Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Miscellania

One other thing that occurred to the appeal of the "sucked through a portal" fantasy is that it really is the ultimate outsider/fish out of water story. By the time I was reading books like that instead of just daydreaming myself into my favorite story worlds, we were moving around a lot, so I always seemed to be the new kid adapting to a new environment. I got into the Narnia books when I'd moved to another country and was obsessed with them when we moved within that country to another place that felt even more foreign to me. Then in high school, when I first started trying to write that kind of story (I think all my attempts at writing fantasy back then started with a "sucked through a portal" kind of event), I was really feeling like I'd fallen down the rabbit hole. I'd gone from living in military communities where everyone was the new kid for a while and there was so much turnover that it was hard to develop cliques or "in" crowds to living in a small town where a lot of my classmates had been going to school together since kindergarten. Of course the idea of being a foreigner in a strange place appealed to me -- though it was more like I'd been made to leave Narnia for a less magical place.

In other news, I've figured out the problem I've been having with the book so far. This story is essentially one long chase scene, where the good guys are pursuing the bad guys through the whole book. Until the middle of the book, the good guys are always one step behind (because if they meet too soon, the story's over), so they come up on the aftermath of what the bad guys have been doing. The good guys have to deal with the chaos the bad guys left in their wake so they can then piece together what the bad guys might be doing next and where they'll be going. I've realized that even though the bad guys are off-stage, I still have to work out exactly what they've been doing so that the aftermath works. I'd been just writing the good guys' side of the story, then have had to go back and re-write when that isn't working. It's so much easier when I first at least outline what the bad guys have been up to, leading into the point where the good guys come in. Then the aftermath makes so much more sense. It should go more quickly now that I know to do this.

I did spend my usual Sunday afternoon on the sofa. I finally saw the last Next Generation Star Trek movie, Nemesis, on the Sci Fi channel. That was the one Trek movie I'd never seen. I'd seen all the ones before in the theater, often on opening weekend. I went with all my friends from work on opening night to see the previous two, but this one I just never got around to. And now I can see why because my goodness, but that was awful. I didn't think it was possible for a movie with space battles in it to be that boring. Through the whole movie, I kept thinking I needed a nap because I couldn't keep my eyes open, so when it ended I thought I'd lie down for a while. I was wide awake then, so I guess it really was the movie putting me to sleep. But worse than the boring was the self-indulgence. It was like everyone involved knew it would be the last Next-Gen Trek movie they'd make, so they all got to live out their personal fantasies. Save it for the gag reel or your home movies, folks. Fortunately, I ended up reading through much of it, so I doubt enough of it will stick in my brain to truly scar me.

I only watched the last half hour or so of the Oscars, mostly because I wanted to see Colin Firth win and hear his speech when he did because he's always hilarious in that dry, self-deprecating British way, and he didn't disappoint (and talk about changing the image of a real person -- from now on, in the popular imagination, King George VI looks like Colin Firth, and he so very much didn't). However, seeing all the stuff from The King's Speech much have seeped into my brain because I had vivid dreams about them deciding to do sequels, since that one has done so well, and the sequels carried these characters through the war. Only the war I saw played out in my dream was more like something out of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. For instance, the German bombers in the Blitz were sort of submarine planes -- they came to England under water, then burst out of the water to fly, trailing bombs behind them. And there were giant robots. And I was there, experiencing it all, instead of just watching the movie. It was weird, but I think I'm going to file those images away because they'd make for a great story.

Now, I need to go be efficient and stuff. I'm turning over a new leaf this week. Really.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Other Worlds

I'm having a flake attack day. I wrote a blog post last night for easy posting this morning, and that seemed to have triggered the thought that I'd already posted my blog for today. So I've only just now remembered that I only wrote it but hadn't yet posted it. I would say that I should probably hide out today instead of inflicting the flakiness on the world, but I'm in desperate need of groceries. Still, there's no telling what I might end up buying in this state.

That recollection the other day about Ethelinda's layered outfits maybe having been inspired by a scene in a childhood favorite book has made me look at other literary tropes I love to see if I can think of what inspired them. I've been thinking particularly about my fondness for "sucked through a portal" books.

Though I should clarify my terms here. I started using "sucked through a portal" as an umbrella term for stories involving people from our world visiting a fantasy world because my agent has ranted about the "sucked through a portal" trope on her blog. What she actually means is stories of this type where there's no reason for the person to visit the other world -- the protagonist is going along, minding his own business, when he's suddenly sucked through a portal into another world. She prefers it if the character actually does something, even if it's inadvertent or accidental, that initiates the travel or if the people on the other side have chosen this person directly, even if there turns out to be a case of mistaken identity. I can see the point, though I will argue that one of the most famous "sucked through a portal" stories ever, The Wizard of Oz, was a random event. I don't recall there being any particular reason why Dorothy, of all people, was whisked away to Oz by a tornado (though it's been a very long time since I read the book). Anyway, I jokingly say I've got a sucked through a portal story when I discuss an idea involving travel between worlds with my agent.

As far back as I can remember, my favorite form of play was making up stories. I'd have my dolls and toys act out my stories, or I'd dress up in my play clothes and act them out myself. If I was in a situation where I couldn't act anything out, like lying in bed before I fell asleep or in the back seat of the family car during a long drive, I'd just mentally write the stories -- yes, in narrative. And I remember that some of those stories involved travel to another world, though I don't remember any particular book or story that triggered the idea. Most of my obsessions can be tracked back to one particular book that sparked my imagination. There was the annual broadcast of the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, but in the movie, it's just a dream and Dorothy doesn't actually travel anywhere, and I didn't read the book until later. I did have a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the "story and the songs" record album of the Disney version, but I don't recall being all that captivated by it. The closest thing I can think of was the Land of Make Believe on Mr. Rogers, but as I recall, that was very explicitly about visiting within your imagination. Besides, I was mostly fascinated with the trolley. I really, really wanted a trolley like that.

I suspect this was a case of me developing the idea more or less independently out of sheer Mary Sueism. I was a big fairy tale fan. I not only had the all the "story and the songs" records for all the Disney fairy tale movies (what we had in the days before home video), but I had books of fairy tales that were less Disneyfied. I was fascinated with the world of the tales -- that quasi-medieval place with fabulous long dresses, fairies, dragons, brave princes, sword fighting and all that. I kind of thought that the heroines of those stories were wasting the opportunities that came with living in a world like that. I mean, you've got a fairy godmother who can give you whatever you want, and all you want is to go to a party? I did occasionally play Cinderella, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, but that was more along the lines of starring in the Broadway show. I'd put on costumes and sing along with the songs on the records. More often, I'd make up other stories in that setting, sometimes with a main character in that world who was kind of like me having the sorts of adventures I'd want to have.

But sometimes, you just want to go there yourself. I suspect that the "sucked through a portal" subgenre came from that same impulse, of being so enamored of a fantasy world that you dream of actually going there and what you would do if you went there. When the real world seems boring and drab and you feel unimportant or unwanted, you can visit a magical world where you're a hero. I suspect there aren't too many fantasy fans who never daydreamed in class about a mysterious person stepping through the wall of the classroom and announcing that he was there to fetch the long-lost heir to a magical kingdom -- and then pointing at them. Or was that just me?

So, when I discovered that there were books about that sort of thing, they struck my imagination intensely. It was like, "Yes, that's it exactly!" I'd imagined opening a door and finding myself in a magical world long before I read the Narnia books. As I think about it and scan my bookshelf, I've realized that as big a part of my imagination as this trope has been, I haven't actually found that many books that fit it. There are the Oz books, of course (though Dorothy eventually becomes pretty marginalized and the books are mostly about Oz itself). And the Narnia books, which were very much like my childhood imaginings, with the characters from our world having big adventures in a fairy tale land instead of just lying around or doing housework. I liked Stephen R. Donaldson's mirror duology but couldn't get into the Thomas Covenant books. Alan Dean Foster had his Spellsinger series about a California rock guitarist who ends up in a magical world where his music is magic, and there were the Landover books by Terry Brooks (though I've only read the first).

I've tried writing a couple, without much success (though one of them involved characters from the other world coming through a portal and arriving here). They can be tricky. On the one hand, having an outsider as the viewpoint character gives you someone who needs things explained and allows you to use contemporary references and speech. You've got the fish-out-of-water thing going on for some humor. On the other hand, there's the issue of whether it's believable for the outsider character to survive and deal with things, and then you have to work out what to do at the end of the story. Do you just send the person home or do they decide to stay? If you're in young adult it's even dicier because you generally don't want a kid staying away from home and family forever, unless it turns out that the other world is where they truly belong. One thing I've liked about the Narnia movies that wasn't addressed at all in the books is how that experience would affect the kids once they returned to the real world. And then there's the fact that it's way too easy to Mary Sue these stories, since that's generally the seed at the core of that fantasy.

I guess that's one of those things that will have to simmer on the back burner for a while until I can figure out a way to do it -- and do it right. These days, it seems to be more popular to have the magical world coexisting with the "real" world, with no portal or wardrobe required for an ordinary person to become part of the magical world.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More Internet Follies

Because Stan the ghost apparently ran off with the stopwatch I use to time my writing sessions, since I've cleaned all the areas where I've used it without finding it, I resorted to buying another cheap digital sports watch at Target (what the old one was). I had been using a stopwatch app on my phone, but I soon realized that doing so defeated the purpose of disconnecting from the Internet to work. If my phone was right there, it was too easy to check my e-mail or look up random things online whenever I got stuck.

Meanwhile, I've cleared up one set of Internet follies from last week, only to get another. I tried using a different e-mail address and was able to get a message through to the blog hosts for that guest post I hadn't been able to send. I don't know if my server was the problem or if by the time I resorted to using the Gmail address I was forced to get to access Android services on my phone the problem had resolved itself.

Now, though, I'm dealing with a case of mistaken identity. I got a Yahoo mail account way back in the Dark Ages, using just my last name. Since my ISP handles their e-mail through Yahoo, my ISP account is mapped to that Yahoo ID. I guess I was able to get that address because I was the first member of my extended family to go online. Anyway, this week I got an e-mail to that address from Dell, confirming my order. At first I thought it was some kind of spam, but then saw that the customer was some other Swendson with a mailing address in the town in Kansas that my grandfather was from, so I figure we're related. There's no way that address is their address, since it's mine and has been for more than a decade, so I guess when they typed it into the Dell order form they left out an initial, or something. Now, not only am I getting their order information, but I'm getting all the Dell marketing spam, and I can't find a way to alert Dell that they're sending the order information to the wrong address (though I did unsubscribe from the marketing e-mail). I tried replying to the order confirmation e-mail, but that came back with an automated "we don't check this mailbox" notice. The customer service contact involves a form that requires all sorts of stuff like your address and customer number. I'm certainly not going to put my information in there, since I'm not the customer, but it seems like impersonation to put the customer's information in there, and then there's no place on the form to say that the above information is actually incorrect. There is a place to modify the profile, but since I don't know the correct e-mail address, I can't correct it. You'd think they'd want to know if their messages weren't reaching the intended recipient, but they make it impossible to do a good deed and let them know. I'm a pretty die-hard Apple customer, but if I weren't, this experience alone would keep me from ever being a Dell customer, since they make you jump through so many hoops to contact them. I may resort to printing the order confirmation and mailing it to the billing address on the confirmation with a note that they might want to correct the e-mail address they gave Dell. I think this customer is a second or third cousin (possibly a son or grandson of one of my grandfather's brothers), but I've never met that branch of the family.

Argh. And now I just got the shipping notice and order tracking information. If anyone reading this is a Swendson who ordered a computer from Dell, you're giving out the wrong e-mail address. And if anyone from Dell is reading this, how can I let you know that you're sending customer information (including account info, mailing address and phone number) to the wrong person? As a warning to anyone considering doing business with Dell, from the looks of this, I could easily have changed the shipping information just by clicking on the link in the e-mail I received. I could re-do the entire customer profile, and in a way I have altered it as I set it so I didn't receive marketing messages, since that was the only way to keep them from coming to my address, and that required doing so as this customer.

The spam comments on the blog continue, though lately they're at least for the latest post instead of really old posts. I'm not sure what yesterday's post had to do with burning movies to DVD, but that's what the spam of the day was. The comments acted like they were asking me how to do this (because writing about fairy godmothers apparently means I know that), though the links in the post were to places where you could buy that software, apparently. Is anyone really stupid enough to fall for spam blog comments? If you're reading a blog and see a comment on something entirely unrelated, do you think it's a good idea to click on those links? You'd think someone would have to or they wouldn't bother continuing to do this, but I suppose it uses so few resources on their part to do it that even one or two responses would make it worthwhile. And I really don't see what the benefit is to spamming the entire Internet with e-mail in Russian.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Fairy Godmother

It's Enchanted, Inc. question and answer time! I was asked about the fairy godmother in Damsel Under Stress. The question was more about why she dressed the way she did, with each outfit layered on top of the other, but to really address that, I need to get into where the character came from, so I'll just do All About Ethelinda.

When I wrote Book 2, Once Upon Stilettos, I didn't know if there would be more books. The publisher had bought the first book and a sequel, and although I'd planned more books, I wouldn't know if the publisher would want more until the first book was published and they saw how well it sold. I had the second book written and turned in before the first book was published, and that second book had even gone through copy edits before they made a decision about more books. Because of that, I tried to give some kind of closure at the end of the second book, in case there weren't any more. And so, I got Katie and Owen together at the end of book 2. I'm not sure I would have done that if I'd known from the start that there were sure to be more books. But I did, and it was too late to change things by the time I got the go-ahead for more books because it required more than changing the ending. I'd have had to make subtle alterations through the whole book.

That meant I had to deal with the fact that they were now a couple when it came to the third book, and I didn't want to run into the Moonlighting syndrome where getting the couple together saps all the energy from the story. This wasn't a romance (in spite of the fact that this is the aspect of the story that a lot of readers seem to respond most strongly to), so the main conflict didn't have to be between Katie and Owen. Their relationship wasn't the main plot. But I still worried that a lot of the energy in the story would be gone if they were just together, and that was that. I didn't want to have some silly misunderstanding break them up, but I needed some kind of monkey wrench to throw into things.

The idea of what I could do came from an unrelated line of thinking. I have had a spectacularly unsuccessful love life. We're talking Epic Fail territory here. I've had very few real relationships, and none of them have gone well. I've also had a string of really bad dates that never quite made it to the relationship point. Even the dates that went well managed to go nowhere. I have been known to moan that what I really need is a fairy godmother. But then I have to wonder if that would even work, considering that of all the times people have tried to set me up with someone, it's never gone well. I've never had a set up where I could see why the person thought we'd be suited for each other. It's always been more along the lines of "You have so much in common! You're both single!" or, worse, "He's probably not your type, but he just needs some confidence, and you're nice." So, it would be my luck that if I got a fairy godmother, she'd be incompetent, and she'd probably show up after I met Mr. Right. I remember that I was thinking along those lines one evening while making dinner, and then I had that "Ding! Ding! Ding!" moment where I realized that this was what I needed for my book. I was dealing with a world where a fairy godmother could exist, so I could make the metaphor literal. The second Shrek movie had done the evil fairy godmother, so I decided to go with one who wasn't evil, just misguided and not very good at her job. I'd worked with people who had done one good thing once in the past and who were still resting on their laurels -- they'd won an award for something ten years ago and they'd never updated their skills or grown beyond that, but they never let you forget their past success, either. They assumed that because they'd been right in a big way that one time, every other idea they came up with was automatically brilliant.

Like my former co-worker who had a shelf full of trophies and a wall full of awards for work she'd done in the 70s and 80s (she'd worked there forever) but who was practically incompetent in the 90s. She had to get someone else to print documents for her because she couldn't work the printer. She never turned off her computer because she didn't know how to turn it on. She treated the computer like a typewriter, so instead of deleting when she made a mistake or changed her mind about what she wanted to say, she'd leave the mistake, type a row of Xs (as though she was x-ing through the mistake, but since the computer doesn't let you type over something it just came out as a line of Xs after the mistake) and then type the corrected version. When she used spellcheck, she automatically accepted all corrections, even on names. That meant that to edit her work (which was my job), I'd have to get out the faculty directory and figure out who Dr. Moron Whiner really was (I didn't make that up, but I won't use his real name here to protect the innocent). I never saw White-Out on her monitor screen, but I would not have been at all surprised. She might have been a good writer at some point, but you had to be a mindreader to figure out what she'd written when she used a computer. Asking her did no good because even she couldn't figure out what she meant when she looked at it, and she'd get offended if I asked because she was an Award-Winning Public Relations Writer and I was just an entry-level peon, and what did I know?

I figured that a fairy godmother might do something like that. Have a success as big as Cinderella who goes down in folklore and gets movies and Broadway musicals made about her, and she might figure that covered it all. Anyone who tried to argue with her plans would be reminded about Cinderella. And, of course, she'd have spectacularly bad timing. She might even deliberately show up after the couple is already together so she could take credit for them getting together -- except, of course, that her efforts to get them together could actually drive them apart. She wouldn't update her tactics at all to take into consideration modern times. If dragons were good for getting couples together back in medieval times, then they should work today.

I think to some extent that she was the personification of all of Katie's doubts and fears about relationships. I haven't met a guy as awesome as Owen, but I suspect that if I did after my horrendous track record, I'd be suspicious and insecure. If I haven't managed to work things out with any reasonably normal men, I'd doubt my ability to make things work with a gorgeous, powerful, wealthy man. I mean, the guy down the street doesn't want me, so why would Mr. Perfect? Someone showing up to offer to help me would only make matters worse. I didn't want Katie to spend the whole book whining about her insecurities, so I channeled all that into another character who could raise the question and add to Katie's stress levels.

I'm not entirely sure where the layers of clothes came from. That was just always there. I suppose it was a way to visually represent the fact that she'd never moved on from the past -- instead of removing the previous clothing and starting fresh, she was just layering things on top, and everything was worn out. I never really delved into it, but I figure she was rotating clothes, wearing her entire wardrobe at once and just moving layers around. It only just now occurred to me that there might be some Heidi influence there. That was one of my favorite books when I was a small child, and for some odd reason, the thing in that book that really struck my imagination was the opening scene where Heidi is being brought to live with her grandfather and she has to wear all her clothes at once for the trip (I guess because she didn't have a suitcase). I remember acting that out with my play dress-up clothes, putting on multiple dresses in layers. I don't know if I ever tried to leave the house wearing more than one dress, but I wouldn't be surprised if I did because I was that kind of kid. I recall the "wear everything you own for the journey" element from a few other books, and I guess I responded to that because I was an Army brat and we moved a lot. I don't know whether I thought that wearing all your clothes was better or worse than packing them in a suitcase, but I found it oddly fascinating, and there is a possibility that my brain dredged that up from my subconscious and used it on Ethelinda.

As for what you'd see if you weren't magical or magically immune, I figure she was just the kind of frumpy old woman who layers a lot of ill-fitting sweaters, like a sweater vest over a long-sleeved crewneck sweater, with a big, baggy cardigan over that, and then a longish shapeless skirt, sagging stockings and sensible shoes.

Any more questions about the series? I'm doing this every other Wednesday as long as I have questions.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Short Stories vs. Novels

I was perhaps overly ambitious about how much work I'd get done the day after a convention. I went to the library and I got my weekly writing project for the medical school done, but when it came to fiction, I only managed to re-read (and tinker with) the first part of the scene I was working on and then write about five new paragraphs. But I did come up with what would happen next this morning, and while I was spacing out and wasting time I took care of a few things for the rest of the week that should save me time that I hope to apply to writing.

At one of the ConDFW panels last weekend, one of the big debates within the genre came up. I was moderating the Aspiring Writers panel, and I felt rather out of my league, as the other panelists were Brandon Sanderson, Tim Powers, Bill Fawcett and Jack McDevitt. I figured I was there strictly for moderation and possibly decoration. Anyway, the usual "what's the best way to get published?" question came up, and we seemed to get into a generational divide about the answer. The Old Guard conventional wisdom in science fiction/fantasy is that you break in by writing short stories, which gets you the credibility and attention that make it possible to sell a novel. The more senior members of the panel agreed with this and have published short stories. Brandon and I, as the junior members of the panel, were of the opinion that publishing short stories wasn't essential to publication these days and that short stories and novels are two entirely different skills. If you're not a short story writer and you try the "break in through short stories" route, you'll never break in, or at the very least you'll waste a lot of time you could have spent writing novels that might have sold.

I know I tend to think in terms of novels. I've tried writing short stories a few times, and they always turn into novels. Brandon said he just finished a short story -- it was only 95,000 words. He thought that the generational difference came from the fact that short stories have been less prominent in the past thirty years or so. Our generation didn't grow up reading short stories, so it's not a mindset we even get into for writing. I'm not sure how old he is, exactly, though I'd guess he's a bit younger than I am. Still, we're probably within the same generational range, so we fall into the gap between the Golden Age of the genre magazines and the recent revitalization of short fiction through online sites.

But I can't agree entirely with the reason for not being able to write short stories. Although I didn't grow up reading the genre magazines, I did read a lot of short genre fiction. I read Alan Dean Foster's short stories when I was a kid. I devoured Ray Bradbury short stories as a teen and read them for prose interpretation competitions. Actually, I read a lot of short stories to come up with competition material. I read Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov (I've never warmed up to his novels, but I loved his short stories). I tried writing short stories, too, since I'd read all that advice about how writing short stories was the way to break in as a science fiction novelist. I'd go to the library and read the Writer's Marketplace to find guidelines and markets and then try to write stories to go into those markets, but those stories tended to spiral out of control until they were way too long but hadn't quite really started. When you've written ten pages of a short story and you're still setting up the situation, you're in trouble. It seems that even then my ideas were for novels.

Now, short stories aren't my favorite reading form. I often find them frustrating because if I really like the world and the characters, I want more. It's pretty much the same reason I prefer TV series to movies. A good short story requires a premise that's strong enough to make for an interesting story but not so strong that it warrants the full development of a novel. The ironic twist ending is popular in short stories possibly because it provides such a strong sense of closure that you know the story was just long enough. I recently read a volume of stories called Wizards, and while some were just right, others made me want more about those characters or those worlds. Fortunately, one of the more intriguing stories did become a novel -- it was the starting point for what became Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. Another one reminded me of the way I attempt to write short stories, where it really should be a novel, and it's only just getting started when it gets too long, so then there's some quick handwaving to come to something that resembles a conclusion.

I do want to learn how to write short stories. Even if they aren't a requirement for getting published (obviously), I think they can help in building a career. Because the Old Guard holds onto the belief that short stories are the golden ticket, selling short stories to prestigious publications is the way to build credibility in the industry. It sometimes as though you get taken more seriously within the field if you've published well-received short stories in addition to novels. That gets you invitations to contribute to anthologies, and being in an anthology with a more prominent author is a good way to build an audience. It's also a good way to be able to call yourself a bestseller if you have a story in an anthology that hits the bestseller list because of the big-name author involved with it. If I ever reach the point where I'm invited to be a guest of honor at a convention, I might be asked to contribute a short story to a program book.

I have written one story for a convention program book. It was an episode in the Enchanted, Inc. universe -- essentially fan fiction for my own books. That might be a good starting point to get used to the idea of writing a single event. I also have a couple of novels that didn't come together where the idea might not have been strong enough for a novel but might be enough for a shorter story. Now, when I have the time to do this while trying to get some more novels out, I don't know. It might be something to try between projects, but since I'm a novelist, the books need to come first.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Showing Off

I'm now in post-con recovery phase, which doesn't feel that different from pre-con spacey phase. At least the vivid dream that I woke from this morning was less realistic. There's not much chance of mistaking a dream about surviving a nuclear war by hiding out in a shopping mall for a real memory.

I believe I demonstrated all of my major talents except dance at the convention this weekend. I did a reading, which demonstrates my writing ability, and there was a small bit of singing involved in my reading, plus I do a bit of acting when I read from my work. I contributed chocolate chip cookies to the con suite for my club's sponsored hour, so I showed off my cooking skills. I did a little babysitting, showing that I am good with kids (though having a baby in my lap during a booksigning didn't draw as many people as I thought it might. Next time I think I need a puppy). And I think my sense of humor came out in panels. I should have done a pirouette in the lobby and I'd have covered everything. Maybe I should find a way to work interpretive dance into a reading. Or I could do the excerpt where there's dancing and then act it out, if I can find an audience volunteer who can waltz.

And there was the usual hanging out with friends, plus in a moment of weakness I agreed to an official role with FenCon. The PR beast is being reawakened. Be afraid. Be very afraid. (Ooh, this could fit nicely into the ongoing plan for world domination.)

I seemed to get a very positive response from my reading, which was from the book currently on submission. Now, if only that will start some Internet buzz in which people mention how much they want the rest of this story, so that the publishers see it and think they have a potential hit on their hands if there's already buzz before the book is bought. Go forth and buzz, any audience members. Just be sure to spell my name right so it will show up in Google searches.

Now I need to try to get back to "normal" and back to work. I got pretty far behind last week and need to catch up. If I can wake up.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Writing Brain

One weird side effect of being in writing mode is that it really messes up my sleep patterns. I have a very hard time falling asleep at night because I can't seem to turn off my brain. Then I have very intense, vivid dreams that must involve a really deep REM cycle, or something, because I can't seem to wake up from them, and when I do, I feel like I'm coming out of a drugged coma. Then because I was just having a vivid, intense dream, it takes me a long time to reorient to the real world and figure out what is real and what was just a dream. I've caught myself making plans for the day based on something that only happened in a dream but that for a while I thought was a real memory.

It was very inconvenient when that happened last night because I'm on a panel at ConDFW at 3 today, and I have a lot of stuff I need to get done between now and then, so it didn't help that I way overslept and still feel like I was drugged. I have to put together whatever con supplies I need, iron some shirts, eat something, think about what to say on my panels. And my hair is still wet and doesn't seem to want to dry.

If anything fun or interesting happens at the convention, I'll report Monday.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Internet Follies

Today got off to a weird start when I woke up from a dream about trying to transfer data from my home phone to my computer (because for some odd reason I'd been writing a book on my home phone), thinking it was Monday because I'd been at church yesterday. It took me a while to recalculate and recall that I'd been at church for choir practice, which made today Thursday. That's what all external markers seem to be indicating, so if I'm incorrect, please notify me immediately.

The weird comment spam continues. In fact, I'm getting more spam comments on my blog than real ones these days. A lot have been showing up for one particular post. There was one telling me it was the best argument they'd seen on that topic and they'd like to discuss it further via private message. Then there was one saying they disagreed with me and could back up their argument with evidence if I wanted to private message them. What truly controversial topic did I post on to stir up so much debate? That would have been the short post I made saying I was about to go visit my parents for Thanksgiving.

The weird thing is that I don't get what this spam was trying to accomplish. There were no links to anything, and in spite of the invitation to private message them, there was no contact information. I suspect a spambot ran into the LiveJournal comment system, where you can leave anonymous comments but don't get the opportunity to enter a user name that links to a user ID or web site, like you can with a lot of blogging systems. The user name for non-member comments is always "Anonymous," with no link. So all they did with this spam was waste my time and annoy me.

I'm also getting a lot of spam text messages on my cell phone, which really irks me because I get charged for each message (no point in having a texting plan when I don't text but once in a blue moon) and there doesn't seem to be a way of rejecting them or letting the carrier know it was spam. And I've been getting phone calls from a North Dakota area code on my cell. I don't give out my cell number to too many people, and as far as I know, I don't know anyone in North Dakota, so I reject the calls and they don't leave a message, so I don't know if it's telemarketers or a wrong number. It's all enough to make me want to pull the plug on the outside world.

In other Internet follies, I was invited to contribute a guest blog to a site recently. I was very proud of myself for getting it done several days early. Then the day it was supposed to be posted, I had a frantic e-mail from the person who'd invited me to contribute a post, asking where it was. I responded that I'd sent it the week before, and sent it again. Then I found in my spam folder a failure message (buried in the fake failure message spams) that had arrived several days after I sent the first message, saying that the recipient's server had rejected it. I didn't get a response after re-sending the post, and then a couple of days later I got another failure message (I was looking for it that time). So now I'm worried that this person thinks I blew her off completely, and I'm irked that I finally got something done well ahead of time and didn't get credit for it. The problem is that if your only way of communicating with someone is via e-mail and your e-mail keeps being rejected, there's no way to let someone know that you're trying to reach them and have done everything they asked you to do. So, if the people I was supposed to be guest blogging for see this, I really did write the post and I sent it several days early then sent it again. I'll try something else, maybe from a different e-mail address, in case it's my address the server hates (but I seem to be able to send e-mail to other people from that address).

Now I have a convention to get ready for this weekend. I'll be at ConDFW in Dallas, all three days. If you're going, you'll see me in the schedule you get at registration, and if you're not going, you don't care, so I won't post my particular events. For my reading slot, I think I'll read from the project that is currently on submission and that I haven't been talking about publicly. It's the same book I read from at FenCon, but it has been altered slightly since then. My voice is still a bit rough from my bout with the plague, so this could be an adventure. I just have to figure out something to wear since it will be too warm for normal winter clothes and my wardrobe is lacking in "in between."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Hero's Journey: Putting it Together

This may be a day of great suffering. I missed two weeks of ballet and went back last night. Ouch. Unless we have a sudden freak ice storm, I'll finally have choir again tonight after two weeks off. The kids are singing this Sunday, and I know I've forgotten the song we're doing. I hope they're better than I am.

I've been working through the various stages of the hero's journey, based on the way Christopher Vogler interpreted Joseph Campbell's writings on mythology for modern storytellers in his book The Writer's Journey. Now I'm going to talk about using this structure in a story, and this part is all me and my own interpretation of how this works.

A lot of this structure has to do with pacing -- the building of tension, peaks of action and moments of respite. If you've got that Ordeal in the middle of a book after the build-up of tension in the Approach to the Inmost Cave, you aren't going to have a sagging middle in between the kick-off and the big finish. I think that's the biggest plotting lesson I've learned from studying this structure.

The stages don't have to come in the exact order of this structure. Once you understand the function of the stages, you can move them around to suit the needs of your story. For instance, the Refusal of the Call stage is mostly about showing that this quest is serious and difficult because the hero has to think about it before committing. Usually, this comes before the hero makes the commitment of crossing the threshold into the story world. But if you've got a naive and gung-ho hero, he may not stop to think before plunging right in, and the Refusal may come later after he's experienced something of the special world and realized that this is more difficult than he expected. Then he might want to back out, but it's too late. The Meeting with the Mentor is about getting information and usually comes at the point where the hero is making the decision about taking on the quest, but it can also come after the Ordeal when the hero has been humbled and now knows he needs help.

More than one character in a story may be on a journey, but not all characters have to be, and the fact that a character changes doesn't mean he's on a journey. Sometimes, a character may be changed as a result of another character's heroic journey. One way to tell whether a character has had a heroic journey is if there's been a death/resurrection moment, where all seems lost, and then he comes back a new man. If more than one character is on a journey, they may be on different stages. That can even be a source of conflict. A character who's already committed and crossed the threshold is going to be frustrated with another character who's still hung up on the Refusal of the Call stage. Secondary characters may skip some of the stages or may have had stages take place offstage. The character who shows up to issue the call to adventure to the main hero may have had his own call to adventure before the story opened, and he meets the main hero when he's already crossed the threshold and is finding allies. You'll also see multiple heroes in stories that have parallel story lines, where there are things going on in multiple places and they either start separately and then converge or start together and diverge. Sometimes the stages line up once the stories converge, or the multiple heroes may become like one person, structurally, where they all go through the same stages together. In the final battle, they may all have the same death/resurrection moment -- like if they're all together on the same ship that looks like it will be destroyed.

This is one area where using movie examples perhaps gives a skewed perspective because usually in a movie, there's one Hero on a journey, while novels can be more complex and have multiple heroes. For instance, in most romantic movies, one of the characters is the hero, structurally speaking, and the other is the romantic interest. In most romance novels, though, both the hero and heroine are on heroic journeys and have that kind of character arc. They both have to be "reborn" to be together. One recent movie in which both hero and heroine have that kind of arc and hit all the stages of the journey was the animated film Tangled. Most of the time in movies, though, both of the characters may do some growing and changing, but it's only one character who is truly transformed into a new person after going on the emotional journey. In a romantic comedy, the "hero" in structural terms is probably the person either having to make a painful confession or making the mad dash across town.

A really long, complex story may hit the stages more than once or may go back and repeat sections of the journey. I charted the movie version of The Lord of the Rings, and that story keeps getting to the Reward part of the story before rebooting back to the Call to Adventure, until finally it gets all the way to the end. We start with the "you have to get the ring out of the Shire" call to adventure and related stuff, then Frodo crosses the threshold to leave the Shire, goes to an inn and meets allies and enemies, goes through the Ordeal when attacked by the Nazgul, then gets his moment of respite and Reward in Rivendell. And then there's a new Call to Adventure when they learn that the ring has to be destroyed. That all leads up to a new Ordeal in the Mines of Moria, then they get a Reward moment at Galadriel's place. And then she sends them on their way with a mini Call to Adventure. And so forth. Once the Fellowship is divided, the various factions then are on their own journeys.

I think next time I may try charting a well-known movie from start to finish to show how this works in reality. And then I'll need to come up with a new topic. I'm open to suggestions or questions.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Belated Valentine's Post

In my glee over one of the best Sci Fi Saturday night movies ever yesterday, I forgot to mention writing progress. I got a chapter written on Friday night, then on Saturday, after ten pages I realized that perhaps I'd been a trifle overly enthusiastic, and if I kept going at that pace, I'd run out of story within about 100 pages. I was just racing through stuff. So I'm taking a step back and working through some things to flesh out the story a bit more. Better to figure this out now than later.

I saw The King's Speech yesterday, and I can totally see how Colin Firth is sweeping the awards. That role is Oscar bait because the guy with the mental or physical handicap always wins, but what really impressed me wasn't the stutter but the way that you could read on his face what he was trying to say while he was blocked by the stutter. I was also impressed by the way he managed to convey vulnerability layered under the royal dignity. There were times when I wanted to reach through the screen and hold his hand. I remember thinking during the movie that taking a powerful character like that and giving him a weakness like that was a great writing lesson -- a way to make someone powerful like a king more relatable. And then I realized that's what I did in making Owen, the handsome, powerful wizard, painfully shy. So I guess I do know what I'm doing. I haven't had any kind of speech impediment and I'm one of the rare people who has no fear of public speaking, but the way they showed him before giving a speech is exactly the way I feel when I have to sing in public in a situation where I know people can hear me. The rest of the cast was also great, and the combination of acting and clothing/hair/makeup meant I was having trouble recognizing familiar actors and meant I spent the closing credits going "That's who that was!"

Also, Colin Firth has the perfect build for wearing a well-tailored suit, with the wide shoulders and narrow waist, and I noticed how often they framed shots to show that off.

Anyway, today is the real romantic holiday: half-price chocolate day. So, here's my planned Valentine's Day post. I've been listening to movie soundtracks while writing, and that gave me a new most/least romantic category: best love theme for the worst couple. The love theme that John Williams wrote for Padme and Anakin is gorgeous -- starting all haunting with oboe and harp, then swelling to the full orchestra before fading back to the simple harp and oboe. It's just too bad that the couple that goes with the theme is so lame. Ever since we learned that Darth Vader was Luke's father, I wondered what his mother was like. Was she a Lady MacBeth type, pushing Anakin Skywalker and encouraging his ambition, or was she maybe a comrade in arms, someone who fought by his side and who couldn't quite pull him back from the brink? I guess Padme wasn't too bad (aside from being such a wimp that she died "of a broken heart" when there was nothing physically wrong with her, leaving her newborn children alone). The problem was that I couldn't imagine someone like her ever going for a guy like him. She was mature beyond her years and had dedicated her life to public service and ideals like justice and freedom. Would she really go for some whiny kid with a bad totalitarian streak? Meanwhile, their relationship was just so tepid. You'd think that a forbidden love so powerful that the fear of losing her would be enough to turn him evil and that she'd die of a broken heart when he went evil would have a little more oomph to it and go beyond insipid platitudes straight out of some of the worst Victorian dime romances.

Now I want to see the couple who fits that love theme. Hmm, I'll have to get to work on that. There is a haunting, tragic tone to it, but I don't know if that means that the couple would have to have a sad ending. Maybe they just deal with a lot of pain along the way.

Now, my current favorite romantic storyline may be "the boy who waited," like with Rory on Doctor Who, who was willing to take the long way through history -- nearly 2,000 years -- to protect the woman he loved (he had some advantage in being a robot at the time, but it was his soul and personality that made the decision). There's another fictional boy who waited, but it's in something I still consider spoiler-protected. It's not so much that I want a man to jump through such huge hoops. It's more that this is a science fiction metaphor for the idea of a man putting the needs of his loved one ahead of his own wants and convenience. A man willing to wait 2,000 years is probably someone who would pause and think about how a woman will feel about what he does instead of only thinking about what he wants. If you've ever had a (soon-to-be ex) boyfriend whine, "When I'm dating someone, I like to go out with her," after you decline his invitation to go out to dinner and to a movie on the grounds that you've just had knee surgery and you're still on prescription painkillers, your knee is still badly swollen so you can't bend it enough to sit comfortably in a movie theater (in the days before stadium seating), you're still on crutches, and since you live in a third-floor apartment, just going out is something of an ordeal, then you can understand why I might find the self-sacrificing thing an appealing romantic fantasy.

And, no, I didn't make that up or even exaggerate it. That really happened. We broke up during that same conversation, but I'm hazy on the details because the prescription painkillers kicked in soon afterward. I do recall him saying something about how he didn't think you should date someone more than a few times unless you thought you could marry them because otherwise you're wasting your time. And I'm pretty sure I told him that we'd probably better not go out anymore, then, because I wasn't going to marry him. If he'd even paused to think, he wouldn't have asked me out. If he wanted to see me, he'd have picked up some takeout and a movie and come over, and maybe asked if there was anything he could do to help while he was there. If he'd offered to take my trash out, I might have married him. Anyway, that probably explains why I find the idea of a guy who's willing to seriously inconvenience himself for the well-being of his loved one so appealing. I haven't really written anything like that yet, but generally the things that you really respond to are things you should think about writing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Monstrous Valentine's Day

I believe I really am on the mend, finally! I was worried Saturday because I was suddenly totally weak and exhausted and freezing even though the weather was warm, but I came to the conclusion that my body was just tired after fighting a lengthy battle. Sure enough, the cold symptoms were clearing up on Sunday, and then I was suddenly starving for the first time in ages. I went to bed before ten last night and still slept late, so now I feel almost like a human being again.

It's Valentine's Day, and since I've written books that some consider romantic, I'm sure I'm expected to talk about romance today. I even had a topic planned. But that will have to wait until tomorrow because I have got to talk about the Sci Fi Channel (I don't acknowledge the name change) movie I saw Saturday night. It was a sofa kind of night because I was so tired and weak, and I was scrolling through the channel guide, looking for something to watch, because getting a DVD out would have required more energy than I had, and I stumbled across this movie mostly because of a cast list that included just about every Canadian actor to have ever played a secondary or recurring role on a science fiction TV series. At the second commercial break, I got up and made popcorn and got a root beer because a work of art like this deserves to be appreciated properly.

The movie was called Iron Invader. It starts with a meteor hitting an old Soviet satellite, sending it crashing to earth outside a small town in Idaho. Major Lorne from Stargate Atlantis and his brother find it and sell it as scrap metal to Doc Cottle from Battlestar Galactica, the town junk dealer who's creating a giant man-shaped sculpture out of scrap metal. But then we see that there's a green goo on the satellite, and pieces of the satellite attach themselves to the sculpture, giving it pincer hands, and then the metal man comes to life and walks off to terrorize the town. Only, it's not just wreaking havoc as a stompy iron giant. No, it just has to touch people, and then their veins turn black and become visible and they die. This sudden spate of deaths associated with what people report as a giant robot surprise the town's hilariously bored sheriff (the first doctor from Stargate Atlantis -- the one who was killed by an exploding tumor -- only he's doing a southern accent, since this is a small town even if it is in Idaho, instead of a Scottish accent). He goes from not even being able to find anyone breaking the speed limit to an outbreak of sudden and mysterious deaths. Major Lorne ends up holed up in the town bar (run by the guy who runs the town cafe on Eureka -- typecasting much?), along with his recently returned -- and recently divorced -- high school sweetheart, Ezri Dax, along with Doc Cottle and one of those science fiction "That Guy" actors who seemed really familiar (I think he was one of Original Recipe Apollo's criminal cronies on Battlestar Galactica). Ezri is a biology teacher, and she figures out that the green goo on the metal is an alien bacteria that feeds on metal, and it must be going after the iron in people's blood. But how can they kill the bacteria? They'll need to find something that kills germs. This is getting spoilery, but if you're intelligent enough to operate a computer to read this post, then you can probably tell where this is going. I spent a good twenty minutes shouting at the TV, "You're in a bar, you morons!" They did eventually realize the antiseptic properties of alcohol, but only when someone spilled their drink on an infected piece of metal, and then they went to do battle with the alien invaders using a beer keg as a weapon, and it was AWESOME.

To acknowledge Valentine's Day, there was a romantic sub plot, as the crisis brought Major Lorne and Ezri back together. I thought there would be a secondary love story between Ezri's teenage daughter and Doc Cottle's grandson, who end up off together running for their lives during the crisis. She had complained about hating this town, so I was expecting her to have changed her tune after hanging out with the cute and kind of heroic guy, but that was dropped entirely, probably because the "whew, we made it!" scene at the end where they were wrapping things up turned into a "wait, it's not entirely dead yet -- hit it with the bottle of finely aged whiskey!" scene, so they didn't bother much with the character stuff.

My face hurt by the end from grinning so much because it was just the right level of fun. The actors weren't camping it up. They were playing it seriously, but not too seriously, so you knew they knew they weren't doing Shakespeare. But the whole thing was a lovely brand of stupid clever. Like, the whole iron giant thing must have been a budget-buster to CGI, so midway through, it gets broken up into parts, and those parts all came to life, so it looked like they scattered scrap metal on the ground and then attached fishing line to make it quiver menacingly. And then a good half of the movie is spent with the main characters in the bar, surrounded by the menacingly quivering scrap metal, but it was still a little scary. I think I cured my cold and cleared my sinuses by laughing myself silly through the whole thing.

On another Valentine's-related note, on Sunday afternoon I watched a romantic comedy on Lifetime, and the difference between the monster movie ads and the Lifetime ads was funny. During the monster movie, there were tons of ads for jewelry and flowers. Target audience: men. Message: Yo, you idiots, there's a gift-giving occasion coming up. During the romantic comedy, the ads were for chocolate as self-indulgence, makeup and dating services. Target audience: single women. Message: Indulge yourself with chocolate if you're alone, but if you wore mascara and joined a dating service, you wouldn't be alone.

And now I think I'm going to see The King's Speech because it's hard to beat Colin Firth as a Valentine's Day date. Plus, I think I need to leave the house but I'm not yet up to interacting with people, and a movie is a nice middle ground.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ready to Start

I thought about venturing into the outside world today, but I opened my front door and the front sidewalk was still glazed in ice, so I went back inside for six more weeks of winter. Or maybe for another day when it's supposed to be much warmer. Depending on how much it warms up today, I may attempt to go to the mailbox (which is a block away, since we don't get door-to-door mail delivery). I might even get really crazy and go to the Indian market down the block for some tea and ginger root, but that may have to wait until tomorrow.

The big thing for today may be the start of a new project. I did my review of my notes and background material yesterday, and I think it's already shaped up well enough for me to get started. Last night I had trouble falling asleep because I found myself developing some characters in my head. The final piece I was missing was the emotional arc, and I think I found that yesterday. I know what happens in the opening few scenes, so really there's not much to do but start, and that's my favorite and least favorite part of a project. It's exciting to plunge into something new, and at the very beginning it's full of possibilities, but then writing that first word seems to start sealing it into reality instead of possibility. The moment that word is written, even if I trash it all and start over again, the book is forever shaped by that word in my head, and it's nearly impossible to erase that impression and make an entirely fresh start.

So, if I get over the angst and don't find some excuses for procrastinating further, I'll be formatting the document and sitting down to write the beginning of something new. I am doing the shuffle to find the soundtrack exercise at the moment, and it's already brought up a few new ideas and possibilities, so that could create some delay, maybe. And no, I won't talk about what it's about or what it's for. This is kind of a side project for a specific purpose that plays into my Grand Plan for World Domination. It's also sort of an experiment.

Meanwhile, I've realized that I kind of fail at self-indulgence. Yeah, I manage the little stuff like time wasting and eating chocolate, but I seem reluctant to treat myself. Part of my parents' Christmas gift to me was money to spend on stuff I want, with the idea that I have more access to things where I live, and I can choose for myself, so I'll know it will fit or not duplicate what I have. And have I done anything with this money but put it in an account where I've used it to pay bills and living expenses? Nope. I haven't gone shopping other than for groceries, etc. Some of that had to do with the fact that the weather got nasty and I got sick during the between-projects phase when I'd planned for some shopping. I'll be at a convention next weekend, so I may do some shopping there, and I may allow myself out next week to look into maybe buying something new to wear at the convention. One of my goals for this year is to get a better handle on those little indulgences like time wasting and then allow myself some true indulgences that will make a difference.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cold and Computers

Oh, I am sooooo ready for spring. I'm normally a cold-weather person, but that's "cold" in Texas terms. My idea of a perfect winter is daytime highs in the 40s-60s -- some up and down for variety, a mix of sunny and gray/rainy -- and nighttime lows in the 30s but above freezing. A few below-freezing nights to kill off insects. I like it to be cool enough so that warm stuff is a nice contrast and I can enjoy blankets, cocoa, hot tea, even a fire. Maybe one snow event, the kind where it starts snowing overnight so you wake up to a blanket of fluffy white, and it snows throughout the day (because I like watching snow fall), but the next day it's warm and the snow is gone instantly. I'm okay with one or two of the gray and rainy days having some snow flurries that don't stick because the ground is too warm. When I say I like winter, that's what I'm talking about, and that's what we usually have. I'm not really up for these days on end of freezing temperatures and ice on the ground. I would be going stir-crazy with cabin fever if I felt better. Then again, I might feel better if it were warmer. We are supposed to have a sudden warm-up this weekend, and I may have to frolic outdoors even if I'm still stuffy and sniffly.

I'm hitting this thing with everything I've got. I think I've tried just about everything under the sun -- antihistamines and several kinds of decongestants, home remedies like horseradish in V8 juice, ginger root with lemon and honey in hot water, hot-and-sour style soup, hot lemonade, lots of vitamin C, Vicks, steam, peppermint herbal tea, lots of liquids, lots of rest. I want to start on the new project full-force next week, and to do that, I need to be able to think. Then Con DFW is next weekend, and I'd like to be able to talk.

Things may be looking up, though. I had a moment this morning when I could briefly breathe freely through my nose. It was awesome. And I found myself really wanting to clean the kitchen. If a mess is bothering me, that's a sign that I'm getting better. For the past week, I haven't been up to caring.

Meanwhile, I've been researching my upcoming computer purchase. One of the reasons I've procrastinated this was that I thought I'd need to go to the Apple store, which is in one of those inconvenient "you can't there there from here" locations that's out of the way for me. When I bought the current computer, it was a bit of a crisis, as the old computer's display quit working, and when I brought the old computer to the Apple store for diagnosis, I ended up deciding it would be easier to just buy a new one, since I had a deadline and couldn't wait while sending it off for repairs. They offered to transfer everything from the old computer to the new one for me -- all the settings, accounts, etc. I know how to move files around, but I wasn't sure about all that background stuff, so I thought I'd need to go to the Apple store for that instead of just buying a computer at the neighborhood electronics store. But some surfing showed that Apple is apparently now charging a fee for that service, and there's a utility on the computer that does it automatically as part of the set-up process. I can do that. So instead of making the trek across the metropolitan area, I can go down the street.

Now I just have to decide which one I want. My usual instinct is to go for the lowest end possible, since I've generally barely scratched the surface of any computer's capacity. But I'm trying to plan for future needs, and there's a chance I might want to do stuff like make videos for book promotion or use the computer as a media server, so I might want to go a little higher-end. The MacBook no longer has a Firewire connector. I've never used the one on my iBook, but I understand that might be needed for connecting to a video camera. I guess I need to do a little more research to make the decision about what I really need, if I need a Pro or if just a MacBook will meet my needs. And, yes, it must be Mac. I have no interest in changing even though it's more expensive. It's what I've always used other than at work, and I really loathed the Windows machines at work. There's something about the way the Mac does stuff that aligns with the way my brain works, so it really is intuitive for me, and I spend much less time arguing with the computer (which never goes anywhere).

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Where's Book Five?

Another day, another ice/snow event, and I just got the news that all choir stuff has been cancelled for the night, which is good because I doubt I could have sung. This cold snap has been well-timed to allow me to be ill without missing anything other than a ballet class. I'll have to take the jazz class for a month to make up for all the missed ballet in the last couple of months, between holidays, ice, injury and illness.

And I have to brag a bit: Yesterday evening, I was making dinner (well, reheating dinner), and had the microwave, toaster oven and electric teakettle going. Well, it turns out that they're all on the same circuit, along with the refrigerator, because there was a loud pop and then they all stopped. I could swear I've done the same thing before, but I suspect what happened was the refrigerator kicked on at a bad time. At first, there was whimpering because it was after five on the day before an expected ice/snow storm and I'd never get anyone out to fix it. I could move the toaster oven and teakettle, but what would I do without a refrigerator unless I moved everything outside where it was cold? After the whimpering, I decided to look at the circuit box, and between the very sketchy diagram of which switch controlled what and a game of "one of these is not like the other," I figured out the bad circuit, flipped the switch off and then on, and it all came back on. I was very proud of myself. Okay, so flipping a switch isn't exactly rocket science, but considering I'm still somewhat addled by the evil cold, I was pleased that I solved the problem myself without outside help and without even any good instructions.

So, today is supposed to be Enchanted, Inc. discussion day, but I don't have any questions that aren't potential spoilers or that can't be answered in one or two words. So, I thought I'd address (again) the number one question I get asked in reader mail and a few of the related questions.

There are currently no plans for more books in the series to be published in the United States. The publisher that released the first four books doesn't want more books -- and my agent nags them about that every time she gets royalty statements on those books, since the earlier books are still selling pretty well. However, no other publishers are interested in later books in a series where the first four books are with another publisher -- and, yes, my agent has made the rounds to see if there was any interest. Selling a new book also tends to raise sales of the backlist, and that means the new publisher would be the one taking the financial risk with the new book, while the old publisher with those four books would get more benefit. Plus, they wouldn't want the later books if they couldn't control releases of the first books. You'd want the earlier part of the series to be available when releasing a new book, and if that's with another publisher, that's a problem. There's also that old shelving issue. The first four books were classified as "chick lit," and since chick lit is considered dead, no other publisher wants them that way, but even the fantasy houses aren't interested in a fantasy book when the first four books in the series are shelved as chick lit.

This doesn't mean more books will never be published. There are a number of things that can happen to change things:

1) The books go out of print, the rights revert, and then the entire series, plus new books, can be sold to another publisher.
This probably won't happen anytime soon, since the books are selling steadily. I'm in a bind here, where the sales are too good for the publisher to release me but not good enough for more books. Oddly, the first book still sells the most (which makes me wonder what happens to all those people who are still buying the first book if they don't go on to buy the rest), so it will probably be the last one to go out of print, and no new publisher would want the whole series minus the first book.

2) The people making the decisions get their heads out of the place that isn't at the top of their necks.
There's a lot of turnover in publishing, so you never know, it could happen. From what I hear, a lot of the problem has to do with decision-making people looking at classification, not content, so books in that classification are "dead" and don't do well in mass market. It would take someone at a higher level being willing to look at it and realize that it really is fantasy, which would change the bean-counters' formulas.

3) The movie gets made.
That probably would change a lot of things because release of a movie would drive book sales. There would be a tie-in edition with art from the movie on the cover, or at least a "now a major motion picture" label on the cover.

4) I become a bestseller or at least well known for something else at another publisher.
If I get reclassified as a fantasy author, that might encourage the old publisher to change how they treat my books, and if I become well-known, they'll want to ride the coattails. I've got a new series proposal on submission right now, so we'll see if it works.

Now, what about self-publishing, e-books, etc.?
Right now, I'm not considering those options for a number of reasons. The four things above are not outside the realm of possibility, and if I self publish or e-publish more books in the series, that could make it impossible for them to be published the traditional way if any of those things did happen. I'd also be driving sales of the earlier books, making it less likely for the rights to revert. I'm also not keen on the idea of an e-only book right now because book piracy is so rampant. There are many times more downloads of pirated books in this series than there are sales of legitimate e-books. At least with a traditionally published book, the vast majority of sales are in printed books. If the book is only electronically published, that means it will be limited to a tiny fraction of the readership, and it means it's very likely that more people will read pirated copies than legitimate copies, with no print copies to balance that. It's just not worth the effort when something is only going to be stolen that readily. Most of my Google alerts on my name and book titles these days are only links to download my books for free or people asking for places to download them for free, and that makes me far less inclined to consider an e-only option.

In case you weren't aware, my books are not legally available in their entirety for free download. If that's how you obtained my books, neither I nor my publisher received any payment for that because it was stolen. It also means my publisher is not aware of that as a sale and it contributes to their reluctance to publish more books in the series. If the books aren't making enough money for them, they won't publish more, and if the books are being spread around through file sharing, they aren't making money.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Venturing Outside

I now understand all the people who've "complained" to me about losing sleep because they started reading one of my books before they went to bed and ended up staying up all night reading. I've been reading one of my own books while I've been too zonked with the cold to focus on anything else (and while I'm too zonked to try to mentally edit or revise it), and last night I caught myself playing the "just one more chapter" game. I finally convinced myself to turn out the light and go to sleep by reminding myself that I wrote the book, so I knew how it ended (though I didn't remember exactly what happened next) and I could put it down and go to sleep.

I've also realized that in spite of my claims of being spontaneous, I really am a creature of habit. I seem to have lost the stopwatch I use to time my writing sessions and keep myself honest about really working instead of saying I'm working during a block of time while I'm really getting sidetracked during a tea break. It's got to be somewhere in the house, but I was pretty migratory last week, so there's no telling where it is now. I spent way too much time yesterday searching for it because I couldn't seem to get to work without it. I ended up downloading a stopwatch app to my phone. That might actually be a good thing because it means I'll have my phone with me when I'm working instead of it hiding at the bottom of my purse. The trick will be whether I hear it ring. I finally settled on the main theme from Star Wars as my ringtone because I can hear it and I still seem to have a Pavlovian response to that music so if I hear it, it gets my attention. However, I like using John Williams scores as background music for writing, which means there's a chance that my phone will ring while I'm listening to Star Wars music -- like the way I always seemed to be walking by a bank of pay phones when my phone rang while I was using an old-fashioned telephone ring sound as my ringtone, so I always assumed it was the pay phones and not my phone ringing.

After our brief reprieve, the cold weather and ice will return tomorrow, so I have to venture out this afternoon to run errands that may become impossible later in the week. Between the ice and the cold (the illness kind), my winter hibernation tendencies are being rather catered to. I wasn't so bad this winter until recently, since I had enough stuff going on that required leaving the house that I didn't get a chance to fall into that mode. But if I go a long time without leaving the house, that makes it harder to leave the house, and for more than a week, either the weather's been too bad to go out or I haven't felt like it. I can manage a quick library/bank/post office/Target run, but I don't think I'm up to ballet tonight. I'd manage about two plies before having to take a break, and that's if I could even get that far without having to run for a tissue. Then tomorrow it's very likely that choir will be cancelled again due to weather. I had planned to get my new computer last week while I was between projects, but the weather got in the way of that, and the combination of illness and weather make it unlikely this week because I'd like to be able to think. I probably ought to do some research to decide what I might really need instead of just going with my instincts to take the cheapest possible option.

For now, though, I need to get out the crowbar and pry myself out of the house so I can restock on tissue supplies.

Monday, February 07, 2011


I just thought the cold had hit with a vengeance on Friday, but that was just a little coughing compared to what hit later that day and intensified all weekend. We're talking full-on NyQuil commercial misery. By Sunday morning, if the "bring out your dead" cart had come by my house, I'd have been tempted to run outside and throw myself on it -- if I could have made myself get off the sofa. It should have made me feel better that the weather took a turn for the moderately warm and sunny, but there's just something wrong about a nice, sunny day when you're sick. The rest of the world should be suffering with me, darn it! I did briefly emerge from the cave Saturday afternoon to take out my trash, and I must have looked awful because I ran into a neighbor, and she not only kept her distance from me, but she came back later and scraped the remaining ice off my front porch, probably so I wouldn't slip and kill myself on my way out to the bring out your dead cart and clutter up the neighborhood.

I'm on the mend now and feeling much better. I'd thought about doing some errands today while the roads are dry and non-icy and before the next winter storm hits Wednesday, but I'm still not 100 percent, so I think I'll take it easy one more day and then take care of everything tomorrow.

I had planned a grand marathon of all the paranormal romantic comedy movies I own, but I reached a point where I didn't even feel like watching movies. USA obliged me on Saturday with an NCIS marathon, which makes for good sick day viewing when you can't focus on anything. I did feel extra empathy in the episode where Tony gets the plague. While he's hacking and coughing on the screen, I'm hacking and coughing on my sofa and saying, "Oh honey, you and me both." I thought that the book of short stories I got at the library would be good for a short attention span, but you have to actually focus on short stories. You can't zone out for two pages and still know what's going on. I ended up reading one of my own books because I could zone out for pages and still know what was going on, and I figured that might be the one way I could read one of my books and not keep trying to mentally edit it. It was almost like reading something someone else wrote.

I hear there was a big football game on Sunday. I was marathoning Downton Abbey on PBS, doing a cultural U-turn from watching Beverly Hills Cop 2 on one of the HBO channels in the early afternoon. I love Judge Reinhold's character in that one, where he's this mild-mannered guy who turns out to have developed something of an inner Rambo. "You can never have too much firepower" never fails to crack me up. I pretty much watch the entire movie just for that moment.

I'm trying to get back to a normal work schedule, and fortunately most of the work I need to do today involves reading, so I can huddle under a blanket and read and call it work. I love my job. Also, I'm supposed to do an Enchanted, Inc. question this week, and I don't recall having one on tap to answer. If you've got a question about the series, let me know. If you've asked one I haven't answered, ask again because my brain is Swiss cheese at the moment.

Friday, February 04, 2011

A Snow Day Movie

So, we already had a couple of inches of solid ice on the ground that hasn't gone away because temperatures have stayed in the 20s or lower all week. Last night, we were supposed to get one to three inches of snow on top of that. Well, this is what "one to three inches" looked like on my patio this morning:

And it snowed for about an hour more after I took that picture. I'd already figured that it would be worse than they forecast, since the snow was supposed to start around 3 a.m., and I got up at 3:45 when I was coughing and needed some water. I looked out the window, and there was already at least three inches on the ground, and it was snowing pretty heavily. It was very pretty at night and totally undisturbed. But I'm kind of ready for it all to go away. We might get above freezing tomorrow, but not by much, and it will take a while for all this to melt. Meanwhile, that lurking cold hit with a vengeance during the night, so this will be a guilt-free sofa day. A cold plus snow=book/movie and tea day. If not for the cold, I'd be tempted to take a walk because I do like walking in the snow, and it really is beautiful. I'm also getting a little stir-crazy. As much of a homebody as I am, I do usually leave the house at least a few times a week.

The fun thing is that this has been Super Bowl week, and the weather has really hampered all the activities. I had sort of considered maybe heading to downtown Fort Worth to see at least some of the goings on with ESPN broadcasting from there all week, but between the cold and the weather, that's not going to happen. Also, to quote Spike, I'm paralyzed by not caring very much. I'm probably not going to watch the game because the local PBS station is counterprogramming with a Downton Abbey marathon of the whole series. Plus, again, see above about not caring. I am sort of pulling for Green Bay, as I figure that since the team is staying in my town that makes them the hometown team, and I was a Cowboys fan in the late 70s, so I have residual Steelers hate (even though the team I cheered for was the "Steelers" and I have a very cute little black-and-gold cheerleader uniform).

Yesterday afternoon on one of the HBO channels, I caught a movie called Alex and Emma. I vaguely remember when this came out, and I'm not sure why I never saw it, since it's a Rob Reiner movie, but I didn't, so I thought I'd watch it. A nice little romantic comedy was a good way to pass a cold afternoon.

First, a quick summary: Alex (Luke Wilson) is a novelist who had some success with his first book but is now totally blocked on his second, and that's bad because he needs the rest of his advance to pay his gambling debts, but he can't get that money until he turns in the manuscript. If he doesn't get the book done and get the money in 30 days, the Cuban mafia will kill him. In desperation, he hires Emma (Kate Hudson), a court reporter/stenographer, to take dictation as he talks the book. But Emma is pretty outspoken, so she provides a constant critique as he writes. In a story within the story, we see the novel play out, and we can see that art is imitating life as the events in Alex's life influence his novel. But then we also see the book change as the relationship between Alex and Emma develops.

If I completely turned off the author part of my brain that understands the way the publishing world works, I rather enjoyed this movie. Probably not enough to want a keeper DVD, but it was one of the better romantic comedies I've seen in a while. I liked the characters and I liked the way their relationship developed. Although the "author" part of me had to be shut off, I did feel like they got a lot of the writing process right. I'm not sure I could dictate a novel to a stenographer -- it wouldn't come out in the same words I'd use to type it -- but the way the novel took shape was very familiar. What I found really fun was that the central conflict between the two characters boiled down into "pantser" vs. "plotter." Alex was very much a "pantser" writer, the kind who flies off into the mist with no idea what the book is going to be about or how it will end, letting the characters lead him along. Although she wasn't a writer, Emma had very much a "plotter" outlook. Before she bought a book, she read the ending, and if she liked the ending, she'd know that she wanted to read the book. She was frustrated with the way he was setting everything up without having any idea how it would work out and was sure he couldn't finish the book on time without having a plan.

The movie did contain one of my romantic comedy pet peeves -- the first kiss leading directly to sex -- but there was no frantic chase across town and nobody went to the airport so that the other person had to buy a last-minute ticket to get past security. There wasn't even any public humiliation. In the "novel" part of the story, there was what may be the funniest movie sex scene ever -- a depiction of what one of those ten-page sex scenes in a romance novel would look like if it were filmed (though mostly in either silhouette or extreme close-up), complete with superimposed clock to show that it was going on for hours.

But I did have to turn off my author brain because it seems like Hollywood has absolutely no idea how book publishing works. I'm sure almost all the published authors who saw this laughed themselves silly at the idea of taking a manuscript to your publisher's home at night, the publisher reading it right away and then immediately writing a check. Mind you, that was the publisher, not the editor. I suppose this could have been a small press instead of a publishing conglomerate -- and probably was, since the movie was set in Boston and the publisher was in Boston -- so maybe the publisher's star author would get that kind of attention. But with a press small enough that the publisher himself would have the author over to his house, cash flow isn't quite liquid enough for them to write six-figure checks on the spot. The contract states how soon after delivery and acceptance of the manuscript they have to pay the "on delivery" portion of the advance, and they usually hold onto that money as long as they can. I would have said that the advance seemed awfully big for a book that didn't sound all that good, but then I remembered some of the bestselling books and how awful they've been. In general, though, screenwriters seem to think of Writers Guild rates in thinking about how much money novelists make. This was a $200,000 advance, which is really, really unusual, unless the first book had been a mega bestseller, and it's more likely that the second book would have been part of a two-book deal, with the advance negotiated before they knew the first book would be a bestseller.

Then there was the usual movie/TV trope about novels, where the entire novel and all the characters in it were directly based on the author's real life. It makes you wonder if all the screenwriters are out there writing about their own lives or if that's just what they think novelists do. In this case, I suppose it had to be that way so we could have the actors from the real world part of the movie also portraying the characters in the novel world and so the novel could be used to give Alex's backstory and show how he was changing in the way he saw Emma (her character in the novel kept changing as he got to know her). It also seems like the novels in movies and TV shows are really, really bad. The plots all sound so trite, and if you did actually transcribe the novel Alex was talking, it would read like something a fifth grader wrote. Maybe they should hire an actual novelist to write the portions of novels used in screenplays.

Dear Hollywood Screenwriters,
Most of us make it all up. Really. Trust us on this. We may occasionally be inspired by real events or real people, but most of us don't directly write exactly about our own lives.
Love, Novelists

P.S. Most of us don't make as much money as you do, either.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Day ? of Ice

It's day whatever of the Ice Storm That Will Not Go Away. No new accumulation since Tuesday (though we're supposed to get snow tomorrow), but it's been so bitterly cold that what is there isn't leaving. My front porch looks like it's covered in fluffy drifts of snow, but when I picked up my newspaper this morning, I bent down to touch the "snow" and found that it's actually a couple of inches worth of solid ice, and it's that way all the way down the sidewalk. We might get above freezing on Saturday, but I suspect it will take a while for all this to melt. No power failures last night or this morning, so at least that's improved. I've got a split pea and ham soup in the Crock Pot for dinner tonight. I figure that the power going out for fifteen minutes wouldn't have a huge impact on something cooking all day on Low.

It is nice that the being iced in coincides with a between-books break and a nasty chest cold, so I can have a guilt-free wallow. I'm trying to turn this into a mood-setting "retreat" to prepare for the next book. Yesterday, though, I decided to heed the urgings to reduce power consumption, so I kept the TV off and just read. I don't do that as often as I'd like or as often as I probably should. Other than when I'm reading in bed just before going to sleep, I seldom just sit down and read, without doing anything else at the same time. It was nice to spend hours on end curled up with a book.

In a mad burst of nostalgia, I took an old favorite from my high school years off the shelf to re-read. I guess the circumstances were similar to the first time I read it, and that was what triggered it. Back when I was in high school, I got really sick (turned out to be a tracheal infection -- not fun), and after going to the doctor and finding out I'd be out of school for a while, my mom and I stopped by the used bookstore near the hospital district. That was really the only decent bookstore in town. We just had a tiny B. Dalton in the mall that mostly had romance novels, the latest bestsellers, children's books and cookbooks. Their science fiction/fantasy bookshelf was smaller than the one I currently have dedicated to that genre at home. But this used bookstore had a great selection (with so few new books coming into the area, I'm not sure where they got their supply of used books). I had just read The Sword of Shannara from the library and was excited to see that there was a sequel at the store. But, alas, the only copy they had was a fancy trade paperback with illustrations, and it was more money than I had to spend. The lady who ran the store took pity on me, since I was so obviously ill, declared that the book was damaged, and cut the price. It was actually fairly damaged -- it had some water stains and the cover was pretty battered -- but I don't think that was the reason she dropped the price. To show how much book prices have gone up, the cover price on that book was $7.99, and I was balking at paying $4 for a book, but at that time you could get a new mass-market paperback for $2.25, so $4 for a used book did seem very high. Anyway, it was winter and gray and nasty, but I was able to lose myself in another world for quite some time.

I was almost afraid to re-read it, for fear that much of what I liked about it had to do with those circumstances, but I did still like a lot of it. I liked the main characters and the quest part of the plot. I'll admit to skipping the Epic Fantasy part of the story with the huge battle scenes. It was easy to skip those scenes, since Terry Brooks so kindly provided a recap at the end of each section. There would be about five to ten pages of "Thrust, parry, spin" and demons attacking, with a paragraph at the end in which the viewpoint character surveys the scene of the battle and thinks about how X, Y and Z had fallen in battle and A, B, and C were wounded and being treated, but they had held the line for now -- and yet the enemy was regrouping. Which was all we really needed to know about the battle, anyway, unless you like dwelling on the detail of every single sword thrust. But I really did like the more intimate side of the story, in which our two unlikely heroes set out against all odds on their desperate quest. Those were nice characters, and I liked the way their relationship developed along the way.

There was just one thing that started driving me insane the more I read, and I suspect it was a combination of Brooks' relative lack of writing experience at the time that book was written and the fantasy conventions of the time, in which a pseudo-archaic tone was the norm. He had this strange aversion to pronouns, and instead of using pronouns, he used descriptors of the characters. In places where "he," "she" or "they" would be expected, he would use things like "the Valeman and the Elven girl." Think about how many times in a paragraph the words "he," "she" or "they" would pop up, and you can imagine how cumbersome it got with those descriptors instead. This was in sections where there were generally only two characters, a guy and a girl, so he could have gone for pages and pages using only "he" and "she" without any confusion at all. You could have cut 50 pages from the book just by substituting "they" for each time he used "the Valeman and the Elven girl." Even worse, these scenes were from the point of view of one of those characters, so did they really think of themselves that way?

I do see this occasionally pop up in unpublished attempts at fantasy when I'm critiquing or judging, and it's a good reason why you read recent books to get a sense for what can fly in the market instead of bestsellers from thirty years ago. I burned out on epic fantasy in the mid-90s, so I haven't read any Brooks since then to know if he's still doing it. I think that style is used in Beowolf, so it does have that epic fantasy feel to it, but these days unless you're really, really careful, it reads as kind of amateurish (maybe because of so many people whose idea of fantasy was heavily influenced by Terry Brooks). Find one good way to refer to your characters that makes sense for how the viewpoint character would think about them (usually their names unless it's a person the viewpoint character would think of by title), and then stick to that plus pronouns, except for in specific circumstances. Pronouns are your friend. They're kind of invisible words, like "said," that we don't really notice in repetition. You can say "he" or "she" a dozen times in a paragraph and no one will notice. Use a description several times in one paragraph and it makes readers like me itch for a red pencil. It's even worse when you mix up descriptions to avoid repeating (which Brooks didn't do -- at least he was consistent), like referring to the same character various times as "the young man," "the trainee warrior," "the youth," etc. Then it's hard for readers to tell if you're talking about the same person or multiple characters.

Now I almost want to find some current epic fantasy to see if this style is still the norm or if I'm totally off-base. I just don't really have the patience for "epic" these days. For today's reading, I think I may be leaning more toward something chick-litty.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Hero's Journey: Return with the Elixir

We've got the coldest temperatures in more than twenty years, and because our houses and heating systems aren't designed for this sort of weather, that means the power grid is overloaded, and we're getting rolling blackouts. I lost power at least once during the night and then for about twenty minutes this morning while I was having breakfast and then again while writing this post. It looks like we won't have choir tonight, since the church web site said all activities today were canceled. There was a crock pot soup I wanted to try making if I'm not going to be out this evening, but crock pot cooking isn't a great idea if you're going to be randomly losing power. I'm trying to hurry and finish up the stuff that must be done on the computer, and then I may make this a reading day so I won't have to worry about power going in and out on the TV. Come to think of it, I may unplug everything so I don't have to worry about power surges when the power comes back on after a blackout. This will be a good day to use the fireplace and spend the afternoon by the fire with a book.

We've reached the last stage of the hero's journey. He's gone on his quest, survived an ordeal and has gone through a death and resurrection. Now he gets to go home again in the Return with the Elixir stage. The archetypal myth is a quest story, where the hero has to get something and then bring it home to heal the land, and this is the part where he returns with the thing he got and puts it to use. This is the Grail being brought back to heal the Fisher King, and through him, the land. It's sort of a reminder of why the hero went through all this in the first place, as he sees the people he cares about being safe, free or healthy. The Lord of the Rings is an inverted quest, since the object of the quest is to get rid of something rather than to find it, and in this part of the story, our heroes return home without the deadly ring to a Shire that no longer lives in the shadow of evil.

This is also where we really see the hero as a new man. Seeing him back in the Ordinary World setting gives us an opportunity to notice how much he's changed during his journey. He may take a leadership role when before he lurked on the edges, or a loner may become part of the community. Or, he may just have a different attitude. When Dorothy gets back to Kansas from Oz, she has a new appreciation for her family and friends there since she's learned that there's no place like home.

There are a lot of things that can represent the "elixir." A big one is love. Weddings, engagements and the first "I love you" often come at this point, with the hero having earned them through his actions or being able to give and receive love after he's been changed. Another is a change in the world brought about by the hero's actions, whether it's a literal healing like in the myths or something like the overthrow of a tyrant. The elixir may involve the hero taking on a new role, fulfilling his destiny. In a more tragic story, the other characters or even the audience may be the ones to receive the elixir the hero doesn't live to see, as we can learn from his sad example.

In fantasy stories, the character may return to the "real" world from the magical world. Most of the Harry Potter books start with Harry in the ordinary world of his relatives' home, then he travels to the magical setting of Hogwarts, and then at the end he returns to the ordinary world, carrying with him whatever happened to him while he was at school (most of the movies cut out the return sequences). Or in the Narnia books, which are about crossing over into a magical world, the story ends when the children come back to England.

But not every story involves a literal return to the beginning. The hero may never go on a literal journey. It may be an emotional journey. In that case, the Return may be a metaphorical one, revisiting an event, person or situation from the beginning, and we see how the hero handles it in a different way, showing us that the story has come full circle. The movie version of About a Boy starts with Hugh Grant having a solitary Christmas and claiming to enjoy it, and it ends with him surrounded by friends in a big Christmas celebration. During the Ordinary World segment of While You Were Sleeping, we see Sandra Bullock in her booth, unable to bring herself to speak to the handsome man who flings his token at her through the slot without even noticing she exists. At the end, she's back in her booth, and the man she loves drops an engagement ring through the slot.

Sometimes, the hero goes on to face a new Ordinary World, a new normal, after going through his ordeal. He doesn't go back home, but rather moves forward. This is what we see in the original Star Wars. Luke doesn't go back home after destroying the Death Star. It's implied by the medal ceremony at the end that he's now a part of the Rebel Alliance and will now be working with them to fight the Empire. In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, Tristan becomes the king of Stormhold and stays there instead of going back to his village. What was the special world of the story has become his new ordinary world.

This part of the story has to do a lot of things -- and do them pretty quickly. It needs to tie up most of the loose ends of the plot and subplots (except for those being left open for sequels). It needs to give us a hint of where the main characters will be after the story. It needs to definitively answer the story question posed at the beginning, and it needs to give the story a definitive end. This is also the last big emotional surge for the reader. For this reason, you don't want to drag this part out too long. You'll have had a high point at the climax, the resurrection moment, and it's sort of downhill from there, other than a nice burst of satisfaction that comes with the real conclusion -- that thing that makes you close the book with a satisfied sigh. If you drag out the ending too long or have too many "endings" as you wrap up each individual plot thread, the reader doesn't know when to have that last big sigh and may not be as satisfied with the end. If the reader has sighed too early and the book keeps going, she'll just get bored and irritated. If she's held back, waiting for the big one, it may lose the impact when it does come. At the same time, you don't want an ending that's so abrupt that it gives you whiplash. Readers generally like a little wrapping up.

More literary stories may not provide closure at all, instead leaving things more ambiguous so that the reader gets to decide what really happened to the characters after the story. On the other extreme, romance novels may not only have the Return with the Elixir segment where the hero and heroine finally commit to each other, but they'll also have an epilogue showing the characters months or even years later as a happy couple, often with their children.

Next: Putting it all together and using this structure.