Friday, February 26, 2010

Driveway Discussions

My plans for the day yesterday got thrown out of whack early in the afternoon when there was a knock on my door. It was my neighbor, asking if I had electricity. Initially, I said of course I did, I was just working on my computer. To check, I flipped the light switch for my entryway light -- and nothing happened. It then occurred to me that, duh, my computer is a laptop and has a battery. The battery is just about shot, but it will hold a charge for a little while. That's one good reason for writers to use laptops. If the power goes out, you don't lose what you wrote since the last time you saved.

While I was on the phone with the power company, my neighbor apparently did some investigating, and she came back to tell me that the power company was doing some work down the way. We went out and stood in the driveway, watching to see what they were up to. Another neighbor came by and said they were replacing a transformer, so they'd cut off power to the area. Nice of them to let us know they were going to be cutting off power.

So, my neighbor and I hung around, watching the power people with their big crane thingy, and chatted about books. I was telling her about my current Dick Francis binge and what I like about his characters, and she asked me what I'd studied in college. I told her journalism, but mentioned that I've done a lot of reading about psychology. It turns out, that was what she was curious about. She has a psychology degree and thought it sounded like I was really into psychology. Even more, she studied Jungian psychology. From there, we got into discussing archetypes, Joseph Campbell and the collective unconscious, and analyzing the possible psychological underpinnings of the mass appeal of the Twilight series.

Yes, I even talk about that kind of stuff while hanging around in the driveway, chatting with my neighbors.

We eventually got cold and went into our respective houses but said we really ought to get together for tea sometime (we're both solitary sorts). And then I realized how dependent I am on electricity. If the power had gone out fifteen minutes later, I probably would have already headed out to run a couple of errands, but my garage door has an electric opener, and it's a pain to disengage it to open the garage manually. Or I would have already made my afternoon pot of tea and put it in the Thermos. But since my house is all-electric (we can't even get gas where I live), I had no way of making tea. I do, however get tons of natural light, even on a cloudy day, so I was able to read. I was just starting to wonder how long it would take to boil water over a candle when the power came back. I rushed to make tea and get it in the Thermos in case the respite was temporary, but I guess whatever repairs they did worked.

As for what it is I like about the Dick Francis characters, I was telling my neighbor about how his characters are so perceptive, noticing little things about people and situations. She said, "Oh, like Sherlock Holmes?" and I said that it was more like someone who was able to do a lot of the things Holmes does, but didn't realize he was capable of it. In general, Dick Francis characters are people who rise to the occasion. They think they're ordinary, or at least only skilled or proven in one particular area, and then they get into situations they're totally unprepared for or that are beyond what they're prepared for, and that's when they find out what they're made of. They don't realize they have Holmes-like powers of observation until they witness a crime and the police are impressed with how much detail they recall. They don't know how brave they are until they're in a desperate situation and have to put themselves at risk to save someone else. For me, a lot of the pleasure in reading these books is watching the characters find out who they really are and how strong they really are in the face of great adversity. I guess it's that old best thing/worst thing theme that I love -- where the worst thing that could happen turns out to be the best thing because if it hadn't happened, you never would have known that you were functioning below capacity.

I think I haven't been nearly mean enough to my characters. I haven't tested them thoroughly enough. Now I need to think of something awful to do to the people I'm currently writing about so they can rise to the occasion.

Meanwhile, I will be putting myself to the test tomorrow. I'm speaking at a library, and while the coughs and sniffles aren't quite as bad right now as they have been, talking for half an hour could set me off again. It will be an adventure.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Romantic Comedy -- Leap Year

I still seem to have no brain power for anything other than the current book, which is good in a way because it means the book is progressing. I'm finally up to a scene I've been daydreaming about/picturing for a while, and after writing/rewriting the previous scene, now I know what's really been going on behind the scenes in this scene. I always pictured a particular character being there, but now I know why he's there. It's very cool.

So, I'm going to continue using some posts on romantic comedy movies I wrote with the idea of doing a series around Valentine's Day. There was a blurb in the newspaper this morning about how the leading man in the movie Leap Year is now talking about how he didn't like the movie and just did it because it was filmed close to home. I did like that movie, though I thought it could have been better, given what they had to work with. Here are my thoughts:

First, the plot: Anna (Amy Adams) seems to have the perfect life -- a glamorous job and a doctor boyfriend with whom she's getting the perfect apartment. When she finds out her boyfriend was seen coming out of a jewelry store just before they have a big dinner date planned, she's sure he's going to propose. It turns out to be earrings, and she swallows her disappointment as he heads off to a medical conference in Dublin. But then she remembers an old family story about how her grandparents got together and researches an Irish tradition that women are allowed to propose to their boyfriends on Leap Day. On impulse she heads off to Dublin to surprise her boyfriend and propose to him. Unfortunately, there's a huge storm that redirects her flight to Cardiff, where she can't get another flight or a ferry. Undeterred, she hitches a ride on a fishing boat and ends up on the wrong end of Ireland, in a village with no public transportation, and the "taxi service" is an old car driven by Declan, the pub's surly owner. Disasters ensue on the mad dash across Ireland to make it to Dublin by February 29, but those disasters draw Anna and Declan closer together in spite of their initial hostility.

A lot of the criticism of this movie has focused on the plot gimmick. After all, what's to stop her from proposing at any place or time? Why does it have to be on Leap Day according to an old tradition? I have to admit that I'm something of a traditionalist in that respect. If I ever get married, the man will have to propose to me (though I would hope it's something we've discussed already). I think I'd worry that if I had to be the one to propose that he wasn't really that interested in marriage. I don't even think the Leap Day loophole would work for me. However, I think it made sense in the context, since it seemed like she was having nagging doubts already and it was a family story, so she was hoping that things would work out for her like they did for her grandparents. Even though things seemed to be going perfectly for her, I got the feeling that this was almost a superstitious, last-ditch effort, though I think they could have played that up a little more.

But what I found a lot of fun was that, intentionally or otherwise, they subverted a lot of romantic comedy tropes. I've mocked the tendency for all of these films to end with the desperate race to reach the other person, with the idea that if the protagonist doesn't get to express his/her feelings right then, all will be lost. When well-meaning total strangers help along the way, I've often found some of those strangers a better fit than the actual True Love and have wondered what would happen if the protagonist changed his/her mind about tracking down the True Love and ended up with one of those people. I doubt you'd get that to work, since you'd feel a bit cheated if you sat through a whole movie about the protagonist falling in love with that one person, only to have things change at the last minute.

This movie is the next best thing, though, as the whole movie is that desperate attempt to reach the True Love, with the idea that the relationship will end if she doesn't get to propose to him on Leap Day. And then along the way, she meets someone who's actually better for her.

Meanwhile, this is a relatively clean romantic film that doesn't resort to the steamy sex scene as a shortcut to show that the two people are in love. In fact, there's a scene where they very much don't have sex that's actually much sexier than any writhing in the sheets scene. Just watching their expressions and their awareness of each other almost left me breathless and made me more convinced of their feelings for each other.

They also got past the usual character stereotypes. She was a driven, control-freak, type-A personality, but she was still the romantic one, while he was the more laid-back, relaxed one, but he was the romantic cynic. That mixed it up a bit instead of having the driven one also be unromantic.

I think a successful romance needs to convince us that there really is a reason for these two people to end up together, beyond just the fact that they're the two main characters in a romantic film, and that's where a lot of these movies fail. All the focus is on the gimmick that keeps them apart, with no reason for them to be together. This one worked for me on that level. I could see how they were good for each other and could imagine that they'd be happy together. I could see how they helped each other grow and change, and how they were better people for knowing each other.

Unfortunately, the conflict didn't really work. They bickered from the start for no other reason than that they were the two main characters in a romantic comedy, and they're required to spend the first half of the movie bickering. Once he finds out why she's making this mad dash, he does have reason to be hostile, but he's hostile from the first meeting. There is actually enough conflict built into the story to keep them apart, but they barely use it. He's hostile to her romantic mission because he's had his heart broken by his girlfriend leaving him for his friend (after, apparently, some cheating going on behind his back). He doesn't want to believe in love, and I think they could have played up the fact that even after he develops feelings for her, he's not going to make a move on a woman with a boyfriend and do to someone else what was done to him. There's another little thing that I think could have been better used -- his motivation for agreeing to drive her was the fact that his pub is about to be repossessed, and he needs this money to save his business. But although we see that conversation from her point of view, it never comes up that she knows about this, and you'd think that he'd be more concerned about getting her to Dublin instead of being a jerk about it if he's doing this to save his business.

In general, I think this is a film that shows the underlying cynicism that Hollywood seems to have for this kind of movie. The people who make a lot of these films don't actually seem to like them much or believe they could possibly have any merits. They're just relatively cheap to produce (no special effects, small cast, not much in the way of stunts or action) and have a built-in audience, plus you'll probably make up the film's budget just by the eventual syndication deal with Lifetime or Oxygen. This film had the elements to be good, but they just didn't bother taking the extra thought to make it good. I always get the feeling that they think the audience for this kind of thing isn't smart enough to know better or will be satisfied with second-rate instead of demanding better.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Revisiting Romantic Comedy

I think all my mental energy is still tied up in the current book. In rewriting a scene yesterday, I came up with a fun twist that I think adds a layer to the story while throwing in a "what's really going on?" reversal. This book is turning out to be very twisty (as opposed to twisted, which is an entirely different thing).

I was groping for blog topics, and then I remembered my grand plan to do a series of posts about romantic comedy films. That was going to be a February thing tied to Valentine's Day, but I got sidetracked. Still, I have posts that I've written ahead of time, which are perfect for those "I can't seem to write anything but the current book" days.

I will admit that I'm a total sucker for a good romantic comedy movie. I even like some of the lame, cheesy ones. I have been known to spend a Saturday evening watching a Lifetime movie when they're doing something closer to the romantic comedy vein than the usual woman in jeopardy/sick kid/horrible disease/missing kid/nasty spouse film. But it's a genre that can so very easily go horribly wrong.

I have a few requirements for what I consider to be a good romantic comedy film:

1) No Peter Pan/Wendy situation
By that I mean that I really despise the films (and this is what's popular recently, unfortunately) in which the man and woman really should be peers, but he's an arrested-development overgrown man-child and she has to act like his mother and be the adult in the relationship. She becomes the antagonist in the relationship because she expects him to grow up and be a man and is made to look like a nagging shrew for daring to expect this of him when he's perfectly happy just hanging around as a slacker, drinking beer and getting stoned and never shaving or bathing. Yeah, he usually realizes the error of his ways and grows up in order to keep her, but a lot of these movies seem to be aimed at the male audience, so the happy ending's there so men on dates will still have their significant others speaking to them (and sleeping with them) afterward, but there's a subtle undercurrent hinting that this change will only be temporary and that the man will eventually return to his happier ways (or else will end up being miserable in adulthood).

I'm equally unhappy with situations where the woman is the spoiled, bratty girl-child and the man plays father figure, but those seem to be rarer these days. Even with the standard Hollywood casting where the leading man is old enough to be the father of his leading lady, they're less likely to go with the man as adult, woman as child scenario. That was more common in the screwball comedies of the 30s, but in those it was portrayed as bad that the woman was so childish and naive and it was good that the man expected her to grow up and act her age. Clark Gable was not made to look like a harsh jerk for expecting Claudette Colbert to face reality the way most people lived it in It Happened One Night.

2) I need to believe that this couple has a reason for getting together.
This is an area where a lot of recent films fail. They seem so focused on some quirky conflict to keep the couple apart that they totally forget about why they should get together. The "falling in love" part of the story is covered in a romantic montage to a pop song, and they're only together at the end because they're the leads in a romantic comedy movie and there has to be a happy ending. I need to see more than that they've just overcome the main conflict that keeps them apart during the movie. I like to get the sense that they change each other for the better or help each other learn something, that they have some common ground other than some silly thing like whether or not they like dogs or weddings. I want to feel like they deserve each other -- in a good way -- and that they'll be better off together than they were apart. Since there usually is some conflict keeping them apart, I need to see why it's worth it to overcome the conflict. With all the other fish in the sea, why this person? Why not just walk away and find someone who agrees with you about dogs, weddings, or whatever the source of conflict is?

3) There needs to be a believable and understandable reason for them to stay apart during the movie -- until the happy ending.
Of course, if they're so obviously perfect for each other, with no conflict they'll just meet and fall in love and there would be no movie, so we have to keep them apart for a while to give them something to overcome and so they have room to grow. But that conflict needs to make sense -- something that really would keep you from being with someone who otherwise might be great for you. I don't think the conflict necessarily has to be with the romantic interest. It can be an internal thing where one person in the relationship has to figure out his/her priorities. Or it can be external to the relationship, with some outside circumstances making it difficult or impossible to be together right now. Bickering does not equal conflict unless it reflects some fundamental underlying differences. I'm not crazy about conflicts based on secrets -- especially when the other person is trying to tell the secret and gets shut up. If he tries to tell you something and you tell him you don't want to know or it's not important, you're not allowed to get angry when you hear it from someone else. It's nice if the conflict has some layering to it and it's not all just "one woman broke my heart, so I'll be a jerk to all women from now on" or "I love weddings/I hate weddings."

4) I don't like shortcuts.
If you expect me to believe a couple is falling in love, you have to show me and build in the steps. A montage to a pop song isn't enough. Neither is a steamy sex scene. They need to talk and discover things about each other by listening and observing each other. And I really hate it when they build up the hero or heroine by having an obvious Mr./Miss Wrong as the alternative who doesn't stand a chance. The obvious wrong person as a romantic rival just makes the one considering that person look like an idiot. Something that seems to be happening a lot lately in movies that I guess also counts as a shortcut is the realization of true love leading to first kiss and directly to sex, like we won't believe the couple is really in love if we don't see them Do It, so if they realize at the end of the movie that, hey, they really are in love with each other, that realization has to lead to a kiss that leads straight to them tearing each other's clothes off. Maybe I'm a prude, but if I wasn't sure how I felt about someone ten minutes ago, I'm not yet ready to jump in bed with him. I'll want to get used to feeling an entirely different way about him before I make any major leaps. If the film has built the relationship well enough, then I can believe that this couple really will make it without having to see sweaty, writhing bodies.

Beyond that, I'm pretty easy to please. I'm okay with romantic triangles. I'm fine with the movies where the couple doesn't meet until later and most of the movie is about how difficult it is to meet the right person. I'm actually even okay with the occasional film where they don't end up together during the course of the movie, but the door is left open for the future or they learn something from each other that they can apply to future relationships.

Some of my favorites, both recent and classic:
When Harry Met Sally -- I love the theme of friends becoming lovers, and it's great that we see their connection long before they start acting on it, and yet their conflict also makes sense. It's scary and difficult to transition a friendship like that to love because you've seen the way the other person is in a romantic relationship and how he handles break-ups, etc. You know where it could go, and losing the friendship for that is a risk.
The Philadelphia Story -- A triangle that could have gone either way where neither guy was the straw man "Mr. Wrong," plus witty dialogue. I guess the guy she was planning to marry was the obvious Mr. Wrong, but then when the remaining choice is between Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart there's no easy, obvious answer.
Breakfast at Tiffany's -- a wonderful example of the conflict being internal to the characters, which did create some friction between them even though they didn't bicker or fight. Plus, they both grew and changed because of each other, even before they got together.
The Holiday -- I think this one is highly underrated. It holds up to repeat viewings in a nice way. I like that it's about finding love when you're not really looking for it and in unexpected places. Again, the conflict isn't really between the members of the couples, so there's almost no bickering. It's all about them working out their own issues and making a leap of faith in spite of being romantically wounded. (I'm referring to the Kate Winslet/Jack Black/Jude Law/Cameron Diaz Christmas movie.)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day -- probably my favorite recent romantic comedy. I like the young love/mature love relationships, where the older couple provides a contrast to the younger one. This is another "get your own issues worked out" film, and while there is some bickering, it comes out of the fact that she hasn't figured out what's really important yet, and that's hurting him. Plus, Amy Adams and Lee Pace are adorable.

On a more humorous note, the NY Daily News did their version of rules of love as seen in romantic comedies. I haven't seen all the movies they refer to, and I haven't seen the movie Valentine's Day (it's on my wait for HBO list), but most of the ones they refer to are movies that don't fit my criteria very well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No Snow Day

We were supposed to have more snow today, about one or two inches by noon. Apparently, it's all just to the south of me, as I haven't seen a flake yet (well, aside from that oddly dressed person walking down the street -- seriously, denim cropped pants, in this weather?). Not that I'm complaining, as we've had more than enough snow this year. I just think that I'm still four at heart and if they promise me snow, I want a snow day. I guess forecasting two inches and getting nothing is more accurate than forecasting two inches and getting twelve.

I only thought I'd reached the end of rewriting scenes I'd already written. I'd forgotten that I'd added a scene, which will now need reworking because I realized (or changed my mind about) what was really going on. But maybe today if I'm really good and get to work soon instead of goofing off too much, and if my phone will stop ringing as soon as I sit down to work, then maybe I'll get the rewriting all done and can start seriously adding to the word count.

I do think the long process in this book is helping because normally I don't figure out what the book is really about and what's really going on until I've written the first draft. Then I have to rewrite the whole book. This time, I figured out what was really going on in the first third of the first draft, and now that I've rewritten all of that, maybe when I move forward I'll be closer to the finished product.

And now I think that all my creativity must be going into the book because I can't think of anything more to say today, and any of the topics lurking at the back of my mind would likely turn epic and eat a good hour that I could be using to write my book.

Maybe I'll have something to say tomorrow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Case of the Mondays

So, it's Monday. Mondays really shouldn't be "Mondays" for me, since my daily routine doesn't change all that much between weekends and week days. I did stuff that could be counted as work this weekend, so it's not like I'm trudging to the salt mines after two days of leisure. Still, for whatever reason, I woke up with a bad case of the Mondays this morning, like I didn't want to face the week.

Funny thing is, I do want to face the week. I finally made it through rewriting the scene that turned into two scenes and that added a whole new layer to the plot, and now I'm at the point where I'll be plunging ahead into the unknown instead of rewriting old stuff. It's very exciting.

I've also had some breakthroughs on ideas for the next book I plan to write, which makes me eager to finish this one so that I can turn my full attention onto the next one. The next one will take tons of reading and research because I'm delving into something totally new for me.

However, it's gray and cold, and there's still more snow approaching. It's the kind of day when I want to curl up under a blanket with a good book and a pot of tea and read/doze. After a trip to the library (I have books due), I may convince myself that the good book I need to curl up with is the one I'm writing. I don't know about the dozing part. I think once I get into the writing, the urge to doze will disappear.

Meanwhile, I've been weeping my way through the Olympics. I don't know why this event makes me so emotional, but I cry when someone wins and I cry when someone loses. I'm just so proud of all these kids who have put so much work into getting to this point. I think I've got some serious empathic tendencies (or else an overactive imagination) because I keep feeling what it would be like to be in that position. I'll feel myself marching into the stadium behind my country's flag or standing on the podium with a medal, and for a moment, it's like I really am going through that. It's very weird, but it's quite useful as a writer to be able to drop into someone else's skin and feel what their life is like.

Now, off to the library.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Childhood Reading Nostalgia

I'm being utterly decadent today. Normally, I get up and get dressed before heading to my desk, but I'm still sitting around in my pajamas. I think I'm most of the seven dwarves today. I've got Sneezy, Sleepy and Dopey, and it's possible that if I have to deal with people I'll be Grumpy. But I will eventually have to put on real clothes because I have errands to run. I keep telling myself that I can buy something fun at Target if I'm good, but that isn't helping with the hibernation instinct.

I may have to stop using Star Wars for writing examples. Apparently, I gave Mom nightmares the other day about Ewan McGregor trying to perform Moulin Rouge in the Star Wars cantina and getting himself beat up.

Reading Blackout, the new Connie Willis book about WWII in England, seems to have stirred some kind of nostalgia for me. That book pretty much pushed all my buttons, as she covered the aspects of the war I find most fascinating. We in the US are so distant and remote from the wars we're fighting now, but the British in WWII were right in the midst of it. They were caught in a war zone during the Blitz (and subsequent bombing runs). Civilians and their personal boats saved the day and the war at Dunkirk. And they all made enormous sacrifices, like sending their children away to safety.

I've been fascinated by the evacuation of the children since I was a kid -- probably because of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, where the kids found themselves evacuated to a small town to live with a trainee witch. That was one of those topics I was always looking for novels about, and now I will get sucked into any documentary or movie about it. I try to imagine what it would be like to get sent to live with strangers far from home, and the war lasted long enough that some of the younger children were closer to their host families than they were to their real ones. On the other hand, there were plenty of stories of children used as servants or horribly abused by their host families. Now that I'm more of a parent age, I think about what it would be like to have to take in some random kid. Though I doubt I'd be in a zone where evacuees would be sent, as I live far too close to a major airport (which means that if there's ever an ongoing bombing campaign against this country, I will likely be moving in with my parents in the middle of nowhere). And can you imagine the bureaucracy and the legal complications in trying to carry out something like the evacuation these days?

After reading Blackout, I dug out a book I first read in sixth grade, Searching for Shona by Margaret J. Anderson. Marjorie and Shona are two eleven-year-old orphan girls who meet in an Edinburgh park. Marjorie's parents died in a boating accident and she now lives with her wealthy (and usually absent) uncle and his household staff. Shona lives in an orphanage and doesn't know anything about her parents other than the name of the town she thinks her mother was from and that she has a painting of an old house that's the only thing she inherited from her parents. When the war starts, Marjorie is to be sent to live with cousins in Canada, but she's terrified at the thought of being on a boat going across an ocean. On her way out of town, she runs into Shona at the train station, where Shona and the other orphans are being evacuated to the country, and Marjorie impulsively suggests they switch places. Shona looks a lot like her passport photo, and she's never met these cousins. The war won't last too long, they're sure, and they can meet up again in the park to switch back. But then Marjorie finds herself evacuated to the town Shona thought her mother was from, where there's an old house like the one in the painting. She sets out to solve the mystery of Shona's past so she can share it after the war. But the war keeps going on and on, and she's not entirely sure she wants to go back to her old identity ...

I can see that even in sixth grade I was already into that worst thing/best thing theme because that impulsive decision to take the place of a penniless orphan and leave behind a life of privilege ends up being the best thing to ever happen to the main character. She's able to find a path in life she might never have pursued otherwise, and she finds a surrogate family in the twin spinsters who take her in as an evacuee and in the younger girl housed with her. It doesn't seem to still be in print (I got it in a school book order back in the Dark Ages), but I think this is a book that a pre-teen who's interested in history might enjoy if you can find it in a library. My library doesn't have it, but it looks like this author also wrote some fantasy books that my library does have, so I'll have to look into those.

It's fun revisiting something I enjoyed as a child and finding that I still enjoy it. In fact, I may have enjoyed it more because I know more now and got a lot of references that may have gone straight over my head when I was a kid. For instance, the younger girl who becomes like a kid sister clearly is dyslexic, but since I'd never heard of such a thing when I was eleven (it wasn't talked about then), I didn't catch that, but this time, I got it. I also know and understand more about the war and am more able to see things from the adults' perspective.

Oh, and since I looked it up, the paperback version of Blackout is scheduled for September 14, and All Clear, the conclusion, is scheduled for October 19, so that's good timing to re-read the first part before getting my hands on part 2 somehow.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Women in Fantasy

I wasn't up reading quite as late last night, and I got up earlier than I have been, but then got sidetracked by that plane crash in Austin since the regional news channel was running the feed from the TV station I used to work for. I really need to go to the bank to deposit a royalty check (yay for royalties!), but I mostly just want to burrow under a blanket and read or write.

There tends to be a lot of discussion in fantasy and writing circles about the lack of female characters in a lot of epic fantasy books, and this is generally considered to be a bad thing. I've thought about it and realized two things that may get my "girl" membership card taken away from me:
1) I hadn't actually noticed and
2) I don't really care

#1 may have something to do with the fact that I haven't read much epic fantasy since I was a teenager, when that was about the only fantasy you could find. That's not because of a shortage of female characters but rather because I'm more interested in focusing intently on a few characters than in following the broader scope of a cast of thousands. I've also kind of burned out on the quests with the Fate of the Universe at stake. But even when I was reading more of it, I honestly hadn't noticed whether or not there was an adequate female presence. I'm sure I read a few boys-only books, but the fact that there weren't any females never struck me.

#2 is because I'm far more interested in there being good characters who are right for the story than in there being any particular kind of characters. I may have been interested in there being a girl I could relate to in a book when I was a kid, but ever since I hit puberty and stopped running around with my friends in the fields or woods (depending on where I was living at the time) acting out our favorite books, TV shows or movies, I became far more interested in a book having a male character I could fall in love with than I was in having a female character I could relate to or play. (Puberty and the end of running around acting out stories happened at around the same time, but I don't know if the two events were related). As a result, as long as there was a guy I liked in the story, I wouldn't even have noticed whether or not there was a girl in the story. Around this time, in addition to discovering fantasy I was also really into World War II adventure stories, which were also short on females (just try fitting a woman into a book taking place almost entirely in a WWII submarine), but it never really occurred to me that there was anything missing. I hear a lot about how important it is to have female role models in books for girls, but I can't think of a single fictional character who has inspired me or shown me what I could do. I have been inspired or influenced by books to try something or to pursue some interest, but it was the depiction of that interest that got my attention, not the fact that a character I could relate to was doing it. A female character doing something like a particular job never struck me as any kind of validation that women could do that sort of thing. I got that validation and inspiration from real people doing that in the real world, since people doing it in fiction is actually pretty irrelevant to reality.

I'd far rather have no female characters than shoehorned-in, politically-correct female characters who seem out of place in the story or who are The Token Girl. Some of the lengths they go to these days to insert women in places where they probably wouldn't have been and doing things they probably wouldn't have done (like where did all these medieval Englishwomen get all that ninja training?) end up bothering me far more than if there were no women at all (especially if the men are cute). The feisty chick who can outfight any man, even those twice her size, and who is therefore qualified to join the otherwise all-male questing party is just as irritating a cliche as the damsel in distress. I guess you could say that I don't like the idea of affirmative action for fictional people. The story, and nothing else, should dictate the cast.

However, that doesn't let authors off the hook. One of the reasons given by one of the authors cited for having no or few female characters in his epic fantasy novels was that he didn't know how to write female characters. Huh? I'd have bought it if someone said that they didn't know how to write Nepalese characters because they'd never been to Nepal, didn't know anyone from Nepal and couldn't find any books on the culture of Nepal. But unless you were left as an infant on the doorstep of a monastery and were raised by cloistered monks, you've probably had some exposure to women -- mother, sister, other relatives, neighbors, teachers, classmates, co-workers, bosses, waitresses, the person in front of you in line at Starbucks, wives, daughters, etc. If you did grow up in a monastery and missed out on interacting with women, most libraries and bookstores have shelves devoted to books about women -- about their bodies, their emotions, the phases of their lives, their relationships, being a mother, being a daughter, being a sister, being a wife, struggles in the workplace, social issues, memoirs and biographies of women in various times throughout history, novels written by women, about women and for women. You get the idea. And then there's a magazine industry devoted to publications for women in the various phases of their lives. Women make up about half the population, unless you live in Alaska or in that monastery, so you could always try something wild and crazy like talking to women or, if you want to get really radical, listening to them. I'd have been fine if the author in question has said merely that the story he was telling didn't call for female characters, but the "I don't know how to write female characters" excuse doesn't hold water.

I also think that it's essential to really research what you're writing about, because what you think you know about that time and place may not be accurate, and what seemed like an all-male endeavor may not have been. That's not to say that you should go scouring references to find some way to fit a female into your story, but doing the research could give you ideas for characters that are outside your preconceptions, and even if that doesn't up your book's estrogen levels, it will make your book more vivid and detailed.

Then there's the fact that if you are going to write female characters -- really, if you're going to write any characters at all -- they need to be real characters, not stereotypes. There's no such thing as a typical female. There are just a lot of individuals who happen to be female. If you're going to include women, give them goals, motivations, conflicts and inner lives the same way you'd do with any other character, and don't rely on such tropes as the Hooker with a Heart of Gold, The Good Girl or The Kick-Ass Chick. Don't use the female as nothing more than a quest object -- if you could switch out the princess for a jeweled chalice without changing your story all that much, then you're doing it wrong. Don't use the female as nothing more than a source for motivation -- they killed his wife, and now he's going on the rampage. And please, for the love of all that is even remotely holy, avoid that godawful Peter Pan/Wendy dynamic that's all over the place right now in pop culture, where a woman who should be a peer to the man is put in the role of mother to a man who refuses to grow up, and she's the bad guy for forcing him to grow up.

Not that male writers hold the exclusive on writing bad female characters. Women can be just as guilty. They can produce Mary Sues who are entitled and whiny while still being practically perfect in every way or else are superpowered Amazon kick-ass chicks with no weaknesses.

I get a little nervous about the way that traditionally "feminine" traits and behaviors are often seen in a negative light -- and often by women. Emotions are a weakness. You can never rely on anyone for help because you should be able to do it all yourself. Expecting commitment from a lover is something no independent woman should do. And a woman can never, ever need to be rescued without it being some terrible strike to the cause of feminism. It sometimes feels like the only good, strong female character to some people is Rambo in drag. Not that I want every woman to be a damsel in distress, but if a woman who is generally competent and capable and who has been known to help the men through their difficulties occasionally needs a hand in a bad situation, I have no problem with that.

Meanwhile, the publishers also aren't off the hook. I don't think there should be any kind of quota system for buying books by female authors vs. male authors or for considering the gender makeup of a book in purchase decisions, but it wouldn't hurt for publishers to get past some of their preconceived notions (or maybe even do some research) about readers and not exclude books or authors based on these preconceived notions. There has been a stereotype that the primary reader of epic fantasy is a teenage/early 20s boy, and that these boys are afraid that they'll get girl cooties if they read a book by a female author or with too many female characters (or a female in the lead role). I don't know whether or not it's true, but maybe the publishers should look into that before making decisions based on outdated or incorrect stereotypes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I stayed up way too late reading yet again. This time, it was the fault of Dick Francis. I was re-reading a book I haven't looked at in ages, and I remembered just enough to know I should be concerned but not enough to know what happened, and that made me turn pages even more anxiously than if I'd been reading it for the first time.

But now I have my bi-weekly writing post. This week, I'm looking at building scenes. This is one of those topics where I don't feel like an expert. It's something I'm always struggling with, but there might be some value to others in sharing my struggles.

According to two of the gurus of fiction writing, Dwight Swain (in his book Techniques of the Selling Writer) and Jack Bickham (Scene and Sequel), a scene is like a mini story that has all the elements you'd expect in a novel: you've got a protagonist with a goal and an antagonist with his own opposing goal, so you've got conflict, and that conflict creates rising action leading to a climax and resolution. In a scene, the protagonist has a goal that's a subset of the story goal, something the character needs to accomplish in order to move closer to achieving the story goal. He faces some opposition and each thing he tries doesn't work, until the end of the scene, when the scene question of whether he will achieve this goal is definitively answered -- and until the end of the book, the answer is always "no" or "yes, but" (he gets what he's aiming for, but it turns out to not be what he really needed). That forces him to regroup and come up with another plan, which means a new scene goal, and that kicks off the next scene. He has to keep overcoming bigger and bigger obstacles until it comes down to the final showdown. The end of each scene should move him further and further away from achieving his story goal until it seems like there's no hope of succeeding.

That sounds wonderful in theory, but I can't quite make it work in practice because if you follow those guidelines to the letter, your character will end up running in place. He has to make some progress somewhere instead of getting further and further from his goal or the story will go off on weird tangents.

I'll go back to my favorite source of examples, the original Star Wars (not that it's so brilliantly written, but it's very familiar and it has a very simple, fairly universal plot, so it lends itself to examples). Luke's story goal, once he joins Obi Wan on his mission, is to get the secret plans in R2-D2 to the rebels so they can find a weakness in the Death Star and destroy it. Once they decide that this is their goal, their first step is to find transportation to Alderaan. When they enter the cantina, their scene goal is to find transport, and after some negotiation and a little distraction, they do so, which gets them one step closer to achieving their story goal. I suppose you could look at that as a "yes, but" resolution, since it makes their lives more difficult when they're successful. If they hadn't found transportation, they could have just hung out there. Obi Wan could have started singing with the bar band (since he was Ewan McGregor in a former life). Luke could have become a mechanic, and they'd have never had to face Darth Vader. But it wouldn't have been a very interesting story, even though it would have taken them further from their story goal. Or they could have changed plans and decided to put the space station plans on the Internet and crowdsourced the search for a weakness. That would have been an entirely different story with fewer space battles (but lots more flame wars). A real "yes, but" that gave them their scene goal but that would have taken them further from their story goal might have been if Han Solo turned out to be a crook (well, a worse crook) and instead of taking them to Alderaan he held them captive while going off and doing something else.

Where the real "yes, but" comes in this sequence is when they get a ship and they get to Alderaan (yay!) but it turns out that Alderaan is no longer there (oops!), and then they get taken on board the Death Star (big oops!). Then they're further from their story goal because not only did they not get the plans to the rebels, they've been taken by the bad guys, right there on board the station they need to destroy. Things have gotten worse, and that's made the story more interesting. I can see that you wouldn't want them to achieve their goal of getting to Alderaan to just hand over the plans, but in order for anything interesting to happen, they have to achieve the scene goal of getting transportation.

So, I would alter the "rule" somewhat and say that the characters are allowed to achieve their scene goals if doing so puts them into a more interesting or difficult situation, even if it gets them closer to their story goal. The "no" or "yes, but" scene ending is more of a turning point thing. However, if the character is going to get what he wants in a scene, there needs to be something else going on. In the cantina scene, the distraction involved Obi Wan going into Jedi mode to protect Luke, which drew attention, so they were up against a ticking clock and had to get off the planet before the stormtroopers found them. They may have achieved their goal, but they also made escape a little more difficult (I wonder if that counts as a "yes, but"). The conflict in the scene wasn't from whether or not they'd get a ship. It was from the fight. If the scene had just involved them going into the cantina, finding a pilot and booking passage, it might not have needed to be there. We could have cut to them showing up at the ship, with a reference to having found the pilot in a bar.

What I've started doing in planning scenes is to write out who my scene protagonist is, what her goal for the scene is and how it fits with her story goal, what the opposition is and why the antagonist is opposing her. I also plan what the ending will be, and if she gets what she wants, then I need to figure out what the point of showing the scene is -- if there is one. Is there some other underlying conflict at work that will complicate life for my character even if she gets what she wants?

It is important that something changes in every scene. Otherwise, why is it there? Life will never be the same, even if it's in some small way. One theory I've read is that each scene should turn on an axis or reverse polarity. If things are positive for the character at the beginning, they should be negative at the end, and vice versa. Or if things are already not going well at the beginning, they should be much worse at the end of the scene.

I will say that it's not necessarily good to think too much about this stuff. When I've tried to consciously put it into play, I end up with a stilted book. I mostly pull out this analysis in revisions when trying to figure out what's wrong with a scene or when I'm stuck (or procrastinating).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Blackout, and an Ode to Dick Francis

The moment I said I wanted to take a nap yesterday, they decided to start doing work on the road running beside my house, tearing up the pavement. They weren't even using a jackhammer, which can turn into a sort of background hum. They seemed to be breaking up pavement by pounding it repeatedly with the business end of a steam shovel, so it was like "Wham. (pause, pause) WHAM! (pause, pause)" and so forth. It looks like they've done that sporadically up and down the whole street. I can't quite tell what the point was. I would say that it looked like an eight-year-old boy with a Tonka Toys obsession had stolen some heavy equipment and gone for a joyride, but there are orange safety cones on some of the spots, and I don't quite see the joyriding Tonka fan stopping to put up safety cones.

And then I was up until one in the morning reading again, but at least I finished the book! And now I'm kind of wishing I'd waited until later so I wouldn't have to wait so long for the next part. I was reading the new Connie Willis book, Blackout, and it's kind of hard to discuss or review it because it's incomplete. This is very much an epic book that was cut into two large chunks. Now I can see why it's taken her so long to write. I first talked about this book with her in early 2002, and she seemed to be in the planning/plotting/research stages, and it just got published this month.

This book falls into the same "universe" as her other time traveling historians books (Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog). Mr. Dunworthy is back but mostly off-stage, and Colin, the kid from Doomsday Book is back. This one takes place about five years after Doomsday Book, since Colin is now seventeen. I'm not entirely sure where To Say Nothing of the Dog fits into the chronology, as there's no direct reference, but they do mention the ability to bring artifacts from the past that are going to be destroyed anyway into the future without altering the timeline, and that was discovered in that book, so it looks like this book has to come after that one. I don't think you need to have read any of the previous books to follow this one. The books exist in the same universe but are not really a series.

Blackout is about World War II in England, which several historians studying different aspects of the war. One is observing the children who were evacuated from London into the country by working as a housemaid at a manor house where a lot of children have been sent. Another is observing the Blitz by working as a London shopgirl and spending her nights in air raid shelters. A third is to be observing the soldiers arriving in England after the evacuation of Dunkirk. There are a couple of other plot lines, but those seem to be mostly setting things up for part two. This is a pretty intricate plot because we're seeing these events from the baseline of 2060 Oxford, so while each of these people is in a slightly different time, their events are seen as simultaneous to us. The plots start converging, so at some points we're seeing something happen that we later find out is the result of something else happening in another plot that happens "earlier" in chronological order but "later" according to the baseline.

Of course, in the immortal words of Malcolm Reynolds, it never goes smooth. These people feel like they can stay safe in the war because they know exactly what happens. They know where bombs will fall and when, so they know what to avoid. But then they have to stay longer than they planned or go places they didn't plan to go, so they no longer have the details. Then there's the fact that history wasn't always recorded accurately. And there's a distinct possibility that history is changing, which makes things a lot more complicated.

As usual, I adore the characters and find myself really relating to them. There are touches of humor, mostly centering around the two evacuee children who are so incorrigible that they can't find any home willing to take them. There's discussion of maybe shipping them off to Canada for safety, since their reputation couldn't have spread that far, but they do need to keep their allies friendly. Maybe they could send them to Berlin, which would surely end the war more quickly. You can tell that Connie used all the time this book took to develop well because the research permeates it -- not in an infodump way, but by making the reader travel in time. You really feel like you're there, with all those little details that make the situation vivid and real -- the atmosphere and dynamics in the air raid shelters and the disorientation upon emerging in the morning and finding all the landmarks gone.

The book ends on a big cliffhanger, and the next volume is scheduled for publication in the fall (Hmmm, I know the editor, and she's a fan of my books). I don't yet know if this book will eclipse To Say Nothing of the Dog as my favorite because that one is fun escapist reading and this is more intense and serious. A lot of it will depend on how it works out. I hope it doesn't end the way I dreamed it did (if I have to stop reading a book on a cliffhanger right before I go to bed, I always end up dreaming a bizarro conclusion).

On another, sadder book note, Dick Francis died over the weekend. I started reading his books when I was 12 or 13. My parents got them from the library, and then I picked them up. His books were the kind of thing where reading one made you want to read more like that, and there wasn't anything else quite like that. For mysteries, they stood up well to re-reading because to me the appeal wasn't in the mystery so much as it was the characters. His heroes were always such wonderful people -- strong and brave but human enough to be scared, able to overcome physical discomfort or pain in pursuit of the truth, chivalrous and funny. I always wanted to meet him because I figured that being able to write that kind of person in so many books probably meant he had a lot of those qualities, himself. He did make one slight foray into the realm of science fiction, with a few books about a jockey-turned PI who'd lost a hand and had a bionic replacement. I suppose today that bionic hand wouldn't be too far from what we have as prosthetics, but in the early 80s, it was science fiction. His last couple of books were co-written with his son (who was the basis for the hero in one of his earlier books), and there's one more co-written book scheduled for release this fall. I wonder if his son will carry on the legacy. I don't know what the division of labor was, but I didn't notice a huge difference in the co-authored books, so I kind of hope Felix Francis picks up the torch as a solo act. I'm not ready to give up getting a new book like that every year or so. I'm now re-reading a few favorites in tribute. I already re-read Longshot, which is probably my favorite of his, at Christmas. I don't normally feel a huge sense of loss at celebrity deaths, but this one definitely leaves a hole in my world. He did have a long, full life and was successful in multiple careers (jockey, journalist and novelist), but he will be missed.

And now that I'm through playing author at a convention and book club, I have to return to writer mode and get back to writing.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Happy Cheap Chocolate Day!

I'm experiencing a bigger-than-normal post-con crash, probably mostly due to the massive allergy attack that hit me Saturday evening -- I was fine one minute, and the next I was suddenly sneezing my head off. I seem to be fine today after taking antihistamines Saturday night and then again Sunday after I got home, but I seem to have a lingering tiredness that makes my usual post-social introvert crash even worse, compounded by the antihistamine hangover. And maybe the fact that I stayed up reading way too late last night (you know it's a good book when you can stay up until 12:45 reading, not realizing that it's even after 11, after taking Benadryl).

I declared today a semi holiday, since it is a Federal holiday and I did work all weekend. I slept very late, mostly because I woke up from a weird dream in which I was the main character in the book I'm currently writing, and I needed to lie there a while to process what it might have meant and if there was anything from the dream I could use, and that thinking sent me off to sleep again. I'm meeting with a book club tonight, so I may need a nap this afternoon so I can be bright and perky and social again.

I won't try to give a long convention report because I suspect that most of those "I checked in at the hotel, then had lunch with this person, then saw that person, then went to this panel" reports are primarily of interest to those whose names are being dropped. I had more fun than I anticipated, given that I was reluctant to go out at all this weekend. I did one more panel than planned, since there were a lot of people who either couldn't make it due to weather or illness or who were running late due to road conditions or other issues. Someone coined the term "White Goth" to describe me, and I'm not entirely sure how that works, though if you're doing that like "white witch" vs. "black witch" then maybe it boils down to the kind of quasi-retro romanticism without the fascination with darkness, and I guess that works. I had my reading with A. Lee Martinez, and we actually had a full room, even at ten on a Sunday morning. I suspect most of them were there to hear him, but they didn't leave when it was my turn. I didn't really hit the party scene at this convention. Friday night, I wanted to be home before it went below freezing because the roads were still wet. Saturday night, the sneezing and sniffling were getting really bad, so I bailed early. And that's about it.

I managed to observe both Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day -- the con suite had Chinese dumplings, and I grabbed a couple of those during my break between reading and panel. Then on my way home, I stopped by the library because the new Connie Willis book was ready to be picked up (yay! -- and you can see why I was reading until 12:45), then I picked up a couple of the divine brownies from the cafe at the library. I made a steak dinner that night and then watched a sappy romantic movie on Lifetime while switching over to figure skating during commercials.

Basically, chocolate+tea+Connie Willis+sappy movie+figure skating=love.

And, finally, our snow is all gone. Friday, it was kind of weird seeing the whole area blanketed in snow. That's something you don't see often around here. It was almost all gone by Saturday evening, and totally gone on Sunday. It's probably for the best because we mostly went from pretty snow to nothing, without the lingering icky gray slush stage.

Now to napping/reading, I think.

Friday, February 12, 2010


We eventually got 12.5 inches of snow within 24 hours -- the biggest single-day snowfall on record for this area. It started snowing around 3 in the morning and went non-stop until about 3 the next morning.

Here's how thick the snow on my front hedges looked at about 11 last night:

Mind you, the forecast was for two inches. The science geek weatherman had an explanation for that, something to do with a slight temperature change at a critical time that made all the difference. It was rather entertaining watching all the local stations covering this as a Big News Event. On my regular station, they weren't getting too cute with it. One reporter just jokingly called it "Snowmageddon." But the CW station had labeled it as "Snow-M-G" and had graphics to go with that name. Ugh.

I got next to nothing done all day. I kept staring out the window, then took a short walk to look at the snow and take pictures, then had to post pictures online, then had to see what my friends were saying about the snow. There were a few phone calls with friends and family, and then I had to make some shortbread because snow requires cookies. I may be all grown up and long out of school, but I still caught myself watching the list of school closings on the news last night. I live in one city but am in the school district of another city, and the intersection I live on is the border with another school district, so I was watching all three. The city district and the district across the street cancelled classes for today, but the one I actually live in was still saying just opening two hours late as of last night, probably because it's a more compact district with fewer transportation issues. Still, even though I'm not actually in school, I was all disappointed that my district wouldn't have a full snow day. However, this morning they were announced as closed, which should mean that I can consider myself officially on a snow day.

Unfortunately, I have a panel at ConDFW today, and the roads are actually pretty clear, if wet. It's already above freezing. I'll probably do my panel and then come straight home instead of staying for the parties tonight because I don't want to be out when the temperature drops below freezing again. And now I guess I'd better get my act together and start preparing for the convention.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Surreal Snow Day

I had a very disorienting day yesterday. For some strange reason, I went through the whole day thinking it was Thursday, in spite of multiple reminders that it was Wednesday. It was like I felt I was right and it was the rest of the universe out of whack. For instance, during the mid-day news, they focus the weather report entirely on the rest of the day, that night, and then the next day. I was annoyed that they didn't mention Friday's weather (which I thought was the next day) and were only talking about the weather for the rest of that day (Thursday). I turned in my weekly project that's due on Wednesday, but it still felt like Thursday. I even got to the point of setting the VCR to tape The Office while I watched Supernatural, only to have the VCR tell me it was Wednesday.

And then I woke up this morning thinking it was Friday. For even more surrealism, I woke up to a winter wonderland. I knew we were supposed to get some snow today, but it was supposed to be less than two inches, and it wasn't supposed to start until noon. However, when I went into the kitchen to make breakfast, I found that there was already at least two inches of snow on my patio table and fence. It's still coming down pretty steadily.

Here's the view from my office balcony (from a couple of hours ago, so there's even more snow now).

Even though I work at home and the snow really has no bearing on my life, somehow it feels like normal operations should be suspended when there's a snow day. I should get a fire going, then lie on the sofa and read while occasionally looking out the window at the falling snow.

But instead I may see if I have the willpower to work at my desk so I can write and watch it snow. The other part of the surreality of yesterday involved a massive procrastination fit. It wasn't really a block, but I was dealing with a scene that I couldn't quite bring myself to write. A lot of the changes that I've made to earlier parts of the book have come from ideas I got while trying to plan this scene. It's like I get to this scene and my brain is so eager to avoid it that it comes up with other things that have to be rewritten instead. But I finally reached the place where I had to write it (well, rewrite it -- it builds off a scene I've already written, but it's going to replace the existing scene). I had it all planned. And yet I found myself doing almost everything to avoid writing it.

I rewrote my freelance project, coming up with something entirely different at the last minute (which means next week's work is already done, so I'll get a break). I suddenly had to research some music that was inspiring parts of the scene and that would be used in the scene, so I had to try to find my recording of "Begin the Beguine" (turns out I don't have it on CD -- must rectify that) and then I had to find out when it was actually written. Then I started listening to other music related to that era and the scene (which gave me a massive longing to dance a really nice foxtrot with a partner who knows what he's doing). I rearranged the soundtrack I put together for this book because it's shaping up in unexpected ways. I wrote some blog posts to use in the future. I re-read some related blog posts from the past.

And then when I finally made myself write the scene, it went in an entirely unexpected direction that I think is a lot better than what I had planned. It's possible that the fit of procrastination was my subconscious getting me out of the way again. Now I know what happens next, and I'm eager to get to it. I may even be eager enough to write it while I'm connected to the Internet and watching it snow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fire Alarm and Con Scheduling

I had an interesting start to ballet class last night, since as I arrived at the ballet school (a little early because I ran an errand on the way and allocated too much extra time for it), they were in the process of evacuating the building. A police officer was trying to herd a gaggle of teenaged ballerinas across the street, just as the fire engines came screaming up. Apparently, there was a smell like an electrical fire, so they called the fire department to check it out. But because the police had all the students standing across the street away from the building, it seems like the fire department got confused, and they pulled up in front of the building where we were all waiting, only to then have to back out, miss the drive and almost get mired in the grass. It was all highly entertaining, though a bit cold. I was very glad I'd worn warmer-than-usual clothes over my ballet gear. It turned out to be nothing, just maybe something wrong with the heater. It took a while to thaw out once we got into the building. Trying to dance when your toes are numb is a challenge.

You know you're in a reasonably small town when four fire trucks respond to check out a funny smell in a ballet studio. I think the entire city fire department was there. They were all in cold-weather gear, so I couldn't tell if any of them were cute. (I don't really think of this town as all that "small" since it's ten times the size my hometown was when I lived there, but in the context of the metro area, it's considered a small town, and it still feels kind of small town-ish.)

I'll be emerging from my cave this weekend for ConDFW, so in case you're coming, here's my schedule, so far:
On Friday at 6 I'll be on a Media and Writing panel -- about whether Internet fame can propel a writer to stardom.
On Saturday at noon I'm moderating a panel on trends in humor.
Then at 1 I'm moderating a panel on urban fantasy.
My autograph session at the con is at 4 on Saturday, and my partner in autographing is A. Lee Martinez, so even if you don't want something signed, it's likely to be a good comedy show between the two of us.
Sunday morning at 10 I've got a reading session. I think I'll be reading a short story set in the Enchanted, Inc. universe, but I haven't really decided yet.
Then I have a panel on dealing with the Internet at noon.

So, there you have it. And that will be how I spend my Valentine's Day. According to the television, I should be getting diamonds. Or if I'm not, I should immediately sign up for an online dating service. I'd actually planned to do a whole estrogen vs. testosterone themed month here, with some analysis of romantic comedy movies alternating with views from my re-reads of action-adventure novels, but I got kind of sidetracked and have only re-read one action-adventure novel. I don't know that this sort of thing has to happen around Valentine's Day because it's such an arbitrary holiday, anyway. Maybe I'll just start posting on the romantic comedy stuff, since a lot of it is already written.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Revisiting a Classic

The latest fun with Google alerts item: Someone is selling copies of my books on eBay at about three dollars over the cover price, plus postage. I don't get that. You can order copies from the online booksellers for less than the cover price, or you can buy them in just about any bookstore (though you may have to special order or request them) at the cover price. So why would anyone pay more than the cover price on eBay? It doesn't even look like they're autographed copies.

And the latest "my brain is a really funny place" item: Last night's weirdly vivid dream involved me leading a protest at a Victoria's Secret shop over scratchy lace on their garments. A few other shoppers and I decided we weren't going to take the scratchy lace anymore and started attacking the sales staff and visiting corporate executives by running up and rubbing the lacy garments on their faces while declaring that if they considered that an assault, then what were they doing to their customers by providing garments that felt like that and that would be worn on more sensitive areas of the body. I haven't been in a Victoria's Secret in more than a year and I was wearing very soft flannel, so I have no idea where in my subconscious that came from.

It's actually sunny today, but the past week or so of rainy weather and gray days seemed perfectly suited for a particular kind of book, so I dug out a classic to re-read: Jane Eyre. I first read this book (or part of it) when we moved to Germany before I started fifth grade. There was a copy of a "children's version" of it in a selection of old books we got while we were in transit (it's a military thing -- people who are leaving a unit and moving away will often leave behind stuff that may be handy for the next people to come along while they're waiting for their own stuff to get there, and that often includes books). I don't recall whether or not they edited the actual writing, but the children's version only covered the part of the story where Jane was a child, which, now that I know the full story, seems to rather miss the point of the entire book. I got the full edition later, and I think I read the full book sometime in junior high. I have no idea exactly when I last read it. I just know that I have a used paperback copy with a 45-cent cover price, so it's possible that the copy I have is older than I am. At any rate, it's been a long time since I've read it, though I've seen multiple movie productions along the way (Masterpiece Theatre seems to do one every other year), so the elements of the story are familiar to me.

What surprised me in reading it this time around was how good it was. Yeah, I know, it's Good because it's a classic great work of literature and all that, but I'm used to books with that definition of Good being kind of like broccoli (or despised but nutritious vegetable of your choice) -- something that's good for you but not necessarily enjoyable. But this was actually an entertaining book to read, one that might even be publishable if it were written today. I'm used to thinking of Victorian novelists as being a bit florid with the prose, and while Charlotte Bronte does go into the occasional flight of fancy, I was struck in a lot of cases by how vividly she wrote without getting florid. She had a way of using the precise words to give the perfect images in a concise way (and it's funny how off the movie versions seem to be, considering how specifically and precisely she described things). The book was a real page turner, and I found myself having trouble putting it down at times.

There is one huge coincidence that propels the plot -- when she's wandering aimlessly around the country and manages to collapse at the doorstep of the cousins she doesn't know she has -- but that was a common plot convention in that era (like all those entirely unrelated but perfectly identical people who pop up in Dickens's novels). That's the one thing I think a modern editor would take issue with. There would have to be some reason for her to be in the area where she could run into relatives instead of it being purely random chance.

One thing I hadn't recalled and which doesn't seem to make it into the movie versions is how important the theme of faith is to the story. If this book were to be published today (as opposed to being a classic republished), it would mostly likely be marketed as an inspirational book because Jane's faith is what sustains her, she makes her major decisions based on faith, and then she's ultimately rewarded for holding true to the values of her faith, even when that requires sacrifice. Meanwhile, Mr. Rochester finds faith based on her example (it's not a full-on, explicit conversion, like you might find in a lot of inspirational fiction today, but we are dealing with Church of England, so you're not going to get the evangelical kind of born-again conversion). However, it's not quite the treacly "Christians good, everyone else bad" treatment that pops up in the worst inspirational fiction. She manages to blast the hypocrites who talk about how good it is for the soul for the body to be humbled (but who dress their own families in silks). She points out the fallacy of the "your lot in life is where God put you, so who are you to complain about how you're being treated" theology that was used to keep the poor in their place. She even seems to have decidedly mixed feelings about just how good St. John Rivers really was -- his vocation was sincere, but he was incapable of human love and he had the annoying trait of presuming that he had a direct line to God's will, so that if you didn't do what he told you to do, that meant you were sinning against God (I've dated that guy).

I really like Jane as a heroine because while she comes across as meek, she actually sticks to her guns and doesn't let people push her around. She's not kicking vampire ass or swinging a sword, but she's still a very strong person and a survivor, someone who's been through a lot, who's been utterly abandoned and rejected, and yet who hasn't turned bitter with it.

If you haven't read Jane Eyre in years or if you've seen the various movies or miniseries but haven't read the book, I recommend giving it a try. It's just the thing for a rainy (or snowy) winter night.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Musings on a Rainy Monday

I've now reached the point where the Spike 8 a.m. reruns of CSI NY are episodes I've already seen, so I need to find another impetus to get me out of bed. Unfortunately, unless Sci Fi is having a marathon of something I like and don't have on DVD, there's not much. I think one of the other networks shows the Miami version at that time, but while it can be screamingly hilarious (unintentionally) I don't think I could face it first thing in the morning. This morning, though, I'm not sure anything short of a never-before-seen Firefly episode could have dragged me out of bed. It was cold, dark and rainy, and I never seem to be able to get out of bed on mornings like that. It's one of life's great simple pleasures to lie in a warm bed and listen to the rain on the roof, and I decided that since I had nowhere in particular to go and I'm not on deadline, I could allow myself that pleasure.

For a news update: Book 4, Don't Hex with Texas, will be published in Germany. I don't know when yet. They just made the offer on Friday. This means I have now earned my living expenses for the year, between the movie option, this deal and my ongoing freelance work. Whatever I'm writing now will (I hope) be my salary for next year. That takes some of the pressure off (though having some pressure is good).

My local PBS station thwarted my plan to watch something involving bonnets instead of the Super Bowl. They went into pledge drive mode, so it was yet another repeat of that same Celtic Woman concert. Instead of bonnets, I went with big hats and got sucked into watching Titanic on one of the cable stations. I know it's popular to hate on that movie, mostly because of the silliness of the way a lot of pre-teen and teen girls seemed to react to it, but I do like that movie, and last night I figured out why. It's essentially A Room with a View meets The Terminator, with bonus shipwreck.

The first part of the movie is essentially A Room with a View on a boat -- well-bred young lady being more or less shoved into a stifling engagement with an upper-class twit meets a lower-class man with an adventurous, romantic nature and finds herself torn between society's expectations and following her heart. But it's also The Terminator, with a brief, intense relationship in which the man gives the woman a glimpse of her possible future before he dies in the effort to save her life, and she goes on, remembering him as her first love while she tries to live out the life he told her about. To be honest, I like the movie better before the iceberg, when it's mostly about re-creating a lost world and the comedy of manners that's playing out within that world. Once they start seriously getting involved and then the ship starts sinking, I mostly tune it out, although I do love the very ending when we see the photos of all the things she went on to do. That movie does have a theme I tend to respond to (but which, oddly enough, I've never tried to write) -- the idea that the very worst thing that could happen to you is the best thing to happen to you because it allows you to live up to your potential and turns your life in a better direction. No one would ever wish to be part of a disaster like that, but I don't think she would have had the life she did if the ship hadn't sunk. She was talking big, but I don't think she'd have been truly allowed to escape. The sinking allowed her to disappear and start all over again.

Plus, I've always wanted to cross the Atlantic on an ocean liner, but preferably without the sinking part. I'm not sure I'd want to do that on both legs of the trip, but I haven't decided which direction would be best. On the way over, it would be a gradual way to adjust to the time difference and I'd hit the ground perhaps a little fresher than stepping off a plane, and then I tend to hit the "I want to be home, NOW" phase at the end of a trip, so I'd want to be able to just fly home and get it over with. But on the way back, it would be a way to do some resting and recovering from the way I tend to explore when I'm abroad, like putting a weekend at a spa at the end of the trip. However, I'd still have to fly home from New York, so that might undo the resting. It's purely hypothetical at this point in my life, so I guess I shouldn't worry too much about planning that dream trip.

For the weekend's HBO viewing, I saw Coraline, and I suspect my enjoyment of that was hampered somewhat by the fact that I just read the book. I liked a lot of the movie, but there were so many things added that weren't in the book and that I thought were unnecessary. I'm also not sure why they had to transplant it to America. Then there was Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, which is utterly silly, but William Sadler's Reaper is right up there with Terry Pratchett's Death in portraying that kind of character in a fun way.

And now I need to get to work to earn next year's salary.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Irritating Silence

Wow, there's this strange, glowing yellow thing in the sky, which has patches of a funny blue color. What's going on? Is it the end of the world?

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a wee bit, but we haven't had a sunny day in a while. Unfortunately, I'm not really in the mood for sun. The lingering allergies/cold/whatever are on an upswing today, and when I'm not feeling well, I don't like it being sunny. It just seems wrong, somehow. I'm not really outright sick. If I had a real job, I'd probably be dragging myself to work. It's more at an irritating level. Mostly, I can't sing or talk. Well, I can, and my voice has been normal. It's just that if I sing more than a couple of lines or talk for for than a minute or two, I start coughing and my throat hurts. It's the singing part that's really getting to me. I have a habit of singing to myself as I cook or do housework or putter around the house. I think it's even part of my creative process, as I'll sing whatever pops into my head, and it usually turns out to hold the answer to whatever I've been thinking about. But when I start doing that now, it turns into coughing. It's like putting my brain in handcuffs because it's affecting the way I think. The talking is less of an issue because I'm at home alone all day and generally don't talk to anyone, though it does come up when I get a phone call. I can talk for a little bit before I start coughing, and then once the coughing starts, I need to stop the conversation because it starts to hurt. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle panels at ConDFW next weekend if this doesn't stop. I'll have a bottle of water with me and maybe some cough drops. Otherwise, my role on panels may be to smile enigmatically. I'll do my reading in mime or interpretive dance.

I understand that it's Super Bowl weekend, and I really don't care. I don't care about the game (though I do know who's playing and I know who I'd prefer to win). I don't care about the commercials. I don't care who's singing the national anthem or performing at halftime. I'm not sure what PBS is showing, since my station showed all of the ending of Emma last weekend instead of saving the final segment for this week, but it's very likely that my counterprogramming will involve bonnets of some sort. Or I'll get wild and crazy and turn off the TV and read a book. I'm such a rebel.

Today's writing task: Re-write a scene so that the main character in the scene acts like she's got a goal, so that the villain shows signs of minor intelligence and so it all fits within the main plot. The jokes and weirdness, which really are very clever, must have an actual point. Much tea will be consumed.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Control Issues

I'm continuing the weird two steps forward, one step back pattern on the book I'm working on. As I work out what should be happening in a new scene, I realize that there's something off about a previous scene that has to be fixed. It's a little frustrating, but I'm hoping that by fixing these things up front, it means the last half of the book will go more smoothly, and I won't have to take the whole thing apart and put it back together again when I'm doing revisions on it.

I also really enjoy re-reading these scenes when I'm re-working them. I think that's a good sign. I haven't gone back and re-read a scene just for the joy of it and because the scene makes me happy so much since I wrote the scene in Once Upon Stilettos where Owen first takes Katie back to his place and then figures out the thing about the shoes.

And now I want to re-read that scene again. Sigh. I think that's one of my favorite things I've ever written.

On another topic, the ongoing Amazon/e-book fuss and some of the reader mail I've been getting lately have made it apparent that a lot of people don't quite get how the publishing world works and what role writers play in it. It seems that some are blaming the authors for the e-book pricing wars, and I'm always getting mail telling me that I should have my books shelved in a different section or I should put different covers on them. So, here's a quick primer on what an author controls in the publishing process:

The author controls (sort of) the story.

The author may (depending on the contract) have control over any biographical information the publisher puts out about her. (My contracts have said I get to approve the author bio and any bios in publicity materials.)

And that's about it. Some bestselling authors with real clout may be able to control things like titles or covers, but that's more veto power than the ability to dictate. They may be able to negotiate things like release date.

For the most part, the ideas belong to and come from the authors, except in shared-universe situations or publisher-generated series. An editor may say, "I'd love to see what you could do with XXXXX because that's selling well right now," but the author isn't obligated to write XXXXX. Of course, the publisher isn't obligated to buy anything that isn't XXXXX. (By XXXXX I mean whatever storyline, theme or subject matter, not super-hot erotic content.)

The author more or less has say on the story, though the editor does have input. I haven't had a major clash with an editor on the story, but generally, when that happens, the editor wins. The author can refuse to make changes, but then the editor can refuse to publish the book, and if the author isn't living up to the contract and providing a manuscript that the editor thinks is publishable, it can be considered breach of contract and the author would have to pay back the advance. Most of the time, it's in the interest of both parties to come to some sort of compromise. Usually, the editor has a point about what needs to be changed. Something is wrong that needs to be fixed, but the author and editor may not agree on how to fix it. There are situations when it can't be worked out, like when the book is a square peg and the editor is trying to make it fit a round hole (like trying to turn something the author sees as a fantasy novel into a romance novel or a mystery, for instance) or in cases when the project has been orphaned -- the editor who loved the project in the first place and bought it leaves and another editor takes on the editing role and just doesn't get it or doesn't see what the first editor saw. Then the book may end up getting killed or won't match the author's vision (sometimes both).

The author can submit the book to whichever imprint within the house she wants, but it still may land in a different place in the bookstore, depending on how the publisher decides to package it. The author ultimately has almost no control over shelving or category decisions.

The author may get input on titles, but the publisher will change titles based on what they think will sell. Most authors don't get veto power if they hate the title (I actually fought hard against the title Enchanted, Inc. Not that I had anything better in mind, but I just didn't like that and didn't think it would be that appealing to readers. Obviously, I lost.).

The author may get input on the cover, which may or may not be entirely ignored. With one publisher, there were multi-page questionnaires about the book, with details about all the characters' physical descriptions, the setting, the mood, etc. Then the covers had almost nothing to do with anything the author put in those questionnaires. The editor who initially bought my series had me send links to covers I liked and we talked about what we wanted to do. I think the result was perfect for the market at that time, but the market then changed suddenly, and I'm not sure those covers are currently the best approach. But I can't make them change the covers. The only thing that will change the covers (or the shelving, for that matter) is if the movie gets made and they do a tie-in edition with pictures from the movie on the cover, or if I become a huge bestseller with something else that's shelved in the fantasy section and the publisher that owns the rights to my backlist decides to capitalize on this by re-packaging my older books in a way that's more similar to what's currently a hit (or if my backlist has gone out of print at that point and I can resell it to another publisher for re-release). Right now, I can tell them until I'm blue in the face (and I have) that my primary readership seems to be in the fantasy genre and these books would sell better if they were treated more like lighter urban fantasy, but I can't make them do anything.

The author has zero control over pricing and very little on format. The only control over format comes at contract time, where the author could choose to walk away if it's not going to be a hardcover release. The publisher sets the cover price. The author probably won't even know the cover price until she sees a printed copy of the book with the price on it. She also has no control over how booksellers price the book -- if it gets discounted or not. The publisher sets the cover price, and then the bookseller decides whether or not to discount it.

The author has zero control over whether or not the book gets into stores. That's up to the publisher's sales force and the bookstore buyers, and the sales force can't make the booksellers carry the books. If you can't find your favorite author's book in your neighborhood store, the people to talk to are the people who work in that store. If you complain to the author, you aren't accomplishing anything because the author can't wave her magic wand and make books appear. Even if she passes this on to the publisher, the publisher will say they can't make stores carry books. If you complain to the bookseller, you're at least letting them know that there's a demand for the book in that store.

For the most part, you can be mad at the publisher or you can be mad at the bookseller, but unless you didn't like the content of the book, then the author is probably not the person to blame.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

POV: Third Person

The things that serve as milestones of success or that give the big emotional reaction from writing milestones can be odd for me. I think I was mostly relieved when I sold the first book in my series, after a long dry spell. My big, emotional moment wasn't the sale, or the contract, or the check, or seeing the cover, or even seeing a copy of the book in print. It was when I saw the review Charles deLint did in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That was when it felt real, and that was when I sobbed uncontrollably and was so keyed up I could barely eat all day. When I first got the movie option, the thing that got me was when I read the contract and saw the wording that would be used to credit me on-screen and in advertising related to the movie. That was when I wept. This time around, I squealed with glee when I got the check and enclosed with it was a document from Universal with the NBC Universal logo on the letterhead that had my name and book title on it. It was the first time I'd seen that logo in conjunction with my name and title. I do get shivers when I see the Universal graphics come up before a movie now, so it was very cool seeing the print logo near my name.

Anyway, now it's time for another writing post. Previously, I discussed first-person point of view, the "I" books. The more common POV in fiction is third-person, in which the story isn't told by a character.

There are two main ways third-person POV can be used:
Third-person omniscient is mostly external to the characters. The narrator sees all and knows all -- sometimes more than all the characters put together -- and can dip into any character's head at will. This is the kind of viewpoint where you might see something like, "She had no idea what fate awaited her," since that's something only the narrator could know. I sometimes think of this as "storyteller voice" because it's a lot like oral storytelling, where the storyteller may not be a participant in the story, but he has a distinct voice and viewpoint. You see this used in a lot of 19th century novels. Jane Austen used this in her books, where she was clearly the one telling the story but had access to the thoughts and feelings of all the characters. For a more current example, this is how Terry Pratchett writes his Discworld books.

Third-person limited viewpoint gets deep into the characters' heads, but only one character at a time. While you're in a particular character's viewpoint, you don't have access to any information that character doesn't have -- you don't know what anyone else is thinking, you don't know what anyone else has done unless they tell you, and you don't know what may happen in the future. In a really deep third-person limited viewpoint, the narrative may even take on the flavor of the viewpoint character's voice, to the point it's almost like first person, but without the "I." The book may stick with this one viewpoint character throughout, or it may move from character to character as needed, usually switching viewpoints at scene breaks or when the action moves to another location. There's a lot of disagreement among writers as to how often and when it's appropriate to switch viewpoints, but the deeper you go into a character's viewpoint, the less often you want to switch and the more careful you have to be when you switch, or else you'll give readers whiplash. Switching viewpoints too frequently results in "head hopping," which can get confusing when readers can't get used to being in any character's head before they have to switch again. I've found that head hopping is generally a result of an author who doesn't quite get the distinction between omniscient and limited viewpoint, but then I'm kind of a POV purist and can't abide head hopping unless it's done very skillfully or is a very well done omniscient voice. However, I am no authority on this and can't speak for everyone. Third-person limited viewpoint is probably the most common for modern fiction.

Third-person POV is good for providing scope and range. If you've got an epic with a cast of thousands and action taking place simultaneously in multiple locations, you just about have to use third person because there's no way a single narrator could be that close to all the action. Third person is also the most common viewpoint in romance novels because romance readers want to know what both hero and heroine are thinking and feeling, and they feel cheated if they're shut out of one of the viewpoints. Third person can be more objective because you get more than a single perspective on the situation, so it's good for exploring nuances or an issue with many facets.

Some pros, cons and things to think about with third person:
-- While the first-person narrator knows he/she is a character in a story and is consciously telling a story, the third-person viewpoint character doesn't know he's in a story. He's just living his life and thinking his thoughts, and the reader is eavesdropping. That means third-person introspection may be more honest and uncensored.
-- There can be drawbacks to being able to switch viewpoints -- for one thing, it can remove some suspense. If one character is wondering what the other character thinks and the narrative immediately switches to the other character, telling us what that character thinks, that can reduce the tension the reader feels. The reader never gets a chance to wonder.
-- When readers have access to more information than the characters do, thanks to being able to get into everyone's head, it can make the protagonists look Too Stupid To Live. If we, the readers, know exactly what the villain's plans are, sometimes it looks too painfully obvious for us while the main characters remain blind. If you're getting into the villain's head, you have to be careful to show why it's still difficult for the hero to understand what the villain is doing. Likewise the romance character who flounces off after suspecting her lover is cheating, while the readers know what he was really doing. On the other hand, you can use this to great benefit to build suspense, so that the reader knows the peril a character doesn't know about -- if there's a previous scene with the villain planting a bomb, then a later scene with the main character in that location is going to be incredibly tense for the reader. That tension couldn't be there without the villain's perspective.
-- Even if you're in a third-person perspective, if you're writing from a limited viewpoint you're as restricted in what the character can see and know as you would be in first person (maybe even more so because the first-person narrator is likely looking back on the incident and knows what will happen later, while the third-person character is in the moment and has no way of knowing what will happen later). That means you're breaking viewpoint if you're in a character's head and talk about his blue eyes widening in shock. If you're in his head, he's not going to be thinking about or noticing the color of his own eyes (this is one of my pet peeves).
-- When you switch viewpoints, you need to ground the readers in the new viewpoint so they know whose head they're in now. Just stating the character's name fairly early can help.

There are some hybrid cases where first and third viewpoints may be mixed. I've seen books where the main character's part of the story is in first person while the other characters' perspectives are given in third person. I've also seen framing stories, what I think of as "I met a man in a bar" books, where there's a first-person narrator researching something in the first chapter, and then he meets a man in a bar who tells him the real story. The rest of the book goes into third person for the flashback, and then reverts to first person with the original narrator for the ending. There are also cases where there's a first-person narrator who isn't a character in the book. Henry Fielding's Tom Jones is written in first person, with Fielding addressing the reader directly and giving his opinions and perspectives on the story he's narrating, but the narrative itself comes across as mostly third-person because Fielding isn't an actual participant in the story. In the BBC/A&E miniseries adaptation, they dramatized this by having Fielding as a character introducing the various segments of the story directly to the audience and showing up at places where the characters were, but being essentially ignored by or invisible to the characters.

And now I'm drawing a blank on future writing post topics, so please, ask questions!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

What is a Book, Really?

If you follow book news on the Internet, you'll know that the industry is still fumbling about for how, exactly to handle electronic books and where e-books fit into the overall publishing picture -- how should they be priced, how should they be treated, when should they be released, etc. I'm not going to get into any of the specific battles involving particular retailers and publishers, but I do want to address something that many of the people involved in this and sounding off about it -- publishers, retailers and readers -- seem to be missing entirely:

A book is not a physical object.

Yeah, it may appear in the form of paper bound together inside a cover, but that stack of paper is not really a book. Neither is the collection of bits and bytes stored in an e-reader. Those are just the manifestations of the real book, the projection of the book into the physical universe. They're ways of transmitting the real book from the mind of the author to the mind of the reader.

The real book is the content, the ideas, words and stories contained in the physical object. The content is not equal to the form, and it isn't the form that dictates the value. Form and value are not linked that tightly. The real link is between the content and value.

Because the content is what matters, books are not interchangeable, and they aren't purchased like other consumer products. People buy a particular book because they want that book, and another book isn't likely to be a good substitute (unless you're just browsing for anything to read). If it was the physical object that mattered and if one book was as good as another book, I wouldn't need to buy another book or check another book out of the library for at least a year because I've got more than a hundred unread books sitting on my shelves, most of which I got for free. And yet, I keep buying new books because I want to read those books more than I want to read the books I got for free that are sitting on my shelves. Books aren't really price-sensitive -- if you want a particular book, you won't buy a different one just because it's cheaper. The price only matters if you're choosing between two books you want equally. You may adjust your overall book purchases based on your budget, but if there's something you really want to read that you can't get any other way, you'll choose that one book over buying two books you aren't that interested in (unless you're in a situation where volume matters, like needing to kill time on a long flight. Then you might choose two paperbacks over one hardback, no matter how much you prefer the hardback.).

Meanwhile, where I think publishers are really not getting it is that a book in hardcover is not automatically more valuable to readers because of its format. Yes, some readers do want hardcovers because of the durability, appearance on the bookcase or the prestige factor (because they're living in the 1950s, when "real" books were published in hardcover and only "pulp" was published as paperback originals). I don't like hardcovers, and not just because of the higher price. I don't like the form factor. They're less comfortable for me to read (I have rather small hands, so I can't hold a hardcover book comfortably with one hand). They're less portable because they're larger and heavier. I can't stick a hardcover book in my purse to have handy in case I get stuck waiting somewhere. They're useless for airplane reading because they take up too much room, and I can carry multiple paperbacks instead of one hardcover. They take up too much shelf space. I don't have room to shelve any more hardcover books.

But, again, a book is not about the physical object, and if I really want the content, I can overcome the higher price and the form factor aversion and will buy the book in hardcover if that's the only way it's available at that time. I went to bookstores at midnight to buy Harry Potter books on release day because I wanted to know what happened next right away, and I wanted to read it for myself before I got spoiled, which was likely to happen very soon after release, since everyone else in the world was reading the same books at the same time. The content was valuable enough to me that I was willing to pay what it cost in order to have the book right away. I'd have paid the same price for any form of those books to have them at that time, whether it was paperback or e-book (if I had an e-reader). If the content is less valuable to me, I'm willing to wait. If it's a book I know I'll want to keep but don't need to read it immediately, I'll wait for the paperback. Otherwise, I'll wait to get it at the library. Sometimes, I'll get on the waiting list at the library at the time of the hardcover release, then buy the paperback when it comes out, just because I don't want to own a hardcover book but I don't want to wait for the paperback. There are some series I follow in paperback where I'd be willing to pay a little more for the paperback to have the next book on release day because the content is that valuable to me.

On the other hand, a lot of readers seem to be equating the value of the book to the cost of producing the physical object. Since e-books don't require paper, printing, warehousing or shipping, these readers believe the books should be practically free. But again, the book is not the physical object. It's the content, and these readers seem to be forgetting this, that they're buying the ideas, and those ideas still have value, even if there really is no physical object involved. They're buying the link between the author's mind and their own. When you're thinking in terms of value to the reader rather than the cost of producing the physical object, an e-book is actually even more valuable than a hardcover book because it takes up less physical space, is more convenient, is easier to carry and can be customized (you can adjust the type size, for instance). I'm not suggesting the e-book should cost more than the physical book because of this value, since those benefits are paid for in the purchase of the reading device. I'm just pointing out the fallacy of thinking that the e-book is somehow less valuable (and therefore should have a significantly lower price point) simply because the cost to produce it is lower (and it's not as much lower as you might think -- the cost of producing the physical book is a small fraction of the cost of the book, only a couple of dollars for a hardcover).

I don't have an answer for how e-books should be priced or sold. I just think it's time to mentally separate the physical form of the books from the real book -- the content -- and everyone from publishers to retailers to readers needs to consider this.