Thursday, March 31, 2011

Holding Out for a Hero

It turns out I made a major strategic error in part of the stuff I wrote in my Tuesday binge. I made a story decision that made sense at the time, but when I went a little further in the story, it turned out that it sapped a lot of the urgency from the following events. Something I did to get my characters out of one sticky situation ended up meaning they could pretty much stay out of sticky situations for the rest of the book (note to self: invulnerability is great for villains, horrible for heroes). So yesterday I had to figure out another way to get them out of the sticky situation so they could still stay in trouble for the rest of the book. I won't have that much that needs serious re-working, since I figured out the problem pretty quickly.

Something said in the comments of a post last week triggered a rant I've had building since a panel I was on at a convention last month, and then a fun link I found also fit into it, so I figured now's as good a time as any for it.

What happened to the heroes? I mean real heroes, not anti-heroes or heroes who are "heroes" only in the sense of being the main character. Real good guys, white hats who aren't almost as bad as the bad guys they're up against. That complaint came up in the things people are wanting in books but not really finding, and it came up as a digression in a panel on religion in fantasy when Tim Powers mentioned that there seem to be fewer main characters who live up to the ideals and values that might come from religion -- the virtuous people who are willing to lay down their lives for others or for the cause without having to be ironic about it. They are out there, but they're not really the vogue at the moment.

I think some of this trend dates back to the cynicism of the 60s and 70s when it became uncool to be earnest and sincere, and anyone who was earnest and sincere was probably a bad guy. This mindset has infiltrated the literary world and seems to come from the same place as the idea that happy endings are unrealistic. Likewise, they seem to believe that real heroes are unrealistic and don't exist anymore, if they ever did. We even get the deconstruction impulse, where heroic figures of the past have to be re-evaluated and all their petty sins exposed to show why they really weren't so great. See, there aren't any real heroes, after all, because even the people you thought were heroic were actually pretty bad.

But I read the newspaper every morning, and just about every day there's a brilliant example of the kind of heroism I like to see in characters. Not too long ago, there was the rookie cop in this area who'd responded to take a domestic violence complaint when the abuser abruptly returned home with a gun, and this young cop put herself between him and a young girl, so the child survived even though the man killed his girlfriend, the cop and himself. Or there's this story out of Japan, in which a man put on SCUBA gear immediately after the tsunami and dove into the tsunami waters to go find and rescue his family (profanity warning in the linked article -- the writer has a colorful way of expressing how impressed he is). Or a story last week about a little girl who allowed herself to be hit by a car in order to protect her little sister. Or a local news story a week or so ago about a man crashing his car due to a medical issue and the man in a nearby house who rushed outside and pulled the dazed man from the burning car before it exploded. These are all the kinds of people and deeds that the cynics would call "unrealistic," but they happen every single day.

The other impulse that seems to be at work here is the idea of making yourself look or feel better by looking down on other people rather than by improving yourself. That seems to be the appeal of so much of reality television -- hey, look at those idiots. I'm so much better than they are. Even on the competition shows that are supposed to be about rewarding excellence, there are all the ironic "vote for the worst" campaigns to keep truly untalented people on the show for more mocking opportunities. That seems to have spilled into fiction, with the loser or anti-hero as main character, giving the reader someone to look down on. Traditional heroes are aspirational -- they're smarter, braver or more skilled than most of us are, and they give us something to look up to.

That doesn't mean heroes are perfect. They can have flaws and weaknesses. They may be reluctant. They can make mistakes. They can stray from the path and be tempted to do the wrong thing or to take advantage of a situation for selfish gain. They may not even realize what they're capable of because they've never been tested. One of my favorite fictional tropes is the unlikely hero, the seemingly ordinary person who gets thrown into extraordinary circumstances and then discovers what kind of person he really is. I'm even a fan of the honorable thief, the Robin Hood type who robs from the rich and crooked to help the poor and helpless, or else the reformed thief who learns to use his skills for good. These are people with pasts who have been bad or who are in opposition to the status quo, but they are still highly skilled, and they still act honorably, in the grand scheme of things, even if they might not be following the letter of the law. In general, the heroes I like are basically good people who have the right motives in spite of their flaws, pasts, weaknesses and mistakes.

And that brings me to another side of this issue, moral relativism. I'm totally on board with developing villains as real characters and not just mustache-twirling cardboard cutouts. I agree that they should have some motivation -- but not to the point where they come across like some Dr. Doofenshmirtz evil scheme backstory, where everything they do is justified by some sad thing in their past (I expect the villain to justify and excuse himself, but I don't like it when the story or author seems to do so, when I feel like I'm supposed to feel like his past justifies his actions). And I accept the idea that the villain sees himself as the hero of his own story, that he's not doing these things just to be evil but that he has a purpose that he thinks is totally justified, even if that purpose is extremely selfish. But I keep hearing in writing seminars or panel discussions where authors will say that really the only difference between the hero and the villain is a matter of perspective based on whose story it is.

Uh, no. Sorry. If the only difference between the hero and the villain is whose point of view the story is in, then you don't really have a hero I want to read about. The bad guy and the good guy should be doing different things for different reasons, and even if they're doing some of the same things, they should be doing them in different ways and for different reasons. The good guy may have to kill people, but I would expect that he'd try to avoid hurting innocents while he's killing bad guys, and I would hope that he's doing all this for some greater good, that perhaps in the big picture more lives will be saved by defeating the bad guy. Meanwhile, the bad guy is more likely to kill indiscriminately and to do so for selfish motives. The good guy may not always follow the letter of the law, because the law can hide a lot of injustice and can be manipulated, but he's doing the things he's doing for reasons beyond himself or without darker motives like, say, racism or revenge.

If the protagonist of your story isn't heroic in this sense, he's still a villain even if he's the main character, and I want him to lose. Think about Macbeth -- Macbeth is the main character, but he's still the villain of the story because he does bad things for bad reasons, and he's ultimately defeated. He isn't a hero, in spite of being the main character and in spite of the story being told mostly from his point of view.

All of this was a big reason why fantasy fiction appealed to me in the first place. I wanted white knights on fiery steeds vanquishing evil. I wanted innocent farmboys who rose to the occasion when they were dragged into great events. I wanted to imagine that if such a thing ever happened to me, I would be able to live up to those examples.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Using Real Life in Fiction

Wow, when my subconscious decides to get going, it really gets going. After a week or so of struggling to write five to ten pages a day, I did thirty pages yesterday and probably could have done more, but I also had to finish a freelance project and then I was just too tired to spell words properly. My mom says I don't get writer's block, I get writer's logjam, so that once it's cleared, whole huge amounts of stuff then come pouring out. It's like ideas were building up and building up, but were stuck behind one part that wasn't working, and once that one part was figured out, then all the other ideas were free. I did find that things worked out in a totally different way than I'd planned, which I hope makes for some unexpected twists. Now I'm kind of curious how the rest of the story will go.

I'm now doing the "writing" part of a two-part post to answer a question. Last week, I talked about some of the elements of the Enchanted, Inc. series that were inspired by things in real life. Now I'll get into the writing part of the question, about how to use real-life elements in your fiction and where to draw the line between real life and fiction.

People are always telling aspiring writers to write what they know, and there is some truth to that. When you write from personal experience, your writing will likely be more vivid and will ring with truth. But that doesn't mean you have to write about your life, exactly. Your real life can inform and inspire your fiction without you having to write about people who are exactly like you and doing exactly the things you've experienced with people who are just like the ones in your life. In fact, it's probably better that you don't write a slightly fictionalized version of your own life story, unless you're a celebrity or have worked for someone famous so that people will buy your book expecting it to be just like the real story because they want a glimpse inside that world.

One reason for this is that, in fiction, the truth can be constraining. If you're too mentally tied to what really happened, that can keep you from writing something that's more interesting. Real life and fiction are two totally different things and have to work in different ways. Fiction has to make sense and be believable. With real life, there's usually evidence that forces us to believe what really happened, no matter how extraordinary or illogical it is. In fiction, there is no external evidence, so readers have to be able to believe it based purely on what's in the story. Characters have to have clear motivations that make some kind of sense within the world of the story, while real people don't always make sense. Real events seldom fall into a good, linear plot structure with rising and falling action and pacing that keeps events moving. If you're writing too directly from your own life, it may also be more difficult to be as objective as you need to be to tell a good story. You may end up creating a "Mary Sue" in the character based on yourself if you're afraid or unwilling to face negative aspects of yourself, let yourself be criticized by others or let anything bad happen to your story self.

"It really happened that way" can hold you back from really exploring the fictional possibilities of your story or from looking at it logically. I remember once doing a critique through a writing organization of a book that had the main character working as an up-and-coming criminal attorney downtown in a major city while living on and running a big ranch outside the city and also doing a lot of charity work and running for political office. I suggested that the author tone it down a little and pick one or two of those things to focus on because I didn't believe any one human being could do all that. I had friends who were up-and-coming attorneys, and they all worked about sixty to eighty hours a week. I also used to live on a very small cattle farm, with only a few cows that were practically pets, and I know how much time even that takes, so running a ranch is an even bigger job. Throw in the commute to get from downtown to a ranch, and there simply wouldn't be enough hours in a day. I got one of those snippy thank-you notes to the effect of "thank you for the critique, but here's why you're wrong" informing me that she knew one person could do all that because she'd based this character on a family member who had done all that. Never mind that it was some forty years earlier and he'd been in a small town instead of in a major city where it would be an hour-long (at least) commute to get from downtown to anything resembling a ranch. But the bottom line was, I didn't care if it had really happened or how it really happened. I didn't believe it as a reader, based on what I knew to be true and based on what was in the story the way she'd written it, and this author was so tied to the "it really happened" thing that she didn't try to make it believable in the context of the story. You can't stick newspaper clippings into your book to prove that the thing in your book really could happen. A note about a historical oddity that inspired your story is one thing, but you still have to make the story work in a way that readers would believe even if they didn't see the note.

But where real life can help is when you use it in bits and pieces. I often say that I take pieces of my life and throw them into a blender with lots of fictional stuff, and then out comes a story. I may never have been in the exact same situation as the characters in my books, but I have been through things that gave me the kinds of feelings they might have had, and I can draw upon my experiences to write about the way the characters are feeling and reacting. I've had my heart broken, I've fallen in love, I've lost people and things I care about, I've been scared, I've been elated, I've been disappointed. I can take those emotions and use them in my writing to convey what's going on with my characters, even if the situations are very different. I can take sadness caused by one thing and use it to write the way a character feels because of an entirely different thing.

People are always asking me if the heroine of my series is based on me, since she does have a lot in common with me, but I say that all my characters are somewhat based on me because I'm the only person I know from the inside out. I can try putting myself in other people's shoes, but it's still going to end up being based on my own responses and experiences. I may use different facets of myself for different characters, and always mixed in with a lot of fictional stuff so that none of them are really "me." I may like or identify with some characters more than others, but I try to be objective enough to be willing to do what's necessary with all of them.

I can also take little details from reality and weave them into a story to create a sense of verisimilitude. For instance, in order to motivate the heroine of my Enchanted, Inc. series to respond to a fairly dodgy job offer and set the story in motion, I gave her a truly awful boss. I took details from all the awful people I've ever worked with or for and blended them together, along with lots of fictional details, to create the Boss From Hell. I get a lot of e-mails from readers who completely relate to having that boss or who claim that I had to have based that character on their boss. Although the character is entirely fictional, there are little things about her that are based directly on reality. I don't think the character would have worked nearly as well if I'd just taken any one real person and changed a few details to mask her identity but otherwise made her exactly as she was in real life. By blending true details from a variety of sources with fiction, I created a character that is somewhat believable (if a bit over the top) but that is also universally recognized, since everyone seems to have worked for someone kind of like this.

I've done similar things by choosing telling details from real events and adding them to fictional events in my books. An annoying aspect of a particular blind date ended up being part of an excruciating blind date in a book. I didn't re-create that real date. I merely used it as a starting point for a fictional event with a core of truth. You're not even limited by your own experiences. I may not have climbed Mr. Everest, but I've done things that were physically draining and exhausting but that led to a sense of extreme achievement, and I've been cold. I can take that, expand and enlarge it, maybe use some research from reading about people who've really done it, stir it all together in my imagination, and the result may be something that feels real, even if it isn't.

From a legal standpoint, be careful about basing characters directly on real people in a way that might make them identifiable. If it's way too obvious that a character is essentially a not-very-fictionalized version of a real person, to the point that people who know them can recognize them in the book, even if they don't know that you (the author) know the person, I'm not sure the "this book is fiction and none of the characters are real" disclaimer at the beginning will protect you. Steal a detail or two, but don't just use the real person as a character. Those thinly veiled celebrity "novels" get away with it because their fictionalized real people are usually based on public figures, and there's a different standard for proving libel for a public figure. Most of those also might fall into the realm of "satire," especially since it's a satire of a public figure. If a private citizen is recognizable in a novel in a way that could harm that person's business or reputation, there could still be trouble. I'm not a lawyer and this isn't hard-and-fast legal advice, but it is something you should probably think about before making your ex-boyfriend the villain in your next book. Besides, your ex-boyfriend probably isn't interesting enough to make a good villain unless you mix in a lot of fiction. You'd need to give him goals and stronger motivations, and conflicts that tie into those goals and motivations.

I would say you've used too much real life when it gets in the way of a good story. If you can't bring yourself to make some needed story event happen because it isn't the way it really happened (unless you're writing about a particular historical event) or because you relate the characters too closely to real people to allow that thing to happen, you're too close to real life. If a character needs to die, it shouldn't matter if he was inspired by your best friend. If a character needs to succeed, it shouldn't matter if he was inspired by the ex you want to see fail. Your novel shouldn't be your therapy. If you need to write about your evil ex getting run over by trains after numerous public humiliations, then write it, but keep it to yourself and keep it out of your novel unless that's really and truly what an objective person would say the story needs. If you need to write about yourself triumphing over all, again, that's something for your diary, not for your novel.

I'm open to other questions about writing, both the craft and the business.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Report: Really Random Stuff

I think my subconscious took over again yesterday. After a truly epic burst of procrastination, when I finally got down to work I ended up coming up with something I didn't really expect that's now going to lead into something that could be ridiculously fun. Like, I was cackling to myself when I saw it coming.

There's no way to find a theme for this week's book report, since my reading was so varied last week, so I'll just dive in.

First, there was Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Danny Danziger. I requested this from the central library based on the title because I thought it would be something that I needed as a reference for something I'm working on, and because the library's online catalogue doesn't give much in the way of details, it turned out not to be what I needed at all when I picked it up. But I read it anyway, and I'm so glad I did because it was a fascinating book. It's a collection of first-person accounts transcribed from interviews with a variety of people who work at or who are involved with the museum, ranging from curators to janitors, trustees to security guards. The people talk about their jobs at the museum or their roles with the museum and how they came about, as well as their own lives and interests. Interestingly enough, some of the more intriguing stories are from the non-art people who could do pretty much the same kind of work at any other place.

It reminded me of a project I used to do in my first job out of college. I was working at a major academic medical center (medical school, biomedical sciences graduate school, health professions school, research labs, multiple hospitals and clinics, all combined in one huge institution), and my main job was being first the assistant editor and later the editor of the campus newspaper. Every year, there was an employee recognition issue, honoring the non-faculty employees celebrating milestone years (like 20 years, 25 years, etc.). These were the people who weren't doctors or scientists but who had still devoted their lives to this medical center -- people like secretaries, campus police and the people who washed glassware for the labs. It was pretty much my favorite part of the year because I got to go out and talk to these people and hear their stories. You could probably do a book like that about the medical center, or about any place, and the people who get the least glory or recognition at work are often the most interesting as people because they have full lives away from work. Instead of their jobs being their lives, their lives are their lives.

This book also made me want to go back to the museum. I've been once. I'd spent the early part of the day at the Cloisters, but since your admission to one museum gets you into the other on the same day, I decided to stop by the main museum on my way back downtown. I occasionally have museum issues, so that certain types of large art museums will suddenly get to me severely, and I have to get out NOW. I need the emergency exits like they have at haunted houses that allow them to get people out without making them go through the whole thing. It gets much worse if the place is crowded. I'd been fine in the Cloisters because it was practically empty and it's not laid out like a regular museum, but the big museum was very crowded because it was spring break and every school tour group that had taken a trip to New York for spring break was in the museum that day. I made it through the medieval collection and some of the arms and armor and then had the sudden "Get me out of here!" freak out but couldn't find my way out easily so I had to go through a lot more galleries to get back to the front so I could escape. I'm also not a very visual person, so I don't always connect well to art. I love the historic items, but I need words to really get art. For instance, the episode of Doctor Who about Vincent Van Gogh where Vincent makes them look at the stars was the first time I totally got that painting. I don't know how accurate that was to the real intent, but that speech helped me really see the painting. Now after reading this book, where the curators talked about their favorite pieces in the museum, I want to go to the museum again and look at those pieces because I think I'll get them now. I also want to meet some of these people from the book. And the book kind of made me want to try to get a job there. It would be so cool to passionately believe in the place you work like that. I guess I had some of that working for the medical school, but you don't get that working in a PR agency because the clients come and go and turn on you very easily.

Then over the weekend, I read the last Dick Francis book, co-authored with his son Felix and published after his death. It looks like Felix will be continuing as a solo act, but with the Dick Francis brand (there's a book listed as Dick Francis' Gamble, by Felix Francis, on Amazon, scheduled for release this summer -- no indication whether that's just a branding thing like all the "James Patterson" books written by other people or if it's Felix writing a book his father planned before his death so that Dick Francis gets some credit even if the book isn't actually written by him). I'm kind of guessing that this last book was mostly Felix because it felt different. Not in a bad way, but every author has a particular voice that's almost impossible to duplicate, and while the three previous collaborations have felt more like classic Dick Francis, this book felt like it was written by a slightly different person. It still scratches all the Dick Francis book itches and has everything I've loved about those books, so I'm thrilled that Felix is continuing the legacy. This book's hero is an Afghan war vet who's recuperating after losing a foot to an IED. Since the army has been his life, the only place he has to go is to the home of his mother, a famous racehorse trainer, with whom his relationship has always been rather icy. He discovers while he's there that his mother is in some kind of trouble, and out of sheer boredom from the lack of military objectives, he takes on the task of figuring things out, treating it all like a military campaign. This was practically a one-sitting read and the perfect thing for a cool, drizzly Sunday afternoon. Part of me wanted to savor it more, with the knowledge that it was the end of an era, but you just can't "savor" a Francis book the first time through. You can only devour.

And now it's another day of good writing weather, and I think I can write a bit more before my subconscious puts me on "pause" again. It's a pity I can't just extract my subconscious from my conscious brain and then plug it directly into the computer. I find myself saying, "Do I really need to be here for this?" But, alas, the subconscious has no fingers and needs me to type.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Movie Monday: Road Trips

We seem to be having our annual spring cold snap. I've heard the term "Indian summer" used for a warm spell that comes in the fall after it's started to get cool, but is there a term for winter-like cool weather that comes in the spring after it's started to get warm? Saturday, it was in the 80s. I opened windows, turned on fans and spent much of the day pulling weeds and trimming the evil alien vines on my patio. Sunday, the high temperature was 51. I spent much of the day curled up under a blanket with some tea and the latest (and last!) Dick Francis book. It was bliss. This is what I call "writing weather," so I'm hoping to be productive today.

I wasn't that productive over the weekend, aside from Sunday night, when I sat down and wrote ten pages. Saturday night I gave up on trying to focus and was going to watch the Sci Fi Saturday night movie, but ended up with something just as hilariously awful on another channel. Back in December, there was a romantic comedy called How Do You Know starring Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd. In the promo for this movie, somehow it never came up that they'd co-starred in a romantic comedy before. I'd never even heard of this movie, and I read all the movie reviews, so I wonder if it ever got released in any significant way. The movie, called Overnight Delivery, was from 1998, and it's this bizarre combination of The Sure Thing and Better Off Dead. If that combo wasn't intentional, then the filmmakers had seen these movies way too many times and the influence seeped into their subconscious.

Paul Rudd is a college student trying to maintain a long-distance relationship with his high-school girlfriend while he's in school in Minnesota and she's in school in Memphis. He has his whole future with her planned -- marriage, white picket fence, family. But he's getting lonely, with Valentine's Day approaching, and when his roommates tease him about what his girlfriend might really be up to, he calls her. Her roommate answers, and before finding out who the caller is, she launches into a rant about what her roommate has been up to with some guy and there's finally some quiet now that she's out with him. He's devastated by the discovery that his girlfriend's cheating on him and ends up pouring his heart out to a fellow student (a brunette Reese Witherspoon). He wants advice on winning his girlfriend back, but she says what he needs to do is dump her in a pre-emptive strike, before she can dump him and before she knows that he knows what she's been up to. Together, they write a scathing break-up letter, and then she helps him stage a sexy Polaroid of them together. For the finishing touch, they take it to the express delivery drop box. It'll be picked up the next morning, then delivered the following day, which is Valentine's Day. But then the next morning he wakes up to find a message on his answering machine from his girlfriend. She talks about how she's dog sitting and was out walking the dog, which has the name the roommate mentioned. It was all a misunderstanding! In a panic, he begs his partner in crime to help him, and they end up on an epic, disastrous road trip to try to intercept the package or get there before it does. It Happened One Night (or, really, the 80s update The Sure Thing) ensues. If you've ever seen a road trip movie before, you pretty much know exactly what will happen along the way.

The similarities to The Sure Thing are obvious, with the road trip with one girl while heading to see another girl. Then there are touches of bizarre absurdity like in Better Off Dead. Instead of the relentless pursuit by the paperboy, there's the Terminator-like relentlessness of the delivery driver who has the package. He's a rookie on his first solo run, and he's convinced that their attempts to retrieve the package are a final test, so he's determined to deliver that particular package if it's the last thing he does. The reason they don't just fly and that the express packages aren't flown comes from another bizarre fit of absurdity that seems to come out of nowhere. I mentioned when talking about How Do You Know that Paul Rudd does some of the best meltdown freakouts in the business, and he got plenty of practice in this movie because he spends most of the movie in that state. I was rather impressed by Reese Witherspoon because she was playing a character totally unlike any other role I've seen her in. She really doesn't have a standard "type" she plays. Even her romantic comedy roles are all different. This was a pretty awful movie, but it was good for a mindless Saturday night in front of the TV. I think I'd have been disgusted if I'd paid to see it in a theater, but for a Saturday night with nothing else on TV, it was kind of fun.

But this did make me wonder where the line comes between expectations and cliches. Yes, the same sorts of things happen in every movie of this type, but there's not a lot of room to maneuver without disappointing the audience. Of course the travelers have to be opposites who disagree on things because there wouldn't be much of a story if they got along perfectly and spent the trip singing to the radio together or discussing their favorite movies. Of course disasters have to happen, getting worse as the story progresses, until they reach the point where they have no money, they've lost their luggage and they've lost their transportation and are in the middle of nowhere with only hours to go before their deadline. It would be a boring story if they just drove across country, stopping every so often for food and gas. And you pretty much expect the travelers to end up together because it would feel like a letdown if you'd spent so much time watching them face adversity together, only to have them part at the end.

Though I suppose you might be able to get away with having them turn out to be kindred spirits who get along perfectly if you've got some external conflict, like their rental car was last rented by someone the mob was chasing, and the mob thinks something crucial is hidden in it. And then the fact that they do get along so well might end up creating internal conflict if one of them is actually involved with someone else and finding the perfect person really complicates matters. There are probably more disasters and different kinds of disasters than the standard ones that seem to come up over and over again in these kinds of movies. I do have to give this one credit for avoiding the "We can only afford one hotel room, and there's only one bed! Whatever shall we do?" scenario or the related scenario of having to pretend to be married to each other to get that hotel room.

Yikes. Now I want to try to write a road trip story, just to see if I could get away with doing it differently. I'd have to figure out a way to add magic, though.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Buying Patterns (or Where are the Books I Want?)

After I posted last week about getting into Parks and Recreation (the TV series), it looks like I'm not alone in liking the "niceness" of it. I found this article about how refreshing the "niceness" is. It's not treacly nice, just people I wouldn't mind knowing in real life. And was I the only one sobbing at the end of The Office? They totally got me. I'm not sure about the new boss they announced (and I'm surprised by the fact that I haven't heard any mention of that online yet -- was I the only one who saw that promo?).

Anyway, that talk of how refreshing nice can be, combined with thinking about that Publisher's Weekly survey on book purchasing I posted yesterday, along with the general discussion/debate about the role of publishers and what authors can do, thanks to the Digital Revolution, has got all kinds of thoughts and theories swirling around in my brain.

One thing I'm realizing is that for me, at least, the major publishers are Doing it Wrong -- and I'm talking about me as a reader, not as a writer. I don't know if it's trend chasing, doom-loop thinking, making decisions based purely on numbers, groupthink from a narrow demographic, or what, but I'm not getting what I want out of the major publishers these days. When answering that survey, I found that I'd bought six SF/F books last year (not counting books by Terry Pratchett -- with as much re-reading as I do, and with my mom and me pooling our collection and frequently swapping, I can't really tell what I bought, when). The Borders where I usually shop is one of the ones being closed, and I haven't bothered to go up there to hit the going-out-of-business sale because I couldn't think of anything I desperately wanted to buy. I have a Visa gift card from a rebate that I need to use and am planning to do a big Amazon order, but it will all be DVDs and music, not books, because there isn't a book I want to buy right now.

And yet, I'm a voracious reader. I read more than a hundred books a year. Why am I not buying books? One reason is that the library is more convenient for me than any bookstore, since the library is a couple of blocks from my house, and I can go online and reserve any book I want from within the system and then pick it up at my neighborhood branch. I have to get in a car to buy a book (or wait for Amazon to deliver it). Since my bookshelves runneth over, if I can get a book from the library, I will. My book purchases tend to be either things that just aren't available from the library (mostly mass-market paperback originals) or that I've read from the library, loved, and want a keeper copy for re-reading when it comes out in paperback. Book prices also have something to do with it. The mass-market format is priced in the $8 range these days, so even that's not so much a impulse purchase of the "hmmm, this could be interesting, I'll give it a shot" variety. And then that format is dying out, with more stuff coming out in trade paperback. That's even less of a "what the heck, I'll give it a shot" purchase. That's why I get most of my books from the library for either trying out a new author, reading the hardcover before the paperback becomes available, or for reading something I know I'll have no desire to own (like a lot of the books I read to see what's happening in the market).

But it's not just a price/practicality thing. Even when I go to the bookstore, I have a hard time finding things that suit me. I may not have a current "favorite" TV series, but I do think current TV has more things that are to my taste than current publishing does. The USA originals and the channel formerly known as Sci Fi's summer line-up are right up my alley -- fun and quirky, characters I like, not too dark but still able to deal with some serious stuff. And, I guess, edited for television, without a lot of nudity, profanity, graphic sex or violence. It's hard to find books like that. I used to read a lot of romance but now mostly read Georgette Heyer to get my romance fix since romance today seems to be going for super-hot (which means that they seem to be leaving out all other aspects of relationship development -- if they have fun in bed, that seems to be all that matters). Fantasy seems to be trying to out-dark itself, with "gritty" being the key word -- with a few exceptions that I do rush out to buy. I can't take the sexy monsters or the "we're all going to die of global warming and reality television" dystopias. I love the idea of steampunk, since I've always been a big fan of Victoriana, but I haven't yet found the book that fully lives up to the promise of what I think the genre can be -- aside from those written by Jules Verne.

Of those six books I bought last year, one was a keeper copy of a book I read in hardcover from the library after its initial release. One was something I was reading for market research purposes that the library didn't have and that I now wish I hadn't spent money on (it sounded good, or I wouldn't have bought it, but ended up being kind of icky). One was the latest book in a series I've been enjoying. Three were a new series, where I bought the first one, liked it, then bought the next two when they came out. There is a possibility that I bought more books that I haven't read yet, since I'm going off my reading list.

So, add up the high prices and the lack of availability of what I want, and I won't be buying a lot of books. There are still tons of older books I haven't read, so I won't run out of reading material. I can see where this could also be what leads to that e-publishing revolution. A $2.99 e-book brings you back into the realm of impulse purchases where you're willing to try a new author. It used to be that the publishers served as some kind of guarantee of quality, but if they become gatekeepers to keep out anything outside their narrow range of interest, then you might find more variety outside their gates. They're so timid these days about purchasing decisions that it may reach a point where they use the self-published market as the "farm team," and then only publish the authors who have been extremely successful on their own. It may be the need for something new to read that eventually drives me to buy an e-reader, since the stuff I might like probably won't be published in print.

Now, my question of the day for my legion of minions/adoring readers/people who stumbled upon my blog/people who are very bored and procrastinating: What are you looking for in books that you aren't finding at the moment? Do you have some reading need that isn't being served?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Links Galore -- TV, Movie, Book Stuff

I was at my desk before 9 a.m. today. That just seems wrong. Let's hope it means I get more done today. Yesterday, I reached the halfway point in the book, but now I have to figure out how to get my characters out of the very sticky situation I've put them in, and every idea I've come up with only makes the situation worse. Bad situations are good in fiction, but I do eventually have to get them out of this instead of just piling on more bad stuff. However, we do have zombie gargoyles, which makes everything more fun. As much as I love gargoyles, the only way to make them more fun was to add the "zombie" part.

I'm not normally a big "fun with linky things" person, but there's so much fun news out there that I had to share. I tried to do the links so they'd open new windows/tabs so you can follow them without losing your place.

First, a bit of nostalgia for people of a certain age. Back in the Dark Ages when I was in elementary school (and I think on into junior high, maybe even early in high school), one of my absolute favorite things was the school book order. Every so often -- I don't remember if it was monthly or quarterly or on some other schedule -- you'd get this little newsletter-like catalogue, full of books you could order. They were mostly children's books (naturally), and since the order form was from Scholastic, I suspect most were published by Scholastic, though I did get my novelization of Star Wars through a school book order. The books were pretty cheap, in the dollar range. And if you bought a certain number of books, you usually got a free poster (ooh!). The day when the book order came in and the teacher passed out the books was like Christmas. Someone has digitized some old book order forms. Those are from after my time, but boy, do they make me long for book orders again. Hmm, I suppose that's kind of what Amazon is, the world's largest book order catalogue, only instead of your teacher passing out the books when they come in, your mailman delivers them. And the books are more expensive than a dollar (though I bet the school book order books aren't that cheap these days). And you don't get a free poster of cute kittens or puppies and some funny saying when you order five books from Amazon. They should totally start doing that, though.

Then in TV news, the channel formerly known as SciFi has announced their upcoming programming. As usual, some of it sounds intriguing (like the series about the first Cylon war in the Battlestar Galactica universe) and some of it sounds awful (their attempted reality shows). The movies sound like their typical "so bad it's good" Saturday-night fare. The thing I'm most excited about is that I get my Christmas wish to have a Christmas episode of Haven this year. I can only imagine the potential insanity there, and you know both Audrey and Nathan probably have serious holiday-related issues. Here's the scoop on all of it.

The next one is one that has the potential to be so very cool, but I'm also worried about how it will really work. Do you like crime procedural shows on TV? Or are you sick of them? Well, what would you say to one more, if it's a crime procedural show about the City Watch from Terry Pratchett's Discworld books? One is being developed by Monty Python's Terry Jones. It sounds like it's based on the characters and situations but without being directly based on the stories in any of the books. They're going to treat it like a regular crime-of-the-week police procedural series, only it will be set in Discworld, the cops will be the familiar Watch characters, and the forensics specialist is Igor. Here's the scoop, including the news release. From the sounds of it, it's just in development with interest from networks but no commitments. Meanwhile, Battlestar Galactica's Ron Moore is developing a supernatural/magic cop show called something like 17th Precinct. The last I've heard, NBC had ordered a pilot. It's "an ensemble police drama set in a world ruled by magic." The cast includes a lot of BSG names, like James Callis (Baltar), Tricia Helfer (Number Six) and Jamie Bamber (Lee). No word yet on whether Callis and Bamber will play British or American, but I'm pulling for British.

In movie news, although the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie seemed to be setting up The Silver Chair, they've just announced that the next Narnia movie will be The Magician's Nephew, the Narnia prequel that shows how it all began. I'm a little irked because The Silver Chair was my favorite of the books, and I really want to see that movie, but part of me is kind of hoping that this means they're letting the kid who played Eustace grow up a little so they can add a subtle romantic element to the relationship between Eustace and Jill when they make The Silver Chair. I know it's not canon to the book, though I always liked to think of it that way, but I think it would add something to the movie, since the entire story is those two stuck together on a long journey. It's a natural set-up for them to first become friends, then to start developing other feelings.

Finally, the folks at Publisher's Weekly are doing a survey on habits in purchasing fantasy and science fiction books, and they asked for help spreading the word to get more people to take it. You can find the survey here. The survey's mostly about e-books vs. paper.

I feel like such a luddite here, as I don't really do e-books. I've read a couple of things from Project Gutenberg that I couldn't get anywhere else, mostly for reference. I do have an e-reader app on my Android phone and am very slowly working my way through David Copperfield whenever I find myself in a waiting situation. The phone is a little small for comfortable long-term reading, but I can't help but think of the number of books I could buy with the money I would spend on an e-reader device. If you normally buy a lot of hardcovers, then the cost difference might add up pretty quickly, but my reading tends to run to mass-market paperback, and it would take years worth of book purchases to even out the cost of the reader. I suppose if I traveled more often it would be something I would consider, or if the books I wanted started being only available electronically, but for the moment, I'm almost entirely paper.

But I'm curious about my readership here. I won't try to do a fancy poll, but do you do e-books or paper? How recently did you make the transition? Are you moving to e-books? There's a lot of stuff going on in the publishing world these days, with the big publishers starting to do some e-only books as a way of testing the waters before they commit to a print edition, then there are authors who are leaving traditional publishing entirely to publish themselves electronically. I just wonder how much of the market they're potentially leaving behind and whether that would hold true for my readership (not that I've got any big plans in the immediate works, but the Ongoing Plan for World Domination is a long-range plan).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Real Life and Enchanted, Inc.

I seem to be doing my usual annual thing of getting up earlier following the spring time change, even though this is the change that makes mornings come "earlier." It must just sync with my body clock so that I naturally wake up at a time that before the time change feels way too early to get up, so I go back to sleep, but now it seems reasonable to just hop out of bed. Anyway, I got into my office this morning and was stunned by the amount/angle of sunlight, since I'm not used to seeing my office at this hour of the morning. We'll see if this leads to greater productivity. Yesterday, I did actual writing work before noon, which seldom happens, and I'm on target to do it again today.

This week's Enchanted, Inc. question was something that I think was posed as a writing question, but I'm going to handle it in two parts. This week, I'll talk about the Enchanted, Inc. specifics, then I'll address it as a writing how-to next week.

The question was about the boundary between fiction and the elements I take from my own life. There are some obvious things in the Enchanted, Inc. books that match my life, but where do I draw the line?

I mostly draw upon my own experiences as inspiration or background for things in my books instead of directly basing the books on anything from my life. Here are some of the things that were inspired by or influenced by real-life elements -- and some things you might think are but that aren't.

First of all, Katie really isn't me. She isn't even based on me. We do have some things in common, but she's not the character most like me, personality-wise, and I don't see her as my representative in the story. The truth is, all the characters have some basis in me because I'm the only person I know from the inside out. Like Katie, I'm from a small town in Texas. Sort of. I was actually born in Oklahoma, so I'm not a Texan by birth. I'm an Army brat, so I grew up moving around a lot, living in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado and Germany. I only lived in a small Texas town during my high school years, but my parents still live there, so I still get plenty of small-town exposure. My parents are from small towns/rural areas in Louisiana, so I probably did pick up some of that mindset and background during my childhood. I have lived most of my life in Texas now, so I guess I think like a Texan and have that perspective on the world, even if my passport says I'm from Oklahoma.

Katie had a pretty sheltered upbringing, never getting too far from her hometown until she went to college and then later went to New York, while I'd lived overseas before moving to a small town. I am insanely practical, so that trait does come from me, and I have a similar pre-Owen dating life to Katie, in that I've often been the "little sister" or "one of the guys" that no one thinks about as a potential date. Katie is a lot snarkier than I am, or at least she says the things I think but don't say. I'm always surprised when that starts coming out every time I start a new book from her perspective. People say I talk like I write, but I feel a big difference between her voice and my voice. I certainly have my moments when I unleash the snark, but I think I'm mostly a bit nicer than she is. I do seem to give her a few of my tastes and opinions.

The character whose personality most resembles mine is actually Owen, which I didn't realize until I'd written three books. I'm not a ridiculously gorgeous, wealthy, male wizard, but I can be that shy when I'm not in my comfort zone. I can go into "author mode" the way he goes into "business mode" and be fine, but socially, until and unless I reach a point of comfort with someone, I may not be able to talk at all. In fact, that's a pretty good way to tell whether I'm attracted to someone. If I chat easily, I'm probably not. If I'm attracted, I'm more likely to flee (which explains why I'm still single). I blush furiously and have fair skin that makes that obvious. My normal sense of humor is closer to his dry understatement than Katie's outright snark. And I'm a terrible slob, especially where books and paper are concerned.

Although I come from a small Texas town, Katie's hometown is not based on my hometown. It's a different kind of town in a different part of the state, and it maps geographically to a real town -- both in location and rough layout. In the real town, there's a courthouse, grocery store, Dairy Queen and motel in approximately the same places as they are in the book, and there is a creek running through the town, but since I've only passed through that town and made Dairy Queen stops there, I don't know if anything else is similar. I just took that physical framework and then built my own town on it. I did use my own knowledge and experiences from living in a small town to build my fictional town and populate it, but I don't have the experience of living in a town where I grew up and where my family is from, so I had to guess at what that was like. Everywhere I've ever lived, I've always been a newcomer/outsider, so maybe I was pouring the occasional longing I've had for roots into that part of the story. If you've got a map of Texas, a copy of Don't Hex with Texas and are familiar with the works of Joss Whedon (or the career of Adam Baldwin), you may be able to figure out which town served as the model for Katie's hometown. There's an inside joke there.

I got the idea about the group of college friends from Texas moving to New York from some people I knew in college. I overheard a lot of conversations from some girls a year ahead of me in the news lab. They'd decided that if they didn't go to New York right after college, they might never go, so they were all going together, getting whatever jobs they could find. At first they were looking at two-bedroom apartments, but they realized that was more than they could afford if they wanted to live in a reasonably nice part of Manhattan, so they were then looking at one-bedroom apartments, with a sofa bed in the living room. I was fascinated by these conversations because the idea of doing what they were planning was both terrifying and exciting. I kind of envied them for having the guts and the group of friends to do that with. So, that became the group of friends that Katie eventually joined when one of them got married and they needed to fill a space in the apartment. I didn't realize it until much later, after people started raising casting suggestions, but there's a lot of one of my college roommates in Gemma. She was a model and a drama major, and in my mind's eye, Gemma looks a lot like her. I didn't plan this, though.

Gregor, the boss who turns into an ogre when he's angry, was inspired by an actual boss I had -- or, at least, the way I felt about him when I first started working for him. He just turned purple instead of turning green and spouting fangs, but that was very much what he was like. Once I figured him out, I got along pretty well with him and ended up working for him as a freelancer for years. But at first, it was pretty rocky, and I remembered the terror of my boss suddenly changing before my eyes when something set him off.

Mimi is something of a composite character, based on some clients I've had. The dithering, wait-til-the-last-minute and then change her mind part of Mimi comes from one former client who really wasn't that evil. She was just annoying. She was the kind of person who enjoys the last-minute rush of barely meeting a deadline. She pretty much planned things so that we'd just barely make the last FedEx deadline, the one where you have to go to the airport and drop off the package at the FedEx office just before they put it on the plane. She thought that meeting at the office on a Saturday to stuff press kits was fun, and she loved all-night press-kit stuffing parties in someone's hotel room at trade shows. If you tried to get ahead of things and have some things done ahead of time, she'd change her mind (and not tell you) so that it had to be re-done at the last minute, anyway. I ended up working with her as a freelancer, too, and we were on good terms, even if there had been moments when I could have cheerfully killed her. Another person who went into Mimi was a client who really was evil and/or crazy. She was so bad that we resigned the account rather than deal with her anymore -- and that was after we started tape recording meetings with her because she would claim to have asked for things that she never mentioned and then complain when we didn't do those things. I think she worked through every agency in town until she reached the point where no one would submit proposals to work with her. I pretty much threw every bad working experience I ever had into Mimi. There are a few other people from my life who found their way into aspects of Mimi, but even suggesting who they might be would make them too identifiable, so I'll just leave it at that. For a while, I was starting to think that one of the Mimi inspirations had some kind of psychic link to me because just about every time I wrote a scene containing Mimi, the next day I'd get a call or e-mail from her and I'd think, "I summoned her!"

Incidentally, I was trying to make it so that Mimi had a cameo appearance in every book, which was a challenge in the fourth book that took place in Texas. I initially had a scene where Katie is walking past the TV while her dad is watching the news, and Mimi is being interviewed, but I ended up cutting that scene. I do have plans for Mimi if I get a chance to take the series that far.

The bad blind date where the guy wouldn't talk at all (from the first book) actually happened to me. I've also had the dilemma of trying to find a Christmas present for a guy I just started dating at the beginning of the Christmas season.

The weird stuff happening on the subway was inspired by the incident when I was visiting New York to research the first book and an entire mariachi band entered the subway car I was on and played -- and no one seemed to notice. A mariachi band is not quiet, especially not in a narrow, enclosed space, and yet people didn't even turn around.

Nita from the fourth book was partially inspired by a friend from college, a first-generation Indian-American who would every so often get a burger for dinner and talk about how her dad wouldn't understand. I also picked up bits and pieces from my neighborhood. I live in a very Indian neighborhood, so I see these young Indian women in the library, checking out stacks of chick lit and romance novels. I've found that if you stay in a motel in a small town in Texas, the manager/owner is most likely Indian, and it's a family operation, so that seemed like a way that Nita's family would have fit into that small town. I guess I eavesdrop a lot to pick up on bits of conversation from families around the neighborhood, and all that went into Nita and her family.

Owen's cat was based on my neighbor's cat, who was oddly fascinated with me. She sat in the window and watched me constantly, and if she ever got out of the house, she'd end up on my front porch.

Those are the specific real-life things that I can recall putting into the books. There may be others, and sometimes it's not even something I'm aware of doing. Next week, I'll talk about using real-life stuff in books on a more general basis.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Life as a Lifetime Movie

I was so amazingly productive yesterday -- I ran an errand, got some exercise, did a ton of laundry, revised the last few chapters on the current project, planned the next chapter or so, wrote quite a bit and did a freelance project. Plus, I started the writing work before noon, which I believe is a sure sign of an impending apocalypse or else a sign of serious illness.

In other news, they've released a teaser for the next (and last!) Harry Potter movie. Here it is on YouTube.

And I've heard that they're making a Lifetime biopic movie about JK Rowling, focusing on her days as a struggling single mother writing the book that would end up making her a billionaire. I may actually watch that just to see how they manage to make the life of an author exciting enough for a movie. If they made a movie about me, it would be horribly dull, and I had a very similar path, aside from the child and the extreme success. But I was a moderately struggling unemployed single woman when I wrote my book that launched a series. I didn't have responsibility for a child, but I also wasn't able to rely on public assistance during that time. Any money I got, I had to earn for myself (I mostly lived on my savings). I suppose you could turn my story into a comedy and show me meeting with my oddball array of marketing clients while fretting that this was taking me away from my book. I did have several people close to me die of cancer during the process, to add some drama. There was one who died while I was writing the book, and I remember coming home from singing for her funeral to sit down and get back to writing. Then I had two aunts die (one of cancer) right around the time the first book was released, and I missed one of the funerals because I had a booksigning in another city the same weekend, and the family encouraged me to go to the signing because that's what she'd have wanted, and she would have been so proud. And then the friend who was my beta reader on the first two books died before the second book was published (while I was writing the third, which is probably why that one is a little darker).

You know, my story might make a good movie, after all, even if most of the suffering happened to people around me. Of course, I'd have to achieve something like World Domination in order for anyone to care enough to make a movie. Going from not quite rags to so-so success isn't all that interesting. They'd have to change the ending of the biopic. Or maybe I need to change the ending, myself. The real story would be the comeback, not the initial burst of success. At the rate my career has gone, I'm going to have more comebacks than Shirley MacLaine (or does anyone joke about her infamous string of past lives anymore? That was mostly an 80s thing, I think).

Apparently, Kristen Wiig would have to play me. People are always telling me that I remind them of her. I'm not sure I see it, but apparently it also has to do with personality.

Not that I would want a Lifetime movie made about me. The JK Rowling one is unauthorized. I just wouldn't mind the kind of success that might make someone want to do something like that. I do wonder if the core of Rowling's fan base would ever watch a Lifetime movie.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Movie: Beastly

I think I've reached the insane obsession phase of the writing process, as I made a lot of progress on the book over the weekend and can see what's ahead of me more clearly now.

As I mentioned last week, I went with some friends to see the movie Beastly. I'd read the book a few years ago and was curious about how they turned it into a movie. This is basically a modern telling of the Beauty and the Beast story. A rich, superficial jerk plays a cruel prank on the wrong goth chick and finds himself turned into a hideous monster, and he has one year to find someone who can love him even in that state, or it will last forever. His best hope is the brainy scholarship girl who seemed to find something to like in him other than his wealth and his looks, even when he was being a jerk. So, he comes up with a scheme to get close to her.

Possibly the biggest change between the book and the movie is that he's not such a hideous monster. They pretty much just turned him into a tattooed indie rock star. Or, as one of my friends remarked, "They should have at least taken away the six-pack abs if they were making him ugly -- like, give him a flabby belly, or something." But no, the "hideous beast" was a ridiculously built (and frequently shirtless) guy with swirling tattoos all over his body and face. He looked like he belonged on an album cover. I'm sure there are parts of New York where he could have gone and had women hanging all over him. It's been a while since I read the book, but I think they also significantly changed the last part leading up to the ending (the death/resurrection part of the hero's journey) in a way that made it a lot more shallow and trite. It seemed to just end without dealing with an issue that I would have thought would have been a pretty big deal.

The movie also left out my favorite aspect of the book, though I'm not sure how they would have conveyed that on film. In the book, the guy first decides to try meeting someone online, since then no one will know what he looks like. As in the Disney version, he has a magic mirror that allows him to see anyone he wants, and he uses it to get a look at the people he's chatting with online. Thematically, it shows that he's still shallow and rather hypocritical, since he's expecting them not to care what he looks like but he wants to see what they look like. But then, hilariously, he finds that almost no one on the Internet claiming to be a teenage girl really is a teenage girl, as he discovers that he's chatting with people like dirty old man pedophiles, cops trying to catch pedophiles, pre-teen boys pulling pranks or middle-aged women. And then there's the online support group for people who have been transformed magically, including the frog who has trouble typing with his flippers. But that didn't make it into the movie because I guess they were going with more of the Twilight teen angst approach, so there were lots of scenes of the guy looking longingly at the girl while a moody pop song played. I will say that it was one of the healthier relationships I've seen portrayed in this kind of thing, with only a tiny bit of stalking. But I'd generally say to save this one for HBO viewing, unless you're with a group of snarky friends and you have a theater to yourselves during an early matinee.

If you find the idea intriguing, read the book, which I thought was really clever in a "why didn't I think of this first?" way.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Life as a British Sitcom

I celebrated St. Patrick's day by going to a movie and lunch with the ballet gang. I had a corned beef sandwich for lunch, and then I had braised cabbage (yum) with dinner, so if I put the two meals together, I was pretty traditional. The plan for the day was "cheesy teenybopper movie we can snark at," so we went to see Beastly. I'd read the book a few years ago and really liked it, so I figured I could at least have fun comparing the movie to the book. But I usually do my movie reviews on Monday and I have other stuff to talk about, so I will wait to discuss it in depth.

Meanwhile, I'm struggling with the book I'm currently reading. In the past few years, I've finally learned to give myself permission to put down a book that I'm not enjoying, but I don't know if I would say that I'm not enjoying this one, but I'm still not sure I want to keep reading it. The world building in it is fascinating, with a complete history and mythology. But I don't actually care about the main character or the plot that's happening in this fascinating world. I don't dislike the main character. I just have no emotional connection whatsoever. It's like following a Monopoly token around the board while watching someone else play the game. I find myself saying, "Hey, enough of this plot stuff. Can I get some more infodump about this world's history, please?" I keep turning pages, but I've realized it's more because of the drive that would lead to me reading an entire volume of an encyclopedia whenever I tried to look up one thing than because of the usual "I want to see what happens" drive that keeps me reading a novel. Given that the novel was published and is an award contender, I'm pretty sure my response isn't typical, unless it's being recognized for the amazing world building. Normally, when I'm just not feeling a book, I'll skip to the end so I can see how it turns out and then either it's easier to put down or I'm intrigued enough by the ending to read the rest of the book. But here, I don't really care how it ends (I've skipped to the end and it didn't change how I felt). I just want to see if there are any more history tidbits.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was lacking TV favorites, but I do have a show that's growing on me. I didn't watch Parks and Recreation from the beginning. I picked it up in the middle of last season, but I've recently found myself rewatching episodes OnDemand because the show is just so warmhearted and endearing, with a heaping dose of quirky. Plus, an episode a few weeks ago gave me a huge epiphany about something that happened in my life.

Spoilers for the episode before the one last night:
In this show, Rob Lowe has been playing a state auditor who's come to town to deal with the town's budget crisis. His character is as about as perky as a man can be, a super-positive guy who speaks in affirmations, never criticizes, never says anything negative and avoids conflict at all costs. He's been dating a woman in the town, and now that he's finished his assignment, he's about to go back to the state capital. After dropping a lot of hints, she finally asks him what this move means for their relationship, and they have a long conversation about it, coming to the conclusion that she's not going to move to join him yet, but they're going to continue the relationship. But then after he moves, she starts to worry that he's cheating on her, since she hasn't heard from him very much, and then he's kind of cool and politely distant when she gets in touch with him. So she goes to confront him about it, and he tells her that he isn't cheating on her, but he's also not dating her. She rewinds the conversation in her head and realizes that he actually broke up with her before moving, only he did it in such a positive, affirming way that she interpreted it as him saying he wanted to continue the relationship, since he just kept talking about how great she was.

And then I realized that had happened to me with the ending of my last serious relationship. This had been haunting me for more than a decade. I'd been dating a guy for a while, and it seemed to be getting serious. I was even starting to think that this could be The One. We'd both been kind of busy for a while and had trouble getting our schedules in sync to get together much, so he then asked me out for a big date -- a concert, then dinner at a really nice restaurant where they had a live band for ballroom dancing. It was a great date that totally seemed to confirm my feelings that this could be the guy. He seemed to be feeling the same way because he started talking about how glad he was that he'd met me and how amazing I was. And then after that date, he fell off the face of the earth. I didn't hear from him for weeks, and when I called to see if he was okay, we had a short, polite conversation before he had to go, but he promised he'd call me later that weekend. Then he did call for another short conversation, and then I never heard from him again. I'd called that my X-Files relationship because it was like he was suddenly abducted by aliens just after the date that sounded like he wanted to intensify our relationship. But now, looking back, I'm thinking that the date was his way of doing a "nice" breakup. I totally got the "it's not you, it's me" speech, the "you're great and I'm glad I met you, but …" talk. So no wonder he didn't call and acted like I was being crazy and clingy when I called him. Obviously, he didn't communicate it that well if it took me more than a decade and a sitcom episode to figure this out, but now that I think about it, there were other conversations where he'd mentioned trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life and how he didn't want to base any decisions he made on his connections with other people. I guess I got dumped because having a girlfriend would have contaminated his decision-making process. (Note to guys: the girl probably won't get the message if you take her out on a big, fancy date to soften the blow.)

Yes, my dating life is like something out of a sitcom. Only, it would have to be a show with one episode every five years or so. So, it's like a British sitcom, I guess, with a total cast change for each season.

Anyway, I now have another writing project I really want to work on, which is typical for when I'm about halfway through a book. But then that motivates me to finish the book so I can work on the new project, which means writing blitz! Let's see how much I can get done this weekend.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Ballet Day Out

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I'm celebrating with a girls' day out with some of the gang from my ballet class. A lot of them are teachers and on spring break, while I have a flexible schedule. But since they're teachers and used to getting to work freakishly early (to me), that means it's an early morning for me, and I still have to get dressed. So, short post today and probably a movie review tomorrow, unless I decide to procrastinate this afternoon and create an epic post (I did have one planned but don't have time to write it now).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Breaking In

When I put out the call for writing questions, one of the most popular ones was about how to get published. This is also the question I seem to get most often in real life when someone finds out I'm an author: "How did you get published?" I'm afraid they're usually disappointed in my answer, that I wrote a book, sent it to an agent, then she sent it to publishers. They seem to be hoping I'll have some magical formula or special circumstances, like I mailed the manuscript during a full moon after making a sacrifice to Zuul, or I rescued an editor's daughter from alien abduction, so she agreed to publish my book.

I often use the analogy that getting a book published is like losing weight. There's a very simple formula, but it's very hard to actually do it. Losing weight comes down to using more calories than you consume -- eat less, exercise more. And yet people keep looking for some secret way to do that and make it easier or quicker, like eating certain foods or certain combinations of foods or eating at certain times. Even so, it's very difficult to successfully lose weight. When it comes to writing, the formula is to write something and then submit it. But people are always looking for shortcuts or magic tricks to make it easier or quicker, and very few people who attempt it are successful.

Let's break down that simple formula:
Step One: Write a book
That's both the hard part and the easy part. It's hard because writing a book is difficult. A lot of people have great ideas for books. Fewer ever actually start writing those books and even fewer finish those books they started. But it's the easy part of the publishing process because it's the one part you really control. You can control what you write, how you write and how much you write. Almost everything else depends on someone else. This part, though, is yours.

Yes, there are stories about people who got a three-book, six-figure contract based on an idea scribbled on a cocktail napkin, but you hear about these things because they're so rare as to be newsworthy, and what those stories usually don't mention is the fact that these things often happen to people who've written several previous books that just didn't find a market, so the editor or agent in question is well aware of the writer's ability. Don't base your career planning on an abnormality. Write the whole book. Even with as many books as I've completed, I still find myself learning a lot about the story from the process of completing a draft, which affects the beginning part that would go in a proposal. You'll put your best foot forward if you complete the book and revise the whole thing before you start trying to submit.

Of course, the book has to be pretty good to be published -- not necessarily brilliant because subject matter and market trends are possibly even more important these days -- but your odds are better the better your book is. Here's where you can go to seminars, find a critique group, enter a manuscript contest that gives feedback, read books about writing, read blogs about writing, etc.

What should you write? I would suggest writing the book you can't NOT write. Write what you want to read. Chasing trends is dangerous. Generally, if you hear about a trend, by the time you can come up with an idea and write the book, the trend will be dead. But passion always comes through, and writing the book that's burning a hole in your brain will give you the kind of authentic voice publishers are looking for.

Step Two: Submit the book
This actually falls into two sub-steps
A: Research
You need to know where to submit your book, so start looking for agents who represent that kind of thing and publishers that publish that kind of thing. There are a lot of differing opinions on whether to get an agent first or submit to publishers first. I sold my first five books on my own, but they were category romance. I wouldn't even attempt it on my own these days. A lot of publishers now won't take unagented work except under special circumstances, and even if they do, it can take them forever to respond. At the same time, agents can afford to be very picky about choosing clients. Most libraries carry some kind of writer's marketplace book that lists publishing companies and agencies. You can also find a lot of information online. Many authors mention their editor and/or agent on the acknowledgments page in their books, so look there. Look at which publishers are publishing the books you like to read. There are also a lot of scam artists out there, so check on Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors to make sure you're dealing with legitimate publishers and agents. Many agents now have blogs where they talk about what they represent, how they work and how to contact them. This research is a lot of work, but you need to do it up front. Don't go submitting to someone and then asking about whether they're legitimate (if they ask for money from you up front, they aren't). Beyond these pointers, I'm going to leave you on your own because if you can't figure out how to find this stuff for yourself, you need more help than I can give you. If you can't find the right information without being led by the hand, then you may be in the wrong business.

B. Submitting
This is another one of those easy/hard things. It's not too difficult to follow the submission guidelines specified by your target editors or agents. Don't try to be cute or fancy. Doing something contrary to their specifications only makes you stand out in a bad way. If they say they don't want phone calls, calling them will annoy them, not make them think that you're a real go-getter. Remember above all that you want it to be as painless as possible for them to read your work. And then you may have to wait. And wait. You'll likely get rejections. You may have to move to your second-tier list of targets. During this time, keep writing. If this book doesn't do it, the next one might. Most people don't sell their first books. If you're getting a lot of rejections, it could mean that this isn't the right book right now or that you're not ready, so come up with something new.

There's a lot of talk about networking and contacts, but I'm not sure that anything other than pre-existing celebrity status will really put you ahead. The networking and contacts may get you a faster read, but won't sell a book they wouldn't have bought anyway. Where the networking and contacts can help is with choosing your targets. You'll have a better sense of who is most likely to be receptive to what you write if you read agents' and editors' blogs, stay on top of what's selling and listen to editors and agents speak at conferences. A conference pitch is one good way to get past the "no unagented material" problem with publishers, so if you'd rather not find an agent before getting an offer from a publisher, then look for writing conferences that give you the opportunity to meet with editors.

Now, selling a book differs from losing weight in one key area. While there are genetic and glandular factors that can come into play, losing weight is mostly something you can control. Most of it is up to you. In publishing, it ultimately is out of your hands. You can write a book and target it as well as you can, and then beyond that, you have next to no control over what happens. Selling a book comes down to getting the right project on the right desk at the right time -- and you can't know what "right" is ahead of time. You can get clues, like learning editors' individual preferences (that's where an agent is valuable), but timing is the hard part. That right desk may have already been swamped by "right" projects, so even perfect targeting can involve bad timing. Luck plays a huge role. You can increase your odds by writing and continuing to submit (the more times you play, the better your chances of breaking in and the better you'll be with the practice) and by paying attention to the market.

And that's really all there is to it. It's incredibly simple while being incredibly difficult.

If you're relatively new here and want to catch up on all the writing stuff I've discussed in the past, which includes some of the basic how-tos, I put together the first couple of years worth of writing posts as a pdf e-book. You can download it here. I'll probably do another one at the end of this year.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Book Report: Preconceived Notions

I got significant writing done yesterday, and then just as I finished my writing session for the night, I realized that what I'd just written was all wrong. Well, not so much wrong as incomplete. In planning what happens next, I found myself "planning" what I'd just written, filling in holes that needed to be dealt with before I could go on to "next." This is the kind of thing I usually end up doing on the second or third draft, so I hope it means I'm breaking my pattern of writing a draft that then needs to be entirely rewritten. The fun irony is that this is happening in a book that I planned to write as a fast first draft before rewriting completely. By the time I'm done with the "first" draft, it will have already been rewritten, piece by piece. I suspect that in the long run it will be faster than writing a quick draft and then spending months rewriting. It just feels slow for now.

Meanwhile, I'm on a mission to read my way through the Nebula Award finalists so I can make a more informed vote. I doubt I'll get through all of them, since I just have a couple of weeks before the deadline and there are a lot of books. But I figure that reading the ones I can get my hands on will broaden my reading horizons. It's good to every so often let someone else dictate your reading choices. I started with two young adult books that are up for the award whose name I can't remember but that is apparently not technically a Nebula (I'm thinking it's named after Andre Norton, but I'm too lazy to look that up at the moment). They were the books my neighborhood library had that I didn't have to put on hold.

First was Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. I hung out some with Paolo at MileHi Con last fall but hadn't read any of his work. This book falls into the current trend of dystopian young adult books, depicting a near future where society has either fallen apart or has become some kind of cruel and horrible culture. Or, as I've been known to call them, the "AAAAAHH! We're all going to die from global warming!" books. I will admit that I don't quite understand the popularity of this trend because I find these books oppressive and depressing, and there were a couple of times when I almost put this book down because it was just too bleak for me to take. But I couldn't because I cared enough about the main character that I just had to see what would happen to him and what he would do, and, ultimately, it was a good adventure story. I used to enjoy reading books about people stranded in the Outback, and stuff like that, and I even enjoy Dickens, which depicts a pretty dystopian society, so I mentally moved it into that category and then I really enjoyed it (I'm not sure why it bothers me more to see this kind of world depicted as an inevitable future, but it does). In a future when global warming has dramatically altered the earth (it's hard to tell how much because the viewpoint character's perspective is very limited), a lot of people on the coast live in severe poverty, scavenging what they can from the giant beached oil tankers that are now obsolete. Nailer is one of these scavengers, a teenage boy who's still small enough to fit into narrow passageways on these wrecks to pull out copper and other valuable metals. After a storm, he comes across a wrecked clipper ship with more wealth than he can imagine -- and with a lone survivor, a teenage girl. He has to decide whether to risk everything to try to get her back home (where he might get the chance at a new life) or to kill her and take the scavenge that will make him wealthy. This is a real page-turner that puts the characters through some truly harrowing adventures, and in spite of the bleak setting, there is a thread of hope. It was really fun to see how the main character's horizons are broadened and how he learns to define "family."

Then I read White Cat by Holly Black. I first heard about this book when I went to see Sarah Rees Brennan on her book tour, since I figured that when someone has come from Ireland, I can go across town, and Holly was touring with her. I ended up hanging out with them for a while. I thought this book sounded intriguing, but I was somewhat leery of the "bad boy" factor. I would describe this book as a sort of less-glitzy White Collar from a teen perspective and involving magic. It takes place in an alternate present where magic exists, but it's illegal. That means a lot of people with magical powers are criminals and use magic to commit crimes. They tend to work for the large organized crime families. Our Hero is the youngest son in a family of magical grifters -- and the only one without magic. He's finally got a chance at a somewhat normal life now that his mother's in prison and he's going to a boarding school away from his brothers. But then he starts having strange dreams and sleepwalking, and it's almost like someone is trying to send him a message through his dreams, letting him know that his memories of the worst thing to ever happen to him may not be accurate. This was another page-turner. I read it in just a couple of days and couldn't put it down (I should get more work done today, now that I've finished it). My worries about the bad boy factor turned out to be totally misplaced. The book is told from the boy's point of view, so there's no swooning over how dark and dangerous he is. He makes no excuses for himself. He's very matter-of-fact about what he is. He's a born (and made) con artist, but we mostly see him using his skills for a somewhat good purpose, he does have a personal moral code, and although he is something of a criminal, he's the "good" one in the family, which I suppose makes him a rebel of sorts, but he's also the good guy. Yes, I even found myself liking this guy, though not in a "he's so dreamy!" way, since he's young enough to be my son. I'm not even sure I would have crushed on him if I were a teen, but I still find him a very compelling and intriguing hero.

So, these two books go to show that preconceived notions about what you'll like or not like can be very misleading. You could miss something you'd enjoy if you reject it because it contains an element you don't usually find appealing. That doesn't mean I'm going to be revisiting vampire books or that I'll go out searching for more dystopian future books or bad boy hero books. But when I consider books, I need to look beyond my knee-jerk turnoffs.

However, I think I need to read something fun and light now. I can't deal with too much darkness and danger.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Advanced Problem Solving Methods

I think I should be complaining about Daylight Savings Time, but strangely, this is the time change I adapt best to. It would have helped if I hadn't had to sing for the early service at church on the day of the time change. As a result of getting up more than two hours before I usually do, I was a bit groggy all day, failed at napping, but the napping attempt made it hard to get to sleep at night. Even so, I got up at about the time (clock-wise) that I normally do instead of waking up at my usual time (body clock-wise).

I spent much of the weekend fretting about the current project, trying to untangle a logic problem I'd realized was there. I was worried that I'd have to scrap a scene that I really like that also sets up something major for later, and I couldn't figure out another way to work in the part that sets up the something major for later if I scrapped the scene. But then as I was falling asleep last night, the solution occurred to me. I just have to change the bad guys' plan. I had them trying to do one thing, but it makes more sense if their goal is something different. The genius thing about this solution is that it means I don't actually have to change anything because their plan is still off-stage. I'd just been worried because their actions didn't really fit what I thought their plan was. Now their actions fit, and I can move forward.

It does seem strange to spend the weekend trying to work out a problem that got resolved by changing nothing, but that change will matter as I move forward, and I'd rather spend the time just thinking now than scrapping and rewriting large parts of the book later.

Not that this thinking involved slaving over a computer or notepad. Mostly, it involved long walks, hanging out with friends, petting a dog, reading, lounging on the sofa and watching way too many crime shows on TV. We're talking advanced problem solving methods here.

Speaking of which, is all electricity in Las Vegas diverted to the casinos? Because it seems like the cops there are always searching houses for evidence with the lights out, using little pocket flashlights. That's not even when they're searching for trace evidence of biological fluids using black lights. It's in the "let's see if there's anything in there that would tell us anything" searches, and they could miss entire pieces of furniture by searching with a tiny flashlight, let alone scraps of cloth or footprints. I got hoarse from yelling, "Do you people not know how a light switch works?" so many time at the TV. (Yes, I'm very late to the game on this one, but I thought that watching crime shows would be good helping me learn to write twistier plots.)

Now it's spring break in my area, but I hope to use the time I gain from not having ballet or children's choir to get some momentum going on this book. I'm way behind on something that I planned to be a quick project.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Oops, forgot to say ...

In all my "yay, new computer!" buzz, I forgot that I've got a couple of bits of housekeeping.

First, for the every-other-week writing posts, I need new questions or topics. I've been doing the hero's journey so long that I seem to have lost the ability to think of anything else. I can address writing craft, the business of writing, writing life, etc. It needs to be something of general interest (not just specific to your unique situation) and the kind of thing that can spawn an essay.

Then, in the weeks when I'm not doing writing posts, I'm answering Enchanted, Inc. series questions. These can be about the world, the characters, where ideas came from, what inspired things, etc. I won't answer something that might spoil future books, but otherwise, ask away.

You can leave questions in the comments or e-mail them. Look in the archives for topics I've already discussed (I've tagged these entries with "enchanted inc"). I know I've dealt with the issue of sex, where the character names come from, the magical educational system, the fairy godmother and the crystal network.

Posting from the New Computer

First, prayers and good wishes go out to the people in Japan and other areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami. My mom called and told me about it because I don't turn on the TV in the morning, and when I did turn on the TV, it was even worse than I had imagined. My Japanese readers are so awesome, and now I'm worried about them.

This post is coming to you from my new computer. I did the Internet part of the setup yesterday, and while I was all worried about getting the ISP settings right, it turned out to be along the lines of the typical Mac setup, which goes like, "Open box, plug in computer, turn on computer." I managed to transfer over my Firefox bookmarks and then went around to my regular sites that require log-in, so it looks like my Internet use is good to go. I ended up not getting much of anything done yesterday because it was like "Wheeeee!!! Internet again!!!!" I was tracking down all those fun videos that people have sent me that I couldn't watch on the old machine.

Today, though, I must work. I think for a while I may use the old computer as a writing machine and this one for Internet stuff, just so I don't have to disconnect from the Internet and carry a computer around. It's nice to have something that's always ready to write and something that's always online. After I finish this book, then I can bother to learn what horrible things Microsoft has done to Word in the new edition that will work on the new machine. They keep adding "features" that maybe five people in the world will ever need but that make it more complicated to do the basic things most of us do all the time.

Has anyone written a computer game that involves shooting or blowing up that stupid little paperclip thingy? I don't do games, but that might be fun to have. I've had him turned off for years, but will admit to every so often bringing him back just so I can say mean things to him. He makes a good target for my Microsoft rage.

One thing I will have to adjust to is the fact that the clock on this computer is accurate. I'm so used to having to adjust to the fact that the other computer gains time. All clocks around me tend to gain time, so I'm sure I'll soon be five minutes ahead, but for now it seems to be correct.

In other news, it's been announced that Doctor Who will begin again the Saturday of Easter weekend -- and BBC America will be showing it the same day as it's shown in England. I'm hoping one of my friends has a premiere party because I don't get BBCA on my cable other than OnDemand, and that tends to be sketchy (they randomly just don't get around to posting episodes, or they put them in HD only), plus it involves waiting a day or two. With it being Easter, I can't invade my parents because I have a choir rehearsal on Saturday and then have to sing for two services Sunday, including the 8 a.m. service. If I don't find a premiere party, my parents may outgeek me and see it first.

Though I shouldn't be surprised if my parents outgeek me, as I got the geekiness from them. My mom watched the original Star Trek during its original run with me when I was a baby, my parents dragged me to see Star Wars, they gave me my first science fiction books, my mom gave me my first Narnia book, and my dad took me to see just about any movie involving space. I had no choice but to turn out this way.

Okay, there seems to be an Autocorrect feature in this version of TextEdit (which I have now turned off). It tried to turn "geekiness" into "meekness," and that's not at ALL the same thing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Ongoing Plan for World Domination

I've been doing some work on the Ongoing Plan for World Domination. And, yes, it really does exist, even in writing. I suppose you could call it a "business plan," but that sounds boring. I'm not too motivated to carry out a "business plan," but an "Ongoing Plan for World Domination" sounds like fun. Businesses would probably be more successful if they were carrying out a Plan for World Domination instead of a business plan, but they might want to change the title when using it to get a business loan or venture capital funding (then again, the venture capitalists might be impressed by the boldness). I dare you to have a "plan for world domination" instead of a "business plan" if you have to prove to the IRS that your writing is a business rather than a hobby.

I think I've referred to it at various times as a "grand" plan, but what's written on the actual plan is "ongoing," and I think that's a good thing to keep at the forefront because, really, does one ever truly achieve world domination? Even when you get there, you have to stay there. Maybe if I ever achieve JK Rowling levels of success where I've made enough money to live more than comfortably for the rest of my life while building a few hospitals, my existing books are bringing in enough money in royalties to constitute a healthy salary, and publishers beg to publish anything I want to write, then maybe I can quit strategizing and just do what I want to do. Until then, the plan is ongoing and constantly updated.

I started the plan with a focus on the things I can control, so it was all about putting in the time to write so I could produce books, as well as working on improving my craft so I can write better books. There's also some market research to help me focus my efforts on projects that stand a better chance of selling and some marketing/promotion ideas so I can do my part to make my published books sell better, though that part has taken a backseat while I work on the writing. It may not look like I've done much in a while because I haven't had a book out, but I've been steadily writing. When something breaks through, I'll be ready with a flood of books. That's one of the things I noticed in my research. While it is possible to hit it big with one very successful book a year, it does seem like a lot of authors get their big breakout moment when they manage to get a fair number of releases in a shorter amount of time. That seems to generate the snowball rolling downhill effect. So, even while I'm waiting for something to happen, I'm still plugging away.

But then there's the problem that most of this business is totally out of my control. I can do my part by writing good books, but even the best book ever can get a response like, "I was hoping for something more like Enchanted, Inc., but we don't want to continue that series." Or there might be nothing else on the market like it, so since they have no comparisons no one is willing to take the risk to publish it. Or it may be a case of "there was already a book about a half-breed fey enchantress who uses ballet moves to fight evil fairies, but it tanked, so obviously there's no market for that kind of book." It seems weird to not plan for such a huge portion of my career, even if it is outside my control. So, I decided to plan hypothetically by writing out what I want to happen, specifically, with each project and in a bigger picture sense (since what happens with one project could affect other projects). Not just "have it be published" (duh), but which publishers I think are the best fit for this project or which editors I'd like to work with, advance range, what kind of publication (hardcover/trade/mass market), even ideal release timing. I must say, it was a little scary writing all that out, like I was somehow daring the universe to come and get me. My heart even beat a little faster while I wrote it. I'm not into that woo-woo The Secret stuff where I think that writing it down makes it more likely to happen, but it does seem to help my motivation to have in mind why I'm spending hours at the keyboard and going days without leaving the house. Plus, having that step in the plan means that I can also make hypothetical plans for best and worst-case scenarios, along with the most likely scenario, and then I can also develop ideas for publicity and promotion based on these possibilities.

And then I took an even bigger step to look at what would happen to my life if these various scenarios happened. For instance, selling the project currently on submission would be mostly a sigh of relief thing, because it would mean actual income (yay!). With that sale and knowing there would be money coming in, I might take care of a few repairs/replacements around the house and buy a toy or two. If the Enchanted, Inc. movie goes into production, that would be bigger money, but not really life-changing. I'd probably do a little more stuff around the house to upgrade it (because even if I were in a position to sell and buy something new, the house probably couldn't sell as it is now, especially not in this market). I might allow myself something of a splurge, like flying first class to WorldCon and maybe taking a real vacation. The real benefit from the movie would be in what it could do to book sales -- a re-release in conjunction with the movie would mean more royalties, boost the sales of the other books and maybe mean the publication of more books in the series, and then that success makes it easier to sell other books. But there's no guarantee. I can think of authors who've had movies made from their books who didn't become bestsellers and who have seemingly fallen off the face of the earth. I suppose it depends on whether the the movie is any good, how successful the movie is, whether they change the title, how the publisher deals with it, etc.

I even tried to imagine my life when I reach the level of success I want, and I was surprised to find that it's not too different from my life now. I would like to get a larger house with a real yard, a guest room, a bigger kitchen, more closet space and more book storage space. I might upgrade my electronics and maybe even have a good media room. But I like my car, so I doubt I'd be going for a BMW. I don't really want a mansion and would likely stay in my middle-class neighborhood because I like my neighborhood. I might travel a little more and do it a little more luxuriously. I might even get a housekeeping service. Now, that's at the level of success I think I can achieve. We're not talking JK Rowling or Stephen King money, but I can't imagine that much money, and I can't think of how it would change the way I live. I think it would mostly make me feel a little less worried about my old age and being able to afford to pay people to take care of me when I get to that point.

If I ever reach the JK Rowling level where money essentially becomes meaningless and I'm writing because I want to and because I want to provide books to my fans, I might be seriously tempted to come up with creative ways to make publishers compete for my books. Forget auctions and bids. I'd make them do something like shopping cart races through Central Park, with the executives pushing the sales people in carts. Or maybe a talent show, bake-off, "beauty pageant" type thing or a charity fundraising competition. Winner gets to publish my next sure-fire mega bestseller. That sounds like a lot more fun than having a crazy fit on Amazon reviews or demanding that my work not be edited, which is what a lot of authors do when they reach mad levels of success.

It was strange how doing this affected my attitude toward my work. It was a nice reminder of what I'm working for. I'm not spending hours at the keyboard for nothing. I'm building my future guest room.

Now I have to take care of one or two things, and then I'm going to start dealing with the new computer.