Monday, May 31, 2010

The Early Bird Gets More Tea

I'm back at home after a weekend visit to my parents for the national holiday of my dad's birthday (I'm not kidding -- he puts out his American flag. It's sort of around Memorial Day every year, but the flag goes up on the birthday). I didn't get to go through with my plan to tease my dad about being slothful for going to bed early since I was going to bed at the same time, though it was fun to shock my parents by getting up before seven. It did get a bit annoying Sunday morning when I didn't even have to get to church early for choir, and yet I got up early enough to eat breakfast, read most of the newspaper, drink my tea, try on a few possible outfits for church, take a shower, dress in casual clothes, check my e-mail, go to the grocery store, put together a wedding shower present, read the rest of the newspaper, undo the bed, fluff the feather bed, remake the bed, do a full makeup job, and get dressed for church -- all in time to be early for church.

It was a good thing I had time to try on outfits, though. Normally for church I wear a skirt and a t-shirt -- a nice, solid-color, fitted t-shirt, not something from a trade show or 5K run -- because I'm wearing a choir robe, so no one sees me, and the important thing is to be cool and comfortable. But since I wouldn't be wearing a robe this Sunday and would be going to a wedding shower after church, I wanted to wear something nicer. I then found out that with this frozen shoulder, I can't get into a lot of my dresses because I can't reach the side or back zippers. If it takes two hands to get the zipper to close, then I can't wear it right now. I guess that's a down side to living alone. I don't have anyone handy to do me up, and I don't really want to walk into church with my dress still partially unzipped and ask someone to do me up the rest of the way. Even worse, I'd need help getting the dress unzipped to take it off, and I really wouldn't want to ask someone at church to unzip my dress for me. So I went with a skirt and pullover top. Oddly, because of the particular range of movement (or lack thereof) I have, pulling a top over my head is easier than putting on something that buttons down the front. I can do up. I can't do side and back, as I discovered when trying to put on the cardigan I carried in case the church was cold (it was). I'm writing a character with an arm in a sling, and I'd had him wear things that button up the front because he struggles with up and over, but I still think that's right for his condition because it's not a shoulder problem for him. I imagine there are still some limitations to the up and over thing. I might be able to get into a sports bra, for instance, but I'd probably have to be cut out of it. Then again, that's not too far from normal. They should probably investigate the person who invented those things as an escaped Nazi scientist.

I need to find a physical therapist for this shoulder. I thought I had it all worked out because the directory for my health plan showed one in my neighborhood, in walking distance, which I thought would be good, as I'm supposed to take Vicodin to get through these sessions and I don't know if it would be safe to drive on that stuff. Unfortunately, on my way to church yesterday I drove by that place, and there's a different business name on the building. I couldn't find anything when I Googled the name of the business or the therapists listed on my plan. There are a couple of other options that are really close, but not in walking distance. I guess I'll have to see how the drug affects me, or else I'll have to either tough it out or maybe bring a book and wait it out before I try to drive home. My church does put together volunteer drivers for people who have medical appointments they can't drive to or from, so I suppose I could look into that if I really need the drug and really can't drive while taking it. There are two places I could go -- one is probably a bit closer but involves going through some traffic and a busy intersection to get to, and one is a little farther away but is more "small town," traffic-wise.

I've already done a lot of my Memorial Day commemoration by crying my way through the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS last night. Tonight, I'm singing in a Memorial Day concert that I hope will be less tear-jerking. We will be doing the Armed Forces medley and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," which is more goosebump-inducing than tear-jerking. We'll be joined by the Dallas Banjo Band, which supposedly plays the theme from Rocky with 30 banjos and a tuba. I can't wait to hear it. The women's chorus also gets to do "The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B," which is way too much fun to sing. I would have loved to be a singer with a big band, but I guess I was born at the wrong time.

Now off to enjoy a little bit of the holiday before I have to get to rehearsal.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Cold Shoulder Treatment

I've mentioned a sore shoulder occasionally over the past few months. It's actually been a bit more serious than that, but that's not the kind of detail I usually share. Plus, my mother reads this, and I didn't want to get nagged or make her worry. I'd reached the point where I had some serious range of motion issues, plus constant pain, and then my ballet teacher noticed the fact that my shoulder couldn't rotate properly, which meant my arms did some weird things and didn't line up right. For an easy way to describe what I couldn't do, I wouldn't have been able to play "I'm a Little Teapot," if for some strange reason that became necessary. I couldn't put my hand on my hip with my elbow out to the side, and I couldn't move my arm out to the side with my hand facing out and my elbow bent to make the spout. And there were a few other things I couldn't do. It wasn't even a case of it hurting to do those things. I really couldn't make my arm do those things.

My ballet teacher said I had to see a doctor, and one of my classmates recommended one. They were all suspecting a problem with the rotator cuff, which would mean surgery. I managed to get an appointment yesterday, and it turns out that what I have is something called frozen shoulder. There was a lot of inflammation in the joint, which made it hard to move, and then tissue forms around it, making it impossible to move. I got a big steroid shot in the shoulder yesterday and a referral to physical therapy. Apparently the therapy will be pretty brutal because I got a prescription for Vicodin to go with it.

This is one of those strange situations where the things you do instinctively to protect yourself when you hurt end up causing more damage. When something's sore, you let it rest, but then that rest is what allows the joint to freeze. The odd thing is, I didn't do much resting. I quit sleeping on that side, and I was careful about heavy lifting, but I was still using that arm normally in dance class, and I don't remember ever not moving my arm in a particular way because it hurt. I only stopped moving it because it wouldn't move, and I was even trying to force it a bit. Another thing that probably didn't help matters is my dislike for taking painkillers. I generally prefer to tough it out rather than take drugs, but when you're in pain, you tense, creating more pain, and then you don't move, which allows the freezing to happen.

I'd been kind of worried that I was suffering from book karma. I seem to have this weird life imitating art thing that occasionally happens, where something I write will end up happening in my life. No, I haven't yet run into any talking gargoyles or super-hot wizards, but when I was writing romance novels, I had a few things happen, like getting recruited for a job that was pretty much exactly the job I'd written for a character. In this case, in the book I'm currently working on, one of my characters has an arm in a sling through the whole book. I was afraid that would end up happening to me at the rate I was going. I have noticed that the pain started soon after I started putting as many hours a day into writing as I have been lately. I don't think it's the writing's fault. It's probably more my posture and the fact that I haven't balanced my activities better. I'll definitely need to stick with the dancing and I'll need to make good use of that new swimsuit.

It's already doing a lot better, thanks in part to the shot and in part, inadvertently, to my choir director. After rehearsal last night, we did a prayer circle where we all held hands around the room, and the director was next to me. He was goofing around a bit and suddenly raised my arm like what they do when they declare a winner in a boxing match. I then demonstrated the top end of my vocal range by shrieking bloody murder (one of the choir members said I sounded like a wounded animal). The poor choir director went stark white because I think he thought he'd killed me. I guess it serves me right for not mentioning it during prayer request time (as I said, I'm not big on the sharing of personal details) so he'd have known not to do that. Though it did hurt like hell, it actually felt a lot looser after that, and I can even almost get my hand on my hip again. If that's what the therapy is going to be like, I can see why I might need the Vicodin.

I'm taking an extra-long early weekend because my dad's birthday is a national holiday. Plus, I have to come back home early because I have a concert on Monday, with a rehearsal in the afternoon. Maybe I'll also avail myself of my parents' Jacuzzi. Now, I need to pack. Have a great Memorial Day and Shanna's Dad's Birthday weekend!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Non-Verbal Communication: Gestures

This morning thing has reached ridiculous levels. I was up pretty late last night because we went out for frozen yogurt after ballet, then I watched the season finale of NCIS after taking a shower when I got home, then I finished reading a book. And I still came wide awake at 6:40. So far this morning, I've managed to watch last night's NCIS: LA, read all my usual e-mail/Internet stuff, look up orthopedists on my insurance plan (my ballet teacher told me that I'd better get that shoulder looked at), go by the doctor's office to make an appointment and fill out paperwork, pick up a new box of contact lenses and buy my dad's birthday present. I got an appointment for this afternoon, so I can't nap, which means I will likely yawn my way through choir and won't get much writing done. But at least I may have a start on knowing what's wrong with my shoulder.

And now it's writing post time. I've been talking about the various ways you can use nonverbal communication in developing characters. The way people use personal space tells you a lot about them and their relationships, and the ways people sit, stand, walk and sleep can also add dimension and realness to characters. People seldom sit or stand totally still, and the little movements, gestures and habits can make characters more vivid, tell a lot about them or show how they've changed.

If you watch people you know well, you'll probably notice that they generally have some kind of mannerisms, habitual gestures or tics -- things like clicking a ballpoint pen, cracking knuckles, twirling hair, inspecting fingernails, chewing fingernails, adjusting a watch or piece of jewelry, etc. These things may or may not have deeper meaning, and the deeper meaning can vary. For instance, a man may touch, rub or move around his wedding ring. That could be taken to mean that he's uncomfortable with the marriage and may be thinking of what it would be like to get rid of that ring, or it could be a kind of self-soothing gesture if his marriage is a source of comfort and strength, so that touching his ring in tense moments reminds him of his marriage and encourages him. The gestures can also reflect the character's background. I've found that people who participated in high school debate tend to have this habit of flipping pens around their fingers. I can generally tell when I go to a meeting which people were debators, just by what they do with their pens when they get bored in the meeting. As the author, you can decide what the gestures mean or where they came from and how much of that to share with readers. The gesture may have meaning to you as you have a reason for putting it there, but you don't necessarily have to share that if it isn't important to the story.

These mannerisms or habitual gestures can serve as character "tags" -- ways of differentiating each character so all the characters stick in readers' minds. Those old enough to remember the Fonz on Happy Days will recall how that character had the habitual dual thumbs-up "Aaayyyy" gesture and his way of whipping a comb out of his back pocket to touch up his already perfect greased-back hair. When that show was on TV, someone could do either of those gestures, and just about anyone would know they were imitating the Fonz.

You don't want to overdo it with the tics, though, unless the whole point of the character is to show a neurotic person loaded with twitches and tics. Pick one or two strong ones, establish them, and then use them sparingly throughout the book when it's appropriate. A mannerism may tie into a particular emotional state or interaction with a particular person (one good trick is to tie the mannerism to interaction with the person you most need to differentiate the character from, and that way, you've got a good distinguishing tag and can use it in the right place). People may be more likely to fall into mannerisms when they're bored or stressed, so using the mannerism in certain moments may be a good clue about the character's emotional state. If you use a tic or habit too much, it will start to get annoying, much in the same way you want to grab that pen away from the person who is unconsciously clicking it over and over again.

When you're deciding on which mannerisms to give your characters, you can start with a mannerism and then reverse engineer to decide where it came from, or you can start with who the character is and what element of his personality you most want to explore or demonstrate, and then think of a mannerism that illustrates that. People watching is a great way to develop a catalog of mannerisms so you can move beyond the standard ones. Keep a list and add to it when you notice something interesting. This is another time when watching actors in a role is a good exercise, because actors will usually find mannerisms that fit their characters, so they're consciously creating these things the way writers do, and they have to be careful to use these gestures only when necessary -- in about the same way you would in a novel.

Monday, May 24, 2010

When Goals Go Bad

Still doing the early thing, but not quite as early today. Even so, I've already had an eye exam and picked up some groceries to fill in the gaps of what I bought last week (there's one store that's best for meat and fresh produce and another that's best for canned/packaged foods). And I'm still about an hour ahead of my usual schedule.

Friday turned out to be oddly non-productive, in a way. I got seriously lethargic -- not really sleepy, but not really alert. I ended up doing a lot of brainstorming, as I realized that I had gotten into that mode of plowing ahead instead of really thinking about each scene. I'm more than a bit goal/task-driven. My mom would say I get that from my dad. I remember family trips when I was a kid, where we'd start out saying it would be nice if we could make it to Wherever by dinner time. Somehow, that then became "We MUST make it to Wherever by dinner time." And then when we got to Wherever before dinner time, it was like we'd get bonus points if we could make it to the next town. Vacations were more about setting and then topping goals than they were about seeing or doing stuff. Goals are good, as are deadlines, even if they're self-imposed, but it does become self-defeating when you're doing revisions and your mindset becomes "this isn't quite right, but I guess it's okay, and if I stop to fix it, then I won't go ten pages past my goal for today." I have to remind myself that the bonus points are for having the best scene possible, not for making it to page 150 before dinner time. Nobody will know how long it took me to write this book. They'll only know if it's good.

So, I stopped to review the last few chapters and I came up with a Big Idea that made everything else fall into place but that required going back to the beginning to make little changes along the way. I skipped the writers group meeting Saturday on the premise that writing was more important than talking about writing and spent the day doing more revision. I stopping working when I caught myself ignoring the plans I'd made to revise a scene because it was okay as it was. And it wasn't okay. Since then, I've come up with something that makes it a lot more exciting, so there will be rewriting this afternoon.

I did make it to the booksigning on Sunday. Sarah Rees Brennan, who shares an agent with me, was in town on book tour with Holly Black, and since Sarah was here all the way from Ireland and since she's one of the most entertaining people I know, I figured I could drive across town to say hi. It turned out that Ally Carter, another one of my agent's clients and someone I know from the Old Days, before she was a big, bestselling author, was also there. After their talk, I hung out and waited for the adoring masses to finish getting their books signed and then got a bit of a chance to catch up and chat. During the wait, I talked to some of their fans and found a group of the coolest kids. They were at a booksigning as part of their prom after-party (one of those "no-slumber" slumber parties). I've never wanted to relive my teen years or be a teen again, but I found myself wishing I could go back in time so I could have been part of that group in high school. We chatted about Doctor Who and various related subjects, spinning off into things like Dalek opera and nightmares. The recent weeping angel episodes gave me nightmares, and we were wondering what the episode Neil Gaiman is apparently writing for the next season would be like. We figured with that one, we wouldn't dare go to bed right afterward. We'd have to turn on all the lights and then watch Enchanted and sing along with all the songs first. But then I figured I'd combine the two in some bizarre way. And then I figured that actually sounds like something I'd write. Now I kind of want to try that as an experiment -- watch a scary Doctor Who episode, then watch Enchanted, and then go to bed and see what happens.

Then after the fans were all gone, I went on a bit of a bookstore crawl with everyone and we hung out in a bookstore cafe and chatted for a while and explained American food to Sarah before I had to go home and collapse (after having to sing for two church services) and they went to check into their hotel. I have serious book tour envy now. Not only did they have actual fans at the signing in large numbers, but they had a tour escort to ferry them around, and they were staying in a four-star hotel. It sure beats my "tour" involving my Saturn and the Econolodge. I guess I need to up my game and write something that will draw enough fans to make a real tour worth it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Early Bird Strikes Again

It was yet another ridiculously early day. Today so far I've taken a long walk, showered, gone grocery shopping and read all my usual Internet stuff. Yesterday didn't end up like my dire predictions, either. I didn't slow down during the afternoon. I met all my writing goals without getting sleepy, then I only got really cranky and snarky once at the homeowners' association meeting, and it was in a situation that would have made anyone cranky and snarky. It was during the Q&A after the board presentation, the part I call "airing of petty grievances," in which people bring up problems that affect only them and that there is a process for reporting officially, and one woman really took the cake. She was upset that she had to actually turn in a report, that the board didn't just know what the problems were, because she paid dues, by golly, and that meant she should get service. They pointed out that the property is inspected regularly, but that the things she was complaining about were things only she would notice -- they can't tell that the roof is leaking from outside -- and even if they did as thorough an inspection as she was demanding, which would be very expensive, something could happen right after the inspection and they'd still need to be notified about it. I suggested they look into hiring a psychic who could sense when someone was having a problem so no one would have to turn in those pesky repair reports. I mean, really, the woman was complaining that a leak she hadn't reported hadn't been fixed, and saying she shouldn't have to report it to get it fixed. I could have been perfectly rested and eating chocolate, and I'd have probably snapped at her. Thank goodness we only have to do those meetings once a year because I'm allergic to meetings, to pettiness and to stupid people, and they all come together at once in those meetings.

I got about three good hours of editing done, and that seems to be the point of diminishing returns because at about two and a half hours, I was getting into "oh, whatever, that's good enough" mode. Which means I need to rethink the last two scenes I worked on because I think they're not quite right. They should be pivotal and yet they really aren't, and they don't fit so well after all the cuts. I think I also am too far into the "must cut words!" mindset, so I get reluctant to add things even when they're needed. Considering that I cut another thousand words yesterday, I think I'm okay in adding necessary words.

In other news, my tax refund came in, so I will need to make some major purchases I've been putting off. I need to replace my dishwasher and my living room ceiling fan. And I need a new computer. This one works fine but is out of step with the rest of the world. I can't upgrade the software without upgrading the operating system, and the only operating system they're currently selling doesn't work on the chip I have, since Mac switched to Intel. The battery doesn't hold a charge anymore and the letters have worn off most of the keys, so I suppose it's not really fine. This computer is nearly five years old, and for a laptop, that's practically ancient. The main issue is that I'm starting to have Internet problems because my browser is "outdated." It's not most of the sites themselves that are a problem. It's the ads, which seem to require more advanced software than I've got. As a result, pages will hang forever while the ads try to load. It seems to me to be a bit silly to have ads requiring the latest and greatest to work. It would make more sense for the ads to go for the lowest common denominator technologically to reach more people. It would be like making your TV ads be 3D that's not compatible with most current TVs, so that regular TVs just freeze when your ad comes on, and you have to turn off the TV and turn it back on after that ad in order to watch the rest of the program. That's rather counterproductive, but I suspect that Web ads are designed by people who have all the cutting-edge technology and don't even consider the possibility that they might pose a problem to anyone. I may use the new computer primarily as an Internet computer and then keep using this one for writing except in situations where the laptop battery would be useful. I need to upgrade Office to be able to get my e-mail the way I like it, but I've heard nasty things about the new Word and may just use it for submitting and for reading documents people send me.

My exciting weekend plans: Tonight, tacos and TV (Friday Night Lights and rewatching the latest Doctor Who). Saturday, I may actually make it to my writing group's meeting and then more writing. Sunday, I may go to a friend's booksigning, but I have to sing two services, so that will depend on how badly I need to collapse.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Early vs. Late

I feel super, double-plus virtuous today. I was wide awake before seven, so I got up instead of letting myself go back to sleep so that I'd wake up really late, feeling groggy. Before 8:30, I'd had breakfast, read the newspaper, checked my e-mail, dressed and taken a walk.

But then, why does it feel so virtuous to get up early? Really, the measure should be how much is accomplished, not when it's accomplished. Even so, getting up early is generally seen as diligent, while sleeping late -- even if you worked late into the night -- is seen as slothful. I suppose it's a remnant of an agrarian society, where you couldn't work without daylight, and therefore if you slept a long time past sunrise, you really were wasting the day and doing less work. We do talk about "burning the midnight oil" as being a sign of dedication, but if you think about the literal meaning and origin of the phrase, there's an implication of wastefulness there -- you're using extra resources in order to do work at that time. It's supposed to be limited to work that's so important that it's worth those extra resources, not something you do every day. Meanwhile, why is sleeping late generally seen as slothful, even when it comes after a late night of work, in a way that going to bed early isn't? Go to bed at 2 and sleep until 10, and you're seen as a slug. Go to bed at 10 and get up at 6 and you're seen as virtuous.

Hee, next time I visit my parents, when my early-bird dad goes to bed at ten, I'll make tsk-tsk sounds and talk about laziness and wasting the good part of the day.

You'd think that among creative people there'd be more understanding of different work/sleep schedules, but I get the sense that there's still an undercurrent of "early is good, late is bad." In profiles of authors in writing organization publications, they'll often give a sense of approval or awe to the author who gets up and finishes her target page/word count of the day before breakfast, but there doesn't seem to be a similar approval for the author who works late at night, unless she's also having to get up early to deal with children or a full-time job. I have this theory that it tends to be those early-bird writers who do things like volunteer to write newsletter or magazine articles, edit magazines or newsletters and organize conferences. Thus, the breathless admiration of authors who get up before dawn to write and the conference schedules that have workshops beginning at eight. For these people, that's sleeping in, practically a vacation!

I seem to fall somewhere in the middle. I'm not truly a night owl. I don't like being out after 10 (to be honest, I'm not much on being out after dark), and I'm usually in bed by 11, maybe sometimes reading until midnight. Then unless it's a weird morning, I tend to sleep until 7:30 or 8. So, I'm too early to be able to really stay up like a night owl, but still too late for a normal workday kind of schedule.

I'm not sure what I'll do with the extra time today. My brain isn't in writing mode to jump into that this morning, and I'll probably get sleepy this afternoon, which could hurt today's productivity. I might be really fun at the homeowners' association meeting tonight because I'll be nice and crabby by then. Maybe I'll do some housework this morning, but otherwise, getting up early probably isn't going to improve my work productivity.

However, I was very good yesterday. Although I was working mostly on character development and pacing, I managed to cut more than a thousand words. In one case, after a lot of whining, I forced myself to really revise one scene so that it made more sense in context -- and I was surprised when it ended up being 200 words shorter. I guess adding conflict meant I got to the point more quickly.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why They Don't Publish What You Want

I feel so virtuous. I just took a nice, long walk. I'll probably need to take a shower before lunch because I'm all sweaty, but I've been out of the exercise habit other than ballet class for far too long, and I think that's largely responsible for my various aches.

Meanwhile, I finished the chainsaw work on the book yesterday. I'm down to a couple of thousand words below my target. I still need to add a scene and there's some fleshing out that needs to be done, but I also still have a lot of tightening to do. Eliminating overuse of the word "just" should knock out several hundred words. This next draft will likely add words. This is when I check for continuity, make sure the transitions work after all the stuff I deleted, enhance the characters and flesh out some of the world building. After this draft, I'll do the really fine editing, cutting out extra words or sentences, finding ways to replace too much thinking with action or dialogue, wrestling with word choices, etc.

It seems like I've got my own little amen corner here on what we all would like to see in books. The challenge is that it's difficult to measure or even be aware of unmet needs. Back in my PR days, one of the companies I consulted for did what they called "demand management." Their idea was that by tracking what was purchased and when, stores could plan for and anticipate customer needs so that the stores wouldn't lose sales from not having something on the shelves but also wouldn't have excess unneeded inventory sitting around. I think I annoyed the software designers when I asked how they could be sure about that not losing sales thing, since if someone comes to the store and doesn't buy anything because the store doesn't have what they want, that doesn't get tracked. If a particular item/size/color/style sells out very quickly, you can guess that maybe you need to stock more of that, but you aren't sure how much more because you don't know how many people walked away unhappy after the sell-out. And if the store doesn't even carry the thing the customer wants, there's no way of tracking that demand.

With books, they decide what readers want based on what's selling now. If dark urban fantasy sells well (which, as far as I know, it currently does), then they'll look for more books like that to publish. If books about elves and wizards don't sell so well, they won't buy that kind of manuscript. When they get sales figures, it starts with the author or series -- are these sales good enough to do another book in this series or another book by this author? Then if there's any kind of trending, they'll look at sales of that general type of book, both within the house and at other publishers. They'll see what the major chains are ordering, and that will influence which manuscripts are purchased.

Unfortunately, there's no real way to determine if there's something people really would like to read that isn't being published because there are no sales numbers to look at. They can only look at what's selling well or what isn't selling well. If it doesn't exist, they have no data to work with other than overall sales. If book sales are down, is it because of the economy, or is it because people aren't finding what they want to read? If something exists, but only in very small quantities -- like, there are only one or two things kind of like it -- it's very difficult to extrapolate demand from those sales figures. For one thing, with only one or two data points, they can't make a good guess on why something is or isn't selling. If there's one lighter fantasy book and it isn't selling as well as the chicks with tattoos and swords books, is it because readers don't really want lighter fantasy? Is it because that particular lighter fantasy book isn't very good? Is it because that book wasn't promoted well, so readers looking for lighter fantasy didn't know about it? Is it because readers who wanted lighter fantasy gave up on going to bookstores after fleeing in terror from all those tattooed chicks with swords and therefore weren't in a store to buy the book? Is it because the publisher was afraid lighter fantasy might not sell, so they put a tattooed chick in hip-hugging black leather pants on the cover, and readers looking for lighter fantasy ignored it? Is it because it wasn't shelved as fantasy at all, so fantasy readers didn't find it? Unfortunately, publishers are likely to just look at the sales numbers and conclude that readers aren't into that kind of thing, so they don't publish more like it.

On the other hand, if something unique sells really well, they can't be exactly sure why. That's why you always hear about publishers looking for "the next Harry Potter" or "the next Twilight" but never seem to strike twice in quite that way. Those books sell well, but what is it about them that makes them sell well? Was it because readers wanted that kind of book in general, was it because of those particular characters? Was it because of the fantasy elements or the relationship elements? Was it because of the marketing and publicity?

Sometimes you do get those things that come out of nowhere, where an editor takes a chance on something different on gut instinct (those are usually the books that have been widely rejected that then become mega bestsellers). Or a trend elsewhere in popular culture may bleed over into books. At the publisher spotlight sessions at the Romance Writers of America national conference, I used to find it amusing how all the editors tended to say they were looking for books like whatever movie was really hot at the time. That doesn't seem to be happening now, since publishing is still trending dark, while at the box office it's the comedies that are performing consistently well, and it's the lighter, escapist fare that's doing well on TV. The lighter, quirkier NCIS and it's even quirkier LA sibling took over from the darker CSI as the top scripted series. The biggest ratings the Sci Fi channel ever got were last summer with the light, quirky Warehouse 13, not the darker critical favorite Battlestar Galactica. You'd think that would be a message, but in the conversations I've had with editors and agents over the past year, they keep repeating the "dark" demand. I even had an agent walk away from talking to me at a cocktail party when she found out I didn't do dark (not that I was agent shopping anyway, so it was weird that she approached me and asked what I wrote to begin with, but still, it was an "oooookay" moment when she abruptly said, "I don't want that," and walked away).

I suppose it's possible in today's wired world to try to gather support for something that doesn't exist in such a way that gets the message out and gets attention. They got Betty White on Saturday Night Life with a Facebook/Twitter campaign. I guess someone who had the time or energy to do that sort of thing and who wasn't utterly terrified of Facebook and Twitter might be able to start something, but you'd have to keep the topic really trending and get at least 20,000 people involved to get much attention in the publishing world.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Drowning in Darkness

Moving from writing mode to revision mode is a big mental adjustment. I go from trying desperately to add to my word count to trying desperately to delete words. I cut nearly 6,000 words yesterday, and I'm about a third of the way through the book. Some of those words are about to go back in, though, because I've reached a scene that will now be combined with part of an earlier scene that I cut. I know of one more entire scene that will be deleted, and there may be parts of other scenes that go. Once I'm through with the hacking and slashing, it will be internal editing to cut out redundancies, unnecessary words and that sort of thing. There isn't a hard-and-fast word count goal, but shorter books are easier to sell these days, so if I go over 100,000, I'd better be absolutely certain that every single word in it is utterly necessary.

It was nice to see that I'm not alone in being somewhat dissatisfied with the current urban fantasy trend and its marketing/packaging. The covers really are getting ridiculous, and one particular publisher is particularly bad about seeming to have a template where it's the exact same cover, just changing some details in the background and the exact tattoos on the woman. The idea behind this cover "look" is that it's almost like a logo. You know at one glance exactly what kind of book this is, and if you like that sort of thing, you'll pick it up. The problem is that if you've ever bought something with that kind of cover that you didn't like, you'll start to assume, consciously or otherwise, that all those books that look like that will be like the one you didn't like, and you'll avoid them all. I'm afraid that's what's happened to me.

I love the idea of urban fantasy because I was getting a little tired of all the quasi-medieval secondary-world fantasies and I like the idea of the "real" world bumping into the magical world, and vice versa. But I came to it more from the Harry Potter side of things, where first he has abilities he doesn't understand, and then when he understands them, he doesn't really understand the magical world, and then when he's become part of the magical world, he's not allowed to bring that back with him into the real world. I liked the magical versions of modern technology -- the way of doing the same things, but using magic instead -- and the way the magical people were often as clueless about the real world as the non-magical people were about magic. I liked the idea of making the car fly or the special magical bus bouncing around the country. I liked that the magical people felt so real, that they had some of the same issues I had when I was that age, even if it was in a different setting. I liked the idea of doing magic while wearing jeans and sneakers instead of tights, doublet and boots.

And there was almost nothing like that available for adults. I had to write it for myself. When I started hearing the term "urban fantasy" tossed around, I was excited, but it turned out to not really be what I wanted it to be. It was fantasy in a modern urban setting, but almost entirely missing the elements that I wanted to see. It seemed to be coming more from a horror or paranormal romance place than from a fantasy place. Even so, there was some I enjoyed, but there was more that bugged me or bothered me. Some of it annoyed me enough that I instinctively flinch when I see that kind of cover. It takes a lot of "no, really, you'll like this" recommendations from people whose taste I trust for me to give something that looks like this a shot now.

One thing I wonder: Why are the people who have all these special powers so often in the underworld -- the dregs of society, in the slums and on the streets? If you've got special powers, wouldn't you have an advantage?

I suppose I'm just more of an optimist than a pessimist. I'm not into darkness or angst. I'm into overcoming darkness and fighting against it instead of wallowing in it. I'm into trying to be the best person you can be and making the best use of all the abilities you've been given instead of wasting your life being bitter while living in a cruddy apartment in a bad part of town and shutting people out of your life. Magic should be fun, exciting and, well, magical. It may have its darker side and it may have consequences, but that has more to do with learning to use it and developing your own moral compass to keep yourself on the right side of things.

And now to go hack thousands more words out of the work in progress.

Monday, May 17, 2010


The weather forecast had me all geared up for a big rainy weekend, but after a stormy Friday, it ended up being fairly nice. That was probably for the best, as the book I had set aside as the perfect read for that kind of weekend turned out to be a huge disappointment.

It was one of those that seemed to be in the format I was describing last week, with a framing story where someone is tracking down the "real" story, only I didn't get far enough into it to find out just how it would have ended up working. I was loving the framing story, and that got me very intrigued, but then we switched to the "real" story, and the first-person narrator there was gratingly annoying. You know there's a problem when you find yourself sassing back to the narrator. It went something like this:

NARRATOR: I am so #*%( edgy. Do you know how #(%)$* edgy I am? Did you notice that I swore five times in the first #$*#& paragraph? I also smoke and get really drunk and even drive drunk, and I go home with a total stranger for hot, twisted sex. And I'm a chick doing all these typically male things. Pretty #$*%*& edgy, don't you think?
ME: I don't know, it sounds more like a kid working way too hard to look cool. I bet you've got a "Honk if You Love Unicorns" bumper sticker on your car and have The Sound of Music memorized.
NARRATOR: $#*%($&* you! Okay, how's this: I'm mired in self-loathing. Everyone else thinks I'm some kind of #*%&# genius, but I think my work is @*#*# and they're all stupid for not realizing that.
ME: So, you're a misunderstood artist because no one gets how lame you really are? Would it make you feel better if I thought you were totally lame?
NARRATOR: Well, I'm so mired in self-loathing that I went off to an isolated place to get away from everyone.
ME: I bet they were grateful. But the isolated place sounds promising. The cover did say this was a fantasy novel, though it was vague on what, exactly, the fantasy element would be. What is it? Is the house haunted? Is there a portal to hell in the basement? A genuine fairy ring in the back yard? A passage to Narnia in the hall closet? Heck, at this point, I'd even be glad if a vampire or werewolf showed up, just as long as you didn't fall obsessively in love with it. After all, we're on page 60 of a fantasy novel, and nothing has actually happened, so let's bring on the magic!
NARRATOR: First I have to tell you about my last failed relationship and how it drove me to needing professional help, plus my terrible creative block.
ME: Back to the library with you! And I'd better resist the urge to write nasty letters to the authors who gave glowing endorsement blurbs on the cover. Though now that I think about it, none of those blurbs actually said the book was good. They were more along the lines of "the author knows how to put words together." I'll have to remember that one if anyone ever asks me to blurb another book.

I think the one thing I dislike about current trends in what the industry is calling "urban fantasy" (aside from the onslaught of angsty, sexy vampires) is this idea that the heroine has to be some kind of edgy, tough chick who drinks, smokes, swears and has meaningless sex, like there's no way a non-smoking, non-drinking, non-swearing person could possibly be tough enough to fight the bad guys (though wouldn't you think that the non-smoker, non-drinker might be in better physical condition?). It seems to be that there's no room for a heroine who can't be depicted in the generic urban fantasy book cover -- the tough, brooding-looking chick wearing low-slung black pants (preferably leather) and with maybe a tattoo or two. It does make me wonder what the fate of the book I'm working on will be -- my heroine may not swear, smoke or drink, and she wears pastel florals, but she could probably reduce most of these tough urban fantasy chicks to tears with a couple of well-chosen words, and she's in the kind of physical condition where she could also probably beat them up, if she has to move beyond words. It will be interesting to see what the publishing world's reaction to this book will be. Will it be seen as refreshingly different or as not fitting into any of their pre-conceived boxes?

Assuming that the issue isn't with quality, I suppose. Today I start the "major surgery" on this book, rewriting the parts that need serious changing and deleting the scenes that don't really belong anymore.

Meanwhile, what I was hoping that book I tried to read would be has sparked an idea for something to work on down the line.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Uncovering Flaws

Yesterday I went through the whole book, analyzing each scene for its purpose within the story, what the "active" character's goal was, and what the conflict in the scene was. That's a great way to find scenes that can easily be cut or that should be combined because it shows when I've repeated the same "beat" too many times. It also can reveal any major structural flaws in the story.

That's a good news/bad news thing when it happens, as it did. It's bad news because, ack, there's something seriously wrong with the story. But it's good news because usually fixing that thing makes a lot of other things fall into place. In this case, it came about because I thought I was setting up one thing and then changed my mind about how it would all play out, and that means I can go back and act like the way it did work out was what I had planned all along, so I can cut huge chunks out of the middle. Cutting chunks out of the middle is always good. The difficult part is that there are a few scenes related to this plot thread that are essential to the story for other reasons, but this plot thread is what gets the characters into the situations where these scenes can happen. That means I need to find another reason to get the characters into the situations.

I'm having a big "Duh!" moment because this plot thread really does hinge on a character doing something totally stupid that I don't think she would actually do. It's a villain acting like she hasn't read the Evil Overlord list (though, now that I check, this item isn't actually on the list, but it should be). I think removing this element could make for some fun because it makes things more difficult for our heroine. She'll have to do more investigating instead of it being right out there for her.

Meanwhile, I think I need to increase the conflict between two of my main characters. I tend to be conflict-averse, and these are people who probably would really like each other under other circumstances, but in this situation, they have the same goal but very, very different ideas of how to achieve that goal, and one of them can't tell the other what her plans are and that his plans can't possibly work, so she has to sort of play along and humor him while doing her own thing behind his back. That should make her a little impatient with humoring him, which should make him suspicious of what she's really up to. They may eventually get along pretty well when they're on the same page, but at first they should see each other as obstacles.

None of this should be major rewriting, just a little tweaking and massaging while also cutting vast quantities of words. I'll let the subconscious stew over it this weekend and see if I can adjust my mental images and imagine scenes in a new way. It's supposed to be a nice, rainy weekend, which is good for brainstorming mixed with reading. And maybe a little housework. The house is still moderately clean, but I need to do some work to keep it that way.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nice but not Boring

First, I have a crowdsourcing question:
In modern books that are meant as parody/pastiche/homage of Victorian novels, they often do this thing where the chapter headings go along the lines of "Chapter One: In Which Our Heroine Receives Unexpected News." But was this ever actually done in Victorian novels? I've gone through my bookshelves and looked up several other authors on Project Gutenberg, and I haven't found anything like that. The closest I've found was the thing Jerome K. Jerome did (and that Connie Willis imitated) of listing key words associated with each chapter, like "An arrival -- Change of plans -- Departure." Otherwise, most of the time if there is a chapter header, it's merely a title for the chapter. In the Robert Louis Stevenson books that are written in first person, the chapter titles are in first person, so they're a little more than the very basic headers in some other books. I've looked over Charlotte Bronte, several Dickens novels, Anthony Hope, Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy and a few more without finding that supposed Victorian convention. Hmm, it looks like my list is very low on women authors, and maybe that's the sort of thing that was found in "girly" books, but aside from the Brontes, I'm not really up on female Victorian authors. My taste tends more toward swashbuckling, I suppose.

So, if you can point me to any actual Victorian novels that are the basis for this particular convention, I would appreciate it. It's a touch I enjoy in the modern books that are parody/pastiche/homage to Victorian books, and I've considered playing with it, but before I ever go there, I want to have studied the source. I don't want to imitate an imitation.

In other news, I've gone back to work on the book this week. So far, I've been delving into some of the secondary characters to find ways to make them more interesting. In the books/proposals I've written lately, the response from editors is that they haven't responded to my male characters -- they don't think these characters are very interesting. I know I have a thing for nice guys. I like the boy next door type, and the idea that someone is an Eagle Scout is actually kind of a turn-on for me. But "nice" is generally seen as "boring" in fiction. I've found when discussing TV shows, books and movies that my favorite character is often the one considered boring by everyone else. I may have been the only girl in America who thought Luke Skywalker was more interesting than Han Solo in Star Wars (though my true favorite was R2-D2). This means that when I write a male character who appeals to me, there's a risk that readers (and editors) will see him as boring. And yet when I wrote one of my nice guys in my previous series, that character, Owen, has been wildly popular. How did that happen? I think it was a combination of things and a lot of contrasts. He was really good-looking, but also painfully shy, and then he turned out to be very powerful, but very restrained in his use of power. There was a big difference between what he appeared to be and what he was. I do think that the shyness -- an unexpected touch from someone that good-looking -- gave the initial "hook" that made the character intriguing even before we found out he was a super-powerful wizard.

Based on that, I've been going back into my characters and mining them for opportunities, something to latch onto and make them more intriguing so that they aren't just bland nice guys. I really missed some opportunities with one of them, and using what I've figured out is going to be a lot of fun. Meanwhile, I've also been working on the villain to make the villain really three-dimensional, where you can see how she's been successful so far and yet also see why it would be very, very bad if she won.

And now I'm really itching to get back to work. I think today I'll do a scene-by-scene analysis as the first step toward the major surgery/structural revision. I know I'm probably going to have to cut around 15,000 words, and that's not going to happen just from eliminating words like "very" and "just" or the "began to" or "started to" constructions. That will require killing scenes, so I need to figure out which scenes aren't necessary and which scenes can be combined. Then I think I'll take a long weekend and be ready to plunge back into it full-speed-ahead on Monday.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Non-Verbal Communication: Bearing

It's writing post time again (yay!) and I'm continuing my discussion of nonverbal communication.

This time, I'm going to talk about sitting, standing, walking and lying -- all the very basic states of being. People have characteristic ways of sitting, standing and walking, and being able to describe that will make your characters more real. These things may or may not say something specific about the character -- you're the author, so you can decide. Someone who's been in the military (or in a marching band) may have a very upright posture and may walk in a march-like cadence. A ballet dancer will likely stand with her feet turned out. Someone who's in pain may stand, sit or walk in such a way as to minimize that pain. Someone who's very conscious about her appearance may stand as though she's posing. A shy person may stand with her head down and eyes on the floor.

But where the real power of this kind of body language comes is in changes. If someone has a characteristic way of doing something, then when that changes, it's a signal that something is going on. Your posture and bearing are going to be different in different situations. You may lounge on the sofa at home, but you'd sit in a very different way in a job interview or on the antique sofa in your prissy great aunt's parlor. Your attitude toward the situation will also affect your bearing. If you love your great aunt and enjoy spending time with her in spite of her prissiness, you may sit properly to please her, but you'll be more relaxed. If visiting your great aunt is a family obligation, you may sit with a lot of weight on your feet, like you're ready to launch yourself out of there the moment you can safely end the visit. If you dislike your great aunt but are being nice to her because you hope you'll be included in her will, you may mirror her prissiness.

A lot of this will be unconscious, but being conscious of the way you're sitting or standing will affect the way you do sit or stand. Like in the job interview -- if you're read books or articles about how to behave in an interview, you'll be intensely conscious about sending the right body language signals and will make an effort to lean slightly forward, not cross your arms over your chest or any of the other things that are supposed to be good signals. Have you ever been in a situation where you suddenly become acutely aware that you have hands, and you suddenly have no idea what to do with them? They're at the ends of your arms all the time, but when you become conscious of them, there's no good thing to do with them -- do you clasp them in front of you or behind you, put them on your hips, find something to hold, let them hang at your side? No matter what you do, it feels wrong and you become more and more conscious of your hands. That's a great way to show that a character is in a situation so uncomfortable that she becomes intensely awkward.

If someone who normally stands straight and upright slouches, then that could be a sign that he's particularly tired or dejected or has given up. When someone who normally strides purposefully drags his feet, he's probably on his way to a place he doesn't want to be. Someone who normally ambles casually will walk in a different way when he's running late. Just a shift in posture while sitting or standing can signal an emotional response to something that's happened. This is an area where watching TV or movies is a good exercise because those actors generally can't use interior monologue to tell you what they're feeling and how they're reacting. They have to show it physically. They may stiffen or slouch, hunch a shoulder, cross their arms, move their arms behind their backs, walk faster, walk slower, etc.

I hadn't really thought of what the way someone lies down could tell you about a character until I hurt my shoulder recently and couldn't sleep in my usual favorite position -- and then couldn't get to sleep because I wasn't in my sleeping position. People do have characteristic ways of lying, and if you ever show a character going to sleep, either from his point of view or when watched by someone else, you should probably think about what your character's primary sleeping position would be. There may be some psychological reason for sleeping positions -- I even once saw a "what his sleeping position tells you about him" article in a magazine -- but for the most part, it's the changes that matter. Not being able to get into the right position and therefore having trouble falling asleep could be a good way of showing the way an injury affects all aspects of a character's life, even in little ways. Sleeping position also comes up when sharing a bed with someone else. If a man's customary sleeping position is lying on his side and facing the edge of the bed, the first time a woman sleeps with him, she may worry that him turning his back to her means he's shutting her out. Cuddling or spooning may keep one member of the couple from being in the "right" position to get to sleep, which can lead to discomfort or conflict.

To come up with ways people sit, stand and walk, indulge in some people watching. Go to a place where you have the opportunity to observe people and look for the variety of postures and walks, then think of how to describe them. Do any of these postures or walks remind you of the characters you're currently writing?

I think next I'll tackle characteristic gestures and mannerisms.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Report: Past and Present

I haven't done a book report in a while. I've been reading a lot, but some of it has been reference and some has been re-reads. This is a selection of noteworthy books that might be of interest to my readers from among all my recent reading.

First, I have an interesting compare/contrast between two books that are superficially similar, but ultimately different. Both books would fall loosely into the steampunk category and both involve parallel story lines about two orphan (or semi-orphan) teens, with the story lines converging later in the book.

The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt is more of a fantasy novel and was published for adults. I suppose it's really a blend of science fiction and fantasy, with some rather different technology in use, but the story revolves more around the fantasy aspects. I would describe this as what you might get if Charles Dickens had written science fiction/fantasy (other than a ghost story) -- in both the good ways and the bad ways. It has a broad cast of characters, some of them very vivid and others fairly grotesque. The world building is very detailed, showing the depravity of the upper classes and the squalor of the lower classes. There are plucky orphans coping with being thrown out into a frightening world. At the same time, though, it kind of reads like it was written in serialized form, so that the end was written after the beginning was published, and the author changed his mind about where the story was going, but it wasn't possible to change the beginning, so the ultimate direction of the story seems to be a bit "huh?" like it doesn't really fit the beginning. There's a lot of meandering in the middle, with the two main characters both having random adventures that ultimately have little to do with the plot, so that it reads like maybe a separate episode in a serial when the author wasn't sure where the story was going but needed for something to happen in this week's installment. This is probably the most "steampunk" steampunk book I've read. I think the best aspect was the steammen, the steam-powered sentient robot-like people. Ultimately, though, I think the book collapses under the weight of too many ideas. There's material in here for at least four books, with several wildly different cultures, at least two different magical systems, a bevy of god-like entities, two major political/socioeconomic systems, a secret police/spy type agency that's barely touched on (in spite of being the title of the book) and multiple species of citizens. Plus a total ripoff of the Cybermen from Doctor Who. I think it might have been a stronger book if the author had picked one or two concepts and really developed them in a focused way instead of skimming rapidly past all this stuff. I did like the book and I liked a lot of the ideas in it. I also liked the two main characters. But given the material and concepts, I wanted to love the book, and I didn't. There are some follow-up books, not true sequels but set in the same world. The reviews say they're more focused and cohesive, so I might check them out, but I'd really rather find out more about the main characters here because they're the kind of people who would surely have more adventures.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld was the other book with a similar set-up, though it's published as young adult, is alternate history instead of alternate world, and although it's classified as steampunk, if you want to get really technical, it isn't exactly, since it's about World War I and the machinery is oil-fueled, not steam-driven. In this history, Darwin not only discovered evolution but also DNA and genetic engineering, and the "Darwinist" nations (Britain and its allies) now use engineered creatures instead of machinery, like a giant flying whale-like ecosystem as an airship. The "Clanker" powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies) focus on machinery that works like animals -- instead of tanks, they have Star Wars-like walkers. Our orphan boy on the run is the son of the archduke whose assassination sets off the war, and now he's being hunted by factions within his own country, and our girl is a British girl who's disguised herself as a boy to get on the crew of an airship. Their paths inevitably cross when war breaks out. Although there's a lot of world-building going on, it's still very focused on the elements that matter to our main characters. The sequel is coming out in October, and I can't wait. It's a good adventure story with a few twists and a lot of imagination. (Mom, I think you'd like this one -- look for it in the library.)

On a totally different note, the book I mentioned saving for a rainy day was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. This is a gothic-type story-within-a-story book about a young woman hired to write the biography of a dying bestselling novelist who's built a career out of keeping her true story a mystery, instead making up a totally new biography with each book release. Now she wants to tell the real story she's kept hidden. The young woman goes to the author's manor on the Yorkshire moors, where there seem to be secrets and mysteries, and she has to listen to the story in order without asking questions. So, there's the author's story of her origins, starting with the story about her grandparents, and that story involves family secrets, a crumbling mansion, creepy twins and maybe even a ghost. Then there's the story of the biographer trying to uncover the mysteries of the house where she's working, and she starts trying to track down elements of the author's story to make sure it really is the truth, and in the process finds even more mysteries and secrets. There are some cool twists that change your perception of everything. It's not so much an unreliable narrator story as it is a canny narrator who leaves the crucial clues out in plain sight but doesn't draw attention to them. I think I'll have to re-read this book next fall or winter on a properly gray and blustery day now that I know the secret and see if my perception changes. I read this in one sitting, and if you like stories like Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, you might enjoy this book.

I like these literary mystery type stories, where there's something going on in the present day, and that unravels the story of what happened in the past. There was one I read a couple of years ago that shall remain nameless that I had high hopes for but that ultimately disappointed me. It, too, was about a modern researcher trying to track down the real story about something that happened in the past, but it ended up just being the modern person finding some old letters that told the whole story (which, oddly enough, was written out like a standard historical romance novel, including details that would not have been in letters), and the modern part only intruded to create cliffhangers, so as the people in the past were in peril, the researcher would be interrupted in her reading. That was such a letdown because if you're going to bother with a modern story to frame the past story, something needs to actually happen in the modern story, unless you're going with the "I met a man in a bar" approach and the framing only happens in the beginning and end. It shouldn't be so easy as finding a stack of letters that tell the whole story, with no detective work on the part of the modern person to piece it all together. The Thirteenth Tale wouldn't have been nearly as interesting if it had just been the biographer listening to the author telling her story without doing any other digging on her own.

Hmmm, now I need to add this structure to the list of things I want to play with in a book. I just need a story that lends itself to the idea of a person in one timeline or setting researching another timeline or setting, so that there are two parallel plots, one in the past and one in the present.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Proper Weekend

I had a lovely weekend, the kind of weekend that gives the term "weekend" a good name. First, on Friday I spent a relaxing evening watching Friday Night Lights and then the recent two-part Doctor Who episodes (the first part of which just showed on BBCAmerica this weekend -- I have sources for getting them early since I don't have BBCAmerica). There was at least one nightmare generated by those episodes. Then Saturday I went to Scarborough Faire, our local Renaissance festival. It was the perfect day for it, sunny, but not too hot. I hadn't been in about ten years, and they actually had some new shows, which were a lot of fun. My friends and I got into a really long improv bit with one of the characters, which was highly entertaining. I still love the birds of prey show, since I'm fascinated with falconry (and then on PBS Sunday night there was a Nature episode about raptors). The joust has become utterly lame, mostly pro wrestling style shtick instead of anything resembling jousting. I didn't do much browsing of the shops, but I did get a nice hair stick, something small enough that it doesn't stick out and threaten to poke someone's eye out, and it's the same color as my hair. It stays in pretty well, too. Earlier today I did a series of pique turns across my living room and my hair stayed up, so I may even be able to use it for ballet instead of sending hairpins flying across the room when I turn. Then there was hanging out with friends, seeing a friend's new baby, having my hair played with by my four-year-old Mini Me (some friends have a child who looks like she could be my daughter -- it's rather disconcerting), and a long drive home to appropriate music.

Sunday I was home by 9:30 since I sang for the early service. I got my first Mother's Day flower at church. Our pastor recognized all women in the congregation because all of us are mentors or examples to all kids in the church, and they had the kids in the service pass out flowers to all the adult women, with the youth choir passing out flowers to the women in the adult choir. I think my mom-like influence there is mostly the issuing of the Glare of Death when they start talking during the service. It was a cool and rainy day, which was perfect because earlier in the week I'd started reading a book that I thought needed a cool, rainy day. It was a shame to waste it on a hot, sunny day that would have ruined the mood. Sunday was just right, so I made a pot of tea and settled in to read with the appropriate atmosphere. As much as I read, it's not often that I allow myself to just devote an entire day to reading, with no TV on or any other background noise, just me and the book.

Now I have a few patches of sunburn from Saturday -- just my nose, one patch on my forehead and the backs of my hands -- in spite of coating my whole body with SPF 55. But I still feel fairly rested and relaxed. I'm allowed to go back to thinking about the book today, in the context of using it as my working example as I go through some writing course material.

Friday, May 07, 2010

In My Dreams

In the "more fun with my subconscious" category, I had an incredibly vivid dream last night about going to see the movie version of Enchanted, Inc. I was at an afternoon matinee at my neighborhood theater, and the theater was a little more full than it usually is for the early show of most movies (aside from opening day for summer Harry Potter releases, and that kind of thing). Strangely, in the dream I was both myself, watching in the theater, and occasionally inside Katie's head within the story, and it was almost like I was possessing Katie, because I could control her based on my own reactions. The story in the movie had something to do with Katie being accused of murder for having hit someone with a shovel, and it was related to magic somehow, but she couldn't use that as her defense, so her roommates busted her out and she went on the run with them. The me watching the movie in the theater was pleased that the movie was following the book so closely. I thought that Katie and the roommates were really well-cast, though Katie seemed to be like a modern-day, corporate Kaylee from Firefly because she had a mini teddy bear pinned to her waistband. I was really nervous to see what Owen would be like. Finally, a guy very, very roughly fitting Owen's description but still all wrong showed up and started putting his arm around Katie, like he was comforting her about the whole murder accusation thing, but in an oily way, and the me possessing Katie kept shoving him away while still shaking violently in horror that they had done this to my character. Then I found out that this guy was supposed to be Rod. The me watching the movie was thinking about how I would blog about what I thought about it.

When I snapped out of the dream, it took me a while to realize it wasn't real. I had to talk myself through the logical proof that it wasn't real. For one thing, the first time I see the movie, if it gets made, probably won't be the early show at my neighborhood theater. It's in the contract that the studio will fly me to the New York or LA premiere. For another thing, that is soooo not the plot of the book, and I don't see how even an insane screenwriter would get that plot out of that book (though it might be something interesting to explore in the magic vs. the real world concept). And finally, Rod really isn't a seducer. He just generates the charm and lets the women come to him. However, I think that part of the dream was drawing on something that actually happened to me with a guy who was Doing It Wrong, and the guy in my dream even looked like that guy.

It would be lovely if my subconscious was picking up on some vibrations in the ether and having that vivid a dream about the Enchanted, Inc. movie is actually a sign that someone out in Hollywood is currently making a decision about it. I'll admit that I've checked e-mail a little more diligently today, and I jump and my heart starts pounding when the phone rings. Unfortunately, there's a local election tomorrow, so my phone is ringing like crazy with campaign calls.

Tonight, Friday Night Lights is back for those of us without DirecTV. The ads make me weepy. A review in the newspaper made me weepy. It's a good thing I bought a new box of tissues. I need a restful Friday night in because this could be another busy weekend for me. A group of my friends is going to the Renaissance festival Saturday, and it should be perfect weather for it, but I'm kind of wavering on committing because that makes for such a long day and it's a fairly long drive. I haven't been in about ten years, and I do have fun when I go. I think I'm just rebelling against the sense of feeling "scheduled." I also have to sing for the early service at church Sunday, so that's two early mornings in a row, but it does mean I'll have most of Sunday free. I may go to the grocery store that sells discount advance tickets and buy one to force myself to commit so I can't roll over Saturday morning and change my mind. I've offered rides to a couple of people, so if they take me up on it, that would also force me to commit. I think I need to import some of my Renaissance music into iTunes and make a CD for the drive.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Fast Track to Fame

I'm starting to get itchy about wanting to revise this book, but I know that would be a bad idea. It needs to rest, and I need some distance from it. Ideally, it would rest enough that I could almost forget I wrote it and I could review it as though it was someone else's work. I don't think I'll go that far, but I'm trying to get through this week at least not thinking about it. Next week I may delve into some of my writing books and use this book as my working example to do the exercises, but this week, I should be pretending that it doesn't exist.

Assuming I do sell this book, I'll have to jump back into the marketing/promotion game. I once jokingly included the item "get on a reality TV show or become romantically involved with someone famous" on a marketing plan I gave my publisher, but these days, it looks like the serious fast track to fame is to have an affair with a famous married man and then get him busted by going public with it. I wouldn't have thought that was something to be proud of or to brag about, let alone hold news conferences and talk to any reporter who will give you air time.

Not that I care who's sleeping with whom. I don't consider it to be any of my business. If Tiger Woods wants to mess up his marriage, then he can knock himself out. I just don't want to have to hear about it. I like Sandra Bullock in movies, and she seems to be a nice person in real life, but I don't feel like I have any right to information about the inner workings of her marriage. The media can stop stalking every move she makes in response to the accusations against her husband. I certainly am not demanding up-to-the-minute reports.

When all these "other women" are coming forward and telling their stories, all I can think of is "their mothers must be so very proud." I can kind of see the allure of fame -- I certainly would like to be famous as a bestselling author -- but I would want to be famous for having accomplished something worthy, for doing something very well, not for being a tramp. True, the men are guilty, too, for fooling around, but these are women who were willing to get involved with men they knew were married, so they're no better. Not that I'm advocating the return of the scarlet A or the stocks in the town square, but I don't think this behavior should be rewarded with book deals, acting roles, modeling jobs or reality TV shows. If your only "credential" is that you slept with a famous man, then I don't think you qualify for fame.

On an entirely different note, these recent scandals should force all movie critics to remove that macro they have in their word processing program for when they review romantic comedy movies. It seems mandatory that they have to comment on how unbelievable it is that a character who looks like the actress playing her could possibly have difficulty in her love life. I remember in particular that this remark was made in almost every review of any romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock back in the mid-to-late 90s when she was the queen of romantic comedy. She was generally cast as the awkward girl-next-door type who had trouble romantically, and the critics always scoffed at how unrealistic that was. But Sandra Bullock herself didn't marry until she was in her 40s and then her husband cheated on her, so looking like Sandra Bullock doesn't seem to have insulated her from romantic difficulties. Being attractive and successful doesn't guarantee romantic happiness.

So anyway, I guess if you want the fast track to fame and fortune, you should start scoping out the likely contenders for best actress or supporting actress Oscars, then go after these women's husbands and then time the announcement of your affair for either the Oscar nominations or right after the ceremony, depending on the odds of your target's wife actually winning. You'll soon have a book deal -- either for a memoir or one of those novels that everyone knows is just a fictionalized version of your memoir that's only published as fiction so you can avoid libel lawsuits by claiming it's fiction and changing the names -- and maybe even your own reality TV show. At the very least, you'll be on every talk show in the country and get interviewed by all kinds of magazines and newspapers.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Living the Perfume Commercial

The other night, I'd taken advantage of a commercial break to go get something from another room, and I came back to the living room in time to catch the beginning of what looked like the best romantic movie ever. I figured out pretty quickly that it had to be a Chanel No. 5 perfume commercial because they make these mini-movies that have nothing to do with the perfume, and I always wish they were real movies because I think I would love them, and I want to live in that universe. It's just too bad that I don't really like that perfume all that much, and I don't think those ads even fit that perfume.

Oddly, although I am not really a perfume person, Chanel No. 5 is one of the few perfumes I own. It's a remnant of my days working at the medical school. I worked in the public information office, and in addition to doing the usual media relations and news release kind of stuff (or the radio health feature writing I still do for them), we also had to do work related to all the school's fundraising efforts, which meant dealing with Society -- all those bold-face name, mover-and-shaker people. We had to write articles for fundraising newsletters or do news releases on the latest big gift to the school. That meant I had to go to a few of those society parties. I never really felt I fit in, since I was in my early twenties and probably earning less than the maids who worked for these people. Still, I met interesting people. For instance, in the Malcolm Gladwell book The Tipping Point, he mentions a man who is the example of the Connector, the person who seems to know everyone. I've been to a party at that man's house (so I guess he really does know everyone).

Anyway, we also got dragged into some odd things related to all this Society stuff. One day, the university president's assistant called over to our office and drafted the women in the office who were free for lunch that day. There was some luncheon fundraiser, one of those "ladies who lunch" things, and there had been some no-shows, and they wanted to fill some empty seats, so they needed warm bodies. Fortunately, I was appropriately dressed for that sort of thing, wearing my best suit. Unfortunately, the luncheon was also a Chanel fashion show, and my best suit was a sort of faux Chanel look, very much the classic Chanel style, but without the logo on the buttons. I was already a little uncomfortable because of that. And then I ended up sitting with Margot Perot (wife of erstwhile presidential candidate H. Ross). Talk about intimidated!

But she turned out to be a lovely person, very warm and friendly, and she put me at ease. It was the kind of fashion show where the models walked from table to table as we ate our fancy chicken salad, and then they'd tell us about the outfit and let us ask questions. The clothes were as bizarre as you usually get at a fashion show, and Margot Perot and I ended up having great fun snarking about the clothes between models. It was interesting to hear a billionaire's wife wondering who in their right mind would buy those things.

The party favor for the event was a miniature Chanel shopping bag with a full-sized bottle of Chanel No. 5 cologne spray in it. That probably added about 25 percent to my income for the week. I still have that bottle, barely used. It doesn't seem to have degraded any, which may have something to do with the traditional black bottle, which blocks out light. Although it's an iconic perfume, that perfume really isn't to my taste (when I even wear perfume).

After seeing that commercial the other night, I picked up my bottle and spritzed on a little. I still think it's pretty nasty right out of the bottle. It smells like a nursing home -- a mix of industrial cleaning solution and Old Lady. But it does mellow nicely. After a few hours or overnight it takes on an entirely different character. I'm still not sure it's "me" (and I can't afford for it to be "me"), but who knows, maybe if I wore it, I'd get the kind of life they have in the commercials, or at the very least it might counteract the effect of the Kitchen Cabinets of Depression and Despair. I'd just have to remember to put it on at least two hours before being around people.

The only perfume I own that I bought for myself is Stila's Creme Bouquet, which is more "me," I think. I also have a couple of Jo Malone scents that I got as gifts from my publisher. But I don't wear any of them often because most of the time when I go out, it's for church or choir, and it's really not good to wear perfume around people who have to sing, in case they're sensitive to the smell.

And it's just occurred to me that all the perfume commercials this week are related to Mother's Day. My mom's allergic to perfume, so I've never associated perfume with Mother's Day. I'm more likely to give my mom something like the Firefly DVD set.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Attempted Relaxation

I guess I'm not very good at "leisure." I can see why one of the psychologists at the medical school said that it can take a few days of being on vacation before your brain really realizes it's on vacation and allows you to truly relax. I'm not actually on "vacation" and the things I do that feel like being at ease are really things that I'm doing for specific work purposes, but it still feels weird to just sit on the sofa and read in the afternoon. Yesterday, I got a little itchy after about fifteen minutes of that and abruptly decided that I needed to switch the ceiling fan to the "summer" setting, so I got out the stepladder and a yardstick (The ceiling is something like 15 feet at that point) to switch it. And then the fan didn't work. I tried switching it back, and the fan still wouldn't work. I guess it didn't like changing directions. The motor had been making funny noises for a while, and that must have been the last straw. That fan is essential to being able to exist in that room in the summer, and it is very likely about 26 years old, so it looks like I'll have to add "buy a new ceiling fan" to my to-do list. The real fun will be finding someone to install it, since it is so high up. My house is reaching the age when all the stuff that was built into the house is starting to fail. Of course, fiddling with the fan knocked some dust off the blades, so I decided to dust the fan and blades, but then that got clumps of dust on the floor (a fan that high up doesn't get dusted often), so I had to get out the vacuum cleaner and vacuum the living room. There went my leisurely afternoon of reading.

Anyway, finishing a book feels kind of like finishing a semester in school, where it takes a while to get used to the idea that there isn't something you're supposed to be doing. In my current situation, I'm supposed to be reading. Maybe I'd feel better if I used the stopwatch to track my working time while I was reading, but I'm not sure that I should be counting reading novels as "work." That's where the fact that my work is also something I do for fun creates blurry lines. I'm currently researching the market of a particular genre, so I'm reading all the books I can find in that genre to get an idea of what the parameters are, what's been done already and what publishers might be looking for. But it's a genre I enjoy, so it doesn't feel like work. It feels oddly like goofing off, even though I have a stack of books to read.

The antsy feeling probably also has something to do with the fact that the living portion of the house, the downstairs, is reasonably clean. I guess I'm more comfortable with a bit of clutter around, and it feels strange to just sit on the sofa and not think about all the work I need to do but don't feel like doing. I like it, but it will take getting used to. I have realized that about 90 percent of the messiness in my house is the fault of my office. Because my office is so messy and disorganized, I'm afraid to bring anything important into it, so the mail tends to pile up on the bar in the living room, and any newspaper articles I cut out for reference also tend to pile up. When I do an emergency clean for company, all the stuff in the living room gets boxed up and hidden in the office, making it even more messy and disorganized, and thus the downward spiral gets worse. Meanwhile, the mess in my bedroom and bathroom/dressing room is because of clothes that need to be put away. That doesn't happen because my closets and drawers are so crowded. I do need to do a major closet purge, but it would also help if the closets in the office were clear and accessible enough to hold the out-of-season and seldom-worn clothes.

I think the starting point of the office organization project will be to clear out and organize the filing cabinets. Then as I sort through the stuff in the office, there will be a place to put everything. I've tried a variety of office-cleaning methods. While I was distracting myself while Enchanted, Inc. was on submission and I was waiting to hear from publishers, I attempted the "Clean Sweep" method of just putting everything in boxes and emptying the room, then sorting through everything and putting it away properly. I'd put away about two boxes worth when the book sold and I was suddenly very busy. A lot of that stuff is still in boxes, but it's not one of those cases where I can just toss out the boxes because obviously I don't need that stuff because I have needed that stuff. I've just had to dig through various boxes to get to it. I think maybe the gradual inside-out method may be best. Start by creating a place for everything to go, then put things in there. Maybe by the end of the year, I'll have a clean office. Then I can decide how I want to decorate it.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Corporate Retreat

Well, I didn't quite finish the book. I've essentially finished the main part of the story -- in nearly 7,000 more words -- and my main characters have achieved their goals. I still need to write what in musical terms would be the coda -- the aftermath bit that wraps up any loose ends, shows the consequences of what happened, shows a little bit of how the main characters feel about what happened and gives a glimpse of what will be the new normal now that things have happened. I've certainly imagined the aftermath, a lot of it even before I wrote the book, but the trick is to determine how much of what I've imagined needs to be in the book and how much is essentially mental fanfic (like the way I tend to imagine more of the aftermath to books, TV episodes and movies I like). You want to put in just enough to make the ending satisfying and answer the major questions, but not enough that you've written Return of the King, where the ending goes on for more than half an hour.

It doesn't help that I think I've changed my mind about what happens in the aftermath, based on what I've just written, and now I'm not entirely sure how each character feels about what just happened and how they'll all react. Therefore, I've made the executive decision that I will wait to write the coda until after I've revised the rest of the book. I figure the final result will be the same, but with less work. If I try to write it now, then when I've gone through the whole book and tweaked the story and adjusted the characters and thought more about it, I'll end up having to rewrite it. If I wait, then the whole story will be fresh in my head, it will be more concrete, and I'll know how many words I have to work with. So, the book is done for now and I'm taking a break.

This won't be a vacation, though, more like a corporate retreat. I've discovered that it helps in working on something to switch gears and work on something else. It gives me a fresh perspective. I'll be doing a lot of reading -- not so much recreational reading as research for the next book I plan to write. This book will require a lot of fact-type world-building research, plus a lot of fiction research. It's a book that would be classified as one genre, one that I'm just developing some familiarity with, so that requires some reading. It incorporates a lot of elements and structure from another genre, so more reading there. I'm thinking of writing it in the style of yet another kind of book, and that will require some reading. Even the world-building research will involve some fiction because it's a setting/situation for which there are a lot of thinly veiled autobiographical novels, written by people who lived in that world. I wouldn't use that to get facts, but it is a good way to get a sense of the society and the way the people who lived in it thought. Plus I plan to review the materials from some writing seminars I've attended.

And I plan to do some fun stuff, as well as take care of some things that have been on the to-do list for a while, for "after the book is done." I need to do some relaxing and recharging. I'm going to start my retreat with a trip to the library this afternoon, and then I think I'll do two weeks worth of medical school work so that I can take next week totally off. I made pizza last night and I have leftover Chinese food from the weekend, so I don't even have to cook.