Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wanted: One TARDIS

I made it back from ArmadilloCon yesterday afternoon, and I'm still kind of zombie-like, in spite of staying the extra day to get some rest before making that drive and in spite of taking it easy yesterday after I got home. Today, the house seems strangely quiet. I guess I was so used to being surrounded by noise most of the weekend.

In spite of the lingering exhaustion, I had a great weekend that served two purposes for me. It was part vacation, part work. I got the benefits of staying in a nice hotel (and they even upgraded my room, so I had a nice, big room with plenty of floor space and a sofa) with actual time to spend in my room, enjoying it, and I used some of the hotel facilities. And then there was the convention going on.

The trip down turned out to be interesting, and rather longer than I'd planned. I like driving the back roads, with the back roads being US highways instead of the Interstate freeway. I was going along about an hour and a half into the trip, thinking about how smoothly things had gone so far, when everything came to a stop. As far as I could see, traffic was at a total standstill, and after several minutes sitting there, we hadn't even inched forward. I got out my handy highway map and plotted out an alternate route using the real back roads -- the farm-to-market roads -- then when the oncoming traffic cleared, I pulled out (fortunately, I'd left space between my car and the car ahead), did a U-turn, went back to the turn I needed, and then took an extremely alternate route. I'm assuming there was some kind of wreck, since I passed several police cars with lights flashing heading there when I was heading back to my alternate route and since when I came that way on the return trip, there was no sign of construction in that area. It turned out to be a very fun route to drive. There are these huge limestone ridges that cross the land in that region, almost like mini mountains, but long and thin and almost flat on top. The main road climbs them to some extent, but then is blasted through on top. The back roads wind around them, so it's really fun driving with a stick shift, with S-curves and hills. Those roads also went through some cute little towns that seemed to have been forgotten by time. When I finally came out onto another main road, it was almost disappointing, like leaving Narnia for the real world. On the down side, my detour added about 45 minutes to an already long trip (though there's no telling how long I would have sat there if I hadn't made the detour).

I availed myself of the hotel swimming pool to unwind from the trip, then had dinner, went to the opening ceremonies, then had a Phineas and Ferb viewing party with friends (the episode had the kids going to a science fiction convention, so viewing was mandatory). After my 10 p.m. panel, I went to the ApolloCon party and stayed there until 1 in the morning, which is very unusual for me. I woke oddly early Saturday morning, so I took a walk on the hill around the hotel (it was refreshingly cool), then since I didn't have programming until later in the day, I just hung out in my room before doing a little shopping at the adjacent shopping center and then having lunch with an editor friend who is also a member of the Curly Mafia (Frito Pie in the con suite -- a real publishing power lunch). After my afternoon programming, it was time for the hotel hot tub, then helping set up for an evening party, hanging out with friends and more partying until 1 in the morning (though as that hour approached, "partying" consisted of sitting around, drinking water and talking about how we're too old to stay up this late too often). Sunday was my big "work" day, and then after a little more hanging out with friends, I hit my room and completely crashed. My panel discussions included talks on alternate history, dealing with editors and agents, and mythology in fantasy, and as usual, a lot of interesting points were made. I attended panels on "what you should have read/should read" and steampunk as a lifestyle vs. literary movement, though I had to leave that one early to get ready for a panel I was moderating (and to thaw because that room was freezing).The drive home was uneventful on Monday, but I was still tired. I did the kind of stuff I said I wanted to do when staying in a nice hotel, and I think I would have been bored with much more room time, but I don't think I'm going to feel relaxed and refreshed after a vacation that involves travel until I get my own TARDIS.

Now, though, I'm back to "normal" and ready to get back to work on the new project.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Danger of Being Ahead of Schedule

I had my morning planned so that I could enjoy a fairly leisurely morning while still getting everything done and then leaving on time. However, I think I may have been just a bit too leisurely.

Then again, I have a bad habit of overestimating what I can get accomplished. If I'm fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, then I catch myself thinking, "Hey, I have time to re-tile the bathroom and steam-clean the carpets before I leave!" And then I end up being late.

So, in other words, I'm off for the weekend at ArmadilloCon (well, after I get dressed, make the bed and finish packing).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Packing Light on Memory Lane

I had a fun little blast from the past this morning. In my first job out of college, I worked for a medical school, and I still freelance for that school. Today I had a meeting to touch base with the people I deal with, since there's been a lot of turnover and some of the people who deal with my project didn't even know I existed. It wasn't a total trip down memory lane because the office has moved from my time. I used to get serious flashbacks whenever I went on campus, but they're now in a different office, in a different building, on a different part of the campus, and I hardly recognized the campus because they've gone on a building spree. There are still a few people there from my time, and it was fun catching up. I also found out I've been getting byline credit in a magazine because they repurpose some of the stuff I write for them. I guess if I ever had to resort to going back to a regular job again, I wouldn't mind working there, but I wouldn't enjoy going back to commuting. The drive alone was enough to motivate me to get home and do some writing, and it wasn't even rush hour. I've gotten out of the habit of driving much beyond my neighborhood.

But I won't be getting any writing done today because I'm off to ArmadilloCon tomorrow, and I have a ton and a half of stuff to do. I've finished the sample chapters and now need to develop a synopsis, so the plan is that I can brainstorm during the drive and then maybe do some pen-and-paper thinking in my hotel room before the con gets started. Today is for laundry, packing, a few errands, some preparation work and then maybe trying to get my house into some kind of order so I don't cringe upon returning home.

I planned my wardrobe based on the scorching heat we've been having, but now things will be different and I'll have to rethink. Then again, I probably won't leave the hotel too often, so it's not as though it makes a big difference. I'm going to indulge myself and take the huge suitcase. Ever since I had an Australian boss who mocked us if we took more than a small tote bag for a business trip of less than a week (he was the sort of person who could spend a year traveling around the world with just a small backpack), I've tried to pack as lightly as possible, and that's paid off since the airlines started charging baggage fees. Now it feels utterly decadent to take a large suitcase with full-size bottles of toiletries. Since I'm driving, I might as well, and the idea is that I can fit everything into the one bag, including my computer bag, and I can even put the stuff I have with me in the car into that bag to carry it inside the hotel and not have to worry about hauling around multiple bags. So, I may look as though I've packed a steamer trunk for a four-day weekend (I'm staying an extra day as my summer vacation), but really, I'm just being efficient.

Now I need to put together a good road trip CD for the drive.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tackling the In-Box

What a difference a day makes. Monday was the hottest day of the year. Today, it's still in the 70s. I celebrated by going shopping after physical therapy. It would have been a nice day for one of those open air, fake old downtown shopping centers that have become popular around here, but those are all far away, and the stores I wanted are at the mall just down the road from the therapy place. Or I thought they were. I hadn't been in a mall in a couple of years, and a few things had changed. But still, I managed to actually find a few things. It was a moderately successful shopping trip. I even celebrated the end of the heat wave and the approach of fall by buying a cheap hoodie at Old Navy. Not that I expect to be using it anytime soon, but I hope to get in lots of quality outdoor time this fall. Today, though, I'm enjoying drinking hot tea in the afternoon and having my windows open with a fresh, cool breeze blowing. I'm afraid I'll be terribly disappointed when it goes back to being moderately hot.

I'm just about done with the proposal for the new project, aside from the synopsis. That could be a wee bit tricky, as I'm still not entirely sure how the whole plot should go. I have a general idea, and it's possible that trying to put it into synopsis form will help solidify it. The plan is to finish the partial manuscript today and do some outlining of the plot. Then I can let it rest and maybe do some thinking about it while I drive to and from Austin this weekend. Who knows, something said in an ArmadilloCon panel may spark something. Then next week I'll revise what I have. I'll let it rest during Labor Day weekend, then I'll read through it all again -- out loud -- and then send to my agent to see what she thinks. I've got that tingly "this is it!" sensation about this book. I do know I'm going to have to change the name of a secondary character because I realized as I was reading that this name looked a lot like the name of a major character in print. They'll probably never share a scene, but even I was getting confused by the similarities already, which I think is a bad sign. The major character name is one I really like. I pulled the secondary character name out of thin air, so I need to dig to find something better.

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday working on the in-box and starting to answer some of the backed up mail. After spending about an hour replying to fan e-mails I ran out of steam and just started sorting through the in-box to clear out the junk I let pile up, like Facebook and LiveJournal notifications, Borders coupons, Google Alerts, etc. I managed to cut the size of my in-box in half so that just about everything's that left is stuff I have to deal with. It was rather frightening to see that the backlog goes back a couple of years. Yikes! I need to develop a better system for dealing with all this, but it took me an hour to answer one month worth of e-mail. It may take me a while to get through it all, and meanwhile, new stuff is coming in all the time, and then the people I replied to reply to my reply and, well, you can see why I have a bad habit of not wanting to deal with it all. I love getting mail from readers, but answering is a lot more difficult. I don't want to resort to any kind of automated reply since each message generally has a specific question that needs to be answered.

And now I'd better get to work, since I have choir tonight and I took the morning off entirely.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Report: The Other Bronte

Our heat wave is supposed to break this evening when a front comes through, so temperatures the rest of the week and on into the long-range forecast will be at least 10 degrees cooler than they have been. It's not so much the highs that are a problem -- 95 is cooler than 105, but it's still not really comfortable -- but it's the lows that make a big difference. If the morning low is 82, there's never a truly comfortable part of the day. If the morning low is 72, then at least much of the morning is bearable for doing stuff outdoors. Would it look entirely insane if I stood outside with a sign saying "Welcome, Cold Front!"?

I've been doing a lot of work-related reading lately, so I haven't been talking about books as much as I usually do. I did read one that's worthy of discussion. I'd read books by Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte, but I'd missed Anne Bronte, so I decided to rectify that by reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

I don't think Anne had nearly the writing skill of Charlotte (it's been too long since I read Wuthering Heights to compare her to Emily, and I have no desire to re-read it). This isn't a book I could imagine getting published today without a lot of editing. But the content is pretty revolutionary. The book is essentially about what happens when a woman marries a rake and what a woman in the 19th century would have to resort to if she found her marriage unbearable. This woman flees her husband with her child and goes into hiding, making enough money to make ends meet by selling her paintings (since her husband controls all her money) in order to keep her son from being corrupted by his alcoholic father.

This book must have been seen as totally radical for its time. For one thing, it seems as though she recognizes alcoholism for what it is and how it works, which I believe was pretty forward-thinking for that time. The drinkers really do have a driving need, and the book shows that the one who decides to give it up must give it up entirely because even trying to have a little ends up leading to more. For another thing, it dares to point out how wrong it is that a wife has no rights. She's the property of her husband, as are her children. Even though living with a father who's keeping other women under the same roof, drinking to excess and encouraging a small child to drink can't be good for a child, the father has absolute custody. The woman is breaking the law by taking her son away from his father, but the book portrays this as the right thing to do. That seems obvious to us now, but at that time, that would have been shocking.

Meanwhile, the subject matter is a subversion of a literary trope that's still popular today. It completely blows up the idea of a woman being able to reform a rake or save him with her love. This is what it would have really been like to be married to a Heathcliff. Odds are, he's not going to suddenly change his ways. I've heard that particular romance trope referred to as the "magical hoo-ha" -- apparently, there's something magical about this particular woman that means sex with her changes his personality entirely. The spoiler-laden introduction to the book (grrr -- but I read it after reading the book) also lumps Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre into this group, but I don't think he fits. He'd already changed most of his ways before he met Jane. The one-two punch of his nightmare marriage and getting stuck with the child of his former lover seemed to have cured him of wild living. He still had some rough edges, as we saw in his willingness to marry Jane in spite of him still being married and his desire to run off and live with Jane as his wife when the marriage can't happen legally. But Jane didn't reform him by loving him and being with him. She left him, holding onto her own values and refusing to stay with him under those circumstances. He changed on his own in her absence. I think that's totally different than a woman reforming a rake by being with him.

And then the structure of the book inverts the structure of the Gothic romance. Typically, it's the naive young woman who becomes fascinated with the reclusive, mysterious stranger who lives in the remote, spooky house. In this book, in the framing story, our naive, idealistic young person is a man, and the mysterious, reclusive stranger is a woman. Although I love that idea, it doesn't entirely work because it's handled in a clunky way. The framing story is told through letters to some character we never meet, twenty years after the events of the story, and for no apparent reason, which makes it very "telling" instead of "showing," and I can't find any reason for the letter format. It's like this guy just decides to write very long letters to a friend about what happened to him twenty years ago. Then the bulk of the story is the woman's journals from her marriage, which she gives to the young man in the framing story to explain why she's living reclusively in the old manor and why they can't be together. Although the narrator of the framing story is clearly a better person than her husband, he's not the sort of hero who can transcend time. We in the 21st century would see him as violent and controlling, while for that time it seems he's merely considered passionate and romantic. At least he's only violent to other men, but there's a very fine line between a romantic and a rake. The big difference is that the romantic is focused on one woman and that his "intoxication" comes from her.

This isn't as engrossing a read as Jane Eyre. The writing is a lot less fluid and vivid. It's also a little frustrating to read about the mistakes this woman makes in insisting on marrying this man in spite of a whole field of red flags and the advice of everyone she knows as she insists that she can save him with her love. She's so willfully blind that it's hard to be too sympathetic for her plight. The husband is a bit over the top -- he even complains that she looks too pious and intent in church because that tells him that she's not thinking about him at that time. Yes, the man is jealous of God, but he has no qualms about cheating on her. If he had a mustache, he'd be twirling it.

I've never been a fan of the reforming a rake plot, but after reading this, I'll have even more trouble with it. I'll have way too vivid a mental image of what's more likely to happen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Movie Monday

Today is apparently the start of the new school year for those who attend school. For me, it meant going through a school zone on the way to physical therapy. While stopped at a light near the middle school, I saw a girl heading to school who looked freakishly like I did at that age. Even her school uniform (they do the khakis and solid color polo shirt thing around here) looked a lot like the kind of clothes I chose to wear to school. I had a brief pang of nostalgia.

Meanwhile, I think I've figured out one problem with the economy: People may not be buying stuff because there's nothing out there worth buying. I got money for my birthday, as well as a nice royalty check. I need new shoes, and a few new articles of clothing wouldn't hurt (considering I have a meeting at the med school this week, and I'm having trouble finding business attire to wear that I didn't already own when I worked there more than 15 years ago). I want to buy stuff. But when I went shopping after therapy, I couldn't find a single article of clothing I even wanted to try on. The shoes were all awful. I ended up just getting a new set of sheets and a microfiber hair towel, since my hair takes forever to dry and a blow dryer turns it into a fright wig, so I thought I'd give it a shot. I may hit the mall later this week and see if I can find anything. It's hard to get the economy moving again by spending money when there's nothing I want to buy. I have a similar problem with supporting the publishing industry, since my taste is apparently what's not in fashion at the moment.

I caught a couple of movies on TV this weekend that are worth discussing. First, I saw The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen on one of the local stations Saturday afternoon, and it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. It certainly wasn't great, and it was nowhere near as good as a movie with that premise should have been, but it was watchable. I suspect that's a matter of perspective. If you'd heard the premise and thought that sounded like a great movie and paid to see it in the theater, then it would have been truly awful. I'd heard how awful it was and what a mess they made of it, so when I had it on as background noise while I was reading, I didn't think it was all that horrible. It wasn't great, but it didn't exactly make my eyeballs bleed. The premise is that a bunch of famous literary characters from 19th century fiction team up in a kind of literary justice league to fight evil. I think the biggest problem with the movie is that it didn't seem as though anyone involved with the movie had ever read even so much as the Cliff's Notes of the books their characters came from, which meant they weren't so much the actual characters put into this new situation as they were random people who had the same names and maybe a few characteristics of the actual characters. For instance, they seemed to totally forget that Tom Sawyer was a trickster character. He was the kind of fast-talking con man who could charm you into not only doing something you didn't want to do, but paying him for the privilege of doing it. That would seem to lend all sorts of fun potential when making an adult Tom Sawyer be a secret agent. And yet, his sole characteristic here seemed to be that he was American and therefore the gun guy. Even if you haven't read the book, you should know about the famous fence-painting scene and be able to apply that to the character. Tom Sawyer should have a sense of mischief about him. Meanwhile, Mr. Hyde seemed to be the Hulk with a British accent. I have not read the comic books the movie was based on, so I don't know if they do a better job, but if the literary mash-up trend continues, I think I'd far rather read a book that took literary characters from multiple books and put them in a new setting like this than one that just adds zombies or vampires to an existing novel. But it can only work if the author has actually read the source material.

Hmmm, I wonder how close one could come to this premise without getting into infringement trouble? Maybe different characters fighting different kinds of villains?

Then on one of the HBO channels, my Sunday-afternoon viewing was Mrs. Henderson Presents, based on the true story of a wealthy widow in the late 1930s who got bored with charity committee meetings and embroidery and decided to buy a theater. When their Vaudeville-style reviews were copied by every other theater and they started losing money, she came up with the idea of having nude girls in the shows and found a loophole in the regulations that allowed them to get away with it. And then when the war started, this was the only theater that stayed open during the Blitz. Judi Dench plays Mrs. Henderson, and she's absolutely brilliant as this slightly batty but still incredibly shrewd woman who is a real force of nature. The movie is hilarious, but still has a strong emotional core and at times brought tears to my eyes. As a content advisory, there is a fair amount of female and even male full nudity, so possibly not something to watch with your parents. Still, there's something fairly innocent about the way the nudity is portrayed, and most of it falls into the category I'd call "in good taste," which generally means dimly lit, at a distance and not really focused on. And they're "real" bodies, not super-enhanced Hollywood bodies.

There were lots of funny lines, but I think my favorite came when they were auditioning for the nude girls, and the male manager had rejected all the candidates so far, saying he was looking not for talent, but for a quality -- a smile, a look in the eye, a personality. Mrs. Henderson deadpans, "Then perhaps you should try looking at their faces."

Now, off to the library because although I have hundreds of books lying around the house, many of which I haven't read, I get twitchy when I've finished all the novels I got from the library.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Random Roundup

Starting over again turns out to have been a good idea. I think the new version works so much better, and I think it even improved the character's voice. I did cheat a little and incorporate some of a transition scene from the earlier version, but from here on, I'm going to force myself to write from scratch. I only had about 10,000 words written, and I can do 10,000 words easily. I did go through quite a lot of procrastination before I started writing. My head was churning with random other stuff, and sometimes the only way to deal with that is to just dump it, get it out there and clear the head. So, I did a lot of entirely unrelated writing on some non-fiction stuff that may or may not go anywhere. That meant I didn't get very far on the book rewrite before it got late and my shoulder started hurting, but starting is the hard part, and I think some of that procrastination was letting my subconscious work. I'd written out about a page of possible opening lines, and I needed to let that rest before I could decide which approach to take. I'd thought I had the perfect one, but I made myself try some more, and then I found another one that I liked and wanted to go with, but then I made myself try some more. Yep, the very last one I came up with on the bottom of the back of the sheet of paper turned out to be the one that worked. Now today should be easier.

Today I've got a round-up of random thoughts that aren't enough meat for their own blog posts.

First, I have a habit of griping about the publicity ineptitude of the major publishers. When hearing about my publisher's standard practices, I once quipped to my editor that the way I would cope with them would be to think of the exact opposite of what I would have recommended to my public relations clients, and that would be what I expected from them. She quite seriously said, "Yes! That's it exactly!" I spent more than a decade working in public relations, advising major multi-national corporations, so I do know what I'm talking about, and it's been frustrating to see how uncreative and rut-bound publishers are about promoting books. So, I feel obligated to give a publisher credit when they do something cool. Orbit Books, a sf/f publisher, has been doing a report on trends in fantasy book covers. The most recent one was on trends in title words and fonts. From that post, you can link to reports on urban fantasy heroine attire, dragon colors and fantasy art. Reports like this were one of my favorite PR tactics. Journalists love them, and they're a good way to position yourself as an expert and get your name out there without being overtly promotional. These are done with tongue-in-cheek humor, which makes them even more fun. I've seen retweets about these, even from non-book-industry people, so it must be working. I haven't worked with this publisher, so I don't know if they're this clever and creative when promoting individual titles, but I must say that this does make me think it would be fun to work with this publisher. I also generally like their covers.

Sometimes there seems to be something in the air -- trends with no apparent causes. Like, say, names. A couple of years ago, the big name for characters on television seemed to be Charles, with all the variations on that name, for both men and women. It seemed like you weren't allowed to put a show on television without a character named Charles. We had both male and female Chucks and Charlies/Charleys. Now it seems like Nate/Nathan is on the rise. There's Nate Ford on Leverage, Nate the freakishly tall psychologist on NCIS: LA and Nathan the detective who doesn't feel pain on Haven, and I think I'm missing one. That isn't the most common name, so it caught my attention when it seemed like half the series I was watching had a character with that name.

I wanted to throw confetti and streamers at the post office this morning. A man approached the counter with his cell phone glued to his ear and just shoved his envelope at the clerk without pausing his conversation. She informed him that he could step aside, conduct his call and then get back in line, or he could end his call and she could help him, but cell phones could not be used at the counter. I wonder if that's postal service policy, this post office's policy or that clerk's personal policy, but I have to applaud it. That's one of my pet peeves, when someone conducts an entire transaction at a store while on the phone, not even acknowledging the person they're doing business with. That's so rude. I'd love it if more businesses developed "either talk on the phone or deal with me" policies like that.

School starts next week around here, and although I don't have kids, I'm looking forward to it. I might get some shopping done when the stores are a little quieter during the day. I'll still have to deal with feral preschoolers and homeschoolers being academically enriched by being dragged through Target while their moms talk on their cell phones, but it will be a bit quieter after the back-to-school frenzy. I may also try to make time to see the new Nanny McPhee movie, which apparently involves the entire adult cast of the Harry Potter movies plus Ewan McGregor (who seems to be getting typecast lately as the dad or father figure whose absence kicks off the story in children's movies, which is rather ironic considering the types of movies he did earlier in his career). The Harry Potter score for that movie will be off the charts, but I wonder how it will score in Doctor Who connections.

And now it's lunchtime. I want to go swimming today, so I have to start work earlier than usual if I want to get something done.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shutting out the Voices

I think I finally have what I want to do with this book straight in my head, so today I'm going to start over and try again. At a writing conference, I once heard a speaker say that once you've written a draft, you should put it aside, not even look at it, and write the book all over again. The idea of it will be clearer in your head after you've written it and the characters will be more developed, but if you just try to revise the words, then you'll still be too tied to those words and the way things are to really be able to make the second draft better. I've never been brave enough to do that with a whole book, but I have found that it can work for individual scenes. So, today I will start over and rewrite what I've written to make it more what I want it to be.

I am having trouble finding the right mood-setting inspiration. The scenario I'm dealing with in the opening is a common one for fairy tales: person sets off in search of a new life and maybe a little adventure, but with their sights set to the point that "adventure" might just include trying a new kind of job in a different place, and along the way they run into something even bigger than they planned. So, they set off with a sense of adventure and maybe a bit of nerves because making that big a change is scary, but at that point they're not being chased by anything or trying to save the world -- that comes later. And yet I didn't find anything on my DVD shelves that really fits that. The one thing that fits the mood I'm trying to generate is the opening of Working Girl, and that's mostly in the music (wouldn't you know, after that being all over the HBO channels lately, it's not listed for this afternoon). I suspect, though, that this quest has become a procrastination tactic, so I'll imagine myself heading out into the world with "Let the River Run" playing in the background and get to work.

When you're writing something that you expect to be read by someone else, it becomes difficult to shut out that awareness of what people will think about it. Sometimes that can be good. I've learned to anticipate my agent's criticisms so that I can make corrections before I show her something, and that's improved my writing. I've learned from copy edits what some of my technical weak spots are so that I can fix them ahead of time or even avoid them. And I think it doesn't hurt to consider what the potential readership for a book will think about it. That doesn't mean I'll adapt my vision to win a popularity contest, but doing something that I know will be wildly unpopular means there might be an uphill battle. I do this to make money, so it would be silly not to worry about how something would sell. On the other hand, letting those other voices in can be paralyzing. I've been so worried about being typecast as a romance writer after seeing that response to a proposal I wrote that wasn't meant to be romantic that I'm almost afraid to write a scene in which a man and a woman acknowledge each other's existence for fear that it will make editors assume the story will be a romance. And now that everyone can be a critic and write Amazon reviews or blog post reviews, there are a whole host of "rules" that seem to be coming up among fandom that I worry about whether or not I should consider.

One I'm seeing a lot of discussion among writers about is the tendency to cry "Mary Sue!" about characters. The term originated in fan fiction, where a "Mary Sue" was an original character inserted into an existing world (like Ensign Mary Sue joining the crew of the Enterprise) and then taking over the story. Mary Sue was universally loved, good at everything, saved the day and then got it on with the author's favorite character. The character was so idealized that it was obvious that she was the author's insertion of herself into the story world. Then the term started being applied to original fiction, where the problem wasn't so much that this character who didn't belong took over the story, but rather that the character was so idealized and the author so obviously lost all objectivity in writing about this character that it was clear that this character was the author's stand-in. Now, though, the term gets tossed about left and right, used to describe any character given any positive traits. As someone has said, a character who can make her way home without drowning will be labeled a Mary Sue. That's practically become shorthand for "character I don't like who has any positive attributes or who is remotely competent."

I do worry about whether the characters I write might be considered Mary Sues, and I'm conscious -- perhaps overly so -- about making sure I'm objective even about characters I love. I'm still wrestling with this on the book currently simmering on the back burner. My main character in that book is hyper-competent and has many traditional Mary Sue hallmarks, but that's actually a plot point. She's supposed to look a little too good to be true to others. When we're in her POV, we see that she's working very, very hard to get people to think that about her, and then she learns that there's something else going on and is rather disappointed to find out that it's not really because of anything she's done that she has that effect on people. I think I've given her enough doubts and flaws to keep her from being a Mary Sue, but I'm also afraid that a lot of people -- the ones most likely to write nasty Amazon reviews -- won't get it, and the fact that she's hyper-competent will get her slapped with the Mary Sue label. There's even a physical trait that I would like to give her that I think makes a lot of sense for the situation and that I even consider something of a flaw but that shows up on a lot of "is this character a Mary Sue?" lists, so I'm afraid to use it. I know I should shut out the fear of criticism that hasn't happened for a book that isn't even finished yet and just do what my instincts tell me.

With the book I'm working on now, I've got another dilemma. Trying to keep this pretty vague because I don't like to talk in specifics about uncontracted books, this book fits into a subgenre that extends beyond the literary world into other areas (in fact, in spite of getting a lot of buzz, the literary subgenre is still really small). In my research, I've seen discussion about a particular element that's become a lazy shorthand for this subgenre, the kind of thing that people who are jumping on the bandwagon without knowing a lot about it do without having a good reason for doing it, so that this is seen by people in the know as the sure sign of a poseur. I don't think this thing has actually shown up in any books in the subgenre. But it's absolutely perfect for a plot element in this book. So, of course, I worry that people in the know will think I'm just jumping on the bandwagon without knowing anything about it by including it. On the other hand, the people in the know might find it amusing that I found an actual, valid reason for this trope. I guess it's up to me to handle it in a way that shows I'm aware of it so that it becomes an in-joke for people in the know.

If you're not already neurotic, being a writer is likely to make you so.

Now I'm going to put on my tinfoil hat and get to work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Hero's Journey: Ordinary World

Last night in ballet, I managed to get my bad arm into the one position I haven't been able to do at all since my shoulder went wonky. It's not quite entirely back to normal -- the physical therapist can tell a difference, and I can feel the difference -- but it essentially looks normal. The therapist responded by really upping the amount of weight I have to lift. As a result, today's session was hard. I was glad I'd run all my errands on the way because I was ready to collapse by the time I got home.

Meanwhile, my subconscious has once more proved that it really is smarter than I am. I suspect my lack of productivity Monday had something to do with the fact that I was focusing on the wrong problem. I went to work yesterday and realized that the tone of the opening is all wrong. I must have been in a bad mood when I wrote it because it was rather gloomy, and that's not what I want at all. I had to really get into the narrator's head, so to do that, I got out some notebook paper and did some stream-of-consciousness writing to go through what her life has been like lately and what had happened to her already that day so I could see what her mindset would be at the moment the book opened. Doing that somewhat changed my perspective on this character, and now I think I've got the archetype wrong. I need to capture a sense of pure adventure and excitement. Hmm, I wonder if I've got something in my DVD library that might capture what I want to get me in the mood. Normally, this isn't a problem for me. I'm always on board the less angst, more fun train, so I'm not sure where the gloomy angst is coming from. Oh wait, I've been rewatching the series Angel. That would certainly do it. Note to self: avoid Whedon when you don't want to get too angsty.

So, now for the regularly scheduled writing post. In talking about revision, I mentioned that checking your plot against one of the standard outlines was a good way to look at your book from a big-picture perspective. One of the more popular plot structures these days (at least, one you'll hear a lot about at writing conferences) is the Hero's Journey -- the universal mythic structure as identified by Joseph Campbell, and then distilled for modern storytelling in the book The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. Plot has always been something I've struggled with. I'm great at coming up with characters and situations, but then coming up with things to happen can be difficult for me. It was through this book that I learned how to plot. For the next few months, I'll tackle the various steps of the heroic journey as described in the book, mostly getting into my own thoughts about how these steps work in novels. I would certainly recommend reading the book for yourself and going beyond what I say here. I need to get the more recent edition that's got more material in it, since I have the initial edition, and I understand it's gone through some significant changes.

The first stage in the journey is the Ordinary World. This stage establishes the baseline for the hero and for his world. You can't really show how a person or a place/society has changed without showing where it is at the beginning. Usually, this stage occurs before the hero even knows that a story is about to hit him. He's going about his business, living his life and interacting with his world. In this section, you can give hints about what's missing in the hero's life -- his job is dead-end, he's lacking in love, he's lacking in courage, he longs for adventure, etc. If the world is the problem, this is also where that shows up -- are criminals or evil vampires running amok, is there injustice, is there war? Or if the world is good, we can see what's at stake if something bad does happen -- this happy place might be destroyed, the hero could lose his family, his job, his home. Sometimes, the seeds of the plot are planted here because we get hints of what's wrong with the hero that he's going to have to fix somehow -- is he a jerk who treats people badly or is he a doormat? We may see signs of the hero's fatal flaws that will trip him up once the story gets going, or of hidden strengths that may come in handy later.

The challenge with the Ordinary World segment is that ordinary isn't that exciting, and this is the start of the book, where you want to hook readers. Screenwriters have a little more leeway to spend more time in the Ordinary World because they've got more sensory input to work with. There are images, there can be music, and the audience can be engaged by looking at the actors and remembering their other roles or playing the "What was he in?" game. Sometimes, the opening credits sequence is used to show the Ordinary World -- the theme song plays and the credits roll as we see the hero or heroine going about his/her everyday life, sometimes starting the day or with a montage of regular life events. Novelists today generally need to get into the story more quickly. Usually, the first major turning point that changes things for the hero and moves him into the story world needs to happen within the first chapter, and we don't have the luxury of theme songs to keep the audience entertained while we set the stage.

You're in luck if your hero's Ordinary World is already pretty exciting. Think of the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- that sequence of Indiana Jones getting past the booby traps to get to the idol, only to run into his nemesis and then make a narrow escape is his ordinary world, or at least one facet of it. Then we cut to the other side of his ordinary world, where he's a mild-mannered professor. I suspect that if he'd merely been a mild-mannered professor who had to be recruited into this crazy mission because he was the expert on the subject and was not already an adventurer, the main plot would have started much sooner because we wouldn't have spent a lot of time on him teaching classes and doing research.

One way to show the Ordinary World while still getting the story going is to show what's happening beyond the hero's scope while he's living his ordinary life. The original Star Wars movie starts with that now-iconic image of the two spaceships passing over the planet, one in pursuit of and firing on the other. Then there's the sequence in which Princess Leia sends the droids on their mission before being captured. Only later do we meet Luke, going about his boring farm chores and whining about it. But that space battle is part of his ordinary world, even if he doesn't know about it yet. It shows the greater context of his world, the fact that there's something terribly wrong with the galaxy that needs to be fixed. There's a war on, so there's a reason for a young man to feel like something's wrong if he's stuck in the middle of nowhere, doing nothing of any importance. Many of the Harry Potter books do a similar thing. The books are in a very tight third-person point of view, where we're only in Harry's head, but they open with a kind of prologue chapter in which we see what the bad guys are up to, and that hints at what Harry's big problem in the books is going to be. Then we cut to Harry being bored at his aunt and uncle's house.

You can also drop in hints about what might be to come even as you're showing the ordinary world. That was how I opened Enchanted, Inc., the first book in my series. The ordinary world for my heroine was a daily routine of commuting to work, then dealing with a crazy boss in a soul-sucking job, but on her way to work on the day the story starts, she notices strange things happening. She's not sure what's going on, but the reader suspects things are about to get wacky for her.

"Ordinary" doesn't have to mean "boring" or "conflict-free." I would guess that most of us lead lives that look like the ordinary world parts of stories, but we still face conflict and challenges. We may clash with our surroundings or with the people around us. We have problems, fears and worries. That gives enough material to make the ordinary world compelling, but only include those details that may be relevant to the plot -- the things the hero needs to change or change his attitude about. Finding that someone put a red sock in her load of whites and turned everything pink may be a conflict in the heroine's life in the ordinary world, but it's probably not going to be a factor in the story (though now watch me come up with a plot where it is).

Next, we kick off the story with the Call to Adventure.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

General Updates

I had a spectacularly unproductive Monday, which is odd because I'm usually all motivated and dedicated on Mondays. But I'd had a very restless night, then was sore from physical therapy. And then I was also kind of antsy and needed more physical activity, so I went swimming, which then wiped me out for the rest of the day. I always find it odd how tired swimming makes me, but I think swimming is deceptively effortless. You don't get hot and sweaty, so you aren't aware of how much you're working. If I did an equivalent amount of activity on land, I'm sure that would wipe me out for the rest of the day, too. It didn't help that the part I was working on was really tricky. It's a very chaotic scene where there's a lot going on all at once and I need to figure out what to describe in which order. I keep seeing the movie in my head, and it all makes sense because I can take in all that information visually. Putting it into words is a challenge. I'm having to mentally slow it down while putting myself in the narrator's head and then I can decide what she would notice or describe first when it's all happening at once.

I guess it's time for some general updates of things that are going on:

I'm still very far behind in dealing with fan e-mail. Many apologies, but right now, I need to be writing books instead of e-mails, and with my current computer, I can't read or respond to e-mail offline, so I can't do it while I watch TV (which is how I used to get through all the fan mail). I'm also avoiding spending time in my office since it gets really hot up here. It's on my to-do list, really.

I need writing questions or topics for the every-other-week writing posts. Is there something you want to know about writing or publishing? Ask!

In September, I think I'm going to do a kind of Enchanted, Inc. series "book club." If you've got questions about the books or want to know things like where ideas came from, what characters' backstories are or why I did certain things, now's your chance to ask. I guess you could think of it as your chance to interview me. You can leave questions as blog comments or e-mail them (but put something in the subject line to make it clear what it is so I can fish it out of all the "when is book 5 coming?" e-mails). I will try to answer as many questions as I can, but I'll be mostly looking for things that can spur essay-type answers (I may also do a quickie question roundup if I get a lot of things that need only short answers). I reserve the right to avoid anything that would spoil things I plan to do in future books, including backstories that are relevant to future plots.

I've got a few conventions scheduled for the coming months. The last weekend in August, I'll be at ArmadilloCon in Austin. In mid-September, I've got FenCon in Dallas. And I'll be at MileHiCon in Denver in late October. Katherine Kurtz, the author of the series that was my teenage obsession, is one of the guests in Denver, so I'll be the one fangirling her (or possibly acting cool and aloof so I don't look like a drooling fangirl). I did eventually manage to act like a coherent human being with Alan Dean Foster, and I have had real conversations with Connie Willis, so there is hope for me. Yes, authors are my movie stars, even though I am one of them.

I have no news on the possibility of book 5 or the movie. When I know something and am allowed to talk, trust me, you'll know. (And no, I'm not saying that I know something and am not allowed to talk. It's just that most movie news I've had has involved a period of time in which I'm not allowed to talk about it because the studio wants to announce things first, so if/when something does happen, there's a chance there may be a time when I know something but am not saying anything.)

I've been getting a lot of alerts about people wanting to friend me on MySpace or sending me messages, but MySpace won't let me on their site with my current browser, and I can't update my browser on my current operating system, and there isn't an operating system currently available that will work on my computer. It's not even that their site doesn't work well with my browser. I can't even log on to see messages. Which seems silly and counterproductive to me, to just shut out people, but it's their loss. I do plan to get a new computer in the next month or so, but it's currently working on all sites except MySpace, so it's not exactly a crisis.

The Italian cooking phase continues. I've now found something utterly decadent to do with broccoli. The cookbook has to go back to the library tomorrow, so I guess that's it for that book. I did find four new recipes that were entirely different from anything I'd cooked before, and I've found ways of applying those ingredients or techniques to create other dishes, so I consider it a success. What I really like is that all these dishes involve fresh vegetables. I like vegetables, but I get bored with the same old ways of cooking them. Having lots of yummy things I can do with zucchini is a win.

Choir starts again this week, so I'm almost back on my regular "school year" schedule. It may be a while before the chorale rehearsals start, and then I'm directing a children's choir this year that will start in September, but those are both before regular choir practice, so they don't alter my schedule all that much. It may still be 100 degrees, but summer is coming to a close.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Movies

I got another 5,000 words written on Friday, so I'm about halfway to the point I want to be when I send the proposal to my agent. I think today I'm going to devote some time to fixing the part I've already written. A lot of that involves world-building stuff that I'll need to know going forward. I think I'll also be deleting some of what I wrote Friday because I was doing some meandering -- hashing things out on the page as a way of getting them straight in my head. Now that I have things figured out, I don't need all of it in the book. One thing involves my main character making a big decision and then trying to justify that decision to herself. I think I spent way too much on the doubts and justification, so I can condense it. I could get the partial manuscript and maybe even a synopsis written this week, and then I can get to work on fine-tuning it. Oh, and I need a title, as usual.

I haven't been watching as many movies since I've moved from doing research and brainstorming to writing, but I do have some catching up to do in talking about movies. Like, did I ever mention that I saw Inception a couple of weeks ago? Very mind-blowing. I love all those twists and turns and playing with the distinctions between dreams and reality, plus the multiple layers of dreams. The dream imagery was very much like a lot of what happens in my dreams. I'd love to figure out how to do that kind of thing in a book, but it's a lot more complicated without the visual cues.

Last weekend I watched the sequel to Night at the Museum on HBO, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. The first one was vaguely entertaining, but I'm not a fan of Ben Stiller, so it was mostly about spotting all the guest stars among the museum exhibits. This one was a lot more fun for me, probably mostly because Amy Adams stole the show (as usual). I wouldn't have paid to see it in the theater, but for a Sunday evening on HBO, it was better than I expected.

One day last week, the comedy HBO channel showed The Apartment, and I watched because I've heard a lot about it and because I seem to have developed a retroactive crush on Jack Lemmon, who was utterly adorable in his youth. My main reaction was, that was a comedy? I guess in the classical theater sense it might have been because everyone was alive at the end and the couple sort of gets together, but otherwise, I'd call it a tragedy with a moderately hopeful ending. I guess it was meant to be a Message Movie with something Important to say about modern life, but I kept thinking that they could have taken some of that situation and those characters and made something really fun out of it. The gist of the story is that Jack Lemmon is a bachelor working for a big insurance company, and he's climbing the corporate ladder by lending his apartment to company executives who need a place to get together with their mistresses. He's getting a bit fed up with it, but now the executives are making veiled threats along with their promises, so he can't get out of it. Meanwhile, he's taken a liking to the saucy elevator operator, only to find that she's one of the women who's being taken to his apartment. I guess it's a well-made movie, but know what you're getting into. It's not that funny or that romantic, in spite of being generally considered a romantic comedy.

Saturday morning on HBO I stumbled upon an odd little movie that geeks might enjoy. It was a co-production of HBO and BBC, so I'm not sure it was ever a theatrical release. The title was what caught my eye: Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel. I'd call it a kind of Bill and Ted meets Galaxy Quest for Doctor Who fans. Three British nerds (well, two nerds and one guy who claims he hates science fiction -- he saw one Star Trek movie, that one with the golden robot and the short, round robot, and he hated it, so that was enough for him) are hanging out in the pub after having seen a disappointing movie. To vent, they write an open letter to Hollywood about what they'd like to see in movies (included on the list: More Firefly and/or Serenity). When one of them goes to get another round of drinks, he runs into a mysterious woman who claims to be a time traveler from the future. She warns him that there's a group of time travelers calling themselves Editors who travel in time, killing people after their greatest triumph so their work doesn't go into decline. For instance, they plan to kill Kevin Costner right after Dances with Wolves. His friends don't believe him, since he has time travel on the brain (his ideal job is Time Lord), but they do like the idea of Editors and discuss when George Lucas should be taken out -- after the Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi? But then one of them goes to the bathroom and comes out in a different time, and soon they're bouncing around in time (but always within the same pub), relying on the expertise of their Doctor Who fan friend to tell them what to do to avoid paradoxes. And then they learn that the Editors are coming for them because of something on that sheet of paper where they wrote their letter to Hollywood. I wouldn't call this a good movie by any means, but if you're geeky enough to get all the references and are the sort of person to stand up and cheer a Firefly reference in any movie, then this one can be fun. Even without the time travel stuff, just their conversations are funny because they sound like what happens when my friends get together, only without the British accents. Keep a look out in the HBO listings, where they seem to truncate the title to Frequently Asked Questions. And watch until the very end of the credits because the movie doesn't end until the credits do.

Finally, on Sunday afternoon there was a movie called The Canterville Ghost on TCM. It's about a 17th century Englishman whose father walled him up inside the castle and cursed him because of an act of cowardice. He's doomed to get no rest until a kinsman does a brave deed in his name. Unfortunately, cowardice kind of runs in the family. And then in 1943, a platoon of US Army Rangers is billeted in the haunted castle. The cowardly ghost is no match for the Rangers (there's a fun scene of the ghost fleeing in terror from the people he's haunting) or for little Lady Jessica, the six-year-old apparently orphaned girl who is the castle's current owner and who gets adopted as a sort of mascot by the GIs. I think this film was mostly a vehicle for child star Margaret O'Brien, who manages to avoid being an irritatingly cute adorable moppet by having a real sense of gravitas about her. The movie is kind of disjointed, with half of it being about the GIs and the little girl and the other half about the ghost and exploring the meaning of bravery, without much of a tie between the two parts. Still, it had a lot of laugh-out-loud funny moments in it. I did find myself thinking that it might have been more interesting if maybe Lady Jessica had been an adult and there could have been a romance instead of a cute kid story (especially because the final scene borders on the ick with the hint of a possible future romance). Not bad for a hot Sunday afternoon as background noise to the crossword puzzle.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Doctor Who: The Season in Review

I wrote more than 5,500 words on the new book yesterday. It was what I'd originally planned as the first chapter, but it's too long for a chapter, and I think there's still some development I need to do on this part that will make it even longer, so it will end up being the first two chapters. I did that in only a little more than two hours, and I think I could have gone on to write more, but that passed even my "bonus" goal for the day, so I deserved a break. I've been trying to decide whether to fix this first part today or just plunge ahead. It's possible that the stuff I need to fix could affect what happens next, but then the stuff that happens next could affect how I see the beginning, so I'd have to fix it again. I think I'll plunge ahead and write until I run out of story, and then that should help me go back and flesh it all out.

I do think I like it so far. I'm really enjoying the heroine/narrator, who has quite a dry wit. She's someone who is very, very nervous inside but who fights not to let that show by trying to act totally cool and collected, which is a challenge to write, but it means the interior monologue is fun in contrast with her behavior, since on the inside she's going, "Eeep! Yikes! I'm gonna die! Help!" while on the outside she's calmly saying, "My, isn't this interesting?"

I was reminded that I'd never discussed the season finale of Doctor Who, or even the season. It has now aired in the US on BBC America, and even Mom has seen it (though the season has just started on my local PBS station), so I'm going to assume that if you care all that much, you'll have seen it already. If you do care and haven't seen it, the rest of this post will be very spoilery, so go away now, come back Monday, and have a nice weekend.

I have to say that in general, I loved this season. It hit most of my writing/plot/characterization buttons, and in a good way. It was almost like it was designed just for me (hmmm, there's someone I should probably talk to about that ...). There were some weaker episodes, but not really anything painfully bad (to me), and I liked the way it all added up to come together in a big story. There was just the right mix of whimsy and drama, without the overblown angst that the series had gone into recently. I have to admit that I was initially leery of the casting for the next Doctor. After the previous season (before the year of specials) had ended up with such a fanfic-like, tween girl-friendly romance, I was very nervous about the casting of such a young actor and then an even younger female companion. I was afraid we were doomed to more romantic angst.

And then I actually saw the season, and the very interesting thing was that Matt Smith may be very young (I think I own clothing older than he is), but he's playing the character as a very old man who sees himself as an old man, no matter what his face may look like at the moment. He may look young and hot, but it doesn't seem to have occurred to him that anyone might see him that way, and he's rather surprised when they do. That's come up with all kinds of fun visual gags, like when he needs a photo ID and uses one with the first Doctor's face on it, or when he's testing a gadget that identifies things, and the picture of him it spits out is the first Doctor. Or there's the fact that he doesn't see any flaw in the plan of him posing as Amy's father. That made for a fun contrast to all the Rose/Doctor stuff that almost turned me off of the series.

And that brings me to the other thing that helped prevent the Doctor/Rose type stuff: Rory, Amy's boyfriend (in the first episode), then fiance and now husband. I was a little worried when he joined the crew that it would be Mickey 2.0, the guy who mostly existed just to make the Doctor look super-awesome in comparison, but I should have been paying more attention to that first episode. Rory wasn't introduced to us or to the Doctor as Amy's boyfriend, just an adjunct of her life. When we met him, it was on his own terms, apart from Amy, doing his own job. Both we and the Doctor first saw him as the guy who'd figured out that something was going on and who had the presence of mind to record the evidence. Only then did we find out that he also happened to be Amy's boyfriend. He was presented as the ordinary guy who had modest dreams in comparison to the Doctor, but he wasn't shown as being wrong about that or inferior for wanting little more than to be a small-town doctor with a wife and family. And then they killed him, and I was crushed because I liked that dynamic among the three of them. I actually squealed in glee when he appeared again near the end, and then he completely won me over with possibly the most romantic gesture ever: standing guard over the woman he loved for nearly 2,000 years. Yeah, it wasn't really Rory. It was the Auton version who was the Big, Damn Hero, but it was his mind, his essence, and his soul that made that decision and then stuck it out. Now, his being focused and having relatively small goals and no hunger for danger and adventure was actually an asset. Someone who wanted much more than a quiet life with the woman he loves would never have survived that.

They kept bringing up the "fairy tale" concept all season, and that's probably what pushed a lot of my buttons because I'm a big fairy tale fan. I'll have to rewatch the whole season to see how many motifs I can pick up, but it did seem like they used a lot of thematic stuff from fairy tales, like the idea that small acts of kindness could come back in a big way, just when you needed them. Then there's the whole idea of stories holding truth and power, that holding onto the story of the Doctor was enough to bring him back from the other side of the void.

I really loved the fact that they remembered they're playing with time travel. Yeah, it got very wibbley-wobbly/timey-wimey, and your head will explode if you think about it too much because there are all kinds of time loops going on, but it's nice to see time travel actually used in the plot beyond just traveling to a time and place to have an adventure. And things get complicated when there's more than one time traveler involved. I've seen complaints that the final episode was a letdown from the huge cliffhanger of the previous one because it slipped into almost slapstick, but I rather enjoyed that, with all the complexity of bouncing around time to make things work (I've seen a thing online where someone charted all the time traveling in that episode, and it was impressive). Even cooler was that we had already seen one of those visits to the past in a previous episode in something that looked like a continuity error, but which turned out to be something different entirely.

To make the final episode and the ending with the wedding even more fun, right before I saw it, I was singing at a wedding, and then serving cake at the reception. I had friends over for a viewing party, and since I was serving the cake and there was tons left over, I got to bring home wedding cake (as well as some of the flowers used to decorate the church). That meant our refreshments for viewing included wedding cake, so I guess we were part of Amy and Rory's wedding reception. The "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" referring to the TARDIS was another squeal for joy moment, and I totally know what I'll have to have at my wedding if I ever manage to get married.

I might get more analytical upon a rewatch, but for now, I feel like a kid when thinking about it all. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do with the next season. I'd thought during the couple of episodes when Rory was on board before he was killed that this trio has a kind of Harry Potter cast dynamic -- there's the lead/hero who's a bit set apart and who has the weight of the universe on his shoulders, and then his two best friends are a bossy, headstrong girl and an ordinary guy with comic-relief tendencies, and the two sidekicks are romantically involved with each other instead of the hero getting the girl. It gets especially interesting going forward if Rory really does remember everything (there's an almost throwaway line during the wedding reception when Rory is remembering the Doctor and he blurts out something about how he used to be plastic that hints he remembers at least something) because if Rory has nearly 2,000 years worth of memories, that makes him closer to being a true peer to the Doctor, and I don't think we've seen anything like that when the Doctor wasn't hanging out with another Time Lord.

Maybe I'll do a more in-depth analysis that goes beyond fangirl squealing when the DVD set comes out and I can really re-watch it all.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Ready, Set, Go!

After Tuesday's ballet class and yesterday's physical therapy session, I think every muscle in my body is now sore and quivering. I guess I wasn't keeping up with ballet exercises as much as I thought over the summer. It really didn't help that there was a lawn crew whose truck and trailer were parked in front of my driveway in such a way that it took a lot of fancy maneuvering, backing up and moving forward in tiny increments for me to get into my garage on my way home from therapy, and the soreness in my legs kicked in about then when I was having to really work the clutch pedal. To make matters worse, the crew just watched me do this without even offering to move their truck out of the way, and they stopped their lawn work to watch me. Plus, the truck was parked in a fire lane, so they weren't even legally parked. They were in the wrong and finding amusement in me having to cope with their violation.

I thought I was going to start writing the new book yesterday, until I realized that I didn't know where it began. I knew what would happen in the opening scene, but I didn't know where that scene started. I'm a big believer in starting with action, but it helps to have at least a moment to set the stage before the action starts, and I needed to think about what my narrator would be seeing, doing and thinking when the action kicked in. It took a couple of hours and some pen-and-paper work, but I figured it out just before bedtime and discovered some fun things about my narrator heroine. It looks like she's going to be rebellious and refuse to be exactly the way I planned her to be.

This is probably the scariest part of the writing process for me, other than submitting the finished product. It's exciting and something to anticipate, but the moment before I type the first word, the book only exists as a potential. After I start writing, it becomes a real thing that's limited in what it can be. Yeah, it can be revised and rewritten, but it's nearly impossible to go back to that blank slate time when anything was possible. As a result, I find myself procrastinating about starting. Like, right now, there is laundry crying out to be done, and my kitchen really needs to be cleaned.

To get past this, I'm going to have to set a firm start time, then set up a reward for completing my work. I suspect that once I start, it will flow and I'll be into it. Since I don't have anything to do or anywhere to be for today and tomorrow, I may try to do a writing marathon and see just how much I can crank out, to capture that freshness and enthusiasm for a new project. Then I can go back and do more plotting and then polish and fix what I've written.

So now I think I'll go make lunch as my big meal of the day (I think I'm going to invent a pasta sauce involving chicken, tomatoes, garlic, parsley and basil, maybe some olives) so that once I get started writing, I won't have to stop to cook dinner. I've already got iced tea made (it's too hot for proper tea), and I've stocked up on dark chocolate M&Ms. Come back tomorrow to find out what I accomplished.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Looking Ahead

I think I may let myself try writing the opening scene of the new project today. I'm at the point where any additional prep work might count as overthinking and would make it lose any freshness or spontaneity. It may need some rewriting, but "meeting" the characters is the only way to see how they really come to life to help me develop the rest of the story. I still haven't developed a "soundtrack" for this book. It's challenging me a bit because the normal pop type music isn't working for it. I'm stuck with Broadway, classical and soundtracks, and a lot of my soundtracks are on cassette.

We're still having a nasty heat wave. I saw a forecast that shows the possibility of a "cold" front coming through on Sunday, so temperatures would be in the mid-90s -- and that looked so cool, practically a "bring out the blankets" change. Last week, I tried to cope by listing things I can enjoy about August, but now I think I need to give myself something to anticipate. I won't go so far as to anticipate real fall, but here are some things to look forward to about September and early October, when our weather is like summer is in a lot of other places. It's warm enough to be outside in shorts and a t-shirt, but not so hot that you're at risk for heat exhaustion from walking to the mailbox.

1) Going outside -- doctors have actually identified that there's a kind of reverse seasonal affective disorder in this part of the world because when it's too hot, people have to stay indoors and never see the sun. I'd like to be able to go on long walks again, to walk to the bank, post office and library, maybe even the movie theater and some restaurants. I bought a house in this neighborhood because it's walkable, and I hate driving to the bank that's a couple of blocks away because it's too hot to walk during business hours.

2) Butterflies -- the monarch migration generally comes through here in September, and they just built a butterfly park behind my house, full of plants that attract butterflies. I can't wait to go out there and watch the butterflies, or even just look out the window and watch them fly by.

3) Picnics -- more on the going outside thing. I like having breakfast on my patio, and it would be fun to take my lunch to the park. Or there's having tea or a snack on the patio cafe at the library. My friends and I have been talking about going hiking in the fall, and it would be fun to pack a picnic lunch when we do that.

4) Fall TV -- summer TV these days is really good, but it will be nice to see the resolution of all those cliffhangers.

5) FenCon -- my "home" convention, held in September. It's always a good time and a chance to hang out with friends while talking about my favorite stuff and consider it "work."

6) Sometimes being able to turn off my air conditioner at night -- my AC is really loud and it tends to wake me up when it cuts on during the night, even though I sleep with earplugs. During the heat wave, the low temperature is higher than I keep my thermostat set, and I set my thermostat pretty high. But in September, we start going back into the comfortable range around bedtime, and that means I can sometimes open a window, turn on the ceiling fan and turn off the AC for a peaceful night's sleep.

7) More weather variety -- I really love weather, especially as it changes. Although occasionally I would like to have actual seasons, sometimes I enjoy having bits of seasons all mixed up. During the summer, it's pretty much hot and dry, with the occasional day of rain. But come September, we start getting cool days and storms mixed in with hot days and rainy days. There's a point to watching the weather forecast because it won't all be the same.

There, that's some stuff to look forward to in just a few weeks.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ideas and Plots

I think I've found a plot! It took doing a little more research and coming at the problem sideways. Instead of focusing on the specific subject area I'm dealing with, I thought of situations in history that were similar or parallel to what I'm doing and then thinking of ways that might compare to what I'm working with. The result was an idea that I now need to build on. Meanwhile, I've realized that I'm not as clear as I'd like to be about one of my main characters, so that will take some development time. I don't want to shortchange him just because I've kind of fallen for another of the main characters. This will be a day spent on the sofa with a notebook.

I think this is my favorite part of the writing process. It's storytelling in my head, when everything's possible and I haven't committed to anything. I can make up all kinds of scenarios and watch them play out mentally without having to find the words to describe them. This is the pure "making up stories" part of writing. The hard part comes in putting it into words and making those words interesting while making sure the story really works. In the dream/idea stage, it can be as random as I want, and I can skip the parts I don't know about yet. I think that's why there are a lot of people who say they have an idea for a book and who can even tell you about that idea in great detail and at great length (I get that a lot at conventions), but there are relatively few people who actually write and finish the book. That's also why writers tend to roll their eyes and laugh inwardly when people approach them and say they have a great idea for a book -- they'll tell the writer the idea, the writer will write it, and they'll split the money. Ideas are easy. They're everywhere. Even developing and playing with the idea is easy. Writing the book is the hard part.

Ballet starts again tonight. I took the summer session off since I was doing three days a week of physical therapy most of the summer. I've tried to keep up with the ballet exercises over the summer, so I hope I'm not in too much pain after tonight. They generally start over from the beginning in the first class of the session, just to get a sense of where everyone is. I'm still taking the beginner class because I like the teacher and the other students and because I'm pretty sure I'm not ready for the next level. I've had that teacher as a sub, and he and I kind of clash (I called him the Ballet Nazi). He really seems to pick on me, treating me like a student he sees potential in, so he's going to push hard to make me live up to that potential. But since I'm relatively new at ballet at my age, it's not like I'm going to go anywhere with it. I'm just doing this for fun, and putting on all that pressure makes it not fun. I still have to think too hard about what I'm doing at the beginning level to be able to move to the next level where you're expected to do things instinctively and remember complicated combinations. That class is mostly people who grew up taking ballet, not people who started as adults.

And then I have one more week before choir starts again. The next week, school starts. Not that it affects me, but even as an adult, there's a sense of fresh starts and new beginnings at back-to-school time. Plus, you can get great deals on school/office supplies. I need to re-stock on spiral notebooks and notebook paper.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Spacey Monday

My day did not get off to an auspicious start. For the past several weeks, my Monday therapy appointment has been at 8 a.m. This morning, I got up, had breakfast, got dressed and rushed out of the house to make an 8 a.m. appointment, a little later than I should have. It takes a bit longer to get there for an 8 a.m. appointment because there's more traffic and because the traffic lights are evil. The lights in my neighborhood are triggered rather than timed, so if there's a lot of traffic coming from the cross streets, it's possible to hit a red light at each intersection. The system doesn't seem to have a way to deal with right turns on red, so a car pulling up to the intersection will trigger the light to change, even if the car that triggered it has already turned, so the cars on the main road are stuck sitting at a light for no good reason. So, anyway, I was a little late for that time of morning, and then I had a nagging thought. What time was that appointment? I checked the appointment card, and it was 8:30. So I went back inside and checked e-mail, then managed to leave in plenty of time. There was something else I spaced on today, but I've already forgotten what it was. Fortunately, I've taken care of everything that needs to be dealt with today outside the house, so I can limit my spaciness to the home.

Perhaps I'm recovering from a busy weekend. My birthday was Saturday, and I spent the afternoon with friends, hitting a library book sale, then going out to lunch. Then in the evening we went to the theater. There's a theater company in Dallas that does old-fashioned melodrama-type productions, complete with the audience booing, hissing, cheering, shouting at the players and hurling popcorn at the stage. Only, instead of the Snidely Whiplash kind of thing, this production was a Star Trek parody that was both spot-on accurate and deliciously different (the Spock character was a complete idiot, but in a perfect deadly serious Vulcan kind of way). I think I hurt myself laughing so hard. I didn't get to do much popcorn hurling because were were in the back and I wouldn't have hit anyone other than the people in front of us, but that also meant I didn't get pelted with popcorn. There were popcorn fights in some parts of the audience. Then on Sunday my parents came over for lunch after church.

I'm getting really close to being ready to start writing the new project. I don't feel like I know everything I need to know from research, but I've just about exhausted the resources available to me. The areas where I feel weakest are the areas that don't seem to have inspired much scholarly research and writing. I keep reminding myself that I'm writing fantasy, and that if I'm going to have magic in the mix, that's going to change things, which means I have a little more leeway, but I do like to ground as much as possible in reality because if everything's weird and magical, then nothing is.

I'm still missing that teeny, tiny little detail of a main plot. I have the first few scenes more or less mentally written (at least, I've watched the mental movie a few times over. I haven't entirely put it into words in my head) and know what happens in the next few scenes. After doing a little more prep work the next couple of days, I think I'll just write what I've got in mind, and then maybe formally meeting the characters and entering that world will spark an idea of what their tangible goal will be. I know the big-picture, overarching goal that's too big for one book, and I know the characters' individual personal goals. I just need something they want to achieve that will generate the big, climactic scene for this book. We're not yet ready to overthrow the Empire, but I need to find a Death Star for them to blow up.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The 40 is Sexy Film Festival

My therapy has moved from focusing on increasing my range of motion to rebuilding my strength. In other words, ouch. The bad arm is currently trembling a little, and I suspect it will be very achy tomorrow. I should probably start doing a little weight work with the good arm so I don't end up looking lopsided.

It seems like HBO knows I'm getting closer to a birthday, since they practically had an "older woman, younger man"/"women in their 40s are still sexy" film festival this week.

First, there was I Could Never Be Your Woman, from the writer/director of Clueless. Michelle Pfeiffer is a 40-something divorced single mom who produces a high-school-set sitcom (one of those where all the teens are played by actors in their 20s and 30s). When casting the guest role of a nerd, she's blown away by Paul Rudd's audition because he plays it emotionally straight even while having great fun with the physical comedy. She hires him and they hit it off, and he starts hitting on her. She's a little taken aback, given the age difference, but ends up having tons of fun with him, until her own insecurities and the manipulations of her bitchy secretary threaten to tear them apart. This was a cute enough movie that probably looked better on paper than it came out on film. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it somehow looked cheap, like it was a made-for-basic-cable movie, which is an achievement in a film with no special effects or stunts and with a reasonably A-list cast. Then there was this weird thing where Mother Nature, as played by Tracey Ullman, shows up from time to time to mock the heroine for going against nature and dating a younger man. And there's yet another example of the "Hey, you weren't lying after all!" happy ending in which the person who wasn't trusted is perfectly okay with not having been trusted, but I've just about given up complaining about that. What makes the movie work is the two main characters and the heroine's daughter. I really believed in all those relationships. Paul Rudd was particularly adorable. He's kind of a Jekyll and Hyde actor. In some of his roles, like this one, in Clueless or even on Friends, he does such a great job as the nice guy you can't help but like, sort of the ultimate Best Friend. But then there are the Frat Pack films where he's a jerk, which doesn't really work because the niceness seeps through, but he's not nice enough to like. I can pretty much tell I won't like him in the film if Steve Carell is also in it.

Next was Crush, a British film I've never heard of, and I can kind of see why because it was pretty much insane. It starts like it's going to essentially be Sex and the Cotswolds Village, with a group of three 40-something female friends who get together weekly to drink, smoke, eat chocolate and talk about how awful their love lives are. There's the prim school headmistress whose only romantic prospect is the town vicar who keeps trying to get her to go along on the church youth group's outdoor adventures. There's the town doctor, thrice-divorced, bitter and only dating wealthy men. And there's the town police chief, who thinks that taking adult education classes is the key to finding men. Then the headmistress attends a funeral and finds herself drawn to the young man playing the organ -- only to find out at the post-service reception that she taught him in high school about ten years ago. Next thing you know (literally -- there is absolutely no transition), they're having sex on a tombstone in the churchyard. And then they're getting together all over town, going at it on just about every horizontal or vertical surface. She thinks her friends will be thrilled for her, but is surprised when they're violently opposed, to the point of trying to distract her, get her away from him and even break them up, with some pretty catastrophic results. With friends like these, you definitely don't need enemies. I would warn that in spite of the quirky beginning that makes it look like it will fall into the Four Weddings and a Funeral genre (it includes two cast members from that movie), this is not a romantic comedy. It's not even really a comedy. The things that happen because of the friends are so bad that the girl power, female friendship bonding time ending makes no sense at all. Even if you believe in forgiveness, that doesn't mean you continue to associate with people who are willing to do things like that to you. I need to look up who wrote that movie because if it's a man, I certainly want to avoid any relationship with someone who has that warped an idea of what relationships are like, and if it's a woman, I don't want to be friends with her if this is her idea of what friendship is.

The big problem is that although I think the friends' actions and motives are despicable, I didn't exactly cheer for the relationship because there wasn't one. All they do was have sex. I never got any sense of a bond growing between them or what they liked about each other. The friends seemed to me to be right about it being pure lust that would fade eventually. In the first movie I mentioned, I could really believe they'd make it work because we actually got to see that they had a similar outlook on life, made each other laugh and enjoyed being together outside the bedroom.

Aside from the English Countryside Porn (and of my favorite part of England) and the upscale cottage home decor porn, there wasn't much to enjoy, and I wish I hadn't wasted the time watching it. Alas, they had me at "Cotswolds" in the description (plus, the description called it a romantic comedy, which it so wasn't).

So, according to these films, 25-30 year olds should find me incredibly sexy. Though I think it helped that these 40-something women were played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Andie McDowell. We're not talking middle-aged hags here.

I may make another attempt at a shopping excursion today, as I got a royalty check just in time for my birthday. Though I may end up just going to Target because I'm oddly not much in the mood for shopping and can only talk myself out of the house because there's stuff I need to get.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Things to Like About August

I think I came up with the midpoint for the new book last night/early this morning. I've done just about all the research I need, with just a little more reading to do on a couple of topics. Next I start the world building and outlining.

I took a short walk this morning -- very short because even before 8 it was still warmer than was comfortable, so I turned back pretty quickly. Still, short is better than nothing. I started to make a list of things I'm looking forward to in the fall as a coping mechanism to help me get through the current heat wave. Then it occurred to me that maybe I'd be better off listing things that I enjoy about August. It's better to enjoy where I am than to wish for time to fly. So, here's my list of good things about August.

1) My birthday.
I know I'm at an age when I'm not supposed to be excited about birthdays, but I figure they mean I'm still alive. I've really enjoyed birthdays in my adulthood since having a summer birthday is a pain when you're a kid. I always kind of envied the kids who had birthdays during the school year. They got a fuss made over them at school and they often got to bring cupcakes for the class for an in-class party (something they probably don't allow these days since that takes away from preparing for the standardized tests and sugar is so often banned). Or they could pass out invitations to their parties at school. With a summer birthday, at the most you got a group "summer birthday" party. If you had a party for your friends, you were limited to inviting the kids you had contact with over the summer, and even then, people were often out of town on vacation at that time of year. Since I was in a military family, we usually moved during the summer, so I'd just moved to a new place right before my birthday. That rather limited party opportunities. Even if we hadn't just moved, my friends might have just moved, so there wasn't anyone to invite. I'm pretty sure I came out on the short end of presents, though I guess I came out ahead on cake consumption. But once I got into the working world, I got to have parties at work, and at most places I worked, instead of me having to bring cupcakes for the class, the office provided the party (at two places, there was an office birthday fund in the budget, and at one place we had a birthday roster where each person was responsible for someone else's birthday). Now I don't get a birthday from my co-workers (the plants don't really celebrate birthdays), but it's fun getting greetings from bunches of people I don't even know. At my age, I don't really care about presents and giving and receiving them can be awkward, but I do enjoy at least a little bit of fuss.

2) Fresh fruit.
I love fruit, and this is the peak time of year for it. There's watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, peaches, blueberries and cherries. I eat some kind of fresh fruit in just about every meal, and I've come up with fun ways of using the fruit. My new favorite salad involves greens with strawberries, walnuts, feta cheese and raspberry vinaigrette, sometimes with grilled chicken for a main dish salad. Then there's a fruit salad with watermelon and blueberries with a squeeze of lime juice. A couple of days ago, I used some cherries to make a sauce to go with a grilled pork chop. Cherry cobbler is divine. And one of the best combinations ever is fresh cherries with Blue Bell Dutch chocolate ice cream.

3) The swimming pool.
I really should take to the pool more often because I do enjoy it when I do. Our pool area is surrounded by trees, so it almost feels like I'm a naiad swimming in a forest pond (I'm a fantasy writer, so I can't help it). I really like it when there's been a wind that's blown pink crape myrtle blossoms into the water. That adds to the fantasy effect.

4) Summer TV.
Summer used to be a TV dead zone, but these days, some of my favorite shows are summer cable shows. There's Leverage, White Collar, Warehouse 13, Haven, Covert Affairs and the PBS Mystery series.

5) Summer movies.
The big special effects blockbusters tend to come earlier in the summer, but the chick flicks hit in August. Meanwhile, the blockbusters from earlier in the summer are hitting the dollar theater, and last summer's blockbusters are hitting HBO.

6) Armadillocon.
I'll be going to Austin for Armadillocon at the end of the month, and I'm turning it into a mini vacation. When I was in college, I thought that the hotel where the con is now being held was the ultimate. One of the organizations I belonged to had special events and brunches there, and I wanted to stay there someday. I did stay one night there on a business trip about ten years ago, but I was barely there. This time, I'm staying an extra night so I can enjoy the last day of the con and get some rest before the drive home. That should also give me some nice hotel time to relax.

7) The return of some fun activities.
Ballet starts again in August, as does choir practice. While I've enjoyed having the free evenings, I also enjoy doing those things.

There, that's enough things about August I can appreciate. I think that should get me through the month. And now to go play some more with zucchini and tomatoes. Today it will involve Italian parsley and penne.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Revision: Fine Tuning

After getting a book on Italian cooking from the library last week, today on my way home from seeing the doctor (the shoulder is just about back to normal, making good progress, and I don't need to see the doctor again unless something happens) I went by the grocery store to get ingredients, and for lunch I did something absolutely wonderful with tomatoes, garlic, zucchini and pasta. There's another recipe using mostly the same ingredients but put together in a different way that I'll have to try tomorrow. This one cooks the zucchini with the tomatoes, and the other one cooks the zucchini first, and that supposedly makes a big difference in flavor. And then there's something I want to try using zucchini and carrots.

In my writing posts, I've been talking about revision, going from the big picture on down, and now I'm down to the fine tuning. This is the part where you fix the words, making sure you've got the right ones and no unnecessary ones.

Here are some things to look for at this phase:

Any words you use too frequently -- the same word showing up more than once or twice in a paragraph or page, depending on how common the word is. A word like "and" will naturally show up a lot, but a word like "egregious" probably shouldn't appear more than a few times in a book, unless you're repeating for a purpose, like maybe one character saying it when mocking another character for saying it. I find that I often have a "pet" word in each book, a word that seems to fit the characters or situation, but that I use too often. This is why I like to do a very quick read-through, in which I go through the whole book at about the same pace a reader would. You notice different things when you're reading that way than you do when it's taking you weeks or months to get through a draft, and you'll definitely notice the words that are more obvious when you see them hours or minutes apart instead of weeks or months apart.

"Waste" words -- words that don't add much to the meaning. One of my journalism professors called many of these "weasel" words, words that you use to avoid being absolute or concrete. These are things like "kind of," "sort of," "a bit," "a little," "almost," or "nearly." "Really" and "very" can also fall into this category. Most of the time, you can remove these without changing the meaning. Save the words for when it is important that you modify what you're saying, or see if you can find a more specific noun or verb to give the impression you want. A big waste word that shows up for a lot of writers is "just." It's amazing how often that one pops up.

"Ing" verb forms -- These don't all have to go, but take a good look at them and save them for when there's no other way to convey the right meaning. That includes "was -ing" and "were -ing" forms, which should only be used when it's important to note that the character was already in the process of doing something when something else happened. Otherwise, use the active form of the verb. So, "He was walking down the street when he saw his old college roommate." Otherwise, try to use "He walked down the street."

Starting and trying -- I find a lot of "He started to" or "He tried to" forms when all I really need is the main action. Limit these to when the starting or trying are what's important -- usually when the other action isn't finished or isn't successful. Otherwise, just stick with the action itself.

Vague or non-specific words -- You can eliminate a lot of adverbs and adjectives by finding the right verbs and nouns. Try to find the most specific nouns and verbs you can. Instead of "He walked slowly," try "He trudged" or "He plodded."

Sentence structure -- Variety is good, but don't strain yourself mixing it up. You'll want shorter sentences and paragraphs in action sequences when you want a rapid pace. In those sections, you might want to break complex sentences down into several shorter, snappier sentences. You can have longer, more complex sentences when you want to give a more languid or thoughtful impression.

Awkward structure -- At this phase, I usually read the book out loud to myself. If any sentence trips up my tongue, I find a way to rephrase it. Any sentence you have to read twice or mentally diagram to be sure what it means also needs work.

Dialogue -- Even if you don't read the whole book out loud, read the dialogue out loud. Does it sound like people talking, or is it "speechy"? Do the characters have distinct voices? Can you say each dialogue sentence without taking a breath? (Remember, your characters usually have to breathe at some point.)

Full impact -- Does what you've written give you exactly the mental images and emotional impact that you had in mind? Could you find better words, similes or metaphors to convey your thoughts more clearly? Also take a look at the last words of your sentences and paragraphs. You want to build toward the most important or powerful idea because that's the thought that will linger.

Of course, you'll also be checking for grammar, spelling and punctuation while doing all this. The search function in word processing software can be helpful for finding pet words or overused waste words. If you notice a certain word popping up way too often, do a search for it. You don't have to remove all of them, but read the context and see if you can find another word or a different way to phrase things. I like to do my searches early in the process so I can have at least one more read-through to make sure the changes do work in context and that I haven't replaced one pet word with a new one, or with something that's already used repeatedly on that page.

I'm now throwing the door open for new writing questions or topics to address. Let me know if there's a topic you'd like me to write about.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Living a Biopic Life

I had grand ambitions about taking a walk as soon as I got up this morning, while it was still cool. And then I opened the front door to get my newspaper and nearly wilted. Today will be an indoor day.

Yesterday, I inadvertently ended up doing a Julie Christie film festival. It turned out that TCM was actually doing a Julie Christie film festival, but I'd watched Doctor Zhivago for the ice and snow scenes and then watched Far from the Madding Crowd because I rather like Thomas Hardy and hadn't read that one. Then in the evening I watched Finding Neverland on DVD and had forgotten she was in it. In those 60s historical epics they didn't seem to worry much about accuracy in costuming and hairstyle, especially with the leading lady. I guess they wanted her to be recognizable. In Doctor Zhivago, Julie Christie's hairstyle was so very mid-60s Mod that she could have taken off her costume, put on a minidress and walked down Carnaby Street to go hang out with Twiggy without changing her hair at all or looking out of place. Then in Far from the Madding Crowd they had a woman in the 1860s wearing her hair loose and shoulder-length, with a bit of a flip on the ends and big, eyebrow-sweeping bangs. That might have passed with a young girl, but it kept up even after her character was married. The weird thing was, the rest of the female characters had the right hair for the period. Finally, in Finding Neverland, she did have the right hair for the historical period.

But watching Finding Neverland, after watching Miss Potter a few weeks ago, made me realize that I'm really falling down on the job when it comes to living a life that will generate material for a future author biopic. I haven't had a grand, tragic romance, and I haven't gone through personal experiences that map perfectly to events in the book I go on to write that becomes my best-known and loved work. I haven't had any major family conflicts or personal struggles. I suppose, depending on what happens later, the whole struggle over the fifth book might be something that counts and that could make for the setback near the end of the movie, where it seems all is lost. And then something could happen and I end up becoming even more successful, so there's a big, triumphant confrontation scene where I get to face the people who made the now-obviously foolish decision about that book and resist the urge to rub their faces in it. With any luck, future generations will be amazed that this series was only a modest success at first (and the movie would surely portray the publisher as being all at fault because they missed the market for it) before something happened that really brought it to attention.

And then there's the fact that I wrote the first book after I got laid off and while I was struggling to support myself with freelance work. Some of the things in the series came from real experiences I had in the workplace. Given the way they use dramatic license in those biopics, I suspect that "freelance work" might be turned into "temp work" so I can be working in an office and dealing with all the crazy bosses and co-workers who became characters. The angry boss yelling at me would turn into an ogre in my mind's eye, etc.

It would definitely take dramatic license, because me hanging out at home and reading and writing wouldn't make for much of a movie. Maybe I need to go have some writing-related adventures and maybe a doomed love affair just to give future biographers something to work with.

How's that for career planning -- planning activities designed to spice up a possible future biopic (or bio hologram or whatever they're doing fifty to a hundred years from now).