Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hey, It's Thursday

The bad thing about these delightfully cool mornings is that it makes it nearly impossible to get out of bed. I wake up at the usual time, but then I'm so comfortable that I want to stay where I am and enjoy it. I suppose there's no reason I have to get up. I just feel lazy for lying around like that.

I need to do some brainstorming/outlining today as well as some writing, but I think I feel a shopping excursion coming on. I have a trip in a few weeks that will require at least one business-type outfit, most of my fall wardrobe focuses on the color black, and due to long-term wear on most of my black shoes, my current most comfortable pair of black shoes is 3-inch stilettos. I haven't been able to find decent, comfortable flats, so maybe I'll look for something low-heeled or wedge-heeled that I can walk in.

Actually, I might need to shop for other stuff while I'm at it, as I'm meeting with my agent, and I can't think of many of my fall/winter good outfits that she hasn't seen me in. Considering I haven't seen her in two years and I generally see her once or twice a year, at most, and half of those times are in the summer, that doesn't say much for my wardrobe. And yet my closet is totally packed. I suppose that means it's time for a purge.

Updating the fall television scorecard:
The new Hawaii Five-O is turning out to be surprisingly boring. I may give it one more episode before it gets relegated to "if I'm bored, I'll watch it OnDemand" status. The characters just aren't clicking for me, aside from Danno. Although I like the other actors, their characters aren't grabbing me.
House is teetering on the brink. I'm hoping once they deal with the relationship stuff they might go back to the medical mysteries.
Chuck is turning out to be very fun this season. I hope the Old Spice Guy sticks around in the Buy More alongside the old staff.
I remain baffled by the changes in NCIS: Los Angeles. It was at the top of the ratings and only one year old, so why mix up the cast? The new guy is totally Poochie from that Simpsons episode where the committee of network executives created a new hip, edgy character to bring in their chosen demographic on the Itchy and Scratchy Show. It's not a good sign when you're cheering for the bad guys to shoot one of the good guys. It's an even worse sign when you get the feeling the other good guys are cheering for the same thing and might even do it themselves. And it's a still worse sign when it would improve my estimation of any character who did shoot this guy, just because it would shut him up. He's irritating enough that he may trigger my remote control finger. Fortunately, I have to watch this OnDemand or on tape due to ballet class, so fast forward remains an option.
I watched the Undercovers pilot, and it looks like it will be good Saturday-night or Sunday-afternoon viewing. I like the characters, though I must admit I didn't pay much attention to the plot. I like seeing a married couple on a show, so it can get romantic without going for the "I hate you but I'm hot for you" thing.
This week, Human Target starts up again, completing my Friday-night viewing, along with Supernatural and, for two more weeks, Haven. Supernatural was rather boring last week. I'm still loving Haven because they keep doing things that go against the usual TV tropes and surprise me. They started with what seemed like stock characters, but then they've gone in unexpected directions with those characters. And there's a new Phineas and Ferb this week, which I will have to tape for post-Haven viewing.
The first show canceled this season, Lone Star, is filmed practically in my neighborhood, just down the street (that's where the studios are, but I'm sure they also used some other locations in the area). That still didn't make me want to watch it. There are several shows being filmed around here right now. Maybe I should look into extra work. I could be part of a crowd.

And that's all I've got for today. I think I'll go take a walk, then take a shower and hit the stores, then do my work tonight as there's not much on TV other than The Office and Life on Mars on PBS. Tomorrow I'm hoping for a serious work day, after a morning excursion to the library.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Hero's Journey: Meeting with the Mentor

I had another pleasant breakfast on the patio. It's a busy day today and more "normal" for weather -- less magical -- so I suspect that breakfast will be the only Fall Fest element being enjoyed today, though I may do some of my reading/research work outdoors.

I'm continuing the discussion of the stages of the hero's journey, as described in The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. We've covered the Ordinary World, the Call to Adventure and Refusal of the Call. The next stage is the Meeting with the Mentor.

This stage is usually about preparation -- getting the tools and information needed to go on the quest. Joseph Campbell refers to this stage as Supernatural Aid because in myth and folklore, this stage is usually about the hero receiving magical gifts -- powers, amulets, magical swords. This is the meeting with the fairy godmother in fairy tales or the wise old mentor who used to be the hero of his own story sharing his experience with the hero and passing on his tools or weapons as the hero picks up the figurative torch.

This stage can actually go in a number of places. It often comes during the Refusal of the Call because it's a talk with the mentor that helps the hero put things in perspective so he can make the decision about answering the call to adventure. The Mentor may also give the hero some critical information or some tool to help the hero on his quest once he's past the refusal point. When the mentor is the one issuing the call to adventure, the Meeting with the Mentor may coincide with that. The mentor may also show up when the hero has crossed the threshold and is on his quest or even later during the crisis points.

Sometimes, the hero will look for a Mentor to give him guidance, either before committing to the quest or along the way instead of the Mentor showing up, and the Mentor may be reluctant to share information. The Mentor doesn't have to be a character. This phase of the story could come from the hero consulting books, maps, folklore, oracles and stuff like that. The hero can encounter a false mentor, someone he relies upon but who steers him in the wrong direction -- like the wolf in the Red Riding Hood story who encourages her to go off the path. The Mentor meeting may recur throughout the story. The Mentor may join the hero on his quest (though usually is separated from the hero before the climax of the story because the hero has to learn to stand alone) or the mentor may show up at critical points.

As I mentioned when I was discussing archetypes, it's really easy to fall into stereotype with the Mentor character -- that white-bearded old wizard like Gandalf, Obi Wan Kenobi or Dumbledore. But any character who provides guidance, information or tools can serve that purpose.

Some examples of this phase of the story include:
In Star Wars, this is Luke's time at Obi Wan Kenobi's home, when he hears the (false) story about who his father really was and gets his father's lightsaber.
In the movie Stardust, this was when Tristan's father told him about his origins and gave him the gifts from his mother.
In the James Bond movies, this is usually the scene where Bond meets with Q and gets the latest gadgets and gizmos before he heads off on his mission.
In fairy tales, this is when the hero runs across the old man or woman, and when he chooses to help, he gets advice or some magical device that helps him succeed in his quest.
In romantic comedy stories, this may be the scene where the heroine talks to her friends about the guy she just met. Think of Bridget Jones's Diary, where she meets her friends at the bar (and this might count as a false mentor because they're more clueless than she is).
In The Wizard of Oz, Glinda appears to give Dorothy directions and gives her the silver (or, in the movie, red) slippers. She also pops up again when she's needed.
In the Harry Potter series, this is when Hagrid shows up and tells Harry about his parents and who they really were. We tend to think of Dumbledore as Harry's mentor, and he does serve this role in the rest of the books, but for this particular phase of the story, when Harry is on the brink of entering the magical world, Hagrid is the one who provides the crucial information and then takes Harry to get the tools he'll need -- his wand, the owl and his school books.
In the Narnia stories, Aslan plays the role of Mentor and usually shows up early in each story to direct the kids once they arrive in Narnia, then pops up again when they're at their most lost.
In cop/detective stories, this is the briefing about the case where the hero gets the information he needs to start solving it. Or the detective may meet with the (usually older and more experienced) medical examiner or with the lab staff to get the critical information about the victim so he can then delve into the victim's world.
In war, spy or military stories, this is generally the mission briefing where the weapons may be checked or issued.

Next, we finally get started on the journey.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Introducing Fall Fest

I had a minor epiphany this morning. It was lovely, crisp and cool, so I decided to bake scones for breakfast. Then I thought it would be nice to have breakfast on the patio. But that was one of the things I have planned for my hypothetical "staycation" that I'm thinking of taking this fall, and I'm not really ready for vacation yet. And then I had to wonder where these rules came from. Who said that eating on the patio is only a vacation thing?

I think when it comes to stuff like this, my procrastination tendencies collide with my perfectionism tendencies and my fondness for anticipation to create a big, unholy mess. I do like having something to look forward to, and if I'm going to vacation by staying at home and relaxing, then I do need to have different things to make the vacation special. But on the other hand, if I keep waiting for the stars to align and for things to be perfect, I'll never actually take that vacation. Meanwhile, there's something to be said for ordinary pleasures, little things that can make any day a little more special. Like, say, starting the day by having tea and scones on the patio on a cool, sunny morning.

I think some of that procrastination/anticipation thing is a legacy of my grandmother, who was fond of keeping things "for good." That is, some things were too special to be used for ordinary occasions, so they were set aside for special occasions, and that meant they were never actually used because no occasion was deemed special enough. I do have a few things like that, but with me, it's mostly actions and experiences that I want to save for some special time when I have something to celebrate instead of "wasting" them on an ordinary day. And that means I never actually do all these things. I set up all these conditions for this perfect hypothetical stay-at-home vacation, then those conditions are never met, and so it doesn't really happen, or if I make it happen, it's kind of half-hearted because I don't do most of the stuff I had planned.

So, I have decided to rethink the fall vacation. I am hereby declaring Fall Fest. Since I'm not on an urgent deadline at the moment and can be flexible about most of my workload (aside from weekly deadlines for medical school stuff), I am going to enjoy my favorite season as it comes. Fall in Texas can be fleeting or sporadic, so when it's a perfect day for something I want to do, I will give myself permission to declare a spontaneous vacation day and do it. That's the nice thing about being self-employed. Back when I had a regular job, I used to wish I could call in on vacation on those perfect days that would be wasted in an office. If I didn't have anything scheduled, why not? But vacations had to be planned in advance. Working for myself, I can declare vacation whenever I want. I can eat breakfast on the patio on a cool, crisp morning. If it's one of those sparkling, not-too-warm/not-too-cool days, I can pack a picnic in my backpack and walk down to the riverfront for a picnic (and bring paper and a pen because I think better alongside moving water). If I notice the butterflies flying, I can run across the street to the butterfly park and watch them. If it's a cool, rainy day, I can curl up with a book and a pot of tea. I don't have to wait for a designated vacation time to do all the fun things I want to do at this time of year. And on other days or at other times of the day, I can work. This is probably better for my productivity than taking a week off. I'm in an idea-generation mode anyway, so getting out and living life is what I need right now to help me think.

Meanwhile, I need to decide if I'm going to Worldcon next year. The registration price goes up this week. It's in Reno, which isn't one of my favorite places, but it's not like there's much sightseeing going on during a convention. I have no idea what will be going on with my career by that time, whether I'll need to be promoting or whether I should be in cave mode. I suppose I could register, and then transfer the membership if I change my mind.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fall Has Fallen

Fall has finally arrived, for a few days, at least. It was cool enough last night for me to put the real comforter back on the bed instead of the down throw I've been using in the summer. Then this morning when I took a walk, I got to wear my new hoodie. It's one of those perfect fall days, with a crisp, cool morning under cobalt-blue skies, and it will be just slightly warm this afternoon. I'll have to see if I've got the willpower to resist the siren song of the Internet this afternoon because I need to do a lot of writing, and my office is the next best thing to working outside. My desk faces a sliding glass door, and there's a skylight.

This is my absolute favorite time of year. It gives me energy, and I find myself getting oddly domestic. Like, I want to clean house. I also want to cook and bake and go to farmer's markets and have picnics and go hiking and roast marshmallows over a bonfire and go to football games. Basically, I want a fall right out of the movies.

I might be getting a wee bit overexcited about one little shift in the weather that will likely last about two days.

Saturday morning was rainy, but it dried out enough for us to go to the Greek Food Festival, and it wasn't as crowded as usual. We planned to go from there to the fall festival in my city, but when we got there, we just saw an empty pavilion tent, so it looked like they were rained out. This is festival season around here, so it looks like we'll be trying to see how many we can hit. I should be very culturally enriched by the end of the year.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Ending the Reading Slump

Man, I've had a case of the sleepys all week. Yesterday, I went grocery shopping, came home, and fell asleep for nearly an hour. I just couldn't keep my eyes open. It has drastically cut into my productivity. I'm planning to get back into the writing groove today, if I can stay awake long enough.

I do seem to have broken out of the reading slump. One of the books I picked up at the library last week was Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, which I believe was recommended by a commenter here some time ago, and I loved it. I may have to buy a keeper copy because I suspect there will be re-reading. At least one re-read will be mandatory because it's the kind of conclusion where you find out what was going on all along, and you need to re-read after that revelation to see if you can spot how all that was working. I love that kind of plotting and wish I could find an occasion to use it (and then have the skill to pull it off).

I would attempt a plot blurb, but the thoughts don't seem to be forming in the fog that's taking the place of my brain, and it's a complicated plot to describe. Basically, when a young woman is turned into an old woman by an evil witch, her only hope for breaking the spell is to make a deal with a fire demon to figure out the secrets of the wizard who holds the demon in thrall to power his castle, which tends to move about the countryside. Not only does the castle itself move, but depending on which way you turn the doorknob, you may come out in any of several entirely different locations. And you'll see something different depending on which window you're looking through. And there's a lot more than that going on.

Anyway, it's a fun situation, and I really liked the characters. Oddly, this was shelved in my library's children's section -- not even teen, but children's -- and it didn't read to me like a children's book at all, nor really even YA. The main character is 18 or 19 (when she hasn't been made 90), but she doesn't act "teen" because in that culture she's functioning as an adult. It is "clean" and certainly teen or kid-safe, but it reads just like an adult fantasy novel. I don't know if it's because the author also writes a lot of middle-grade and YA books or if it's my library's sometimes odd shelving system, but adults shouldn't skip this just because it's apparently sometimes treated like a children's book. Also, I haven't seen the movie, but I've seen clips, and I have to say that the mental images generated by the text were absolutely nothing like those clips. Perhaps that's because it was a Japanese movie, and the book is very European. I understand the movie is excellent, but I suspect it would now annoy me because it would clash too strongly with my mental images.

That was one of the points I made on last weekend's books-into-TV panel, that people who are fans of the book are probably always going to have some problems with any adaptation because everyone's going to have their own mental images, and no matter how closely a filmmaker hews to the text, the result is going to be different from just about everyone's mental images. You can get the eye colors and hair colors all right and the description down to fine detail, but there's still a lot of leeway for readers to fill in the blanks with their imaginations, and that's going to be different for every person.

Now I want to clean the kitchen for tonight's great pizza adventure (I'm experimenting). This weekend, there's a Greek food festival and then hopefully a restful Sunday so that I can be moderately productive next week.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

More Books Into TV and Fall TV

My brain really must be on tape delay because I'm still coming up with examples of books turned into TV shows. There was Spenser for Hire in the 80s. I think I started reading those books because of the series, and I must admit that I liked the series better than the books. I think it was because the actress who played the main love interest left, so they promoted a minor character from the books into a main love interest, and I liked that actress/character and relationship far more than I liked the way it went in the books. Plus, there's no way that anything in print can be nearly as awesome as Avery Brooks.

Then there was The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which might be my favorite book-into-series adaptation so far (yes, I managed to forget my favorite). It really captured the feel of the characters, while adding visuals and sound enhanced the portrayal of the setting. Like with True Blood, the first (I hope -- it would be nice to get more) season was more or less based on the first book, with some expansion, though they got individual episodes out of vignettes in the book. It was a series that managed to make reading the book more enjoyable.

Currently, there's Haven on the Sci Fi Channel, which is based on a Stephen King short story, though apparently it's very, very loosely based, with the short story providing the basis for the mystery at the core of the ongoing plot arc but with the setting, characters and other situations all new (though they're apparently using some bits and pieces from other King works for the episode plots). This series has really grown on me over the summer. I initially had no interest and didn't watch the first two episodes, then watched the pilot OnDemand one night when I got bored. And then I was intrigued. I immediately watched the second episode and was hooked to the point I hated that I had to wait for the next one. Now I find myself looking forward to each new episode.

It's not so much the plots that get me as it is the characters and their relationships. Namely, that we have the rare occurrence of a set of police partners that doesn't bicker. Normally in cop-type shows, it seems to be a rule that the partners have to be Total Opposites in some key way -- college-educated vs. street smart, rookie vs. veteran, sophisticated vs. crude, skeptic vs. believer, local vs. outsider, family man vs. playboy, loose cannon vs. straight arrow, etc. -- and then they have to bicker constantly, with every argument centering around that one key area of difference. If the partners are of the opposite sex, the bickering usually also is meant to indicate sexual tension. But the partners in this show actually get along pretty well. There was some initial wariness, but the relationship gradually developed to the point that they're now pretty much best friends (maybe even only friends, since these two are pretty socially awkward). They do disagree at times, but the disagreements are specific to the situations and the particular evidence in the case, not based on their pre-conceived roles that make them have the same argument over and over again. They're starting to introduce some elements that create a sense of sexual tension, but that's based on something that might be considered a commonality rather than a conflict, and it's actually related to the main plot. There's no constant sniping or criticism, and that's so refreshing. I'm getting bored with the "we act like we hate each other, but we have each other's backs when things get tough" trope. It's nice to see people who act like they like each other and who have each other's backs when it comes to the paperwork, in addition to the tough times.

I also like that the main character kind of reminds me of my Katie. It seems like her "power" in all the weirdness is an immunity to the weirdness. She's very down-to-earth and has a lot of common sense. She deals with all the strangeness not because she's a "believer" like Mulder from The X-Files but because, duh, it's right there. What else are you gonna do? Denying it doesn't help anyone. Katie isn't a blonde, but other than that, this actress might even make a good Katie because she's got the right body type, voice and line delivery with that dry, snarky sense of humor.

However, other shows seem to be failing on the bickering front. I'll have to see how the new Hawaii 5-0 shakes out, but right now, it seems to be Total Opposites of the Local vs. Outsider variety (with maybe a side order of Family Man vs. Loner) who bicker constantly. Then they added unnecessary bickering (with what looks like it will be bonus sexual tension) to NCIS: Los Angeles. I liked the dynamic of the team and the fact that although they did sometimes disagree, they all pretty much got along, and it was bantering, not bickering. Now they've added a new, "edgy" (gag) character, they've thrown him into working with the girl in a way that turns her into "the girl" rather than just another agent who happens to be female, and they bicker constantly around what looks like it will be the federal agent vs. local cop axis, which isn't even that interesting a point of difference, and I get the feeling that this is supposed to indicate sexual tension. For Simpsons fans, this new character has "Poochie" written all over him, and this show is too new to add a Poochie. Meanwhile, his addition seems to have come at the expense of the adorkable, freakishly tall psychologist, who was the character I seemed to relate to most. Remove my personal viewpoint character and add someone who actively annoys me, and you lose me as a viewer. (It does sound like the writers are trying to gauge audience response, so I wonder if I should add more Google bait to this post to make sure any searches pick it up. Because they've totally ruined the character dynamic of the series.)

Meanwhile, my local PBS station is starting to run the first season of the British Life on Mars tonight. I saw the second season on BBCAmerica OnDemand, so now I can go slightly further back in time and catch up.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Villains and Other Monsters

I won't say the worst of the allergy attack is over because that would be telling the universe I want it to return with a vengeance, but I have gone more than 24 hours without any medication, and I did make it to ballet last night. Now I have work that must be done today, so I hope the fog stays cleared for a little while.

I'm continuing my series of posts about various facets of my Enchanted, Inc. series, answering questions submitted by readers. If you have a question or topic you'd like me to address, ask away! I'm just not getting into anything that I'm planning to deal with in future books (so don't ask what will happen in future books, and if you want to ask if Book 5 will be published, ask the publisher, not me).

I was asked about the villains in the series and the lack of real "monsters." My monsters are mostly human. I have to say that I didn't consciously plan that, but I think of fantasy as being distinct from horror, so I don't really think of monsters in the traditional sense when I think about fantasy. Yeah, there might be dragons and ogres, but to me, things like werewolves, vampires and demons belong in horror. I tend to look at the incursion of these horror elements into fantasy as "Ew, you got horror in my fantasy, and it does NOT make a Reese's cup!"

I have to say that I don't think monsters make very good villains. They may be tools used by villains, but they aren't interesting villains, in and of themselves. For the most part, monsters are following their biological imperatives. Unless they're reasoning beings who know right from wrong, I can't even think of them as evil. They're just doing what they need to do to survive. I guess that's why I turned the dragons into pets, essentially. They're victims of human action. They may cause harm, but that's only because they're in the wrong environment.

I'm far more interested in delving into humans who make bad choices. They may not even be planning to be evil, but not thinking about potential consequences can do just as much harm as planning to do evil. I think that Phelan Idris, the primary villain (so far, until we meet the person behind him) in my series, is mostly weak, easily led and egotistical. He doesn't really mean to do harm. He just wants to see what he can do, he resents rules, and he thinks he's smarter than anyone else. That makes him easy prey to someone who plays on his ego and gives him an opportunity to show off. Idris is kind of ADD, which means he doesn't focus on anything long enough to think it through to the possible conclusion, so he never considers consequences. He's just in it for the fun. He's a mad scientist of magic. I'm not sure he'd know what to do with power if he had it, and ruling the world would require too much focus. He just likes playing with magic and being recognized for how brilliant he is.

I actually found myself rather liking him. I think he's a jerk in a lot of ways, and he's certainly an annoyance for my heroes, but in a lot of ways, he's very much like many of my real-life friends (not that I'm saying my friends are potential mad scientists who would do harm, but there is a strong mad scientist-like streak in a lot of the people I hang out with). I even feel a bit sorry for him because he's being used. But he's the one making choices, and he's making poor choices. His story is even a little sad because he has the potential to really be something if he could get his ego in check and let someone else give him some focus and guidance.

I do find a tendency to soften and humanize my villains. I'd rather not write about truly evil people. It's more interesting to me to write about villains who have different goals than the hero, and who have good reasons for having those goals. We can see that they're wrong goals, but we can understand why the villains have them. I'm not interested in the mustache-twirling, pure EEEEEVIIILLLLL villains. Those, in a lot of respects, are easier to beat than the people with good intentions but bad choices. I think that's one of the reasons I made Katie's brother be one of the antagonists in Don't Hex with Texas. Up until about halfway through the book, I'd planned for the rogue wizard to be someone else, but then I realized it was so much more interesting if it was Katie's brother because it shows how close all of us are to going in the wrong direction.

That doesn't, however, mean, that I find villains or even darkish characters alluring. I was never that impressed with Darth Vader, and I'm not a Snape sympathizer. I guess Snape is an example of the kind of villain I am prone to writing because he was never truly evil, but he was petty, and you could see the turning points in his life where he made bad choices that came back to bite him. I could pity him for being a sad, pathetic person, but I never thought he was cool. I mostly wanted to tell him to grow up and get over high school. I guess I wimp out on the evil because I'd make someone like Snape my main villain without going all the way to Voldemort levels. There are very few people who are Voldemort bad, but I think most of us have encountered someone on the Snape -- or Idris -- level. I'm not that interested in writing the full-on psychopath or sociopath evil villain. There's too much danger of trying to explain or find motivations, and I don't think that's necessarily valid for people who genuinely have something wrong with them. Lots of people grow up in difficult circumstances without turning into pure evil, so I really dislike it when authors try to explain or excuse the evil with a sad backstory, and with fiction you pretty much have to make it make sense. When someone is truly in control and making his own choices to do wrong rather than being driven by something pathological, it's more interesting to explore.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Books into TV Series

It rained last night, and that seems to have washed some of the pollen from the air, so I'm feeling marginally better, though still not big on the thinking. I suspect there may not be much writing today, as forming coherent thoughts and then putting them into words isn't my strong suit today (it's taken me about five minutes to write this paragraph).

I've also got post-panelitis, that strange malady in which you come up with what you should have said on a panel days after the convention is over. It's worse this year because of the general fog I was in most of the weekend, which meant I really wasn't thinking at my best. My last panel of the weekend was on books being adapted as television series, and when asked my favorite, I couldn't think of anything. About the best I could do was the miniseries approach and Pride and Prejudice, and I was at a total loss for anything else other than The Dresden Files, True Blood and Flashforward, which had already been discussed somewhat.

I'd forgotten about The Dead Zone, which may not really be my favorite book-into-series, since I stopped watching it well before the end, but I think it was one of the more interesting uses of a book as the basis for a series. On the surface, it looked like a closed-ending story, but the situation, main plot aside, offered a lot of ongoing potential. There's a guy who's been in a coma for years who wakes up and finds that a lot has changed in his absence, and now he can see things about people when he touches things they touched. They didn't follow the main plot of the book in the first couple of seasons, but a lot of the episode plots grew out of incidents in the book. They did later bring in the main plot of the book as the story arc, and that was when I lost interest because it was about politics and I have zero interest in watching politics or politicians in anything. But I did like the way the TV series was really based on the book without following the book slavishly. You could tell the series writers had actually read the book and they were mining it for story ideas.

The tricky thing about adapting a book for a TV series is that books generally have a definite ending (unless they're the Never-Ending Doorstopper Fantasy Series) and television series generally don't. Even if the TV series does end up with a definite ending, they don't know from the start when that ending will come because it depends on how successful the series is. The series could run three episodes or a hundred, or more. Meanwhile, the plot for your average novel is way too much to pack into even two hours of television but not enough to fill out an entire season without doing a lot of fleshing out of the situation. Because of this, a series based on a book is usually based not so much on the plot of that book as on the concept, situation and characters. A book that lends itself to a series is set in a place where things can happen and involves characters who can do stuff, far beyond the events in the specific plot of the book. That may be why so many mystery book series get turned into TV series. An ongoing mystery series is all about concept, characters and situations that lend themselves to lots of plots. They may stick to the first book for the first episode to provide the origin story, but after that, the series and the books occupy different worlds.

To an author, a TV series based on your books is pretty much a ticket to bestsellerdom (unless you were already there) because even an unsuccessful series is seen by millions of people, so it's like a weekly, hour-long ad for your books, not to mention all the promotion for the series, which goes well beyond anything publishing ever does for even their biggest books. Even if only about ten percent of the people who watch the series buy the book, that's enough to get a book on a bestseller list.

I did read The Dead Zone, which is the only Stephen King book I've read (because I'm a weenie), because of the series. I started reading the Elizabeth George Inspector Lynley books because of the PBS Mystery series -- but then after reading the books, I no longer liked the TV series. There were enough changes to the characters and situation where I liked the book version better, and though I like the actor playing Lynley in other things and have even watched other things because he was in the cast, I didn't think he was right for that role. After I'd read some of the books, the TV series was too jarring and I quit watching it.

Enchanted, Inc. was initially optioned for a TV series, and I knew I was really going to have to let it go because I knew they were buying the concept and that it would not likely follow my plot. Then it turned out that right after the deal was negotiated, that executive left the company and the deal was dead, which left things open for Universal to come along. The deal with Universal does allow them to make a TV series after a movie, so who knows, maybe it'll be part of the Sci Fi Channel summer lineup someday.

Monday, September 20, 2010

My Zombie Self Reports on FenCon

This is my zombie self, posting from beyond the grave. At least, that's what it kind of feels like. I have the usual post-convention crash after having yet another wonderful time at FenCon. And I would likely have had an even better time if I hadn't been smacked with the Allergy Attack From HELLLL. I'd had minor sniffles because it is September in Texas, but then when I was driving to the con Saturday morning, they were mowing the freeway median, which had a lot of tall grass and weeds, and a big cloud of mower dust was hovering over the freeway. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to switch my car AC to recirculate in time, and I got the full impact. I could smell both cut grass and serious pollen, and by the time I got to the convention, I was sneezing my head off. I spent Saturday with a tissue held up to my face, though I did manage to get through my reading without sneezing. Sunday was a little better because I'd taken some allergy medication, although the Benadryl wooziness hit mid-day, and by the end of the con I was feeling well enough to hang around and help with tear-down. But meanwhile, it seems the prevailing winds carried all that mower dust down into the valley where I live because walking from my garage to my house last night, I started sneezing all over again, and I could smell the same pollen. I think today will be a day for taking allergy drugs and lying on the sofa.

I do have to apologize to anyone who was there and wanted to attend my autograph session. There was kind of a mix-up. There was one posted in the program book as being on Saturday afternoon, and although that was changed on my personal schedule, that change didn't make it into the update sheet for that day. At that time, I was actually on a panel. Then when I discovered on Sunday morning that apparently I was the only one who knew I had an autographing because it wasn't in the program book, the update sheet/daily newsletter hadn't been distributed yet, and there was no signage, I decided that since I wasn't feeling very well and the Benadryl had really kicked in that it would be kind of pointless for me to sit there for an hour. I figured that I was easy enough to find if anyone wanted me to sign something, and since there were dealers selling my books, me sitting there wouldn't add to my sales. At that point, I'm not sure I could have managed to remember my own name to sign books.

Some highlights: For the Doctor Who panel, a couple of panelists wore fezzes and a couple of us had bow ties (bow ties are cool!). I found my red-and-white gingham bow tie that I was very fond of in high school and found it went very well with the Infamous Red Stilettos. Our guest of honor, Spider Robinson, wasn't up to travel, so he attended remotely via Skype, so it was a first for me being on a panel with a remote participant. At the end of the panel, Spider revealed that it was another first: the first time to be on a panel with a pantsless member (one of the benefits of doing a panel from your living room). I kind of like that remote idea. You could have AgoraphobiaCon. I spent quite a bit of time hanging out in the con suite drinking tea, and I have to thank the steampunk group that held a tea party for leaving all the lovely tea behind afterward. Without it, I wouldn't have survived. I spent some time chatting and enjoying companionable silence with Robert J. Sawyer, who declared that my celebrity twin is Kristen Wiig of Saturday Night Live.

We had the usual fun with our Sci Fi Channel Inferno panel, possibly because I was just starting to feel the Benadryl kicking in and my usual filters were off. When we were discussing the "reality" (and I use the term loosely) series on Sci Fi (I don't acknowledge the name change), I said that soon they'll be doing Ghost Hoarders. I haven't yet decided if people would be hoarding ghosts or if it's the ghosts doing the hoarding. If it's the latter, then I could really blame the state of my office on Stan, the 80s Bachelor Airline Pilot Ghost. Then there was some talk of the B movies on the channel, which was funny because that morning I'd been reading the TV listings in the newspaper, and because of the allergy grogginess, I'd misread the movie for the night as being "Megafruit" instead of "Megafault." Strangely, I spent the whole day thinking it would be nice to get home and watch Megafruit. I had zero interest in Megafault. Then when I got home, I guess I had that on the brain, and for a moment, I even mis-read the digital channel guide. I'm not that into natural disaster movies, but evil, giant fruit? I'm so there.

And now I really need to re-load on the allergy medication and maybe get some more sleep. I'm sure I'll think of something else brilliant and wonderful later.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fall Television

First, an announcement. As if I didn't have enough to do, I've started a cooking blog. I've been doing a lot of exploring in the kitchen, and my summer poll found that there wasn't widespread interest for cooking talk here, so I thought I'd give it its own blog. After all, I might as well see if I could get any promo mileage out of something I was doing anyway. It was also a way for me to start playing with WordPress. So, if you're interested in the adventures of the Mildly Adventurous Cook, you can find the chronicles here. And tell anyone you think might be interested. So far, I've posted about the project in general and about my fun with zucchini.

Around here, when the leaves have barely started turning colors before Thanksgiving, one of the sure signs of fall is the start of the new TV season. The start for most of my shows seems to be next week. I have to say that I'm not very excited about any of the new series. The ones that intrigue me even a little still fall onto my "maybe I'll check them out OnDemand" list.

Monday, there's the return of Chuck (yay!) and House. I tape House to watch after Chuck, and these days, that also allows me to fast-forward through it. What started as such a great show has really hit the skids as it's devolved into a sub-par soap opera. And yet, I hang on, hoping maybe they'll be able to rescue it. I am so close, though, to giving up on it entirely. The new version of Hawaii Five-O looks like it could be fun, but as Monday is a good working night for me and it's on CBS, which means it will likely be available OnDemand, I suspect it will get relegated to weekends. I think The Event is also on Mondays, but I can't find myself caring. I don't want to get bogged down in a heavily serialized show whose concept is apparently so murky they can't even tell us what the show's about without spoiling it. I may give it a shot OnDemand.

Tuesday is a difficult night for me because I'm never home and yet they cram a lot into the night. This week will be a real challenge because there's still one more episode of Warehouse 13. I'll likely tape NCIS and Glee, watch NCIS after ballet, then this week catch the late repeat of Warehouse 13, watch Glee on Wednesday after choir, then watch NCIS LA OnDemand later in the week. I must say that I'm close to giving up on Glee. The music became less interesting later in the season, and I find myself pretty much hating all the characters. Then they're threatening us with Britney Spears. Yikes.

I'm not bothering with Wednesday nights because I have choir. Undercovers looks like it could be fun, but it should be available OnDemand for weekend viewing. Thursday, there's The Office, and that's about it (maybe that's when some OnDemand viewing will take place). On Friday, I really enjoyed Human Target earlier in the year, and then that's where they moved Supernatural, so I may get my science fiction/action Friday from a source other than the Sci Fi Channel, which apparently is going to be showing wrestling, of all things, on Fridays. Shudder. I think there's some stuff on CBS that night, but I may or may not bother. I used to pull writing marathons on Friday nights, so after Supernatural, maybe I'll hit the computer. Sunday there's whatever is on Masterpiece, if it's something that interests me. Otherwise, I can't think of anything there. That'll be a good OnDemand night.

Meanwhile, is there some kind of law that to cover network television as a "journalist" (and I use the term loosely), you have to be an utter moron? The other night, I was doing something else when the news ended and didn't get around to turning off the TV when Entertainment Tonight came on. They were teasing a sneak peek at the new season of some show, and that turned out to consist of the reporter asking one of the actors how the season-ending cliffhanger would be resolved. Did they really think they'd get an answer other than "I can't tell you that" or "You'll have to watch to find out"? Why waste time on the question when they could have used that time to maybe talk about general themes for the upcoming season, guest stars who might be interesting, what's in store for the actor's character, or something else that the actor could have answered? It would have served them right if the actor had said, "Well, it's not actually that big a deal because the character who was shot was wearing a bullet-proof vest, and the whole thing turns out to have been a set-up. The rest of the team was hiding and will immediately jump out and catch the bad guy." And then the viewers who didn't want to be spoiled would be angry and quit watching Entertainment Tonight, their ratings would tank, and the reporter would lose her job.

Then again, it's probably for the best that they focus on questions that can't be answered because the other questions they'd ask would only be about the romance, anyway. It seems that all these moronic TV "journalists" are secretly twelve-year-old girls who write their columns on pink laptops with "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob" stickers on them because about the only thing that gets them excited is talk of relationships. I let my subscription to TV Guide lapse because that got to be all they covered -- who was going to get together with whom, and they were cheerleaders for all these relationships. Even when there was barely a hint of anything resembling anything more than subtle sexual tension on a show, the only articles on the show would be about when or if the two characters would ever get together. Never mind saving the free world, catching serial killers or fighting off alien invasions. The really important thing is who's going to get together! OMG Squeeee! The television coverage in Entertainment Weekly is just as bad. In their fall preview, they mentioned a new character for one show, and the only discussion was about who he might get together with romantically, not what he'd actually be doing. The response from the producers to the question about potential pairings was a vague, "I guess we'll see how the fans respond," to which the reporter wrote, "Please, please, please!!!!" And this wasn't even a romantic show. I'm sorry, but I refuse to take someone's critical opinions seriously when they refer to couples by the cutesy Internet mash-up names. That should never see print in a legitimate publication. And I really don't like to see reporters or critics being cheerleaders for romantic pairings that don't even exist. Discuss what's actually happening on the screen, not the subject for your secret fanfic.

And now to go get ready for FenCon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pre-Con Preparation

Whew, I made it through crazy day! Wednesdays are my busy day even in the best of circumstances because that's choir night, so I have to leave the house around 5 and don't get home until after 9. Plus, my radio scripts for the medical school are due on Wednesdays (I write them earlier in the week, but I have to proofread and send them). But every so often, the stars align to make things even crazier. I write a monthly column that's due on the 15th, so things get busier if the 15th falls on a Wednesday. I'd written this ahead of time, but I still had to do some fact checking and editing before I sent it off. Quarterly tax day usually falls on the 15th, too, which means a trip to the post office and then being sure to transfer funds through my bank, and this year, that fell on a Wednesday. Then there was physical therapy. And a few errands.

Needless to say, I didn't get much writing done. I was kind of stressed and distracted after working my way through the to-do list and really only had an hour or so before I had to get ready for choir, so I devoted some time to brainstorming. I'm working on a scene that should be a kind of sensory overload to the viewpoint character, something exciting and chaotic that needs to be portrayed vividly, and it's also a turning point of sorts. That meant I probably ought to figure out what was happening so I could describe it. Meanwhile, it occurred to me that I needed to think through a bit of backstory that turns out to have more impact on the current situation than I realized. The events are there, but I hadn't considered the motives and feelings behind those events, and those feelings are important going forward. It ended up going in a totally different direction than I expected, and I think I've just humanized my villain. Really, he's probably more of an antagonist than a villain. I don't think he's evil. He just has a different view of things than Our Heroes do. I think he's more interesting if you can feel a bit of sympathy for him and if he has a human side.

I'm not sure how much I can expect to accomplish today because it's convention preparation day. I'm not staying in the hotel, but I need to prepare almost as if I were because I'll need to be able to get up and dressed quickly and have everything I need available. I need to figure out my clothes and make sure all the necessary items are clean, ironed if necessary and not missing any buttons. Oh, and that they fit. I need to make sure I know where everything I'll need to wear is so that I'm not crawling on the floor of the closet with a flashlight, looking for the other shoe, when I have a panel starting in half an hour (not that I've ever done that. Ahem.) I need to figure out what I'll read for my reading and print it out in type I can see easily. I need to have my con bag packed with a copy of one of my books to display during panels and some bookmarks, then I'll need to have the Baseball Bat of Moderation ready for the panel I'm moderating Sunday morning. I got off light this year on moderator duty (I must have done it wrong last year because normally I moderate a lot of panels), but I do have the Sci Fi Channel Inferno Match, and that gets heated, so the Wand of Moderation isn't enough for keeping order. I'd also like to have the house more or less clean so that all I have to do is come home and fall into bed, then get up in the morning and throw on clothes.

If you're interested in my schedule, I've got a Firefly panel at 6 and a Doctor Who panel at 8 on Friday (be prepared for some fun stuff in that one). Then on Saturday, my reading is at 11 a.m. I don't know yet what I'll be reading. I suppose it will depend on who's in my audience. I may read my gargoyle short story (though I've done that at ConDFW and at ArmadilloCon), I may give a glimpse of book 5, or I may get really wild and crazy and read from the project in progress (one word: steampunk). Or I may read an old favorite if I have newbies in the room. I have a panel on writing humor at 2. Sunday at 10 is the aforementioned Inferno Match, which is always a lot of fun. My autographing is scheduled for 11 on Sunday (I think -- there's a discrepancy between the latest schedule I was sent and the schedule on the con web site). Then at 3 I'll be on the panel about turning books into TV series. Robert J. Sawyer, author of FlashForward, which was the basis for a TV series last season, is on that panel, too, so that should be interesting (and I will try not to feel intimidated).

So, I think to lower my stress levels, I won't even pretend to plan to get writing done today. If I do, it's a bonus, but it's probably better for me not to feel rushed and stressed. I'll enjoy the weekend more that way.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Hero's Journey: Refusal of the Call

I am now done with physical therapy! I even got a t-shirt! I'm looking forward to getting my mornings back. Monday will be bliss, since I'll have been at FenCon all weekend, I'll likely be utterly exhausted, and it will be lovely to be able to sleep in instead of heading to a therapy appointment. Then Wednesdays will be easier because those are already my busy days, since I have to head to children's choir around five, which really cuts into my afternoon. Having some morning time again will help.

But, alas, I did still have therapy today, and it's Perfect Storm day, with three deadlines, in addition to therapy, choir and errands. The errands became more complicated because they're remodeling the Target. I used to be able to run in and get everything I needed in just a few minutes, but at the moment, everything's all mixed up. Even the helpful staff members stationed around the store to help people find stuff are confused. One was telling me where to find something, pointing back the way I'd come, then out of the corner of my eye, I saw it ahead of me and said, "Or it could be over there." When your staff is lost, you know you've got problems. There were a couple of items on my list that I didn't get because they weren't absolutely essential and I didn't have my Indiana Jones hat with me to go on the epic quest to find them. Supposedly, the new, improved store, now with some fresh groceries, will open in a month. In the meantime, they pretty much moved entire shelves and just plunked them down at random wherever they could find space, and they don't seem to be restocking so they can just cram everything together.

I'm continuing to look at the stages of the hero's journey, as distilled for modern storytelling by Christopher Vogler in the book The Writer's Journey. I've already gone through the first two stages, the Ordinary World and the Call to Adventure. The next stage is the Refusal of the Call.

The Refusal of the Call comes when the hero thinks twice about taking on the adventure that's called him. He may have realized that something needs to change or that he needs to take action, but then reality hits as he realizes that this endeavor may be more than he wants to take on. That's the point of this stage. Being a hero is hard. Not just anyone can do it. If the hero just jumped into things without hesitation, the quest wouldn't seem like as big a deal. If the hero takes a moment to think about what he's getting into, then his commitment when he does decide to go for it seems more genuine.

Sometimes, it is just pausing to think and weigh his options, and it only takes a moment. Or the hero may flat-out refuse the call at first -- like in the detective stories when the cynical detective refuses to take the case. This may be when the hero makes excuses: "I'm too busy, I've got obligations." Or it may be when he says stuff like "That's impossible! It's insane!" Or he might insist that he's the wrong person for the job.

This may be when the Threshold Guardian character shows up. Even if the hero is all for taking on the quest, other people in her life may urge her to refuse the call. They may remind her of times in the past when things didn't go so well. They may remind her of her obligations that would preclude the quest. They may tell her why she's not equipped to do this sort of thing.

The more experienced the hero, the less of a refusal there may be. It would be kind of silly if in the fourteenth James Bond movie, 007 told M that he wasn't quite sure he wanted to take on this mission. He might, however, question the specifics of the mission -- he thinks M is wrong about the person he's supposed to target. Circumstances or other characters may do the refusing for these willing heroes. Things may get in the way of them setting out on the quest, or other people may tell them it's difficult and question their willingness to go or even try to block their way. Heroes may also have to choose between quests, accepting one and refusing the other. In a tragic story, the hero chooses the wrong one. The hero can end up with everyone opposed to him if he doesn't choose the quest his superiors want him to take on. If James Bond doesn't think that the person M wants him to stop is really the villain, then he has to go rogue to get the person he really thinks is behind the evil.

Some examples of refusals:
Luke Skywalker has spent most of the movie so far talking about wanting to get off the farm and have adventures, but when Obi-Wan tells him to come with him and become a Jedi, he suddenly starts talking about how there's the harvest coming up, and his uncle needs him.
Indiana Jones scoffs about the likelihood of actually finding the Ark of the Covenant when the government agents approach him.
The older kids think Lucy is making things up when she tells them about the magical world she found through the wardrobe.
In a romantic comedy, this is when the heroine decides she doesn't want to get to know the guy she just met (when Sally tells Harry to have a nice life when she drops him off at Washington Square), or when her friends suggest she start dating and she insists she's perfectly fine with her cats and her Cup-o-Soup.
Harry Potter's aunt and uncle try to keep him from reading the letters inviting him to Hogwarts, going so far as to run away so the letters can't reach him. He never refuses the call, but his aunt and uncle try to block the way, which serves a similar purpose in the story.

This doesn't have to be a major part of the story, just a moment to remind the hero and the readers that this hero stuff is serious and difficult, not to be taken lightly.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Literary Bucket List

I think I figured out the cause of the weekend boredom/ennui. It seems that my subconscious was using all the mental and emotional energy. I'd been keeping a notebook handy and scribbling down ideas that came to me for scenes or plot points in the book I'm working on. There was one particular scene idea that I kept adding ideas to, until mid-day Monday it kind of clicked into place, and I realized that was the midpoint of the book. From there, everything else fell into place, and the book now has something like a structured plot. I may even be able to write a real synopsis! I plotted it out using two different plot structures, and it came out the same way both times, with just a little tweaking of a few events that I'm still not entirely sure of that could fall in either of two places. I didn't hit my writing goal yesterday since I spent the afternoon plotting, but I think having a plot will help with the writing going forward. This may be a light week, as I'm getting ready for FenCon, but next week, with the convention behind me and with no more physical therapy, I hope to really get going.

I referred to my "literary bucket list" yesterday, then realized I hadn't actually written it down. I just had vague ideas of the books or kinds of books I want to write someday. So, here is my current literary bucket list of the things I want to write before my career ends. The trick isn't so much writing them as it is publishing them, and when I'm making my living at this, I can't afford to spend time on things that won't be published.

1) The "weekend house party gets cut off by a storm -- and one of them's a killer!" story -- I love this whether it's an old Agatha Christie Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None mystery or something more paranormal, like last weekend's episode of Haven. I think it would be a lot of fun to write something that claustrophobic, sort of a bottle episode. I do have something like this started that falls somewhere between contemporary fantasy and paranormal romance, and falling into that gap makes it difficult to market. Every so often, I take it out and play with it a bit, and maybe someday I'll get it to fit into some publishable niche. Or maybe I'll come up with an entirely different story to tell with this trope.

2) My dream city -- When I dream about being in a city, it's always the same city. The dream may be set in Chicago, New York, New Orleans or Austin, but the city I see in the dream is always the same place that isn't really any of them. A lot of the dream city is similar to downtown Philadelphia, which is weird because I was dreaming it long before I went to Philadelphia, and that made being in Philadelphia a rather surreal experience. I think this city would make an interesting setting for a book. I'm not sure yet if it would be like the fictional city in the real world that Charles deLint uses or if it would be a secondary world (like Narnia, with or without the connection to our world). I really should try to capture what I know of the city from the dreams and try to map it because there's a lot of it that's incredibly vivid to me. I'm not sure what time period it is. Most of the buildings are old, but it could be anywhere from the late 1800s to the present or even into the future (when I dream I'm in Dallas, it seems to be the outskirts of this city and in the future), but there's a retro quality to a lot of the imagery. But I would need to figure out stuff like plot, characters and situation before I could write anything. At the moment, it's more of a world building exercise, what my professor called "a place where things can happen."

3) A Sliding Doors kind of story -- something that explores parallel realities and what ifs -- what might have happened based on either a random thing or a choice. When I've seen this done in books, it almost always seems to be centered on whether or not the woman gets married to a particular guy, and I think there are other what ifs that could be explored. Doing this in print could be tricky, though. On film, there are visual clues, like in the movie where in one reality Gwyneth Paltrow got her hair cut and bleached, so you always knew which one we were seeing. I tried writing something like this, and I haven't made it work yet.

4) A novel written in letters, journal or diary entries, etc. -- I love reading these, but it's actually something pretty tricky to pull off. Again, this is something I've tried, but it wasn't working, so I went back to regular narrative (and it still didn't work well enough to sell). The diary thing seems to work best with less adventurous plots, where the story is more about observing other people, like the Bridget Jones books. When there are adventures involved, the journal slows it down and turns it into more "telling" than showing. I think I've figured out a way to make it work, and I'm currently letting my subconscious work on a more specific plot.

5) A really sweeping, unabashedly romantic story -- This may be one of those that has to wait until I'm a big enough seller that I can get a contract on the basis of, "You know, I'd like to write a book ..." There seems to be this weird mental block with me where romance is concerned in the publishing world, but when I submit a proposal that has the slightest hint of the possibility of a romantic sub-plot, the fantasy publishers reject it on the basis that it's too much a romance for them to publish (never mind that I've read books from those same publishers with WAY more romance than I had planned). And yet the romance publishers reject it on the basis that it isn't a romance. At any rate, I'd love to write something like Stardust, which was a fantasy novel that was also a swoon-worthy romance, and I'd like to do the romantic part of the plot on my terms, and not in the mold of the romance genre.

6) "Old and Wise" -- I know that basing stories on pop songs is a kind of teenage, fanfictiony thing to do, but ever since I was a teenager, the song "Old and Wise" (link goes to a YouTube video of it) by the Alan Parsons Project has haunted me with the sense that there's a story in there. I'm sure it really is meant to be about being old and wise and looking back on your life, but it's always struck me as being about time travel or living life out of order or being young but having already lived to old age, or something like that. I guess it's very Doctor Who, now that I think about it.

7) A classic-style romantic comedy -- Not a romance novel style romantic comedy, but something more like a romantic comedy film in book form. That was kind of what chick lit was, but it died before I got a chance to do it. Something like It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story or even moving closer to the present, When Harry Met Sally. This is again a genre issue. What I want to do wouldn't fit into the romance genre, but unless chick lit is revived, I don't stand much of a chance of doing it outside the romance genre. I could add fantasy elements, but then the fantasy people would say it's too romancey. So, either I need to be big enough that they'll publish anything I write or I need to go the entrepreneurial route and just write it and e-publish for the Kindle, or something like that. Even that would require building a big enough fanbase for it to be worthwhile. Or maybe I should delve into screenwriting.

8) An old-fashioned, traditional, quasi-medieval fantasy -- these are the books I grew up reading and that got me into wanting to write fantasy, stuff like Terry Brooks or Katherine Kurtz. I actually have one written, and I still like the concept and the characters, but I wasn't a good enough writer at the time to pull it off. I'd love to rewrite it, but it's another thing that would be tricky to sell right now. It seems the trend in the traditional quasi-medieval fantasy is darker and more violent, kind of the sword-and-sorcery thing, and this book is more intimate, mostly about two characters, and it gets fairly romantic, though not in a romance novel way. It would probably qualify for that #5 sweeping romance.

9) A book that takes place in a specific period of time -- one night, one day, one week, one year. There's a certain plotting discipline involved in working out something with this kind of constraint, and it takes a certain kind of plot to make it work. I love those stories that are about all the things that happen in one crazy day, or where it spans a year, so you can see exactly how things change for the characters as the calendar makes one round. I actually have an idea currently developing that might fit the "one crazy day" story, but I'll have to see how it works out.

10) A 1940s or World War II story -- This is one of my favorite historical periods to read about or study. It was a real test of human character, and the clothes were awesome. I just don't have a plot for it, or even an idea of what in that vast range I'd want to focus on. I've dabbled with mental ideas involving resistance fighters in Europe, the home front, the Blitz, etc. I love what Connie Willis has done using time travel. Or I guess I could use that dream city, make it a setting like the 1940s, but in another world, and have them fighting a different but similar war. Or it could be a retro-futuristic dieselpunk thing, like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, only without a main plot that sucks. This is definitely something the subconscious will have to play with because it's nowhere near ready to write.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Long, Dark Weekend of the Soul

I'm down to one more physical therapy appointment! It will be so nice to have those two mornings of the week back, and just in time for the weather starting to get cool enough to go for a walk in the morning.

I had a very "long, dark teatime of the soul" weekend, in which I suffered a strange kind of boredom. I had plenty of options of things to do, but none of them really appealed to me. I tried watching several different movies on HBO, only to give up on them. Most of them I think were actually bad movies, but it's also possible that nothing would have appealed to me. TNT was running the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, but if you're not in the right mindset for that, it comes across as rather overwrought, to the point I found myself thinking, "And we thought this was good?" I tried reading several different books, only to give up at various points. One was a victim of deceptive packaging. It looked like it would be a funny and quirky magical realism type contemporary fantasy. It turned out to be a quasi-literary metaphorical thing that I think might have been meant to be humorous and quirky but that was saddled with an annoyingly angsty and whiny main character. Then there was the omnibus of books by the same author. Note to publishers: If an author is rather notorious for essentially writing the same book over and over again, with only slight plot variations and different character names, then an omnibus isn't a great idea. The first book was good, but it wasn't as much fun when I read it again with different character names and in a different time period. I mean, at least vary the events slightly. Does every heroine need to be almost killed by something nearly knocking her over a cliff, before she's then shut up in some kind of vault? And then there was the "edgy" character I just wanted to slap the edges off of and tell to quit trying so hard in yet another book that I gave up on after about three pages.

On both Saturday and Sunday, I resorted to the OnDemand exercise videos. I have learned that I don't seem to have an ounce of funk in my body. I also will not be trying out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, even if I regain my ability to do the splits. Their exercise routine looks a lot like what they do on the sidelines, but with less hair flinging, and my body just doesn't move that way. Not that I was seriously considering this. I sat next to the current cheerleaders director in band my freshman year of high school, and I was so afraid of her that I don't think I said more than three words the whole year, even though we shared a music folder. I think I did surprisingly well for a Norwegian at the Bollywood dance workout (maybe my neighborhood is rubbing off on me), and I think I was pretty good at the salsa once I got the hang of the steps. But, yeah, the funk/hip-hop was a total loss. If I were in a teen movie, I'd be totally screwed because the secret weapon to putting yourself over the top in any teen movie competition is to add hip-hop or funk elements to whatever you're doing. I'd have to be the "villain" who does things very well the traditional way but who is soulless.

I did manage to make it all the way through a college football game, which I seldom do. It wasn't even a great game, but it was better than anything else I could find to do. On Sunday night when my local PBS station didn't show the Inspector Lewis episode that was scheduled because they were having a pledge drive (and I don't understand why they think it will gain support for them to pull their regular programming and show the 300th repeat of a Doo-Wop special -- unless they're actually holding their regular programming hostage: "Pay up, or you'll be doomed to Doo-Wop hell forever!") I gave up and resorted to the Arthur Dent solution to those Sundays that seem to go on forever. I took a bath. I filled the deep garden tub with water at "soup" temperature levels, threw in some bubble bath and grabbed a random paperback romance off the towering To-Be-Read pile.

Then I remembered why I quit reading romances. The main goal of the "hero" (and I use the term loosely) is to have sex with the heroine. He knows that doing so will pretty much ruin her life (this is a historical story), but he doesn't care. He's bored and she seems like she'll be a challenge, so he's determined to have her. Even by the halfway point of the book, he still hasn't come to like her personality or enjoy talking to her or anything else. He just thinks about how great it will be to have sex with her and then ditch her. This is a romance novel, so we know he'll end up falling in love with her, but I can't really get behind wanting them to get together when he's essentially the villain of the book. There is a real villain who indulges in cartoonish mustache twirling, but he mostly seems to exist so the "hero" isn't the most odious person in the book. The annoying thing is, there's a secondary romance that's actually really, really good and very romantic, involving decent characters, and that's the only reason I've kept reading. At first, when we'd just met the guy in that subplot, I was thinking that he'd be better for the heroine, but then the heroine ends up actually being drawn to Mr. "My Grand Plan is to Use You and Ditch You" (he's very open about his plan) and can't stop thinking about him after he pins her to the wall and forces her to kiss him, and I decided she was too stupid for the decent guy. Yeah, I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about the jerk, but my thoughts would be more along the lines of ways I could use a fireplace poker to make it impossible for him to achieve his goal. I'm not sure the secondary heroine is worthy of her guy, but she's not a complete idiot and has decent taste in men. Sometimes I think the guaranteed happy ending is a detriment to the romance genre because it becomes a crutch. It allows all sorts of obnoxious behavior to be swept under the rug just because, hey, you know it will all work out okay in the end.

The one thing that managed to hold my interest this weekend was this week's episode of Haven on the Sci Fi channel. After rewatching it OnDemand, I realized it was written by the writer who wrote my favorite non-pilot (real pilot, not the episode Fox showed first) episode of Firefly, "Ariel." That may explain why it pushed a lot of my buttons. Like the Firefly episode, it made excellent use of the ensemble cast and it threw the various cast members into different situations and groupings in a way that showed us new facets of the characters. Jose Molina also seems to have a knack for using some of my favorite plot tropes with twists that fit into that particular world. In the Firefly episode, it was the caper story. Here, it was the "weekend party gets stranded by a storm in a spooky old building -- and one of them's a killer" story that's totally on my literary bucket list of things I want to write someday.

I went to the library this morning, and I'm hoping the mix of books I found will help me out of the reading slump. Some of the slump may have something to do with the fact that most of my reading lately has been research or preparation for a book, and now I've almost forgotten how to read for fun. I got a few books from the children's section because I've found that's a great way to remind myself that reading is fun.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Summer Progress and Fall Plans

I now have only two physical therapy appointments left! It will be lovely not having to go out so often and not having to spend that money, though going out two to three times a week did mean I stayed caught up on errands. I didn't have my bouts of the don't wannas when it came to getting groceries, picking up things at Target or getting the dry cleaning done. I could just do all that on my way to or from therapy appointments. I'm not totally 100 percent yet, but I'm so close that only my therapist can tell the difference, and then I can feel that there's a slight difference between arms. I'll have to keep up some of the exercises on my own to get back to where I really want to be.

I realized when I was talking to my agent the other day and catching up on what's been happening the last few (or more -- I'm a very hands-off client who mostly goes off into my cave to work) months that I've had a pretty busy summer. There was the therapy to rehab the shoulder, I taught vacation Bible school, I did heavy revisions on a manuscript, I went to two conventions, I had choir stuff, and I researched and wrote a book proposal. That research involved reading about 50 books. Not all of them were text-intensive, and I didn't necessarily read all of them cover-to-cover, but still, that's a lot of reading. Oh, and there was my usual weekly medical school work.

Now, what will I do for the fall? I've got choir, kindergarten choir and ballet. We've got a new choir director who starts next week, so I don't know yet if we'll go back to having the a capella early music chorale or any other small extra choral groups. I've got two conventions, FenCon next week and then MileHiCon in October, plus a library talk. I'm still figuring out what I'll be working on, as there are two projects vying for my attention at the moment, both of which could involve deadlines. One is in progress and the other needs a lot of development and some research before I can start it, so I may end up working on both. I probably will finish writing a book before the end of the year, one way or another. So, yeah, fall will be busy.

I've also come up with the wacky goal of being able to do splits again before the end of the year. I used to be really, really flexible. Well into my 20s, I could easily drop into the splits from just about any direction. Then I messed up my knee and had surgery, and the period of forced inactivity associated with that, along with the exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee, meant I lost a lot of flexibility. Now the tightness in my hamstrings is hampering my extension in ballet. This limbering up is a slow, gradual process, and my ballet teacher has shown me some exercises. I just need to remember to stop and stretch every so often every day so I can keep making progress. I'm adding the leg stretching to my usual shoulder stretching routine.

Plus, there are a couple of other projects I'm involved with that I'll be talking about soon.

And to think, I was kind of hoping to take some serious time off this fall to really enjoy my favorite season!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Let's Make Some Noise

It seems as though the discussion on Enchanted, Inc. series topics was well-received, so I'll keep doing that as long as I have topics to address. I'm making a list as I see them come up. I'll repeat that I won't get into anything about what will happen in the future for this world or these characters, in part because of spoilers and in part because there's always a chance that I'll change my mind once I start writing (if I start writing) no matter how much I think I have planned. This includes backstory that is relevant to possible future plots. And there's a distinct chance that any backstory I do discuss may be changed if that becomes necessary to future plots I haven't even thought of yet. So, from now on, I'll alternate on Wednesdays between the writing posts and the Enchanted, Inc. discussions, and I've added an Enchanted, Inc. tag to make it easy to find those posts.

And since the question has come up yet again, the publisher currently has no plans to publish the fifth book of the series. I do have one planned. My agent is still hounding the publisher about this because the earlier books are still selling and even selling pretty well. In fact, if you were inclined to let the publisher know that you really want to see that book (and maybe that you think it's weird that these books aren't published as fantasy or in mass-market paperback form), now would be a really, really good time to do so. And I do mean NOW, as in today or tomorrow, depending on how long it takes mail to get from you to New York so that it would arrive before the end of next week. Just saying.

That address would be:
Ballantine Books
1745 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

If you're violently opposed to snail mail, you can send that to, but I understand from people who have done so that they get generic "there are currently no books scheduled by that author" replies, which sort of misses the point that the e-mail was requesting more books because you KNOW there's nothing scheduled. That leads me to believe that these e-mails are not being shared with anyone in a decision-making position. Their Twitter ID is @atrandom and they're on Facebook as RandomHouseInc if you want to reach them that way. A live human being might actually monitor that stuff. I understand that there is a Facebook group calling for a fifth book. RandomHouseInc should certainly be invited to "like" it. But this only works if there's a lot of noise involved. I'm not saying to break the Internet, but it does make for a fun experiment in the power of social networking.

I have also learned that repeating the word "sex" multiple times in a post is a good way to attract spammers.

Now that I have that proposal off with my agent, I'm left trying to figure out what I need to be working on now. I'm having enough fun with that book and have high enough hopes for it that I kind of want to keep writing it, so that maybe by the time a publisher actually makes a decision on it, I'll have most of it already done. But then there's also a possible opportunity that I need to brainstorm to see if I can come up with something for. And there's that back-burnered book, for which I need to do some reading. I wonder if my brain is adept enough to juggle multiple projects -- maybe do some writing in the afternoons, then do reading and brainstorming in the evenings on the nights when I'm not dancing or singing (or, in the case of kindergarten choir, doing both. I'm having to re-learn the Hokey Pokey).

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sex and the Magical City

I found out today that my physical therapy ends next week! Today, I was kind of wishing it was over already because we're getting a tropical storm, and I did not want to get out and drive in that this morning. Meanwhile, I've sent the new proposal to my agent and now we'll see if I'm delusional about liking it. I had a ton of fun reading it out loud yesterday to proofread it. I found myself falling into the voices for the characters and acting it out. I'm even kind of tempted to read the opening at FenCon next week, even though I usually avoid reading uncontracted work. This is just so much fun to read out loud, though. Maybe I can make the audience sign a non-disclosure agreement.

As a new regular, ongoing feature that I'll do on the Wednesdays when I don't have a writing post, as long as I have questions or topics to cover, I'll be doing some in-depth discussion of my Enchanted, Inc. series. Needless to say, there will be spoilers for the entire series in these discussions.

The first topic, from a reader question, is sex, or the lack thereof. One comment I get frequently either in person at booksignings or in e-mail is about how my books are "clean." Most of the people I hear from are grateful to be able to find fun books with a bit of romance that aren't focused on sex. I've heard about multiple generations enjoying the books together -- grandmothers, moms and daughters as young as ten or eleven. Then there are the people who ask when Owen and Katie are going to get it on and saying they don't want the bedroom door to close. And there was the reader who wrote me blasting me for trashing the books up with bad language and sexual references (seriously!) that kept her from being able to share them with her young daughter.

I wouldn't say that handling sex the way I have (or haven't) was any kind of conscious decision. It was more a natural outgrowth of a lot of things.

For one thing, I don't really think of sex as a spectator sport. As I'm fond of saying, watching (or reading about) someone else having sex is like watching (or reading about) someone else eating chocolate. It's lovely for them, but it doesn't do a lot for me. I don't find sex scenes in books to be all that sexy. I tend to skip them because they're boring and because I have a very literal mind, so I find myself trying to figure out the choreography and how many hands these people have to have in order to be doing all the things they're doing at the same time. Sex is a primal drive, so it makes for a very basic and relatively simple motivation, which to me isn't that interesting to read or write about. Since I don't really like reading sex scenes, I don't like writing them, and I'm not very good at writing them. When you don't enjoy something as a reader and you don't understand what other people enjoy in it, that makes it hard to know how to do it in a way that the people who are into that sort of thing will like it.

Then there's the fact that I'm a recovering romance writer, and I used to hate it when editors would tell me to amp up the sexual tension, so that the characters had to be always thinking about each other in sexual ways. The basic romance plot seems to involve people who hate each other but who are attracted to each other, so the entire focus of what draws them together is pure lust. When I was breaking out of the romance mold and getting to write a relationship any way I wanted, I wanted to be able to write about two people who actually liked each other, who could grow together gradually in an organic way. To me, the sexiest part of a relationship to read about is what I think of as the "click," that sense that these two people get each other on some fundamental level, that they belong together. They may be physically attracted, but there's also a mental, emotional and even spiritual meshing that occurs, and if it's portrayed the right way in fiction, it can be breathtaking.

All that was going on subconsciously, not something I was thinking about or planning as I wrote these books, but it made sense for the characters as I created them. Both Owen and Katie are very old-fashioned, small-town kids with religious upbringings. They're not going to hop in the sack right away. Not that they really have time for that sort of thing, both in the sense of the timeline of the books and in what they have going on. Enchanted, Inc. takes place from late September to mid-November. Once Upon Stilettos picks up in mid-November and runs to mid-December. Owen and Katie don't even start dating until the very end of that book. Damsel Under Stress picks up the next day and runs through early January -- covering maybe three weeks, during which time their work has become really intense and they have other issues to deal with. They can't even have a dinner date without crazy things happening. Don't Hex with Texas picks up in late April/early May of the following year, and they're at her parents' house the whole time. They don't even have to be overly conservative for them not to have gotten around to sleeping together yet.

Even if something does happen in later books, it won't be graphically described because of the issue of first-person narration. The first-person narrator knows she's telling a story and can pick and choose what to tell. Katie isn't the kind of person who'd give us graphic descriptions of the sex she's having. She'd feel that's personal and private, and she knows how very shy Owen is, so she wouldn't want to say anything that would embarrass him. The most I could imagine her saying would be that this time she didn't stay in the guest room.

There's also the fact that these people have come to feel like friends to me, and so it would feel weird and even creepy for me to imagine them having sex. I don't like to think about my real friends that way. Most of my friends are married and many of them have kids, so I'm sure they have sex. I just don't want to picture it. I'm not that way about all characters. I've written romance characters who had sex. I just happen to be that way about these particular people. I don't know if it's something to do with the characterization -- the fact that they're shy and traditional -- or if it has to do with writing a series so they're more familiar to me. Or maybe it was because I didn't plan the relationship from the beginning so I didn't start out thinking about them that way, while with the romance characters the sex was part of the equation from the start.

I doubt I'll ever write anything too terribly sexy, though, because I happen to prefer writing other aspects of relationships, the aspects I think tend to get skipped. The "click" is different for each couple, while the mechanics of a sex scene aren't all that different. You know what happens and how it works, so if I've given a good foundation in establishing a connection, then if you want to imagine the sex for yourself, you can do so, and you'll probably enjoy that more than anything I'd write.

If you've got a question or topic about the series that you'd like me to address, either e-mail me or post a comment.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Defining Light

I gave myself a full holiday weekend, and now I actually feel all rested and ready to go. Normally, I designate Labor Day weekend as time for chick lit and chick flicks, but I guess I wasn't in the mood for that this year. I watched the latest Terminator movie on HBO, which hardly counts as a chick flick (it's not even a love story like the first one was), and I was reading a biography. But I did clean my house and I spent some time with friends. Today, I'll read my book proposal straight through, out loud, and then tomorrow it goes to my agent. It's cool and rainy, so it's the perfect day to curl up on the couch with the laptop.

In all my griping about wanting something "light" to read, I realized that I haven't really defined what I mean by "light." I saw some of the recommendations in comments, and a lot of those don't seem light to me no matter how funny they are. So, I've been thinking about what it is I do want in a book that would qualify to me as "light."

Mostly, I think it boils down to escapist reading -- something that takes me away from the real world to a place that is in some ways better or more special than the real world. Life may be more difficult for the heroes than it is for me, simply because they are heroes and more is asked of them, but they're in a place I'd love to visit. I don't want to read about a world that's darker or more difficult than my world is. I've heard from editors defending the dark trend that people read the darker stuff to make their lives feel better in contrast, but that doesn't work for me. Reading about a dark, scary, depressing place where lots of bad stuff happens only makes me depressed. It doesn't make my life seem any better or easier in comparison. I guess I spent too much time in my pre-teen years dreaming about finding Narnia at the back of my closet, but that's what I'm looking for in light reading, a trip to a place that's better or more interesting in some ways than my own world, where there are people I wish I could be or wish I knew. If the book has a real world setting, like in contemporary or urban fantasy, I'd prefer to think that the world is actually more magical and wonderful than I realized, not that it has some underbelly that's even darker and more sinister than I realized.

Which leads me to another factor -- I like aspirational fiction, stories that give you something to look up to. That means heroes who are better than normal people and who by their actions make their worlds better. I want there to be a real difference between the heroes and the villains. The heroes may have flaws and make mistakes, but they're basically good. They don't dabble in darkness and don't use methods that make them look like villains. They may make sacrifices and suffer, but that comes about because they've chosen to take on something difficult for a good cause. They aren't victims of the world who just have bad stuff happen to them. If I want to read about Job, I'll read the Bible. I don't want a hero who would be the bad guy in another story or who is only the good guy because he's the main character.

Under the aspirational umbrella, there's also the idea of hope, that the heroes' actions can really change things and make things better. It's not a case of "life sucks, and then you die" or "nothing ever gets any better." The hero can change the world and make things better for everyone, or he at least can improve his own situation by achieving his full potential. He may start the book living in a crummy apartment in a bad part of town, but I'd like him to end the book in a better place. I'd also prefer not to wallow in depravity with the villain, with so much emphasis on how evil and warped he is, portrayed in loving detail.

I'm okay with snark and sarcastic humor, but I want humor that goes beyond that. If all the humor comes from the fact that the character is a bitter smartass, it's not that funny to me. Not all "light" has to be funny, either. It can just be an overall tone. I just like the idea of a sense of fun, excitement and adventure instead of wallowing in misery. As I'm fond of saying, having magical powers should be kind of cool, not a miserable curse, and shouldn't people with magic have an advantage instead of being stuck in the miserable underbelly of society?

Not that I want a steady diet of light. I just want options. Sometimes I'm up for something more serious and dramatic, but generally, I want books that make me feel better when I'm done reading them, where I don't feel like I need to take a shower and bleach my brain after reading them. I've got a very vivid memory, not totally photographic but close, so anything I put in my brain will stay there. I can recall word-for-word (or sometimes the mental images the words generated) passages and scenes from books I read once in junior high that really disturbed me, and these things pop back at the strangest times. That makes me very, very careful about what I choose to put into my head, and I don't want a lot of darkness swirling around in there. If I'm going to have to relive the stuff I read, I want it to be stuff I enjoy reliving.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Readers Uniting for Light!

Today is just so glorious. It's cool and sunny and the humidity is down, and I'm about to go take a long walk. I may even spend most of the afternoon sitting on the patio and reading (if I can figure out how to get the patio table and umbrella upright after a gust of wind flipped them -- the shoulder is very sore from therapy this morning). I've got the book proposal more or less done and am letting it rest over the holiday weekend before I give it one more read-through, so today is something of a holiday, though I have a few other things I want to take care of.

It looks like we've got the makings for a Movement in wanting an alternative to dark and gritty. In books, TV and movies, it seems like it's considered a given that dark and gritty=good and that light=fluffy and somehow lesser. So, saying that something is dark and gritty is calling it good. That really happened during the "what you should have read/should read" panel at the convention last weekend. It was a constant refrain of "You ought to read this. It's really dark and gritty." Or "This is so good, it's really dark and gritty." But there's lots of stuff that falls on the lighter and more hopeful side that's considered classic, and grit alone doesn't make something good.

Unfortunately, the way publishers make decisions about what to publish is by looking at how sales are going, and if there's almost nothing light on the market, then it's hard to do profit and loss projections because there's no comparison. The few authors getting away with lighter stuff in science fiction and fantasy are the established bestsellers, so their numbers don't count for comparison. If it's not out there, we can't buy it, but if it's not out there, then they can't measure demand for it. They seem to be thinking that lower book sales are because of the recession, not because of the lack of variety. I'm doing my part by griping to every editor I run into, making sure they know that it's not just me as a writer talking and wanting more of a market for my books. It's me as a reader talking as someone whose book purchases went from hundreds of dollars in a year to only a few books a year, just because there's not much I want to buy. When you resort to reading Victorian dime novels from Project Gutenberg just to have something fun to read, you know you're in trouble (and those things are like crack. They're so unintentionally hilarious).

Though you'd think that a look at TV ratings and the movie box office would indicate that there's a demand for lighter fare. The top-rated scripted show on TV right now is NCIS -- the "light" procedural that's more character-driven and that's loaded with quirky humor. The biggest hit the Sci Fi Channel has ever had is Warehouse 13, which can get serious but which is light and quirky. Then there's the entire USA Network lineup. Even though True Blood gets pretty gory and gritty, I wouldn't call it truly dark because it's got so much humor and is almost played as farce at times. It's the escapist fare that does well at the movie theater. In the past, it seemed like at most of the writing conferences I've been to, when editors say what they're looking for, they usually refer to recent hit movies or TV series as models (I remember when they kept saying they wanted something with a tone like Pretty Woman, but without the heroine being a hooker). I don't know why there's such a huge disconnect right now where they don't seem to be pointing to any particular recent hit movies or TV shows but instead keep saying they're looking for dark, gritty and angsty.

I'm not saying I want dark to go away. I just want to get away from this all-or-nothing mindset. Surely having a little of something for everyone would be better for the bottom line than driving away large groups of readers.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Life in T-Shirt Slogans

The bad thing about being out of town for a few days is that no sooner did I start getting my overflowing in-box under control than it got a chance to get out of control again. I can only imagine what it will be like when I go away for a whole week in October (and I doubt I'll take my computer with me).

Today is proving to be delightfully cool and rainy. The forecast was for upper 90s and sun. I guess I'll see on the noon news if they've revised that. This is the kind of weather that makes me want to bake, but I don't really have baking ingredients. I went shopping at the quasi farmer's market store yesterday, so I have tons of produce. However, I'm almost out of milk, I think I'm low on flour, and I don't have cream for making scones. I was planning a grocery excursion after physical therapy tomorrow, but I didn't realize that today would turn out to be a baking kind of day. I have some butter, so I might be tempted to make shortbread if the day continues like this.

But I should probably be working instead of baking, as I've now analyzed what needs to be fixed in the first 20,000 words of this book. I don't think it needs major work, just a few tweaks. I'm still struggling with a synopsis, though. It may end up being very high-level, more like the back-cover copy on a book. I realized that I'm doing an odd rendition of the heroic journey with this book. There's no one call to adventure. The turning point that initially changes the heroine's life and sets her on the path to where all this other stuff happens occurs before the book begins, so there's no real "ordinary world" segment. That part is more about her discovering the new normal, since her life is already changing when things happen to really change it. But once she's in this new normal, other calls to adventure start happening, but they're gradual, and that means there's no real refusal of the call. It's more a series of "assignments," the first one relatively easy and then gradually intensifying until she realizes she's in deep enough that she has to make a choice. That means the call to adventure overlaps the "tests, enemies and allies" part, and the real threshold crossing will occur at the "inmost cave/ordeal" phase midway through.

On the other hand, I have a title, and I think I have titles for a trilogy.

Funny thing from ArmadilloCon: There was a pediatrics conference in the same hotel. Someone at our con was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of the TARDIS and the words "You never forget your first Doctor." The pediatricians took it an entirely different way, apparently not recognizing the TARDIS but thinking in terms of being someone's first doctor. I said that we need to find a pediatrician who is also a Doctor Who fan and make sure he/she has that shirt because then it really would work on multiple levels.

There were some really cute pediatricians and once I even managed to be on an elevator full of them, but alas, they were all wearing wedding rings.

"Dark and gritty" still seem to be the watchwords for upcoming books, much to my dismay. A book I threw to the other end of the sofa at page 60 was being widely hailed as brilliant and is apparently even an award finalist. I must be so out of touch with reality that I'm in danger of creating my own pocket universe.

"I'm so out of touch with reality that I've created my own pocket universe" would make a good t-shirt slogan.