot of fun, in a campy, not-to-be-taken-seriously way). If you're in the right mood, their cheesy fantasy movies can be fairly entertaining. My favorite so far was Dragonsword (the DVD title is George and the Dragon), which didn't have nearly as many bad fake English accents done by third-rate American actors as a lot of these movies have -- probably because Patrick Swayze didn't even bother trying and his medieval English lord character sounded like he was from Houston, but at least the lead actor really was British. Their recent fantasy version of Robin Hood, in which Robin Hood took on a monster from another dimension, was only slightly less realistic than the recent BBC Robin Hood series.

And now, you can try coming up with a title for an upcoming cheesy fantasy movie, since they're having a contest to name a film (I haven't read the legal fine print, but I would suspect I'm not eligible since I have a business relationship with Universal). Go here to play, and feel free to share any fun titles you come up. Good luck!

And I'm still waiting for the Mansquito sequel, Mansquito vs. Wasp Man.

Speaking of Sci Fi, Caprica, the Battlestar Galactica prequel series, starts tonight. I tried watching the pilot OnDemand and only got through the first part before I was consumed by a vast wave of Not Caring, verging on Outright Annoyance. It seems to be fairly well done, so it doesn't have the entertaining snark potential of As the Stargate Turns (aka Stargate Universe). I mostly found it to be utterly boring, and by the end of the first hour, I was just keeping it on because the music is good (same composer who did BSG) and I was using the show to provide background noise. If the series is anything like the pilot, I'd say it's the parts of BSG that annoyed or bored me, but with added pretentious teenagers. It's essentially a family saga set in a quasi-futuristic science fiction setting. Wake me when the killer robots show up and start killing. So far, the only robot was a glorified Roomba that also answered the door.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Incoherent Thoughts

Today may be short on coherence -- and I'm using the literal meaning about things holding together rather than the more figurative meaning about making sense.

It started when I woke up with a bit of a sinus headache, and then they decided to do road work on the street outside my house. I'm not sure what, exactly, they're doing, but it involved cutting into the concrete with loud power tools that went on forever and made all the bones in my face vibrate, which did not help the sinuses. It seems to have stopped, and the heavy equipment is no longer there, so maybe I can relax. (Hmm, five minutes after they left, and the headache has already eased up.)

Meanwhile, not too long ago, a motorcade went down the road, escorting a house.

Seriously -- there were at least four motorcycle officers and several squad cars, with lights flashing. I was expecting a limo with diplomatic flags (though I'm not sure why, in this neighborhood, unless a visiting dignitary is a Dallas Cowboys fan). But a house? I wonder where the house was going.

Speaking of the neighborhood, that new lawyer show, The Deep End, that starts tonight on ABC is filmed just down the street, even though it takes place in LA. I doubt I'll be watching because I really hate lawyer shows and I'm not into the "hot young things hook up while advancing their careers" genre. Still, it would be fun to spot obvious local sites masquerading as LA. I haven't yet had any celebrity sightings in the general area, but I haven't been looking for them, either. I'm used to seeing pro athletes in the grocery store, but I generally don't pay that much attention to other patrons in Kroger or Target unless they're in my way or annoying me, or unless they ask me for help or advice.

I got a fair amount done yesterday, though I got somewhat tripped up by research. I'd written the scene one way, based on my own general knowledge and things I've heard about that general place/time, with my characters making a choice that I thought made sense. But then in looking at a reference, I found that I'd made some possibly incorrect assumptions and that there was another option the characters probably should have chosen that would have made more sense. That meant I had to rethink the whole scene and figure out a different way for the main event in that scene to happen. I figured it out and started writing. But I had a nagging doubt, something that seemed wrong, so I looked it up in a primary source, and it turns out that while the one option was true, in general, it actually wasn't true for that specific time and location. Which meant my original assumption was correct, and I hadn't needed to change the way the scene went.

I'm not sure what the moral of that story is, other than that my instincts can be good when I'm dealing with a subject I know a lot about and that you should always check the specifics instead of just going with generalized information.

Ah, apparently mountain cedar pollen levels are high in this area (there's even an Allergy Alert). That would explain the sinus headache. I went for a walk yesterday, which might not have been the smartest thing to do. I guess I'll stay indoors today. That should mean more writing!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Viewpoint: First Person

I think I got a good start on diving back into the new project. I wrote a new first scene/prologue. But then I got waylaid while trying to plan the new version of the next scene because I needed to figure out who the characters in the scene were, and I couldn't find my name book. Without the name book, I couldn't seem to get past names starting with G. I don't know why I was stuck on G, but I somehow was, and none of the names were right. I found the book just before I had to leave for ballet class, but in the meantime, I'd figured out everything but the names.

It's writing post time again, and I need some new topics, so if you've got a question about writing craft, the life of a writer or the publishing industry, please ask!

Point of view is one of those topics that's just about guaranteed to start a debate if you get enough writers together. It's almost as bad as Mac vs. PC. Some people have very strong, practically religious feelings about viewpoint. Readers also may have strong preferences.

The two main viewpoints used in fiction are first-person and third-person. First-person POV would be the "I" books, where the narrator is a character in the book and is telling his/her own story in his/her own words. Third-person POV would be the books where the narrator is not a character in the story and instead is an outside, unnamed storyteller. Second-person POV ("you" books) does occasionally come up, but mostly in "choose your own adventure" type stories (though I think it was popular in the drugs-and-money novels of the late 80s).

The various POVs have their own strengths and weaknesses and lend themselves to different kinds of stories.

First-person is good for creating both intimacy and suspense. The tone can be very conversational and confessional, with the voice of the character built into the narration, and for that reason, this viewpoint is very popular for chick lit and women's fiction. With this viewpoint, the reader is limited to the information available to the narrator character, which keeps the reader in the dark about the motivations and actions of other characters the same way the viewpoint character is, which creates a sense of mystery and tension. That's a big reason why this viewpoint is very popular for mystery novels. It puts the reader in the sleuth's shoes because the reader doesn't have access to any information that the sleuth doesn't have, and the reader has to solve the mystery along with the sleuth. This viewpoint is also very popular in urban fantasy, which in its current incarnation is an offshoot of the mystery/detective novel, with a lot of chick lit influence.

Some pros, cons and things to remember about first-person POV:
-- I've heard some readers/writers say they need to know the reason the narrator is telling the story -- it needs to be a diary, letters, etc. I don't necessarily hold with that because I just assume that it's a memoir the character is writing at some undefined moment in the future. However, I do think you need to keep your narration in character, and that means you need to think about who your narrator is. Not all characters lend themselves to first-person narration. If a character is unassuming and doesn't like to brag about his deeds, and yet he's the hero of the story, he won't make a good narrator because it would be out of character for him to tell the story of his deeds. Or a narrator might not be a good fit for the story you want to tell. A shy or prim person probably isn't going to describe her love life in graphic, intimate detail, so if you want a sexy book with that kind of character, first-person POV might not be the way to go.
-- On a related note, the thing to remember about a first-person narrator is that he/she knows he/she is a character in a story. Narrators are making a conscious decision to tell this story to others. They can choose which details to share and which to leave out. This means that this viewpoint is good for unreliable narrator stories in which the narrator is deliberately misleading the reader by leaving out some crucial bit of information or by lying.
-- The first-person narrator doesn't have to be the main character/hero/protagonist of the story. It can be a sidekick telling the story of another person, like Dr. Watson telling the stories about his friend Sherlock Holmes.
-- Because the narration is limited to what the narrator knows, you'll need to find a way to put your narrator character as close to the action as possible. Otherwise, you may fall into the trap of "telling" instead of "showing," with other characters telling the narrator character about what happened elsewhere. It can be a challenge to find interesting ways for the narrator to find out about things that happened when he/she wasn't present. Your narrator really should be present for any major turning point scenes.
-- It's very easy to go overboard with introspection when using this viewpoint. The narrative itself feels like dialogue, and so you may find yourself going on and on with the character's thoughts. Some of that is part of the appeal of first-person POV, because it's fun to know exactly what the character thinks, but you don't want the whole book to be interior monologue. You still need a good balance of dialogue, introspection and action.
-- One criticism I've heard of this viewpoint is that it eliminates some of the suspense from the story because if the character is telling his/her own story, then obviously he/she survived whatever horrible ordeal in order to tell about it. There is some validity to that. A diary format may work fine for a book about career and dating, but doesn't work so well when it's about adventure or life-threatening danger because the character is obviously writing the entry after the fact. I did once read a book in which the first-person narrator died -- the story got to just before the big, climactic scene, then stopped. The next chapter had a different narrative voice and told about the big event, the previous narrator's death, and then the finding of the journal (the previous parts of the book) in the rubble.

Next time, I'll tackle third-person POV.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Report Catch Up

Would you believe that I moved one thing on my desk and found all the notes I was looking for? I guess I'm not as disorganized as I thought. That meant I didn't end up doing much housework, other than a ton of laundry and finally getting all the boxes of Christmas stuff back in the garage (something that kept getting put off due to extreme cold, rain and deadline). I also vacuumed the Christmas tree area, using the nifty new vacuum cleaner I got for Christmas (yes, Mom and Dad, I did get it put together and I did use it, and it works. It might even be almost sort of kind of fun to use).

I haven't done a book report in a while, so here's some of my recent reading:

Going back to December, there was Predator's Gold by Philip Reeve, the second in the future post-apocalyptic steampunk series. I think I liked this one better than the first book (probably because it's less bloody -- more of the main characters survive this time). Our heroes get stuck in the frozen north after an airship battle, with the bad guys in hot pursuit -- only they're not actually the ones being chased. I like the story and characters in this series, but there's still something about the writing style that baffles me. It's classified as young adult and the main characters are teens, but there's some very adult stuff going on and yet the writing style feels to me more like something out of a children's book. I kept forgetting that the main characters were 18 because they came across as more like 11, and all the secondary characters seemed to belong in a children's book. I like children's books, so this isn't a problem, but it does get a wee bit disconcerting when it's very obvious that the two main characters are sleeping together and I have to keep reminding myself that they're 18 and not 11. I need to get the next in the series now.

The rest of December was either re-reads or books I don't really want to talk about because I can't recommend them.

I started the year with Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett, an older Discworld book that was still new to me. Basically, the motion picture industry arrives on the Discworld and hilarity ensues. Since I've had some dealings with Hollywood, I found a lot to laugh at here. There's one image near the end that had me laughing out loud for about five minutes, and I halfway suspect that the entire plot was reverse engineered to get to that image.

Then there was A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson. An Edwardian teenager realizes that the best-case scenario for her life is to escape her father's oppressive home by marrying the stuffy scholar picked out for her by her father, so she runs away to join a ballet company setting off on a tour of Brazil. She has a personal mission while she's there, to find the whereabouts of a boy who once lived at a nearby manor and who's believed to have gone to Brazil, on behalf of the lonely boy who lives at the manor now. While she's in Brazil, she meets a mysterious young Englishman who has become wealthy in the rubber trade. Meanwhile, her father has sent her would-be fiance to track her down and bring her back. I had to get over a minor cognitive dissonance to really enjoy this book because the set-up, with the proper girl running away to an exotic place, secret identities and hints of hijinks with a will, made me think of the Madeleine Brent romantic adventure books, and I kept waiting for a big action or chase scene where the heroine manages to rescue the hero by using her special skills. But it's really just a historical romance, without much adventure, and it works just fine on that level if you aren't expecting the adventure. This was put out by a teen imprint and shelved in the teen section of the library, but I didn't think it was really a "teen" book. The main character is 18, and while it's pretty clear the romantic leads have sex, it isn't graphically described, but aside from that, it's not that different from most "adult" historical romances. It was originally published in the mid-80s, when there really wasn't a "teen" category, just adult books and children's books, so I wonder how it was shelved then. It's probably wise to put it in teen now, as it's got a lot of appeal for teens who don't want to read about typical teenage stuff, while I think a lot of historical romance readers would be disappointed by the lack of steam. So, if you like historical romance but don't necessarily need pages of graphic sex scenes and aren't really into inspirational romances (usually the only option for historical romance without graphic sex), this would be a good option. If I hadn't already been in ballet classes, I'd probably be wanting to sign up after reading this book. I was looking for more books by this author, and it looks like she's done a lot of children's fantasy, which could be fun.

But since I was hoping for a Madeleine Brent-style story with this book and didn't get it, I found a couple of actual Madeleine Brent books at the library. Unfortunately, I never seem to remember the titles of these books, remembering them as just "the one in China" or "the one in Australia," etc. I thought I'd found a couple I'd never read because the titles didn't ring a bell, but then they started sounding vaguely familiar as I read them. I read Merlin's Keep (aka The One in Tibet) and The Long Masquerade (The One in Jamaica), and they were good for a rainy afternoon.

Finally, I re-read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I've been wanting to re-read this for a while, but I never found it in the library. I'd have checked the online catalog, which would say it was there, but then I wouldn't find it. I discovered why when checking for more Eva Ibbotson books: They shelve it in the teen section now (I know it wasn't there the first time I checked it out). I really wouldn't consider this a teen book, so I'm not sure how they came up with that classification. Yeah, one of the main characters is 11, but he's the Antichrist (or, he's supposed to be, but there was kind of a mix-up). Actually, my library has a lot of non-teen books shelved in the teen section, like the Naomi Novik Temeraire books, which have nothing teen-related in them at all. I suppose they could be putting teen-appropriate adult books in that section to encourage teens to read, and I think that's a great idea, but maybe they should also keep copies in the adult section because it makes it difficult to find books when you're looking for something you know was published as adult fiction and it's not shelved in the adult section. I'd never have thought to look for some of these books in the teen section.

Anyway, Good Omens reminded me that I have The Best of Queen on cassette (and not just because all tapes left in a car for any length of time turn into The Best of Queen), and I really need to get it on CD so I can listen to it in the new car.

And now to get back into the new project. I re-read what I've written so far, and while I've seen places where it can be improved, I still really like it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Practically a Health Food Hot Cocoa

It's a holiday, but I'm using it as a partial workday, focusing on shifting mental gears. That may require some housework, as I have a sheet of notes I made on the opening of the project I'm getting back into, and I have no idea where it might be right now, so I may have to clean to find it. Then once I start doing housework, I tend to want to finish it, and the house really needs a good once-over. What I may do is read what I've written so far, and then muse on it while I clean.

In the meantime, I'll share a recipe. As I've mentioned, I do freelance work for the medical school, writing the health public service radio features. That tends to involve a lot of nutrition advice, since that's one area where people can really affect their own health and since that was one of my departments when I worked there, so I know all the people and can get people to talk to me or return my calls. One fun bit of advice was that hot cocoa is one of the better ways to have chocolate, since fat and sugar have to be added to turn it into candy. Apparently, a cup of dark hot cocoa made with non-fat milk is practically a health food, since it has the same amount of antioxidants as a glass of red wine, plus contains calcium.

I have some dark cocoa powder, so I thought I'd try making cocoa that way. And it was nasty. Non-fat milk is too weak to hold up to the dark cocoa. I started experimenting, and I think I've figured out the way to make Practically a Health Food Hot Cocoa. This makes about two servings:

You'll need to find non-fat evaporated milk -- the secret to giving some body to the milk without adding fat. Pour about half a cup of the evaporated milk into a liquid measuring cup, then pour in regular skim milk until you've got two cups, total. Stir gently to mix. Pour half a cup of this mixture into a small saucepan. Add a tablespoon of dark cocoa powder, a tablespoon of regular unsweetened cocoa and about two tablespoons of sugar. You can adjust the sugar to taste. The cocoa recipe I used as a starting point called for slightly more sugar than cocoa, but I've been making it with slightly less sugar than cocoa. Whisk all this together over medium heat. Stir frequently until the cocoa just barely starts to bubble. Then add the rest of the milk and reduce heat to low. Stir occasionally until it reaches a good drinking temperature, but don't let it boil.

And then you can undermine the "health" aspects by topping it with whipped cream and having a few cookies on the side.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rainy Afternoon

It's a good thing I don't have to do serious writing today because it's one of those days when there isn't enough tea in the world to keep me alert and focused. I have two things I absolutely must do today and one thing I need to do today. Two of them involve leaving the house and one involves writing. Once they're done, I plan to hibernate, and it will be lovely.

Yesterday was rather nice. I walked up the hill to the movie theater and saw Leap Year. I'm planning a more extensive discussion about it in a series I'm planning to write on romantic comedies leading up to Valentine's Day, but I will say for now that it falls into the category of Mostly Harmless. It's pretty much what you expect of a gimmicky romantic comedy released at this time of year, but it wasn't as awful as some I've seen. There were a number of things I wanted to fix but it also did a number of things surprisingly well and in ways that undermine a lot of romantic comedy tropes. We know Amy Adams is a good actress, given the way she racks up Oscar nominations, but seeing her in a relatively weak movie shows just how good she is. She's utterly fascinating to watch because of the way emotions and even micro-emotions flicker across her face. You can practically read her mind. I probably won't be getting this one on DVD, but I can imagine it's the sort of thing I'll get sucked into when it comes on TV and I don't have anything better to do, or I'll put it on as background noise when HBO has it OnDemand. It's a good rainy afternoon movie.

What was really fun for me with this movie was the audience. There were a couple of other women by themselves in the theater, which is what you expect with this kind of movie. But then there was the gaggle of elderly women on the row behind me that I'm fairly certain was a group outing from the retirement community down the street. They were a hoot. I spent a lot of the movie listening to their reactions (they said "My stars!" a lot). Then there were three men there by themselves (separately, not as a group), and they were not the type you'd expect in a movie like that. They looked more like the guys they cast in those "learn to be a motorcycle mechanic" commercials, and they were laughing out loud in the movie and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

And then it started raining when I was walking home, so it was especially lovely to get inside and make some tea before I curled up under a blanket with a book.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Coming Full Circle

The book is now totally done, and all I have to do is change the file name to something that will make sense to people other than me and then e-mail it. It's a good thing it's done because the characters from the next project I plan to work on were already creeping into my brain while I was working. I've loved working on this book, but I'm eager to move on (of course, these characters will now probably start telling me what they could do next while I'm trying to write this other book).

I figured out exactly why my back's been hurting the way it is. Maybe I'm an oddball, but do you ever find yourself moving in sympathy (or frustration) when you're watching TV or a movie -- like you find yourself tensing up to run or shifting out of the way or trying to urge the character not to move or to move, as though the movie is a video game and you've got a full-body controller, or else like a prosthetic device where you can open and close a hand by tensing your upper arm muscles, only acting like you can control the characters by doing that? I found that I was doing that sort of thing while re-reading this book. I'd get my body all poised to move or run, but since I was sitting still that just meant tensing all my lower back muscles. When you're doing that for about four hours a day, the result is some pain. I hadn't even realized I was doing it until it started hurting, and then it hurt more whenever I did it, so I noticed it. I guess I was acting out the story without realizing it.

Now I'm planning to take a quasi-long weekend. I won't be actively writing, but I do have some work-type stuff to do, in addition to getting my life in order after burying myself in the book for the last couple of weeks. I still need to get to the grocery store because I found a can of evaporated milk in the cupboard to handle yesterday's tea emergency, and I've reached a frustrating situation where I'm lacking one key ingredient for every meal I've considered making. Then I may go to a movie this afternoon, depending on the weather. I have books to read, if I can decide which one goes first. And I may re-read what I've written so far and my notes on the next project so I can set my subconscious to work on it and be ready to get up and running Monday.

Meanwhile, possibly the most unexpected/unusual Google Alert: It was on a Star Wars fan fiction site, in an interview with someone who is apparently a prominent Star Wars fanfic writer. When listing her favorite things to read, she mentioned my series, the works of Jane Austen and the Harry Potter series (in that order). I'm in pretty good company there. You may have noticed that I'm a wee bit of a Star Wars fan, myself (since I use it all the time as an example or illustration when talking about writing). I never wrote Star Wars fanfic -- at least, never actually on paper/digital media. But I did daydream a lot of Star Wars scenarios, which is what got me started writing. Between the first two movies, I had to dream up a bunch of new characters to mentally continue the story, since Luke and good old Wedge were the only survivors of that squadron and I needed more squadron members to have a proper space battle. Then I realized I was focusing more on my new squadron members than I was on the existing characters, and then I realized that I could just eliminate the Star Wars stuff and it would be my own story, and that led to the grand epiphany that if I wrote down all these stories I made up in my head, I would have a book and I would be a writer, and that was what I wanted to do with my life. So, thanks for the shout-out, Star Wars fanfic writer. I feel like I've come full circle.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Deadline Pain

The book is pretty much done. I'm just doing one final read-through to make sure it still makes sense before I send it off. And because people are asking, this is something I'm doing for Japan. I'm like the David Hasslehoff of books -- still pretty much a nobody in the US, but popular abroad. Apparently, I'm a big enough hit in Japan that they ask me to write books, instead of me having to submit proposals. I hope to find a US publisher for this book, now that it's done and I'll have a complete manuscript to shop, but it was nice writing a complete manuscript that I was already being paid for. This is kind of backward from the way it usually works. Usually, you sell the book in the US, then see if you can pick up foreign sales.

I have to send the book off tomorrow, since it's due in Japan on the 15th and there's that pesky International Date Line issue (and I'm obsessive enough about meeting deadlines that I can't let myself count it as on time just because it's the 15th for me).

Once I'm done with this read-through, I plan to take Friday and the weekend off. It's going to be rainy, and I have a stack of books to read. And I think my body needs a rest. I always seem to end up with a sore back when I'm finishing a book. Although I stand up straight, I have poor posture when I'm sitting, especially when I'm sitting in front of a computer. It gets worse when I'm spending long stretches at the computer and when I'm tense about it. The back is actually a little better after ballet last night, thanks to the movement and stretching. I think the ballet is also helping with my posture, though that may have something to do with the soreness because my old bad posture is no longer comfortable, but the muscles to support good posture aren't strong enough yet and still get sore. Meanwhile, the rest of me is more stiff after class because we did a lot of stuff that really worked the thighs. I did get praised once for having really nice form in something, so yay. It's the adult class, but we have a lot of teens who are either starting ballet or who took class as little kids and are coming back, but who haven't been serious all along like the teens in the advanced classes. That means I'm having to keep up with kids young enough to be my children. I think I'm holding my own.

One more "fun with Google alerts" thing: Enchanted, Inc. is on the American Library Association's list of Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults. According to the web site, "The purpose of the list is to encourage young adults to read for pleasure by presenting to them lists of popular or topical titles which are widely available in paperback and which represent a broad variety of accessible themes and genres." The list is a mix of young adult titles and adult titles that are suitable for or appealing to teens. I've read eight of the books on this list. This is a very cool honor, but it's a bit of a Google Fail because this is from 2008 and it's only just now showing up in a Google alert.

Oh, and apparently there's now an Enchanted, Inc. fan site out there, which is very cool. I haven't looked at it yet, but just knowing it exists makes me feel special.

Now to do some serious proofreading and make a quick trip to the store because I can't read without tea and I can't have tea without milk (especially since I've stopped putting sugar in my tea, which means I need more milk), and I'm out of milk so this is a crisis. Too bad the milkman is an endangered species, but if I had home milk delivery, I might never leave the house.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Debbie Rigaud

I still have lots of work to do, since yesterday I had to come up with a whole new scene and it took me a while to figure out what it should be. Before I head back to the salt mines, I've got another Girlfriends Cyber Circuit guest, Debbie Rigaud, author of the new teen romantic comedy Perfect Shot.

London Abrams likes to spike volleyballs, not wear spike heels. But in one crush-tasic moment, she signs up for a modeling contest to get the attention of its cute photography intern. Never in a million years did London expect to get selected as a finalist. Before she knows it, she’s in an online reality show competition against 14 super chic chicks–including her childhood frenemy.

Now, the interview:
Was there any particular inspiration behind this book?
I've met and read about so many ambitious teens over the years, so I wanted to create a passionately goal-oriented character. In PERFECT SHOT, London Abrams is a totally driven girl. The same goes for her crush Brent, who's already taking steps toward a career in photography.

When you were a teen, were you more of a jock girl or a chic girl?
I was more of a jock girl--although the sport I played (outside of gym class) was "spectator sport!" I was a HUGE major league baseball fan. Instead of plastering posters of New Kids on the Block or New Edition to my locker door, I had the NY Mets' game schedule taped neatly to it. Good times.

What, if anything, do you have in common with the heroine of this book?
Well, a lot of people have said that I look like the girl in the cover art. For the record, I had nothing to do with that. LOL! But seriously, London Abrams and I have both endured teasing because of our long, lean, lanky physiques. Oddly enough, London has moved past that awkward stage, whereas I'm sort of still in it. (If one more person calls me "skinny" I'm gonna screeeeaaam!)

Your book is a milestone for Simon Pulse. Can you tell us what that means to you?
Thank you for mentioning it! I'm very happy about bringing an African-American protagonist to the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies. Crazy thing is, this "integration first" is a scenario that's played out in my life several times before. Back in my teens when I worked at a clothing store, my boss had me integrate his team of cashiers after a customer complained that there were no people of color in that coveted position. You should've seen how he did it. He marched right up and pointed to me: "You, Debbie -- get up on register!" At the time I remember thinking, Why me? Now I say, Why not me?

When you were working as a journalist, did you always have dreams of becoming a novelist, or did that come later on?
I loved working as a magazine writer. But behind the scenes, yes, I dreamed of weaving fictional tales -- but not in the way you'd think. I saw myself eventually becoming a TV writer. I dabbled with screenplays and obsessed over the script sales listings. But thanks to friends' suggestions and a little more self discovery, I found that my writing style is a nice fit for novels. But don't count me out in the TV writing world yet!

I have to ask this as we're coming out of a serious cold snap (in Texas! There was still ice in the canals yesterday!), but tell us a little bit about what it's like to live in Bermuda. Emphasize the warm parts. :)
LOL! Well, if it's any consolation, I found myself missing snow and wintry weather around the holidays. :-) Bermuda is great. My husband and I moved here two years ago and it's so different from my East Orange, NJ hometown. We've had so many visitors from home, it feels like we run a bed & breakfast! Aside from the lovely palm trees and gorgeous (and very close!) beaches, the culture and the people are awesome. I now drive British-style, on the left side of the road; I say things like "car park" instead of "parking lot"; and I shiver and scream for mercy in 65-degree weather. What's happened to me? I'm in for a rocky transition when we move back home.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on another romantic comedy and a humorous novel inspired by my strict upbringing. There's also a paranormal story on the backburner. I can't wait to share more details about them in the coming months.

For more info, visit Debbie's blog. Or you can order the book from Amazon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monday Musings

Yay, we made it above freezing! We got all the way up to 34 for a short time on Saturday and then into the 40s on Sunday, and today it's already in the 40s. I know northerners think we southerners are wimps for freaking out about more than 50 straight hours below freezing, but as I have mentioned before, it feels colder here at the same temperatures. In the temperatures we had last week, I've spent time outdoors in Chicago and New York and was more comfortable than I am here when it's in the 40s. Plus, our homes are built to stay cool, not warm. I have really high ceilings, which keeps my home comfortable in the summer, but which makes it impossible to heat. And our heating systems are designed for the depth of winter being generally highs in the 40s and overnight lows around 30 -- not highs in the 20s and overnight lows around 12.

But now we seem to be getting back to normal, so I can shut off the central heat at night and sleep better. While it was so cold I had to leave the heat on so my pipes wouldn't freeze, even though the lowest setting makes the house warmer than I like for sleeping (my ideal sleeping conditions are essentially "in an igloo under a pile of bearskins"). When it's moderately cool in the daytime, I just use portable radiators or the electric blanket to warm up the space where I am instead of heating the whole house (which, as I've said, is impossible).

After I discovered that having CSI NY on at 8 forces me to get out of bed, Spike betrayed me and is pre-empting it for a couple of days. I woke up at 7:55 but couldn't talk myself into getting up yet, so I decided to just think for a while -- and then woke up at 9:20. I need to find an alternative morning program for when the schedule shifts or when they reach the episodes I've already seen. The trick is to have some sort of schedule externally imposed that involves something I want to see. Otherwise, there's not much incentive to get up that I can't talk myself out of.

I'm closing in on the finishing touches on the current project. I have to hand it over on Thursday, so this will be a busy week. Today I have two more chapters to revise, and then I need to re-read the whole thing straight through to make sure it all still makes sense, given how much I've cut. And then I'll give myself a little "retreat" time over the weekend to switch gears before plunging into the next project on Monday.

Although I do want to read more recent books and new books instead of doing so much re-reading, I have decided to return to some books from my teen years. I do my writing in my "library," and when I get stuck, I find myself staring at my bookshelves. I was trying to think of what I read as a teen, and I remembered that junior high and high school were my thriller phase. I loved the World War II spy thrillers and adventure novels of Alastair MacLean, Leon Uris and Jack Higgins. One thing I'm trying to work on in my writing is pacing, and I thought reading thrillers would be good for that, but because I'm a weenie, I'm not a big fan of modern thrillers -- things that hit too close to home. I know how WWII ended, so those aren't too stressful. Even if Our Hero's mission doesn't go well, I know that we'll ultimately win and be okay. I know that pacing requirements in books have changed, but since I'm not trying to write thrillers, maybe older thrillers will have the pacing I would want to apply to my novels.

I'm also curious what I would think about those books now. I saw a thread on a fantasy-related blog about the books we loved as teens and what we might think about them if we re-read them now. I've revisited some of my fantasy favorites out of curiosity or because the series are still being written and I need to refresh myself every so often on the earlier books. But I don't remember the last time I read some of these war books. Maybe I'll do a series of blog posts on my lifetime reading patterns and what I think of these books now.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Friday Fun

I really can't get the hang of Thursdays. My productivity and work time slowed a bit, and I couldn't quite focus, but I was at a part where I needed to write a new scene to replace what was there, and I had to think about what needed to go there.

One more "fun with Google alerts" item that came up this week: Enchanted, Inc. was listed as one of the 100 ultimate chick lit books at the Chicklit Club web site. Here's the list. It looks to be pretty British-centric, not just with the books in a genre that has been predominantly British, but I noticed that they use the British versions of the book covers. Since my book hasn't actually been published in the UK, I'm even more honored to be included on this list among some of the greats. For the record, I've read 35 of the 100 books, but there were a lot I'd never heard of and that I think were never published in the US.

Moving from chick lit to chick flicks, the movie Leap Year opening today looks like the typical cheesy chick flick that tends to open at this time of year, but I still kind of want to see it. On a practical level, it's in my best interest right now for romantic comedies to do very well for Universal, and this is a Universal movie. Plus, Amy Adams is in it, and not only do I love her, but she's kind of my mental casting for a character in the next project I plan to work on. However, I've got a deadline and it's about 18 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside, with a wind chill of 3, so I don't even want to leave the house to get to my garage (or disturb the draft-blocking edifice around my front door by opening it). I think I'll see it next weekend, after I get my project turned in so that I can use it to get me ready to move on to that new book, and maybe it will be warm enough to walk to the theater then. But if you're inclined to see this movie, a good opening weekend would be nice, since I understand that some decisions will be made in Hollywood in the near future, if you know what I mean.

I think they're trying to kill me with television this weekend. Chuck is finally coming back Sunday night, but that's also when Masterpiece Theatre is showing Return to Cranford, and I absolutely adored Cranford last year. I think I'll tape Chuck and watch right after Masterpiece, editing out the commercials, since Masterpiece is longer. But SciFi is also showing Battlestar Galactica: The Plan -- apparently the story from the Cylon point of view -- at the same time. That's likely to get repeated and maybe will show up OnDemand. I must say that I don't care all that much what the Cylon point of view is. I noticed that they have the pilot of Caprica already up OnDemand as a preview, so maybe I'll check that out at some point.

Speaking of Chuck, Zachary Levi (Chuck himself) was on Letterman one night this week, and now I'm really, really impressed with him as an actor because he came across as a totally different person, to the point of being almost unrecognizable. I was watching part of the marathon on SciFi last night, and I still can't reconcile the total transformation. They don't really do anything to change his appearance other than give him the dorky hairdo and put him in the geeky wardrobe, but just through the way he carries himself and his facial expressions, he really changes the way he looks. Even his voice seems to come from a different place in his head. I'd classify Chuck as cute, kind of "adorkable," but Zachary Levi as he was on Letterman, dressed in a nice suit and with a good hairstyle, was jaw-droppingly, devastatingly handsome, and I never would have expected that. I kept looking for that guy in Chuck and couldn't find him. That's acting.

Watching that marathon reminded me of how much fun that show is. They have such a great cast of characters, from the loonies in the Buy More to Chuck's family. I'd considered Jayne Cobb in Firefly to be the ultimate Adam Baldwin role, but John Casey is also a brilliant character with all that deadpan humor and seething irritation surrounding a heart of gold.

And now I must confess my secret to getting the day started and increasing my productivity. Normally at this time of year, I prove to be part bear and go into hibernation. I have a really hard time getting up in the morning and find myself sleeping later and later. But Spike moved their reruns of CSI New York to 8 a.m. on weekdays, and they're showing earlier episodes I haven't seen. Having something I want to get up to see works wonders for getting me out of bed. I haven't even had to set an alarm. I watch/listen to the show while I make breakfast and eat breakfast and read the newspaper. Some mornings, I even manage to get dressed before the show is over, and then I'm at my desk soon after nine. In the past, I wasn't getting out of bed until about 9:30 in January. I don't know what I'll do when they get up to episodes I've seen. I'll have to see what some of the other channels have on at that time.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Girlfriends Cyber Circuit Presents Eileen Cook

I only thought I survived the return to ballet. The thighs started complaining mid-afternoon yesterday and are still mildly stiff. I will not, however, do something like take a walk to loosen them up, as we're in the grip of the coldest weather to hit this area in 14 years. We won't be above freezing until maybe Sunday. I suppose I'll have to do some indoor exercise -- probably jumping up and down and yelling at the TV during the national championship game tonight. Hook 'em Horns!

After a holiday hiatus, the Girlfriends Cyber Circuit is back. As a refresher, this is a group of women writers who tour through each other's blogs when we have book releases. I think it's a fun way to learn about other authors. I'm in the group that includes young adult books, since what I write tends to have more in common with that field than it does with the more serious romance and women's fiction in the other group. There's a lot more fantasy/paranormal in the YA group. So, anyway, my guest this time is Eileen Cook, author of the book Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood, which sounds like so much fun that I absolutely must find a copy the next time it's warm enough to leave the house.

In the final weeks of eighth grade, Lauren Wood made a choice. She betrayed her best friend, Helen, in a manner so publicly humiliating that Helen had to move to a new town just to save face. Ditching Helen was worth it, though, because Lauren started high school as one of the It Girls--and now, at the start of her senior year, she's the cheerleading captain, the quarterback's girlfriend, and the undisputed queen bee. Lauren has everything she's ever wanted, and she has forgotten all about her ex-best friend.

But Helen could never forget Lauren. After three years of obsessing, she's moving back to her old town. She has a new name and a new look, but she hasn't dropped her old grudges. She has a detailed plan to bring down her former BFF by taking away everything that's ever been important to Lauren—starting with her boyfriend.

I interviewed Eileen about her book:
Be honest here, is there even a tiny scrap of the inspiration for this book that comes from real life -- any old scores you're settling in fiction?
Like most people, I did have someone close to me betray my trust. So if you did something mean to me in high school and now you wonder if what happened to your jeans wasn't an accident since you read this book, I can neither confirm or deny anything for legal reasons! Truthfully, I think fictional revenge is much more fun than real revenge. First of all you won't go to jail which is a bonus, and anything you can imagine you can do.

As a teen, were you more of a Lauren or more of a Helen?
I was much more of a Helen. I used to swear I was invisible in high school. I wasn't popular, but I wasn't unpopular either. It used to make me want to do something to really make an impression on everyone, like run naked screaming down the hall or declare in front of the entire school that I was in fact an international spy who was in the witness protection agency- but I never did.

If you could catch up now with someone who hurt you as a teen, what would you like them to know about you -- about how you felt then or about what's become of you?
I would like to know why. What was the point? I don't understand the need to be mean to other people. I'm fine with not liking someone. I don't care if you don't want to hang out with someone, but to be mean to someone because of the way they look or what they believe, makes no sense to me. I would want them to know that I turned out just fine. Life is good.

If someone had been gunning for you in high school, what would have been the things most important to you that they'd have targeted?
I spent a lot of high school worrying way too much over what people thought of me. It took me awhile to understand that the only opinions I should be worried about are my own and the people that matter to me. If someone was gunning for me (then or now) they would go after the people I care about. I am one of those people who will do anything for my friends. Go ahead- make fun of my outfit, but make fun of my friends and look out.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am working on a new YA that will be out next year around this time. It is a reworking of The Scarlet Letter set in a modern day high school. I'm having so much fun with it! I'm also working on a middle grade series where the main character is a part of a fairy godmother family. The only wish she wants to grant is her own- to be normal. Sadly for her- normal doesn't come too easy.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about this book?
I guarantee this book will make you laugh out loud. A full on- snort Diet Coke up your nose kind of laugh.

For more info, visit Eileen's web site. Or you can stock up on Diet Coke and order the book from Amazon.

You know, when I saw the premise, I immediately went, "Ooooh, it's all my revenge fantasies!" but then when I started thinking about it, I never had anyone really betray me like that. My school was possibly an odd one because our popular girls were popular because they were really nice to people. Our mean girls weren't popular. I may not have been BFF with the popular girls, but they weren't mean to me (I was actually "school friends" with the popular girls -- we had a lot of classes together and hung out some at school, though I didn't get invited to their after-school stuff). I was mostly upset with the boys, who all seemed to really enjoy hanging out with me when we were working on our homework but who never considered me as someone they were willing to date. That was the kind of betrayal I felt, where I thought a guy was showing interest in me and that inviting me over to study was a prelude to starting to go out, only to find out he was actually already dating someone else and wasn't the least bit interested in me for anything other than school work. I might have thought about some way of getting back at one of those guys while I was still in high school, but I'm not sure that even then I'd have wanted to actually hurt them. That's the kind of thing where living well is the best revenge, and I got that at class reunions. I know now that I wouldn't have wanted to marry any of those guys, and I was a late bloomer (I think I'm far more attractive in my 40s than I was as a teenager), so it's fun to think that they may not have wanted to date me then, but now I'm way out of their league.

My revenge fantasies tend to be more in the professional realm these days, and even there, it's more of a "living well" scenario, not that I would mind if certain people ended up having torpedoed their own careers by making bad decisions involving me.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Plot vs. Character

I'm actually somewhat ahead of schedule on the project that's due next week. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you actually devote the time to it. I survived the return to ballet. Tonight, it's back to choir.

Now that the holidays are over, it's time to go back to the bi-weekly writing posts. Every other Wednesday, I post about some topic related to writing. If you want to receive these posts by e-mail, you can subscribe here. I'm always taking questions or suggestions, so if there's something you want to know about writing craft, the publishing business or the life of a writer, let me know. You can get all the posts I made up to the end of last year in one convenient PDF file, which you can get here.

When writers talk about the way they work, they often describe themselves as "character-driven" or "plot-driven." Or you may hear a particular author's books described that way. What does that mean?

Some writers use these terms to talk about their process. They say they're character-driven if they dream up characters first and then build a plot around them. They may not even develop a plot, instead just going where the characters take them. Plot-driven writers come up with the plot first, then create characters to fill out that plot. Most writers fall somewhere in the middle, or it may vary depending on the book. Some stories may start with characters, others with plots or situations. Generally, plot and character are so intertwined that there's no way to really tell what came first. It all comes at the same time. This is the only kind of story you could tell involving these particular people, or these are the only people who could be in this particular plot.

These terms can also refer to what moves the story forward. A plot-driven story is one in which the story is moved forward by events external to the characters. A character-driven story is one in which the characters' choices and actions move the story forward. For an example of an almost purely plot-driven story, there are the CSI-type shows on television. Except in the Very Special episodes where the case is personal to one of the characters, you could swap out most of the main characters with entirely different people without changing the main story. The dialogue and character interactions would be different and the tone would be different, but the main plot wouldn't vary much because the decisions the main characters make aren't exactly character-defining. When a dead body is found, the detectives will choose to investigate (until we get to CSI Waco, where the detective might see who the victim is and say, "Aw, never mind. He needed killin'."), they'll choose to collect evidence, run tests and interview suspects, which will lead them to the killer. Just about any character who'd be in that kind of story would make the same decisions, leading to the same plot progression and the same outcome.

A character-driven story would be something like the TV series The Gilmore Girls or like a lot of romance or women's fiction novels. The story is kicked off by a character making a choice, taking an action or saying something. The other characters react to that with their own actions, and then everyone reacts to that reaction. If you changed the characters, you'd get an entirely different story because different people would react in different ways to the same situation.

Most stories fall somewhere in the middle, with a mix of external events and character choices. There are events that characters react to, and their reactions define them while setting off other events. The police procedural detective may choose to focus on specific bits of evidence or may choose to ignore the evidence and go with his gut. The romance character may have to deal with storms, car accidents, losing a job, pregnancy or other events.

The important thing to remember is that neither end of this continuum is automatically superior. Which approach is best depends on the story you're trying to tell, your genre, the audience you're writing for and the way your mind works. I think sometimes there's an impression that character-driven writing is more "worthy." That's probably because literary fiction is generally considered by a lot of people who talk about books to be superior to commercial fiction or of a higher quality, and commercial fiction tends to require some kind of plot, while literary fiction may just be about a character's inner journey, with no real plot structure.

This sometimes leads to the notion that if the story is plot-driven, that means the characters are weaker than those in character-driven stories, but I don't think this is the case at all. Even in a plot-driven story, you can have strong, sympathetic, dynamic, vivid, three-dimensional characters. You may even find that it's the characters that draw people into a plot-driven story. My books tend to fall on the plot end of the spectrum. I usually come up with the situation and main plot first, then populate it with characters (which then does affect how the plot plays out), and I think most of the plots in my books are event-driven. Yet my strength as a writer seems to be in developing characters that readers fall in love with, and the vast majority of my reader mail is about how much people love my characters. It's the characters and not the events that keep the readers coming back for more. The plot vs. character thing is really just about my thought process and has nothing to do with reader perceptions.

I say this a lot, but this is yet another area where the best way to go is what works for you. Trying to force yourself to write one way just because you think that's better, regardless of what's good for your story or the natural way you work, probably won't be successful for you.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Internet Oddities

My new year enthusiasm must have worked yesterday because in spite of the dentist appointment and need to run errands along the way, I still managed to hit both my time and production goals. Yay! I didn't get any exercise or housework done, though (other than washing dishes). Ballet starts again tonight, which means I'll likely suffer through this first class after letting myself get a bit out of shape.

In other news, the Internet is a funny place, and a number of oddities have struck me lately.

One I probably can't blame on the Internet itself. I've been having e-mail issues, mostly because my e-mail software is too outdated to work with the server's current security settings. With one mailbox, I can receive but not send mail, and with the other I can't do either. That means I've been resorting to web mail, and my web mail seems to eat messages. Random messages keep disappearing from my mailbox, and it's usually the crucial ones (or I guess I only notice the crucial ones). At first I thought it was because I was being careless and accidentally deleting things, but I've been really, really careful lately, and messages are still vanishing. Fortunately, I've been able to track down the people who sent me messages I know have vanished, but it's embarrassing and annoying. Since I got a nice royalty check from Japan that I wasn't expecting at all, I'm planning to get a new computer soon, along with the software to go with it, and that should help. This computer is more than five years old, and that's a lifetime in computer years. And, yikes, my version of Office is nearly ten years old (I bought it eight years ago). The IRS can't accuse me of unnecessary computer purchases.

Meanwhile, I have Google Alerts set up for my name and the titles of all my books. That brings me all kinds of information. For one thing, most of the content of these alerts seems to involve free (and illegal) download sites. That is so not cool. On the up side, it seems like people are still finding and blogging about these books. I also got my first notice of a fanfic relating to my books at I think that means I've arrived. It's flattering to know that I've inspired someone that way. However, I will not be looking at any of these stories. I'm not entirely comfortable with a professional screenwriter working with my characters, and I'm getting paid nice amounts of money for that. I'd probably get creeped out by fanfic (especially given the content of most fanfic I've seen). So, I'm in this weird state of feeling kind of pleased about the fact that it exists while also being a little unsettled. I guess I'll stick with just seeing the Google Alerts without ever, ever following the links.

Someone has a blog called Damsel Under Stress, which complicates the Google report on that title, and I haven't figured out a way to exclude those posts from the reports. There's also a Damsel Under Stress t-shirt that doesn't seem to have anything to do with my book (and that I think I might want to buy).

In other oddities, can anyone explain to me the purpose of pop-under ads -- those that open a new window behind the one you're reading? I suppose they're less annoying than ads that cover the page you're reading, but I don't really see the point because most of the time, the windows just get closed unseen when I quit the browser. Otherwise, I check for them and close them immediately, and then I'm just irritated. Netflix is the worst offender. It also seems like regular ads on most pages are the problem with pages loading. If you're selling ads, you should have a server good enough to keep up with the traffic because it defeats the purpose if people give up and move on to another site when the slow ads keep the pages from loading. I suppose it's possible that this has something to do with my outdated browser (thanks to my old computer), but then it's kind of silly to build your ads around only the latest software because it limits your audience. Ad technology should really go to the lowest common denominator, not just those with the latest and greatest. Because, you know, people aren't going to upgrade their computers just to see your ads, and putting lots of animation in your ad isn't going to make me more inclined to look at it or buy your product.

On these ads that I don't pay much attention to, I have noticed a running theme, especially in the ads that strike me as junk ads (they're not from any known company and aren't too different in content from most of the spam I receive). These advertisers really seem to think moms, especially single or stay-at-home moms, are the ultimate product endorsement. I'm not sure why it should matter to anyone that a single mom came up with a surefire way to whiten teeth. The only mom I'd listen to on that subject is my dentist. Then there are the moms who've supposedly found the one rule that will help you lose belly fat and the stay-at-home moms who've found a great way to earn money at home. Do they really think that there are that many people who'd see something like that and think, "Well, if a mom said it, it must be true."?

Ah, it feels better to get those rants off my chest. And now, to work!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Kicking off the New Year

Happy New Year! It was like my body knew that the holidays were over and it was time to get to work today when after weeks of sleeping ridiculously late, I woke up at my usual "work day" time -- actually even a little before. I might not quite hit my full quota of work time today since I have a dentist appointment and a few errands to run along the way, but at least I'm up and at my desk and have already dealt with one item on the to-do list.

Last year ended nicely, at a party with friends, where I had a lightsaber duel with a four-year-old while watching Doctor Who (I think that says something cosmic about my life). Then I started the new year (the after waking up from the night before part, since it doesn't really feel like the new year begins until I wake up the next day) by watching the Tournament of Roses Parade on TV while cuddled under the electric blanket, before I headed to a friend's house to watch the outdoor hockey game and the Christmas and New Year's Doctor Who specials.

While I'm sad to see David Tennant and the Tenth Doctor go, I'm already rather intrigued by the new guy. I seem to have fickle tendencies, so that almost every time I've been disappointed about a character (or actor) leaving a show, I end up liking the replacement far better. As a result, I've learned not to moan and whine about the departure because then I'll just look foolish in retrospect when I become the biggest fangirl ever for the new person.

So, now that the parties are over and it's time to really buckle down and work, I'm actually enthusiastic about the year to come. Of course, that's true almost every year, but I really mean to make things happen this year. They had a special feature in the newspaper on Sunday with the sayings that various local business leaders use to motivate themselves, and I loved the one from Roger Staubach about how there are no traffic jams on the extra mile (yeah, I know, the rest of the world probably knows him mainly as a famous quarterback, but while he is also that around here, he really has become known as a business leader, as well). My goal is to go so far out on the extra mile that I'm in a class of my own.

Now, before I take on the world (look out, world!), I leave you with a surefire cure for a bad day. I'm mostly putting this here so I can always find it, but I give you the snowboarding bulldogs from the Rose Parade (this was the best video I could find of this). I grinned until my face hurt when I saw this on TV. I can't look at a bulldog without grinning like an idiot, anyway, but seeing them snowboarding takes it up a notch, and they look like they're having so much fun. If I ever need a smile, I'll just have to watch this.