Monday, January 31, 2011

Stocking Up for the Storm

They're forecasting a big cold snap and winter storm for tomorrow, so this morning I had to go out and stock up, just in case. Because I have my priorities in order, that means I went to the library, since I'd finished all my books. But I seem to be in a weird reading mood, so that nothing on the shelves really caught my eye. I already had everything I wanted to read. I ended up with only one book and one DVD, but with a reading list of books I own. This afternoon I'll do the grocery shopping part of winter stocking up. I'm almost out of cocoa, and that's crucial if there's going to be ice or snow. I also think I have the first ticklings of a lurking cold, and if I stock up on good cold remedy stuff, that will probably hold it off. Without plenty of chicken soup, I'm bound to get sicker.

In other news, I finished my first draft Saturday night. Yay! I already know I'll need to rewrite the last chapter because I got excited and started just spewing out words. It's like when I read a book I'm really into. I always have to go back and re-read the last chapter or so right after finishing it because I was so eager to get to the end that I just skimmed over stuff. I figure it's a good sign if my heart starts racing when I get to the exciting part in a book as I write it. I'm going to give myself a bit of a break this week to shift mental gears and move on to the next project. I'm thinking chick flick marathon this afternoon. I don't think I have the brain power for anything else.

Meanwhile, today is the ninth anniversary of the day I got laid off from my last job. That means tomorrow it will have been nine years since I've worked for anyone but myself. I wasn't exactly sad to be laid off. I was expecting it, and I was kind of planning to quit anyway, so the layoff meant I got severance pay and the sympathy of all the clients who then hired me as a freelancer. Still, the way they did it and the circumstances leading up to it weren't ideal and I did have some anger about that. After doing all the paperwork and leaving the office for the last time, I indulged in a Harry Potter reading spree. I certainly hoped at the time that I could make flying solo work, but I don't think I realized then that I really could do without a regular job. I have to say, the job I have now has been the only one to really make me happy.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Almost Done!

I only have about fifty more pages to go! Well, fifty more pages to my target page count. It's possible that I'll have more story than that because some unexpected things happened along the way and I still have two major events to go. This kind of book can be a bit longer, but on the other hand, publishers like shorter books these days because of production and shipping costs. I'll probably just do a ruthless edit and make it really, really tight if I do end up going longer than planned. There's one scene I wrote last night that possibly borders on fanfic shippyness, though I think I could justify its inclusion. It kept eating into my brain, so I had to write it. When I revise the book, I'll decide how important it really is and if it really belongs there.

It seems like the TV networks are assisting me in giving me extra writing time tonight, which I'll need as I have to sing for a funeral this afternoon. No condolences necessary. I never met this person. I just sing and have a flexible schedule, so when they need an ensemble for a funeral service, it's something I can do. Anyway, from what I'm hearing, they won't be showing a new episode of Supernatural tonight, though the Yahoo TV listings still have it. I haven't checked the TimeWarner digital cable guide, but it usually doesn't acknowledge evening programming until around five. I could have sworn I saw a listing for a new Phineas and Ferb tonight earlier in the week, but now it's not showing up in the listings. So, yeah, I'll be writing like a maniac. There may even be gleeful cackling when I'm working on the good parts.

And now, since I've let the morning get away from me, I need to go take a shower and get dressed to go learn the funeral music.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

I have about 75 more pages to write in the current monstrosity, so I'm hoping to really bust myself and finish it this weekend. I didn't add new pages yesterday in part because it was a busy day and in part because there was something in the last bit I wrote that I was unhappy with, and I took some time to untangle the problem, which may require some backtracking, but I think I like the solution. We'll see when I actually write it. I now think I know just about everything else that will happen in this book and how it will happen, so theoretically it should be easy from here. "Easy" in a relative sense because it's never truly easy.

In other news, I've learned that I'm getting a larger-than-expected royalty check. It's not as huge as the one I got from Japan in December, but it's a couple hundred more dollars than I anticipated. When I finish this book, I will not only finally get around to buying that new computer I need, but I may finally get a Blu-Ray player, using the "bonus" amount in the royalty check for something fun. I figure that's the wave of the future and if I'm ever going to upgrade I should probably do so before I buy more non-Blu-Ray DVDs, and I do have an HDTV, so I might as well get HD for something. I'll have to figure out exactly what functionality I want, as I'd like to be prepared for what I might want in the near future. For instance, you can get them with wireless networking built in for Internet streaming. I don't currently get Netflix and I don't currently have WiFi at home, but it is something I might consider for the future, and maybe the wireless streaming would allow me to use the computer as a media server for any programming obtained over the Internet (hulu, network web sites, etc.). I'll have to do some research and talk to my techie friends. This isn't a rush, just something I'll start thinking about, probably after I finish the next book. It falls after the new computer (but I guess if I'm going to use the computer for video stuff, it may factor into which computer I get) and after the new dishwasher on the priority list.

I don't know if it's just me, but the spammers have really hit full-force this week, and it's an odd kind of spamming. I haven't had a lot of spam comments on my blog, but this week my Blogger site has gone nuts with it. In the past, the few spam comments I've received have been really obvious, where the comment was pure spam. Then it started being the weird, vague comments that went something like, "This is a very interesting topic, and you've covered it well. I like what you said," but then that would be followed by a string of links to online pharmacies, places to buy counterfeit designer clothes or sites where you could meet hot women. This week's spam comments, though, were pretty specific, actually commenting on the subject matter of the blog posts. Why were they spam? Well, the user name was "Generic (drug name)" and the link in the user name led to an online pharmacy (no, I didn't click on it, but it showed up when I hovered over it). And the posts being commented on were years old.

I did pause for thought before deleting all these comments. Is posting something relevant but with a commercial link in the user name that different from what I do when I post comments on other blogs and use my name and link to my web site? I don't comment unless it's something I would have said even if no one knew I was an author (unless it's specifically about writing or publishing, of course), but I do hope that if people are interested in what I have to say, they'll follow the link and maybe try my books. But I decided that there was a difference -- I'm using my real name, not a business name. I'm generally commenting on topics that are at least marginally related, like books, science fiction and fantasy or writing. And since I'm pretty certain there's no legal generic version of the drug being advertised, these links are a scam that I don't want to expose my readers to.

I've heard that most of those "make money at home on the Internet" ads are about this kind of thing, paying people to go around the Internet and post spam comments, and the spammers are using real people to get past the various technologies designed to weed out automated spammers. Maybe whatever person who'd fallen for this work-at-home scheme really was reading my blog and commenting appropriately. But in last night's wave of spam posts coming from that name, we were back to the generic "this is an interesting post and I like what you've said" comments, so either there's more than one person posting under the name or the person got bored with reading posts and making relevant comments and just went to pasting in the generic comments.

In general, I go with the "my blog, my rules" philosophy, so comments are allowed at my pleasure. I generally don't censor, but if there's the slightest whiff of spam, it's toast. If you can prove that your given name is "Generic" and your last name is the name of a popular drug marketed to men, then I may let it slide, but your user name shouldn't link to an online pharmacy.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Naming People

I've got another Enchanted, Inc. reader question, this time about the character names in the series. I generally put a lot of thought into naming characters, and most of the time, the names have some kind of significance or meaning. I have a book of baby names that's supposedly a book of American names, but it seems to have a lot of British names, including those of Celtic origin. Plus, it includes names that were surnames that have become first names, and it has lists of most common names from various years.

I think Katie was the first character to get a name. I wanted a "girl next door" kind of name, and initially I wanted a name that was a more formal kind of name that had a girl-next-door kind of nickname. One of my best friends in elementary school was named Kathleen and went by Katie, and I'd always liked that, so I went with that. The idea was that this character would be trying to "upgrade" herself from "Katie" to "Kathleen" in New York, but once I started writing, that never really caught on. She was just a Katie and wasn't the kind of person to try to ditch a nickname. A chandler is a candle maker, and since Katie's strength seems to be shining light on things or making things more clear, I thought that would be a meaningful last name for her.

When I decided that the actual Merlin would be the boss, I guess I was influenced by the Mary Stewart Merlin trilogy in which Merlin was Welsh and decided to make the basis of the magical culture be Welsh. And so, my main magical character was named Owen, which is the Anglicized version of the Welsh name Owain, who is a major figure in the Mabinogion. The name means "well born." I didn't know much about him at the time other than that he was the good-looking co-worker at the magical corporation. Actually, at the time I didn't even know he would end up being the main magical character. For a last name, a palmer is a pilgrim or seeker, and although I didn't know the character yet, I liked the idea of what that implied, someone who's well born, but still a seeker. I think it fits well with his intellectual curiosity, although Palmer isn't his birth name. It's an adopted name. He was adopted as a baby, and then when non-magical parents were freaked out by a kid with magical powers (though they didn't realize that's what it was), the magical world ended up finding him and getting him into a magical home. He was never re-adopted, since it was all a legal gray area, so his adopted name remains his legal name. His real last name remains a mystery. Though, when I named him, I didn't know all this stuff about him.

Phelan Idris is another name of Celtic origin, to go with that theme for MSI people. "Phelan" is an Irish name that means "wolf." "Idris" is a combination of Welsh words for "lord" and "ardent" or "impulsive." I thought that was appropriate for a character who was a rogue wizard. I don't think I had him fully characterized as being kind of ADD yet, but the "impulsive" thing seemed to fit.

A lot of the other characters just seemed to be "born" with their names. I didn't go through any processes to name them. I suspect that the name of Sam for the gargoyle had something to do with a toy my brother had as a small child, a stuffed lion named Sam. I wanted a really down-to-earth name for this otherworldly character, and that just seemed to fit. Rod also came with a name, first and last, and I have no idea where that came from. When I was first working on the first book, I wasn't sure if I was writing a chick lit book with magic in it or a fantasy novel with a chick lit setting, and Gemma was a name that seemed to pop up a lot in British chick lit books, so it seemed suited for the more glamorous one of Katie's roommates.

When I'm searching for names, I may flip through the name book, making lists of names, their origins and meanings, until I find something that seems right. Sometimes, the meaning may not apply and I'm just going for something that fits the character's personality or that just fits in general. It's one of those "I'll know it when I see it" things.

A few other names and the reasons behind them:
Katie's father is named Frank because that was my grandfather's name. He was a farmer, and before that he was a blacksmith and farrier (someone who makes and puts on horseshoes) for the US Cavalry during WWI. He was already pretty old when I was born (remember, WWI veteran), but I still have memories of him carrying me on his shoulders. My primary impression of him was of solidity. That was what I wanted for Katie's father, that he would be something very real in a world that wasn't entirely real, and Katie's oldest brother is the same way. They're the only really normal people in the family.

I thought "Dean" sounded like a slick sort of name that fit Katie's middle brother, and "Teddy" is a nice-guy kind of name for the brother who's most like Katie and who is kind of a kindred spirit for Owen.

For the fairy characters, I was looking for vaguely fairy-ish names, and Trixie and Ariel seemed to work, but since Ari is a bad-girl kind of fairy, she goes with a less twee nickname.

I can't currently find the notebook that has all my scribbles from coming up with these characters (I think it's in one of the boxes in my office), so there may be more origin stories that aren't coming to mind. These are the ones that have stuck with me, though.

I do need to come up with some other resources, especially for last names, since relying on first names that used to be last names means I mostly end up with British-type last names and almost no ethnic names, unless a character is specifically ethnic, and that's ironic given that I've got an ethnic last name, myself. With these books, some of that does come down to the fact that the magical community I'm dealing with originates in the British Isles and is pretty insular. We're not going to have a lot of Norwegians running around in MSI. But I do need to broaden when it comes to the non-magical characters.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting it Together

The alarm got me up about an hour and a half earlier this morning. It would probably have worked better if I hadn't hit "snooze" for at least half an hour and then turned it off entirely because it was disrupting my sleep. But hey, baby steps are still progress.

It seems like if I start getting one area of my life more in order, it seeps over into other areas of my life. I've been writing more steadily while getting my physical space organized, and yesterday I got some exercise. When I was sorting through some old magazines, I came across one with an article on getting in shape, and it talked about doing 300 minutes of cardio a week. My weekly exercise consists of a dance class, the occasional walk to the post office or library and maybe doing the Hokey Pokey with the kindergardeners. I'm going to start by aiming for 100 minutes a week. Not all of the dance class counts because it's mostly strength, not cardio, though more of jazz counts than ballet. Taking a short walk in the sunshine and fairly cool temperatures did manage to wake me up a bit yesterday. I'll try to do that more often.

I'm really, really close to the end of the book I'm working on, so I'm going to buckle down this week and try to finish it. Then next week I can start the prep work for the next book. The next thing is going to be kind of an experiment. The entire story takes place in one 24-hour period, so I'm going to attempt some method writing. I know I can't write a book in a day, but I'm going to see how fast I can get that first draft done so I can maybe capture that sense of speed, intensity and urgency in the book. By the end, I may be as tired and fried as my characters are, which may lend authenticity to it. I'll probably have to do a lot of revisions, but I'm hoping that writing the first draft quickly will give it a certain energy. But to do that, I'll need some tight planning, including an hour-by-hour timeline of events and figuring out all the characters in advance. I may be insane for much of the next month or so, but it could be fun. I do write pretty quickly, but I don't write for long stretches of time, maybe a few hours a day at most. I want to see if I've got the stamina to do more than that.

And then what I work on next will depend on a lot of things. I do have an idea I want to explore, but it's going to take a lot of research.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Well, So Much for Monday Morning

I managed to get a supremely late start on the day. I did stay up late reading last night, but not that late, and yet I just couldn't seem to wake up this morning. I even left the heat on last night, so it wasn't a case of not wanting to leave the warm bed. I just couldn't seem to wake up entirely, and it was a big shock when I finally looked at the clock. So now I feel like I'm running late on a day that tends to be busy.

The ongoing decluttering project got derailed a bit when my shredder died. I found out that you're supposed to let them rest, so that "just one more page" thing was a bad idea. I'll have to get a new one this week, but in the meantime, I can do some more sorting. I planned to do it today, but I have so much work that needs to be done and lost too much time to laziness.

I wasn't overly enthusiastic about the new Roger Ebert movie show. While the idea of using bloggers with various areas of expertise to talk about movies is good in concept, they should probably have tried to find people who were capable of reading from a prepared script without sounding so much like they're reading from a prepared script. Ebert's computer-generated robo-voice had more animation and spontaneity to it. My brain just clicks off when I feel like I'm being read to, so I missed half the show, even while watching it. What would be awesome would be going back to the original format, with Ebert's robo voice and a medium to channel Siskel from beyond the grave. Ebert's computer could give his review, and then the medium's eyes would flip back in her head and she'd intone in a spooky voice, "I disagree, Roger." During Siskel's otherworldly rebuttal, Ebert would be furiously typing away on his counterpoint. It would be the best movie review show ever!

And now to get caught up on my "morning" stuff so I can get on with my very late day. I'm totally setting an alarm tomorrow, so I'll have no excuse for not realizing what time it is, even if I don't stick my head above the covers.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Shredding Addiction

I was so very productive yesterday. Not only did I write twenty pages, but I shredded about three shoeboxes worth of stuff and cleared/sorted all the papers from the bar in my living room, where the mail goes to die. And I did more book purging. Plus started clearing out old magazines from the rack by my sofa.

This decluttering thing is kind of addictive. I find myself saying, "Just one more thing!" And I may have to stop writing in the "library" for a while because I'll catch myself studying the bookcases to see which books I can get rid of. It's very distracting. Then every time I pass the shredder, I can't help but stop and run a few things through it, then that becomes "just one more." I ended up eating lunch nearly an hour late today because I got sidetracked by the shredder on the way to the kitchen.

I'm not sure anyone but me would notice a difference in the house, but I can tell the difference, and I feel physically lighter (though that doesn't seem to work for making that old pair of pants I tried on last night fit better). Today's target was the dining table. It wasn't bad, just a repository for things that didn't make it all the way to the kitchen, and now it will be nice and clear for breakfast Saturday morning.

Next week, I'll tackle the desk. I do still have filing to do, but I'm finding that getting rid of the stuff I don't need makes me more motivated to organize everything else.

The trick will be to develop some processes and new habits to keep things under control.

I'm also seeing that this mindset is spilling over into other areas of my life, like my procrastination tendencies. Even though I wanted to put it off (and I don't even know why I wanted to put it off, I just didn't want to deal with it), I forced myself to make my Worldcon hotel reservation the day reservations opened, and it turns out that the hotel I wanted sold out the next day, so just doing it paid off. I still need to work on that procrastination thing because I have a bad habit of putting off even things I want to do, that I know I'll need to do, sooner or later, and where there's a definite benefit to just doing it and a definite downside to waiting. But I think that's a separate issue from the decluttering.

On tap for the weekend: I think I'll create my own "Sci fi Friday" by watching last week's Primeval OnDemand, then Roger Ebert's new movie show starts on PBS tonight. Imagine, a movie show that's about the movies and not about the celebrities. After that, a writing blitz. Tomorrow night I've got a party to go to, and then Sunday night there's another episode of Downton Abbey, which is utterly addictive. And probably some shredding or magazine sorting, because I can't seem to help myself.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Decluttering Progress

I finally started making progress on my decluttering project. I found a book in the library that's been pretty helpful. Instead of giving one method as though that's the only way to go, it offers a lot of different tips with a series of stages, with the idea that you can pick the ones that work for you. My idea of starting by getting rid of the obviously unnecessary stuff falls in with their plan of stages that starts with getting rid of the things you know you don't need.

I even got a couple of bookshelves sorted, with a box of books to take to a used bookstore and a big bag of books to donate to the library book sale. I'd been worrying over the to-be-read pile and how I need to read and then get rid of those books, but even aside from the TBR pile, I have way too many books and need to make room for the ones I love and know I'll re-read. I took a hard look at one of the bookcases in my office and realized that while there are some often-reread favorites, about a quarter of the books on that shelf were books I've never re-read and likely won't. Some I barely even remembered.

The tough thing is that a lot of my friends are authors, and a lot of the books I have were written by friends. Those are tougher to get rid of, even if I know I won't re-read them. But most of those people will never come to my house to know that I purged their books. The next shelf to be purged will be more difficult, since it's a shelf specifically dedicated to books by people I know, including autographed copies. I have a lot of autographed books that I don't particularly like since I used to make it a policy to buy at least the first book by authors I know, and I went to as many booksignings as I could, to be supportive. But only a couple of those people ever ended up returning the favor, so I feel a lot less obligated now. I guess for the autographed books I don't want to keep, I could cut the personalized page out of the books before donating them.

And if any author friends are reading this, I'm obviously not talking about your books. Actually, I'm not still in touch with most of these authors, so anyone likely to be reading this probably isn't being donated.

Anyway, having those shelves neat, without books piled around, makes me feel good, and it's liberating to clear out things that I don't love.

One of the tips this book suggested was to sort in stages. First, clear off a cluttered area by sorting items into boxes, one to be filed or dealt with (any immediate action items set aside) and one to be shredded, with a trash bag handy for trash. Then you can go through the to be filed box and create files based on what you need to file. That was a big lightbulb moment. I'd been thinking, based on an earlier organizing book I'd read, that it needed to go the other way, creating files and then sorting directly into the files, with the idea that you should touch each piece of paper as few times as possible. That's probably more efficient, but trying to do it that way has been holding me back from starting. Once I get the existing "to be shredded" boxes dealt with, I'll tackle the desk. I think having a clear desk will be a real boost to the system and will motivate me for other sorting.

Today, though, is going to be a writing day. I got a late start because of a dentist appointment this morning, but now I have a big scene to write that I think will be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Hero's Journey: The Resurrection

We're almost at the end if the Hero's Journey, with just a couple of stages to go. We've reached the climax of the story, what Christopher Vogler, in his book The Writer's Journey, calls The Resurrection. I'm not overly fond of this title because I think it sells the stage short. Really, this is a two-part stage including both death and resurrection. I suppose that death is implied in resurrection because it's kind of hard to resurrect without dying first, but the death part is just as important as -- or maybe even more important than -- the resurrection part. Most of the stage is about the death part, and the resurrection part may be only a moment. Before the hero can have ultimate triumph, he has to come face-to-face with potential disaster. In this part of the story, the hero faces the absolute worst that happens to him in the story, and then in most stories goes on to achieve the absolute best in the story.

The symbolic part of this death and resurrection thing has to do with the transformation of the hero. He's been going through changes during the story, and here is where he proves that he really has changed and that he will be a new man now. His old self dies, and then he's reborn. This may be a part of him returning to his ordinary world or entering a new ordinary world. He had to change to deal with the world of the story, and now he pulls together the good parts of that change with the good parts of his ordinary world self to create a new self. The movie Serenity has a good transformation style resurrection scene. Mal, who has been cynical and bitter but who has through the course of the movie been more willing to stick his neck out for a cause. He has the final confrontation with the Operative, is nearly defeated, but when he gets the upper hand, he doesn't kill his enemy. He just carries out his mission to broadcast the information and makes sure his enemy sees the truth, then walks away to go back to his crew. The violent and cynical Mal from the beginning of the movie would have killed him without a moment's pause -- might even have been more focused on that than on finishing the mission -- so we can see that he's been transformed.

In a sense, this is the final exam for the hero. This is when the story question is definitively answered, one way or another. The hero obviously didn't achieve ultimate success during the Ordeal earlier in the story, or the story would be over already. In some cases, this is because it's a two-part plan -- Step One: Find and steal the Holy Grail, Step Two: Get it home to heal the land. But that turns out to be the hard part because the people you stole it from want it back, and meanwhile, everyone else along the way also wants it. But in many other cases, the hero is getting a second chance to do what he wasn't able to complete during the Ordeal, only this time, it's do or die. Think of the movie version of Prince Caspian -- they attempted to stop the bad guys by attacking the castle, which failed. When the bad guys come to the good guys' hideout, things look desperate, but they must win.

This is often a showdown between the hero and the villain. In a way, it's a test of their respective worldviews or philosophies. The victor will prove that his approach is the best, usually that good is superior to evil. Or it may involve an internal showdown in which the hero is weighing two different philosophies or options, often his old way and the new way he's learned during the story. Think of the Harrison Ford character in the movie Witness, who has to weigh the nonviolence he's learned among the Amish against the more violent cop way of his past when his past catches up with him while he's hiding in Amish country. Or there's Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars movie. His initial attempt to destroy the Death Star, when he used the targeting technology, failed. When he put the technology aside in the final do-or-die moment and used the Force, he succeeded. It was a showdown between the Force and technology, and technology lost.

Another part of this stage is sacrifice. The hero has to be willing to lose it all in order to prevail, and that means having a real moment of truth, where he lays it all out on the line, even though he knows it means he could still lose. This is something seen in "deception" romantic comedies, in which one of the characters has been pretending to be something she's not, and then she reaches the point where she realizes she has to tell the truth, even if that means losing the person she loves. This would be the wedding scene in While You Were Sleeping, in which Sandra Bullock had pretended to be engaged to a man in a coma so she could be a part of his big, loving family. She seems to be getting what she wanted at the beginning of the movie when he comes out of the coma, thinks he has amnesia and doesn't remember her but falls for her, and she's going to marry the man she wanted at the beginning of the movie, except in the meantime she's fallen in love with his brother. She can't go through with the wedding and tells the truth to the family, even though she believes they'll never want to speak to her again. The hero may have to give up on a false goal, to give up on something he thought he wanted in order to get what he really needs. We also see this in a lot of romantic comedies, where the heroine's stated goal might have been a job or a promotion or even the wrong guy, and she has to give that up in order to get true love. It's usually not a direct trade-off -- she has to realize that what she thought she wanted was all wrong, even though at that time she believes she may have lost her chance at true love. She has to be willing to sacrifice even though it may not get her what she's realized she really wants.

The first part of this stage is the "death." Romance writers often refer to this as "the black moment," when all seems to be lost, and seems like there's no way things can work out. In supernatural stories where literal resurrection is possible, the hero may literally die. Otherwise, the hero may face death or see death around him. This moment in the movie Titanic is when Jack does die and Rose is alone on her makeshift raft, freezing to death and too weak to call out to the lifeboats. She has to plunge into the icy water to get a whistle off the body of a dead crew member to call for help, and that there's no guarantee that will work, so she's risking death for a chance at life. Or the death could be symbolic. It could be the ending of something, like a relationship or a job. In romantic comedies, the heroine may make it to the altar to marry the wrong man, seemingly ending all chances with the guy we know is right for her. The tricky -- and yet very important -- thing for a writer is to convince readers that the hero really could fail, that things might not work out, even if it's genre fiction and it's a convention of the genre that the crime will be solved, the murderer will be caught, evil will be vanquished or the hero and heroine will get together and live happily ever after. Even as the reader may know on some level that it will work out, you should be able to make her wonder if maybe this will be the one book that breaks the mold. This should be the part where pages are turning furiously.

And then the hero has a moment of truth or clarity -- an epiphany -- in which it all becomes clear. He knows what has to be done and realizes that he's willing to pay the price. That allows him to prevail. He comes out of the depths and triumphs in a moment of resurrection. Usually, this is an active moment for the hero, something the hero does. But sometimes this is when the groundwork the hero has laid earlier in the story comes to fruition. He may make the step of sacrifice -- often a self-sacrifice -- and that inspires someone else who has learned from or been encouraged by the hero earlier to take the final action that saves the day. This happens in Return of the Jedi, when Luke is close to beating his father, Darth Vader, in battle, and he realizes how close he is to turning into his father, which is just what the Emperor, the real villain, wants. Luke chooses to put down his weapon and refuses to give in to anger and hate. He'd rather die than turn to the dark side. The Emperor then attacks him and nearly kills him, and that's when Vader, inspired by his son's example, finally stands up to the Emperor and kills him, getting mortally wounded in the process.

In tragic stories, the "resurrection" may be posthumous for the hero. His actual death may change the situation in the aftermath, so it's in his spirit that things work out, like the way that the deaths of Romeo and Juliet cause their families to rethink their feud. The resurrection is the end of the feud that caused their deaths.

Action stories may have a rolling climax or series of climaxes with a lot of death/resurrection moments, like the way in horror movies the killer seems to have been killed, but he pops up again before really being killed (at least until the sequel). We see this in the original Terminator movie, where the Terminator seems to die, only to keep coming after our heroes as Kyle is seriously injured and then killed while trying to destroy the Terminator, and then Sarah almost reaches her limits before she makes the one last, desperate move to finally destroy the machine.

In a story that works on both physical and emotional levels there may be dual climaxes, a physical one and an emotional one. This often happens in stories that mix romance and some other plot. There will be the physical climax where they beat the bad guys, and in the aftermath of that, there will be the emotional climax where the couple works things out. Or the emotional "death" may come before the physical "death," so that the hero goes into the final showdown feeling he has nothing to lose, and then either the emotional resurrection comes, giving him the strength to achieve the physical resurrection, or the physical resurrection earns him the emotional resurrection.

This stage of the story is all about the emotional roller coaster. You want to build tension and create strong emotions as the reader fears for the worst, then create a catharsis of release when it becomes clear that things are going to work out. In a movie where this is done really well, the audience may cheer out loud. There will be some fist-pumping and shouts of "Yes!" In really emotional stories, this is when you want to move readers to tears -- first tears of sorrow when it looks like all is lost, and then those turn to tears of joy when everything works out. Even in a comedy, emotion is good here. In fact, I'm more likely to cry in a comedy than in a drama because the laughter during the bulk of the movie lowers my guard. Then in the "death" part, it really hits me and I cry. In the "resurrection" I'm usually laughing through tears. I've noticed that people seem to think that a book that has moved them to tears is automatically a good book, and this is when you want to bring out those tears.

Next: The end of the story.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book to Movie: Cold Comfort Farm

Forcing myself to avoid 'shipping my own work had a really interesting result. I came up with an idea for a scene that should be wonderful (if I do it right when I write it) and that isn't something I would have come up with otherwise. Sometimes those things that feel like delaying tactics end up causing something good that I might not have imagined if I hadn't had the delay time. Writing seems to be about 90 percent thinking and 10 percent stringing words together.

I mentioned watching Cold Comfort Farm on HBO Friday. I re-read the Stella Gibbons novel it was based on Sunday evening, so now I can discuss both.

First, a brief synopsis: A young society woman's parents die, leaving her with no property, little money and no useful skills. She decides to live with relatives and writes to see who'll take her, but the only response that sounds promising comes from a cousin who makes a vague reference to some wrong done to her father, and as an atonement, they're willing to give her a home at Cold Comfort Farm. She arrives to find a crumbling farm full of unhappy people, and it all seems to come down to the family matriarch, who "saw something nasty in the woodshed" as a child and who uses that to control everyone else, with the threat that she'll go mad if she doesn't get her way. Our heroine decides to tidy the place up and sets out to help each member of the family find his or her dream.

This is a quick read, a read-in-one-sitting book, and it's laugh-out-loud funny, with a rather arch, satiric tone. It's definitely a spoof of the rustic romance kind of book, with the lusty, brooding young men and wild, untamed young women, earthy servant girls, and madwomen living locked in their rooms. One of the things that really cracked me up was the dedication note up front. The book is dedicated to someone who is apparently acclaimed as a great literary author, with a mention that Gibbons can't live up to his level of writing because she's just a journalist and used to having to write so that it can be easily understood. She did occasionally try to write in a more literary way, so she starred the passages that she thinks are particularly good. The starred passages are the most purple, florid, dense prose you'll read outside a Victorian novel. I didn't find any insight into this dedication in the Wikipedia entry, so I don't know if it was meant as an insult or an inside joke, but I still found it hilarious.

There is one really odd thing about this book, though: It's set in the near future. It was written in 1931-32 and published in 1932. There's no specific date given for the setting, but an event in 1946 is mentioned as having taken place in the past, and there's a reference to Clark Gable and Gary Cooper as being actors from twenty years ago, so you might not have heard of them. Air travel is so common that it's almost eliminated railroads in England. You only take the train to towns that are too insignificant to have airports. There's also air mail -- where airplanes drop off parcels as they fly over. People communicate with videophones. But these details are just thrown in, and they aren't too consistent. The heroine mostly communicates with telegrams in spite of the videophones. Air travel is ordinary, but people in the country don't even have cars yet. The future setting isn't really established with world building. It's like the book is essentially about the time it was written, with the occasional addition of a few random details from the future. In a couple of cases, there's a future projection that turns out to be pretty wrong, like the mention of a war in 1946 that one character fought in, with none of the rest of the young men knowing what war was like. The weird thing is that this future setting has absolutely nothing to do with the story. If you remove those few "future" details, you've got a book that seems to be set around the time it was written, and it totally works. The author lived into the late 80s, and I think I'd have been tempted to do a revised edition that eliminated that element and let it be an early 30s period novel.

Which is what they did in the film adaptation. They skipped the science fictiony elements and kept it as a 1930s story, and yet it's still one of the most faithful book-to-movie adaptations I've ever seen. Almost everything is pretty much the way it's described in the book. It's practically a scene-by-scene adaptation, with only a few scenes cut or telescoped (the events of several scenes combined into one scene). There's only one outcome that's different. In a lot of cases, the dialogue is word-for-word from the book. They even use the florid, purple starred passages as examples of the heroine's attempt to write a novel.

The cast is all-star, all the usual British suspects. The star is a very, very young Kate Beckinsale, from back when she mostly did period pieces and long before she was a big-time action heroine (and when she had actual flesh on her bones). There's also Eileen Atkins, Ian McKellen, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry and Rufus Sewell, among others. Watching this movie is like playing Six Degrees of Masterpiece Theatre, with a side game of "so, this is where they started."

Highly recommended if you like movies set in the 30s, snarky comedies or transformation stories -- and that applies to both book and movie. I think I need keeper copies of both book and movie because they're the sort of thing that's a sure cure for a bad day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

'Shipping My Own Book

I know it's a holiday for a lot of people, but I'm observing the occasion by pursuing my dreams instead of by taking a day off, which I figure is appropriate. But I am in my version of "office casual" today in that I'm wearing the Fuzzy Pink Pajama Pants of Work. One bad thing about what I do is that there aren't really holidays. On the up side, I can take a holiday when I want one, but on the downside, the work still has to be done. Mondays are big work days for me because that's when I work on my weekly medical school freelance project, so if I want to take a Monday off, I have to do the project ahead of time. Meanwhile, I have a lot of writing work I want to do.

After a couple of days of writing bingeing, I spent Saturday reviewing my work because sometimes a writing binge can go off in strange directions. Sometimes those directions are good and offer unexpected insights. Sometimes they head off down odd rabbit trails, and it's better to stop and regroup before things get totally out of control. In this case, I had a rather shocking revelation: I had become a rabid 'shipper within my own book, which is kind of dangerous.

For those (Mom) who aren't on top of all the Internet terminology, "'shipper" is short for "relationshipper," which generally means someone who is a fan or proponent of a particular romantic pairing. My understanding (which could be wrong) is that this started in discussions of The X-Files, where the Relationshippers, later shortened to 'shippers, were the fans who wanted Mulder and Scully to fall in love and become romantically involved. The term later spread to other areas, and once it moved beyond a two-character series where the issue was relationship vs. non-relationship, it began to be applied to particular pairings within a cast of characters, such as which side of a romantic triangle should win.

In its milder forms, 'shipping amounts to enjoying the interactions of a pair of characters, thinking that they might make a good couple and maybe even imagining how they might get together. It can escalate to committing fan fiction in which you create your own stories about them getting together or about them being an established couple, to lengthy debates with people who oppose that pairing or who prefer another pairing, to identifying personally with the pairing to the point of identifying yourself as on a "team". At more extreme levels, it can involve demonizing any character you perceive as a rival or threat to your chosen relationship, and there the fanfic tends to involve the rival being really awful (usually very much out of character), possibly even physically harming one member of the chosen pairing so that the True Love can come to the rescue. At some of the crazier levels, fans demonize the real-life significant others of the actors who play the characters, with the idea that the significant other is maybe stopping the pairing from happening onscreen out of a fear of the explosive chemistry with the other actor or sometimes even because the fans lose their grip on the difference between fantasy and reality and think that even the actors have to get together.

I don't have to worry about the extreme crazy here because there are no actors playing my characters (I don't even have mental casting), and I'm not getting into any flamewars on the Internet over which character should win, since there are very few people who've read any of this. But I did realize I'd committed the sin of starting to demonize the rival and had even written a scene that should be a major turning point in the book so that this character was completely out of character and being a real jerk in a way that made no sense whatsoever.

This isn't really a triangle. The main character is a woman and there are two men who might be considered romantic prospects for her. When I started working on this book, I had no idea which one -- if any -- she'd end up with, and I even kept that part vague in the series synopsis. But as I started writing, one of them really took the lead. It's another Owen situation, where a character just came to life and turned out to be fascinating in ways I didn't expect. Once I wrote a rather pivotal scene where he showed his true colors, I was Team Him all the way, and subsequently turned into a thirteen-year-old fangirl, writing scenes where he got to be super-nice and obviously the perfect match for the heroine, as well as scenes where the Other Guy was a total jerk who was mean to her.

What makes all this particularly tricky is the fact that Other Guy has done something that would make the heroine angry if she knew about it (and this was planned and set up from the beginning, before I went all 'shipper fangirly), though it was for a good reason and wasn't personal, so there is going to be a part where she's furious at him. What I have to do is really consider things from his point of view -- what he's feeling and what he might do. I think this will involve adding one scene and rewriting another, and that will probably make things fall together in a better way so I can move forward.

While it is perfectly natural for an author to favor one character over another and to plan for one character to get the girl and the other not to, I think it can be dangerous if the author gets too invested in a character or relationship, to the point of losing all objectivity. The right one should win on honest merit, not because the author resorted to demonizing the rival. "Mr. Wrong" doesn't have to mean "Jerk." The characters need to be allowed to be people instead of puppets to act out the author's fantasy life. I guess it's kind of like the Mary Sue situation, only instead of a character representing the author, to the point the author can't be objective about the character, it's a character representing the author's ideal mate or it's the author's idea of the ideal relationship.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Something Good, Something Nasty (in the woodshed)

First, in case recent events and the subsequent spate of "you awful, horrible, hateful people should be more civil in your discourse, you $*%*%%$" diatribes have depressed you, here's a news story that will restore your faith in humanity, courtesy of Japan: A mysterious wave of anonymous generosity. If you're like me and resist clicking on links, in short, there's been a recent wave of anonymous donations to organizations assisting needy children (like orphanages) in Japan, given in the name of a Japanese superhero who, in the story, was an orphan who grew up to give things to his former orphanage. And now there are copycats. It's becoming a trend. That's kind of awesome, that it becomes a cool thing to help orphans.

Second, a TV programming note: I think a few people here have mentioned liking the show Human Target. It was apparently pre-empted Wednesday by the Tucson memorial service (I forgot to set the recorder before going to choir), but according to the digital cable guide from Time Warner, it will be shown on Fox tonight, two hours worth, in the full Fox prime-time slot (7-9 Central). It wasn't even listed in today's newspaper, so it must have been a very last-minute change. I think this is worthy of a pizza tonight, and will be followed by a writing binge.

Speaking of writing binges, I did one last night and ended up with 23 pages. I'm down to about the last third of the book, and I suspect I'll do my usual thing of writing the last quarter of the book in one week, after taking months to write the beginning. I feel like I'm on a roll. I haven't done a Friday late-nighter in a while. Back when I had a regular job, that was when I got most of my writing done. I'd make dinner and watch The X-Files, then after that, I'd make a pot of tea and write until I either ran out of things to write or couldn't stay awake. It was something I looked forward to all week. It may also be a reason I'm still single, as I avoided going out on Friday nights (not that I had too many offers), and a few guys got themselves removed from consideration when they called during that time because, as they said, they knew I'd be home. I figured that counted as Missing The Point Entirely, which meant that they would ultimately be incompatible with me. The writing time is sacred.

My subconscious has had a weird link to the real world. Yesterday morning, I woke up thinking about the movie Cold Comfort Farm (all together now: "I saw something nasty in the woodshed!") and was mentally comparing it to the book. I can get the book from the library, but it's been ages since I saw the movie, and I wanted to remind myself about the movie. Then I discovered last night that it was on one of the HBO channels this morning. So, I got up this morning, made scones and tea, and spent my morning watching the movie. Now I need to request the book from the library. That book should make a good future blog post subject because there are some very odd things about it that don't show up in the movie, and that's probably for the best (here's a hint: the book is actually kind of science fiction).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Stirring the Subconscious

I'm about ready for the cold snap to end. Not that it would be considered a real cold snap in many parts of the world, but for us, it is a little unusual to go for nearly a week barely getting above freezing. I say I like cold weather, but what I mean by "cold weather" is daytime highs in the 50s (F) or so -- not so cold that I can't be out in it for an extended period of time, but cool enough to wear a sweater and to feel like I've been out in the cold and to make it feel really good to come inside and have a hot cup of tea. But not so cold that I have to turn on the central heat. Then I can curl up under a blanket and enjoy reading/writing/watching TV. Preferably gray and drizzly. And then in maybe the 40s or upper 30s at night so the electric blanket to warm the bed feels good but I don't have to turn on the central heat. So I guess my ideal "winter" would be autumn in much of the rest of the northern hemisphere. This 20 degrees stuff can go.

I'm making real progress on the book now. I've passed the rewriting phase and am moving forward. I do need to do some thinking, since I'm not precisely sure what should happen next and when a certain big event I have planned should come.

I have discovered that there are some side effects to being in a big creative phase. One of them is that it seems to give me particularly intense, vivid dreams. Or else, I'm more likely to remember my dreams in great detail. I suspect my subconscious is going nuts. Here's a sampling:

There's a little boy who's fascinated with the idea of "man eaters," like sharks or tigers, and he's very disappointed that the only thing in his town that would want to eat him is his neighbor's dog, Buster. And even Buster isn't really a man eater. He's actually pretty friendly, but it's fun to pretend that he's a vicious man-eating dog. Meanwhile, there's this strange plant growing in the back yard ... (I think this may turn into a short story.)

My homeowners' associated put a giant, inflatable Pillsbury Dough Boy in the lawn beside my house. Fortunately, it's placed in the one spot where I don't have windows on that side of the house, so I don't have to look at it. It has something to do with the Super Bowl that will be in our area, and since people would have to pass by our corner to visit the Dallas Cowboys headquarters, advertisers were willing to pay for the placement. (The parts about the Super Bowl and the Dallas Cowboys are true. I haven't yet noticed a Dough Boy, but it would be in a spot I can't see from inside my house, so maybe I'd better check ...)

I'm housesitting or subleasing an apartment in a city. Instead of the "garden apartments" we have here with exterior stairways and doors, it's the kind where you unlock a front door, then there's an interior stairway, and the apartment doors open onto interior landings. The walls facing the interior stairway are all glass, so as you climb the stairs, you can see into everyone's living rooms. (In the dream, I thought this was a cool feature, but in reality it horrifies me.) There's snow outside, and I write a few pages, then go walk in the snow to think. I'm starting to practically clear the sidewalk from walking on it so much. Then I discover that the person whose apartment it is has left behind her pets, a parrot and a couple of white rats. I discover this when the parrot loudly demands food. It tries to tell me where to find the pet food, but it only directs me toward the treats, and I'm pretty sure the parrot isn't supposed to get chocolate (on the up side, I now know where the chocolate is). Fortunately, it turns out that the owner has really just moved in with her boyfriend in another apartment in the same building, so she's able to come by and feed the pets.

Then last night there was a strange bit of self-awareness, as I was having a conversation in the dream with someone about how great it was to live by a lake, since I really like water and boats. I once dated a guy largely because he had a sailboat, and I love being in a ski-type boat, but I haven't done that sort of thing in a long time. And I also was glad to live in an older house, since I've always wanted to, because I love the architectural details. Except the house in the dream was the house I have now, sort of. Most of the interior was the same, though the external arrangement was different, and that see-through wall thing came up, but on my neighbor's house, so I could see what she was watching on TV.

The part with the conversation about the lake was almost entirely true. I actually started paying attention to the guy because he played the piano, but the sailboat sealed the deal. It also helped get us together because he took me out in it to show off, and then the wind died, and we had a lot of time to chat. He was a big part of the reason I moved to this area. I had been looking for TV reporting jobs, which was about as easy as trying to sell a book, but with less positive feedback. I met him when he was visiting a friend in the area where I was living, and the fact that I knew someone here who played the piano and owned a sailboat was what gave me the idea to buy a Dallas newspaper and see if there were any jobs in it that I could do. I called about one job and ended up getting it. The relationship didn't last long, but there was some sailing, and I haven't gone sailing since then. I hadn't thought about that in years. I do like boats, and I live very close to a lake (actually, I live within walking distance of a small lake, but there's currently no public access to it), but that's the sort of thing where you have to know someone who knows what they're doing. I can follow orders on a sailboat, but I wouldn't begin to try to sail one myself. Maybe that was a sign of some things I should look into, either finding a group for doing boating stuff or as something to incorporate into a vacation.

I'm sure there's some Freudian or Jungian explanation for the recurring imagery of the glass walls. One of my neighbors studied Jungian psychology. Too bad I can't look through her glass wall to see if she's home to discuss it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Law and Order: Magic

I stayed after ballet and took the jazz class last night, and now I'm really feeling it. Normally, the post-dance pain doesn't hit until late Wednesday or Thursday morning, so I'm worried what I'll be like later in the day. I've been trying to do some stretching every so often, so we'll see if that keeps me from stiffening up too much. The jazz class involves some regular exercises, like push-ups and crunches, and those are probably good for me, but they contribute to the soreness. However, I feel very virtuous from having exercised that much. I didn't even come home and gobble down a lot of cookies and hot cocoa after class.

Meanwhile, I've made some tentative steps in my organization project. Both e-mail inboxes are below 900 messages each. And I decided that step one in physical organization should be dealing with the stack of "to be shredded" stuff. I'm bad about not getting around to shredding the junk mail (all the insurance and credit card offers), and then when I need to do a frantic living room cleaning, it all gets thrown in a box and stashed in the office. Emptying those boxes will clear space in the office. I figure that getting rid of the known trash will make it easier to sort through the other stuff and either file or trash it. It also gives me visible results, which are important at the start of a project like this.

Now, after the holiday interruption, I'm back to addressing questions about the Enchanted, Inc. universe. Unless there's one that I've forgotten in the great e-mail backlog, this is the last one I have on file that isn't spoilery for future books or a tiny matter that isn't meaty enough for a blog post. So, if there's something you're curious about regarding the world or characters of this series, ask away!

Today's question relates to a justice system within the magical world. For instance, the way that Philip's family company was stolen from him and he was turned into a frog to get him out of the way. How could something like this be handled in the magical world, and who would be responsible, the person who planned it or the person who did it?

I actually have a magical justice system (Katie refers to it as "Law and Order: Magic") worked out, though it hasn't come up yet in the published books. Ordinary law is pretty much useless for dealing with magical crimes or with crimes committed using magic. There is a code of conduct that is the law in the magical world, and there are bodies that enforce that law. Each region has a council that hears cases of violations of this code, with membership made up of leading magical citizens. The president of Magic, Spells and Illusions, Inc. has an automatic seat on this council but isn't necessarily in charge of it. Owen's foster parents used to be involved with this council before they retired.

There are also magical enforcers who track down violators of the magical code and take them into custody for trial. They have some special tools to allow them to deal with other magic users.

Some of the things this council and the enforcers do aren't exactly Constitutional, but the magical laws pre-date the Constitution, and most members of the magical community are of the opinion that the great privileges that come with magical powers should come with greater responsibilities. It's kind of like the way "elite" groups may be held to higher standards, like cheerleaders may have to abide by a stricter code of conduct than the usual school rules. Or the way a religion may forbid some things that aren't illegal and may discipline its members for violating elements of the faith that aren't illegal. You won't go to jail for using electricity, but if you're Amish and use electricity, you'll likely find yourself facing questions from the elders. Besides, try going to the ACLU and complaining that you've been illegally tried by a secret magical court.

There are spoilery plot reasons why this council hasn't yet dealt with Idris, but the council in general isn't all that effective. It's very political, with a lot of alliances and infighting, and you have to get them to agree on something before they take action. If an influential person insists that something isn't a problem, then nothing may get done. They don't really bother themselves with what they consider "petty" offenses, only focusing on things that might affect the overall position of the magical community. It would be like if the US Supreme Court had a direct enforcement arm, and they were responsible for all crime, from shoplifting to murder. You probably wouldn't get much other than the most serious crimes investigated and prosecuted, unless someone powerful had a pet issue. So far, Idris has mostly just been encouraging others to commit relatively petty crimes, so Merlin has been trying to treat it as a business competition issue and has taken matters into his own hands. However, there is much more afoot ...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My Disorganized The Cape Review

My big plans of getting the office (and the rest of the house) organized haven't amounted to much so far. I did start cleaning out my e-mail in boxes yesterday. My goal for the week is to get both my public and my personal in boxes down to fewer than 1,000 messages each. Yes, my e-mail really is that out of control. I started with actually reading and dealing with each message, but then burned out on that and started going to random parts of the message list and deleting the things I know are clutter or which are no longer relevant. Part of my problem is that I tend to just read the messages I know I need to deal with, which leaves the clutter lying around unread. I should delete those right away. The other problem is that I've discovered that if I delete a message upon reading it, if a new message has come in while I was reading that message, it's the next message down that gets deleted. I lost some important messages that way. Instead I have to read the message, close it, then click the little box next to it and hit delete. Which means I tend to let them pile up before deleting a bunch all at once.

One of my life decluttering choices that I've made recently will help with that. I let my membership in a local writing group that I've belonged to for nearly 20 years lapse. I hadn't gone to but one or two meetings a year for the past few years and I seldom got around to reading the newsletter. I seemed to have been dropped off the invitation list for some public events that group has been associated with that involve published authors. I haven't saved a lot of money, but I have saved myself the nagging "maybe I should go to the meeting this month" guilt and I no longer have to worry about the group's e-mail lists (which had amounted mostly to announcements of other groups' online classes and "I blogged on this topic today" posts) adding to the clutter in my in box.

Next, maybe I'll develop the energy and enthusiasm to start tackling the paper clutter.

I caught the repeat of the premiere of the new series The Cape last night, and I'm firmly in the land of "so so." The main reason I watched was the presence of Keith David. I'd turn on the "Keith David Reads the Phone Book" show to use as background noise. I've watched History Channel documentaries on subjects I don't care about so I could listen to his narration. So, even if the show sucks, I wouldn't mind tuning it out other than hearing that voice, and it's a bonus to get to see him actually playing a character instead of talking about the Black Death or the Crusades. I liked the pilot episode better than the second one, and I think that's because the second one focused more on the main character than on the world building, and the world building is probably the best part of the series, while the main character is kind of dull.

The weird thing is, they've done a lot of the right things in creating this character. He had an inner drive before the story even kicked off. He now has a clear-cut goal and a strong motivation. He has values. He even has a hobby. Unfortunately, they all seem to be pretty much the same thing, which makes him very one-note. He's driven by a desire for justice and truth. He values justice and courage. His story goal is achieving justice. His hobby is training himself physically so he can seek justice. He's consistent, but not very interesting. There really should be at least one of these things that's out of whack to hint that there's more to him. Like, maybe he's into fine wines, music or flower arranging in addition to the physical training. He at least should have a quirky sense of humor, or maybe the crazy carnival gang (the absolute best part of the show -- I'd watch a series about them) could rub off on him more, or he could use his new carnival abilities for some fun instead of just seeking justice. Batman at least had the playboy billionaire alter ego to give him some depth aside from all the justice seeking.

The other weird thing is getting used to Summer Glau not being all that kickass. I suppose it's good for her to get to show off some range and play something other than an invincible killing machine, but it was disconcerting to see her losing a fight and needing to be rescued by the hero. I kept expecting her to kick the bad guy through the back wall or pick up a meat cleaver and come at him in a series of spinning and kicking moves so she could decapitate him. Her character is no wimp, but she doesn't seem to have serious fighting skills.

I'll give it at least one more episode, but if the main guy doesn't become more interesting very quickly, I may not be a regular viewer. However, the pilot did give me the best laugh of the day and deserves some credit for including the line "The raccoon acted alone." Unfortunately, that part was about the carnival crazies, not the main character.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Be Normal?

We had a bit of a snowy Sunday -- it started with sleet in the morning, turned to snow around 11, then snowed a few hours. We didn't get much where I live, and it had all pretty much melted in the time between the snow stopped and the temperature went below freezing. It looks like we got a little more overnight, but it's now all gone, too. I hear the roads were pretty bad this morning, which makes me very grateful that I don't have to commute, but the speedway running by my house seems to be pretty much normal now. The local PBS station obliged me by running the entire Cranford series in the afternoon, which was the perfect thing for a snowy day. I made some tea and scones and curled up on the couch to watch, with the blinds near the sofa open so I could see the snow falling. You know you're a grown-up when your idea of enjoying a snowy day involves staying indoors watching the snow fall rather than going out in it and attempting to play. When I was a kid, the moment snow started falling, I had to be out in it, right away.

I did also do some book-related research while hibernating, so today I get to figure out what really needs to happen next. I had it planned one way, but I'm not sure the research supports it. It is fiction, so I can make it up, but it has to make sense, and one way of predicting what might happen is to look at what did happen in similar circumstances in the real world.

I didn't do any movie watching over the weekend, but I have a backlog from the previous weekend, all from HBO. I finally watched The Time Traveler's Wife, and while I liked the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wiminess of the book, it came across as far creepier in the movie, where it really did look like this grown man was brainwashing a little girl into falling in love with him so she'd want to marry him when she grew up.

But that's not the movie I want to talk about. I'm going to make a rare controversial statement here: All About Steve wasn't that bad. I know it was widely hailed as one of the worst movies of that year, and Sandra Bullock won the Razzie for it -- and won major "good sport" points by actually showing up to accept the award in person -- but the problem had more to do with positioning than with the movie itself. The problem was that they treated it like a romantic comedy, and if you're thinking of it that way, it's truly icky. Not to mention an utter failure because it isn't romantic at all. There's no love story, no developing relationship, no romantic happy ending. If you're expecting that, then you'll spend the entire film cringing in dread because if the relationship in this movie were to have a romantic happy ending, it would be totally unbelievable and kind of sick. However, I suspect that if this film had been given the Little Miss Sunshine "Indie comedy about not letting other people define what normal is for you" treatment, it would have had a totally different reception.

Going even further out on a limb, I would have to say that this role was probably a more difficult acting challenge and required far more craft and talent for Sandra Bullock than the role that actually won her the Oscar. The Blind Side was total Oscar bait, full of big, dramatic speeches and heartfelt moments, and just about any actress in that role who managed to seem like a real human being instead of a cardboard cut-out saint could have won an Oscar. But Sandra Bullock's role in All About Steve required a total commitment to the character that was carried through in everything from facial expressions to vocal inflections to body language. I have known a number of people like that (though most of them are male, and they're the reason I have "rescue me" signals worked out with my friends for conventions), and she nailed that personality type completely.

In case you managed to miss hearing about this movie, Sandra Bullock plays a crossword puzzle creator who is more than a little odd but who is trying desperately to hide it. She's pretty clueless about communicating with people or dealing with the real world and she still lives with her parents, with a vague "my apartment is being fumigated" cover story, though you get the feeling that apartment has been fumigating for years, as it doesn't look like she's ever lived anywhere but that room. Her parents set her up on a blind date with a news photographer who is the son of their friends, and she does okay with him -- until she starts talking (I did like that the movie didn't pretend she didn't look like Sandra Bullock, that it was her personality that was off-putting). Then she's so weird that she freaks him out and he comes up with an excuse to end the date. She doesn't pick up on the message and instead decides to follow him around the country to various news events, and the reporter he works with sees her as the key to getting the story that will get him an anchor job, since she's got a weird knack for noticing details and is essentially a walking encyclopedia.

So, we've got two simultaneous road trips from hell and a ton of rather incisive and brilliant satires on the news media. Maybe it's just my TV news background, but I laughed myself silly at a lot of it. I was also a little disturbed by how often I gave a response a split second before Sandra Bullock's character did (I've done way too many crossword puzzles, I guess). I don't think I'm that socially clueless, but I did find myself occasionally identifying with that character.

I'm not saying it's a great movie or one that I'll buy on DVD, but I may watch it again on HBO now that I know what it's really about and can relax about anticipating how they'll ever pull off a romantic happy ending. I do think that if they'd taken that script and those actors and had deliberately done a "who gets to decide what's normal?" movie, it would have been much better and would have had a better reception.

And now I must go do today's New York Times crossword.

Friday, January 07, 2011

A Breakthrough!

I think I had a big breakthrough yesterday. I got one major scene rewritten, and now I'm up to the part where I realized while writing it that it was a major turning point scene, so what's there is essentially a placeholder until I can figure out exactly what will happen. That will require more research and a trip to the library today. However, I've passed the approximate halfway point. Yay! This part I'm working on is probably going to be the hard part of the entire book. The rest should actually be pretty easy -- unless I come up with something else that I didn't anticipate.

One weird thing that had a lot to do with spurring me on to productivity: I realized I was really missing a character. I've been wrestling with this one part of the book for weeks, and the character who is possibly my favorite isn't in this section. I found myself missing him and looking forward to getting back to him, and to do that, I have to finish this section so we can return to his part of the story. In the finished book, he won't be away for too long. It's just that it's taken me so long to deal with this one part that it's been ages since I've written him.

Meanwhile, a character I wasn't expecting turned up and came to life, and now I need to think of more things for him to do because he's a lot of fun. He should also be useful because he has an interesting skill set, and that skill set may actually bring him into some kind of interaction with another character you'd never imagine with this kind of person.

Oooh, I'm being all hinty and vague, aren't I? But I don't like to talk in specifics about works in progress and especially about works that aren't contracted. This one is still on submission. I hope someone buys it because I think it's a lot of fun.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Using the January Blahs

I think I've figured out one of the reasons for my extreme difficulty in getting out of bed at this time of year. My bedroom window faces east, and most of the year, I don't need to set an alarm because at around the time I need to get up on most days, the sun will hit that window full-on, so that a beam of sunlight sneaks past the blinds and hits me in the face. At this time of year, though, the sun must be at an angle where I don't ever get that direct light in my bedroom, and even at ten in the morning the light has a kind of pre-dawn quality about it. If I didn't have a clock, I would think it's about six in the morning instead of ten. It doesn't help that when it's cold I tend to sleep with the comforter almost entirely over my head, so even a direct blast of light might not hit me unless it bounced off the wall over my head first.

The combination of the groundskeepers and my neighbor's dog (who apparently doesn't like the groundskeepers) served to wake me up this morning, but I've still been dragging all day. The soreness from returning to ballet Tuesday night hit with a vengeance this morning, and that may not have been helped by doing kindergarden choir last night, with lots of movement activities with the kids. I do now have two boys in the group, which helps balance the pink unicorn-ness of the rest of the choir (the girls are really, really girly and, yes, one did bring her pink unicorn toy last night).

Anyway, I started putting all my research to use yesterday and was reminded that changing one thing does have a ripple effect, so I had to keep going back and forth to change everything affected by the research-driven changes. Today I may actually get to new writing. Well, new re-writing. It's another take on a scene I've already written, but at least I'm beyond the tinkering and fixing of small details. It is a challenge to get focused enough to start writing, though.

I think if I got to set my ideal working schedule, I'd plan my year to wrap up whatever I was last working on before the holidays, and then January would be a big creative retreat. I wouldn't worry about production but instead would focus on the thinking and daydreaming that are essential to creativity. Then it would be good for me to spend a lot of time lying in bed and daydreaming, or reading or watching movies. I could throw in some research, as well, and end the month with the specific plotting and outlining so that in February I'd be ready to jump into the new project. When I'm supposed to be productive with words in January, it tends to turn into an exercise in frustration because I can never do as much as I think I should be doing.

This year, though, I must produce words. Maybe next year I can adjust my schedule accordingly and see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Hero's Journey: The Road Back

After about five days worth of research, I'm now ready to rewrite that one scene, where maybe only a few bits of that research will actually show up. But those few bits should be key to providing the telling details that bring the scene to life.

It's a new year and time to get back to the every-other-week writing posts. I've been analyzing the various stages in the hero's journey, as Christopher Vogler interpreted the mythology work done by Joseph Campbell for modern storytellers in The Writer's Journey.

To recap what we've covered so far, we started in the Ordinary World, where we saw what the hero's normal life was like and what inner problem or need he may have had. Then there was a Call to Adventure, where the hero was faced with the fact that there was a problem in the world, and that he was the one to solve it. Next likely came a Refusal of the Call as the hero tried to resist his destiny. He may then have had a Meeting with the Mentor to get more information, some encouragement or even some tools or gifts to help him with the quest. After this, there was a Crossing of the First Threshold, in which the hero left the ordinary world and entered the special world of the story. He learned about this special world and the people in it as he met with Tests, Allies and Enemies. He entered an even more special world within the story world as he made the Approach to the Inmost Cave. Then he experienced an Ordeal in which he escaped, faced or observed death. After surviving the ordeal, he had a moment to catch his breath and regroup in the Reward.

Now we're at The Road Back, another stage I think is poorly named. To me, that name implies a homeward journey that is an ending and a decreasing of action, like coming home after a vacation. But this phase is the most important section of rising tension in a story. It's the build-up to the story's climax. In part, this name comes from that classic mythic structure, in which the goal of the quest was to obtain some object and then get it back home. The hero obtained the object in the Ordeal, and then the hard part was getting it back home in time with whoever it was who previously owned the object in hot pursuit. In the three-act screenplay format, this is the start of the third act, the final turning point in the story. It's also another threshold crossing as the hero takes the first step toward returning to the ordinary world. After this next part, his quest will be over and he'll have to figure out what to do next, whether to truly return a changed man to his former ordinary world or whether to establish a new normal in the special world where he's been working.

It does seem that journeys and travels are part of this stage in a lot of stories. The hero has to physically travel as he heads toward the final confrontation -- back home, to the bad guy's fortress, to the escape hatch. There's also some kind of ticking clock that requires the hero to do something before something bad happens. It may be when the hero reaps the real consequences of what happened in the Ordeal -- if he didn't finish off the bad guy, the bad guy may pop up again; anyone he angered in the Ordeal will be coming after him; if the Mentor died, the hero will have to put together a plan on his own. There may be some element of sacrifice if the hero has to jettison anything unnecessary in order to make his escape or hold off the bad guys. The classic example of this is when the greedy person has to drop gold or treasure to lighten the load, make room for one more person or distract pursuers. The hero may have to use, and possibly use up, his magical gifts, leaving him barehanded for the final confrontation. I suppose you could call this phase the Approach to the Moment of Truth.

In Star Wars, The Road Back comes when Luke and the gang have rescued the princess and escaped the Death Star, and now they have to get the secret Death Star plans to the rebel base so they can be analyzed for a weakness, all while the Death Star is tracking them. Will they find and exploit a weakness before the Death Star gets within firing range of the base? In Raiders of the Lost Ark, this is when Indiana Jones hitches a ride on the Nazi submarine to follow the stolen ark. Will he reach the Ark and save Marian before the Nazis use the Ark's power for themselves? In road trip stories, this is the part where they're almost there, and we know the characters are going to have to make some decision once they get there. Will she go through with marrying the guy she's been traveling toward, even after getting to know the guy she's traveling with? In buddy cop movies, this is usually where our duo, now working as a team, gears up to really go after the bad guys, putting their careers on the line. In Serenity, it was when our heroes had to get through the Alliance fleet to the satellite facility in order to send the message. In Aliens, it's when Ripley, the little girl and the surviving marines have to get across the colony with the aliens after them in order to reach the landing pad in time to catch the arriving shuttle before the reactor blows up. In a lot of romantic comedies, this is the frantic race across town or through the airport to catch the True Love before all is lost. "Can they get there in time?" is a common question in the Road Back phase.

The important thing to remember is that this is all about building tension. It's the run up to the climax of the story. The hero is approaching a do-or-die point, and his options are narrowing. He had his first chance for ultimate success in the Ordeal, but he won't get another chance after this one.

Next, finally, the moment we've all been waiting for!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Book Report: All Clear

Another slow start to the day. Tomorrow I really might set an alarm. I go back to ballet tonight, so maybe that will make me sleep better so I can then wake up more easily. Then there's an exercise class at the neighborhood rec center I've been thinking of trying on Thursday morning, and that will give me a good reason to get up. I've found that setting an alarm isn't necessarily that effective if you don't have a good reason to get up at any particular time. It's like the alarm that cried wolf.

So, as I mentioned last week, I read All Clear by Connie Willis, and I named the Blackout/All Clear duology my book of the year. Really, it's one book split into two parts because of the physical limitations of book binding and probably due to publishing business concerns, and it's best read as one book because it's so complex that it would be easy to lose track of who's who, where and when if you had a gap between the first and second parts. I've been waiting for this book for more than eight years. I first met Connie Willis in early 2002 at a writing conference, and we ended up in a nice, long conversation, since we have a lot of common interests, including WWII. She mentioned that she was working on another time travel book that would involve WWII and the Blitz. I think she was still in the concept development phase and may not even have worked out things like plot and characters. After reading the finished product, I can see why it took so long. The research alone would have been a massive undertaking, and then it's a pretty intricate plot, and it's got an epic length.

The plot, in brief, involves three young Oxford historians in 2060 who are using time travel technology to observe history. One is studying the evacuation of children from London during WWII by posing as a housemaid in a manor house where a lot of children are staying. Another is observing the behavior of civilians during the Blitz by posing as a London shopgirl who spends her nights in air raid shelters. And a third is working on a project about ordinary people who become heroes in extraordinary circumstances by visiting a variety of key events. This time around, he's observing the evacuation of Dunkirk while posing as an American reporter. But then things start going wrong with the time travel, and they may not be able to get back. Is it because they've altered history -- and could they have done something that will alter the outcome of the war?

In tone, I would say this one is closer to The Doomsday Book than To Say Nothing Like the Dog in that it's got a lot of tragedy in it, and because it has multiple points of view and covers multiple timelines. But it's a lot more complex than that because it's not really linear. It actually gets pretty wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. Since the entire past happens simultaneously from the perspective of a person with time travel, you can spend years working on something in the "present" or in other times and still make it back to a certain point of another time within minutes, and you don't necessarily visit events in chronological order. The book bounces around between three (and a bit) stories in 1940, two in 1944, one in 1945 and a few in 2060 that lead to even more time periods. All of these eventually converge, and multiple stories converging is like catnip to me (something else to add to my literary bucket list). Toward the end, I couldn't put the book down because each chapter ends with a big cliffhanger before jumping to another timeline. I cried a few times, sometimes just from an overwhelming burst of emotion. I will have to re-read the whole thing now that I know what's going on and can relax and actually pay more attention. It's the kind of book that must be re-read because it takes on a different meaning once you know what's really going on. It also makes me want to re-read The Doomsday Book, and I'd almost recommend re-reading that one (or reading it in the first place) before tackling this one. That's not essential, but a familiarity with that book will probably intensify one of the big "wow!" moments in this one. It also does reference the events in To Say Nothing of the Dog, but that's not crucial to the plot. It's also good to revisit the short story "Firewatch." I'd read it a long time ago but didn't remember much about it, and re-reading it last week made me understand part of this book better. And I'd suggest watching the movie Mrs. Henderson Presents because a familiarity with that bit of history will help you get more of the jokes.

I would call this book bittersweet because while it is ultimately uplifting, there are also some really bad things that happen, and yet one of the really bad things is also kind of inspiring and very moving. I've always loved the "homefront" kind of war stories, not so much about the soldiers but about the people struggling with ordinary life in the midst of war, and that's really what this is about, how the civilians in England were fighting on their own front that was as harrowing as the front lines, and ordinary people had to step up and be heroes (another bit of literary catnip for me).

I could go on and on and on about this book, and I'm dying to find someone else who's read it that I could discuss it with. There's one tiny loose thread that's been bothering me a lot, and I think I have a theory about it (that's the part I found myself dreaming about the night I finished reading it), but I'm not sure.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Hibernation Season Begins

Well, I didn't exactly leap into the new year with a burst of enthusiasm. I grumpily dragged myself out of bed after sleeping way too late, and I can't even blame my iPhone because I have an Android phone and I don't set an alarm, anyway (though I probably should while I'm in hibernation season or I might not ever get out of bed). On the up side, I won't burn out by trying to overachieve on all my new year's goals and resolutions.

I had a fun New Year's Eve at a party with my friends, which involved too much food (yum), a gingerbread TARDIS, some Doctor Who, lots of bubbles (the five-year-old and I were easily amused) and a lot of strange conversations. I may have to invent the Kiss Avoidinator for next year, though. I'm not sure what form it will take, sharp and pointy or more shield-like. And I got sworn at as a new officer in our club (we don't do a swearing-in ceremony. We do a swearing-at, using Monty Python quotes).

I got called by Nielsen for a movie survey last night, and although I usually hang up the moment I realize it's some kind of poll, survey or telemarketer, I did this one, and it was interesting. Plus, you never know if it will help get more good things made. I had to say whether I'd heard of various movies that were currently out or coming out soon, how I heard about them and how interested I was in seeing them. If it was commissioned by a particular studio, they did a good job of burying the questions they were most interested in among questions about other movies because I didn't spot a pattern. The further it went, the deeper they drilled, until they got to a pretty in-depth questionnaire about Gulliver's Travels, with a list of reasons for not seeing it, to which I had to answer whether or not it applied. Included on that list was "I don't like Jack Black." Note to studios: if you're even including that as an option, maybe you should reconsider putting him in so many movies. They did not include "bastardization of classic literature" on the list, though I suggested it as a write-in, which made the poll guy laugh. I also made him laugh when he was going through the list of movies and whether or not I planned to see them, and I blurted "Oh, dear God, no!!!" on one before he gave me the response options. I also got to respond to the genres of films I'm willing to see in theaters, and I gave a big yes vote to fantasy and science fiction, as well as comedy and romance. I warned the guy up front when he was asking if I worked for a movie studio that I had a business relationship with a studio and had a book under option, but he said it only counted if I was employed by a studio, so I figured I might as well give high marks to the categories my book might fall into.

The thing that was frustrating was that there was no chance other than the Gulliver's Travels question to explain why a movie didn't interest me. I answered "Definitely not" to most of the upcoming romantic comedy movies, and I'm afraid that might be taken to mean there's no interest in romantic comedies (though I did list romance and comedy as genres I liked). Really, it has more to do with the fact that the upcoming romantic comedies seem like middle-aged male fantasies and have zero appeal to me. They also expected me to say whether or not I was likely to see even movies I hadn't heard of, just based on the title and the cast. But I very seldom make a decision to see a movie purely on the cast. An actor I really like might get me to see a movie that otherwise would be so-so but can't get me to a movie I have zero interest in. For instance, I love watching Amy Adams in movies because I'm fascinated by the way she lets her emotions show on her face, but I have no desire to see The Fighter because I'm not interested in boxing movies or in "Boston tough guy" movies. On the other hand, I saw Leap Year largely because of her even though I knew it would be a pretty lame romantic comedy. Without her, I might not have seen it, but it at least fell into a category I like. I can't think of a single actor whose name would be enough to get me into a theater without knowing anything else about the movie. However, there are a few actors I generally avoid, unless there are a lot of other things working in a movie's favor (and, usually, I'm being dragged by friends).

I've been trying to mentally create my moviegoing decision matrix, but it's not clear-cut enough for any kind of flow chart. Mostly it's a gut thing, and a lot of it depends on what else is going on in my life at the time. HBO is another big factor, since I pay for it in my homeowners' association dues, so I may as well make use of it, and so a lot of movies fall into the "wait for HBO" category.

I'm starting to feel semi-conscious, so I'd better get to work while it lasts.