Friday, April 29, 2011

After the Wedding

Well, the wedding was lovely, and I was delighted that they went with more classical-style music, with no cheesy pop intrusions. I got a good British sacred choral music fix. My real reward for getting up so early was getting to hear the premiere of a brand new John Rutter anthem that was commissioned for the event. I wonder how long it will be before the sheet music is available because I'm going to campaign for our choir to do it, starting tonight when I see the choir director at an event. Unfortunately, the TV can't convey the true acoustics of the abbey and the way a choir sounds in there, though I suspect the large number of people and all the red carpeting and other decor would have dampened the sound significantly from what I heard in a sparsely attended Evensong service.

I loved the dress, which was simple and elegant. The bride didn't look nearly as terrified as Diana did, which is probably a good sign. I also consider it a good sign when a couple has to avoid making eye contact during the more solemn parts of a ceremony because they can't help but grin or crack up if they look at each other.

I watched the BBC feed via PBS, so I avoided some of the worst American journalistic excesses. I was subjected to a few British journalistic excesses, but at least they don't sound as obnoxious when they come in a charming accent. I liked that they had Simon Schama on to give the historical perspective.

Now I think my morning tea is wearing off and I need a nap after not sleeping very well before the 3:30 a.m. wakeup. I finished the next-to-last chapter last night, which went in a different direction than I planned. I just need to do the final chapter, with the "whew, we made it" scene and some assorted mopping up and tying up loose ends. I think I have a good sense of how it will go. I may even be able to finish it today, but I won't push myself, as I'm volunteering at a fundraiser tonight and I do have important napping to do and must return some books to the library, so it will be a short work day for me.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Royal Weddings and Fairy Tales

Yay, I have cable again. It would seem that the cable box I got last summer to replace the glitchy one I had was messed up all along. I had to go through so much drama with that one, since when I got it connected all the channels were mixed up and it took a long service call and a technician visit to get it configured. With the one I got yesterday, I asked what I needed to do to configure and activate it, and the guy said I should just need to connect it and plug it in. Lo and behold, that was all it took. The one that finally went out on me seemed to keep resetting itself, and maybe that was what happened when they thought it was set up properly. This one seems to respond more quickly, and it may be my imagination, but I think the picture is better. We'll see if it doesn't keep eating my favorites lists. I may have been falsely accusing Stan the ghost of re-doing all my lists. I must say that while the technical part of the TimeWarner service (the converter boxes, the actual cable service and especially their OnDemand service) is terrible, their people are awesome. I always get great service in the interacting-with-their-staff sense, even if their cable service sucks. Then again, in this area they did inherit an existing network that was pretty awful. It was a small tin-cans-and-strings level service that got bought by AT&T, which then sold all their cable service to Comcast, which then did a big swap-out with TWC, and my account goes all the way back to the Joe's Bait, Tackle and Cable Service days.

But I have full service in time for the royal wedding. Yes, I plan to go to bed early tonight so I can get up freakishly early in the morning to make tea and scones and then put on my tiara and watch the wedding. Although I will watch the wedding, I am sick of the hype. I want to watch the event, but I don't care about all the stuff around it. I don't think this is a fairy tale at all. For one thing, although Cinderella seems to be the story seared on the public consciousness, most of the fairy tales were about commoner men who went through trials in order to marry a princess. There were relatively few stories about common girls marrying princes. I suppose this does come close to the Cinderella pattern, as Cinderella's father was a prosperous merchant. This is just Cinderella without the horrendous abuse and being made to work as a servant in her own home. Without all that, Cinderella and the prince probably would have met at the ball anyway, but without the drama of the glass slipper and the wicked stepsisters. There's not much story to it without the bad stuff, but it's probably far healthier for real life.

I certainly don't want to dwell on the life history of the two people involved, I figure I'll see the dress when she walks down the aisle, so I don't care to speculate. I did cut the recipe for the groom's cake out of the newspaper, but that was more because it involves large amounts of chocolate than because it has anything to do with the royal wedding.

So, if I don't actually care all that much, why will I be getting up at o-dark-thirty to watch? For a lot of little reasons.

1) I'm a history buff, and this sort of falls into the category of potentially historical event. I'm not a royal watcher in the sense of following their daily lives in the tabloids, but I do find the whole family tree stemming from Victoria fascinating, with all the interconnections throughout Europe and the way those connections influenced history.

2) I'm something of a completist. My best friend at the time was a huge royalty fan and insisted that I watch the Charles and Diana wedding and the Andrew and Fergie wedding. Since I'd watched the Charles and Diana wedding, I felt obligated to watch Diana's funeral. And then I watched the Edward and Sophie wedding out of the sense of completion and because I really liked his historical documentaries (did he fall off the face of the earth after having kids, or are they just not showing those on American TV anymore now that A&E has become true crime instead of BBC-lite?). So now I feel like I should keep the pattern going.

3) On my first trip to England, I attended a service at Westminster Abbey, and it's cool to watch important things happening in a place where I've been.

4) The Westminster Abbey choir is fabulous, and there's a chance of hearing British sacred choral music. I just hope they don't "Elton John" the service too much (like with Diana's funeral).

5) All the pageantry is kind of fun -- carriages, soldiers, and all that. I'm a fantasy novelist. How could I resist something that does have a few fairy tale elements, even if I don't consider the relationship itself to be very fairy tale (and I think that's a good thing)? In other words, ooooh, pretty!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


My cable company really is out to get me. Not only did it take until yesterday to get the new Doctor Who OnDemand and I still don't know if they've fixed the Friday Night Lights situation, but my converter box went on the blink yesterday. I'd planned to watch Doctor Who when I got home from ballet, but couldn't do that without the box. I still had a cable signal when I bypassed the box, and I still had all the digital menus on the box. I just didn't get a TV picture or sound. After a chat with customer service this morning, I'll have to pick up a new box today and see if I can get it set up without the drama that the last box required (now I know the key questions to ask and the key words to use).

I've figured out why I snapped midway through the current chapter. I was approaching it the wrong way, going with funny when this is the scene that needs real tension and a sense of threat. I need to rethink the antagonist in this scene, since he's sort of the ultimate villain of the piece who makes all the previous villains look lame. I needed to step away from the book for a while to process this, so I cleaned out my refrigerator, destroying all my science projects, some of which may have achieved sentience, but since they didn't try to communicate with me, I threw them out.

So, now it's time for another writing post, and the topic for the week is motivation. In journalism terms, motivation is the "why" part of the "who, what, when, where, why and how" that are essential to every story. With a strong enough motivation, you can make a character do just about anything. A weak motivation will sap your story of all energy. The more extreme the actions you need your character to take, the stronger the motivation has to be.

How do you strengthen the motivation? One thing you can do is look at what drives it. Is there some deep, inner need the character is trying to fill? The stronger that need is, the more motivated the character will be. I think a good example of this is found in the movie While You Were Sleeping, in which the main character pretends to be the fiancee of a man in a coma so she can spend time -- including Christmas -- with his family. That's a pretty extreme, even crazy, thing to do, not something most people would even consider. But the movie sets up the situation by showing how utterly alone in the world she is. She lost her mother when she was young, then her father got sick and she's spent her adult years taking care of him, putting her own dreams on hold, and now he's dead, so she's left with nothing. She's working on Christmas because she has no family to be with. That establishes her as being deeply lonely and isolated, to the point where you could imagine that she'd be tempted by the invitation to spend Christmas with a big, loving family. The initial posing as the fiancee started as a misunderstanding that would have caused more problems if she tried to explain, and her plan was to just disappear, but when she made the decision to continue the deception, it was over the opportunity to be treated like part of a family.

Survival is another deep, primal need that can drive motivation. If a killer robot from the future, a non-sexy vampire or a serial killer is after you, you'll do just about anything to survive. You don't even need to give backstory on that motivation. When something scary is coming after the character, we'll believe in the need to survive. Money isn't really a primal need, but you can connect it to survival -- without money, it is hard to get by, and the more desperate the situation, the more someone is willing to do to get it. We're more likely to sympathize with characters who are desperate for money for someone else's sake -- it's iffy if the hero is stealing because he needs money, but we might accept it if he's stealing to feed his starving children.

You may need backstory to establish motivations like loneliness, fear of commitment or fear of needing someone else, but you don't want that backstory to provide a pat, simplistic reason. I've seen way too many books and TV movies about someone who hates Christmas and wants to destroy Christmas for others because of one bad thing that happened on Christmas in the past. You need to make readers believe that if that thing had happened to them, then they'd feel the same way. You don't want them to roll their eyes and say, "Oh, grow up and get over it, already."

Another way to strengthen motivation is to look at the consequences. Yes, the hero has a strong drive to go after this thing that he wants or to do these things, but what happens if he fails? You have a stronger motivation if the consequences are truly dire -- if he doesn't do this, then the world comes to an end, people he loves will die, the bad guys will win and enslave everyone, he'll lose everything he owns and the person he loves, etc. I once critiqued a manuscript in which the heroine had inherited a house from a relative she'd hated, and the terms of the will were that she had to live in it for a certain amount of time to inherit it. That meant she had to come back to the hometown she'd fled and face her past. I had to ask the author why she'd bother -- she didn't know she was going to inherit the house, so it wasn't like her life plans were built around it, she didn't want the house, she didn't need the money from selling it and was planning to sell the house and give the money to charity after she inherited it -- and the house would go to charity if she didn't inherit it. So why not just ignore the will and let the house go to charity? I didn't see any consequences to her not jumping through the hoops to inherit the house, which meant the motivation was weak. Either something really bad has to happen if the hero fails, or the hero has to have the hope of something really good that he desperately wants happening if he succeeds. If the hero can fail and say, "Ah, well, at least I tried. No harm done," you've got weak motivation. I'd have fixed this book by maybe having someone she hated more than her relative be in line to get the house if she didn't, or it was going to be sold to developers who would tear it down and build something she was morally opposed to if she didn't take the steps to inherit it. There needed to be some reason beyond "I might not inherit this house I didn't want if I don't do this thing that will be very unpleasant for me."

To strengthen the motivation further, make sure you remove all other options for achieving the goal. If readers can see the hero going through all sorts of torment to achieve his goal and think of several other, easier ways to do it, then that weakens the sense of motivation. We need to feel like he absolutely has to achieve this because the consequences of doing so are dire, and there is absolutely no easier or better way to do this. That's one reason that The Devil Wears Prada didn't work for me. The heroine's goal is to be a serious magazine journalist, and the story makes it sound like the only way she can achieve this is to be an assistant to an evil fashion magazine editor, who tortures her and ruins her life with all her petty demands. Well, I went to journalism school, so I know that not only is that not the only way to achieve that goal, it's not even the best way. She'd have been better off working for a smaller-market newspaper or magazine or freelancing. Picking up a fashion magazine editor's dry cleaning isn't going to get her a job with Time or Newsweek and isn't teaching her to do anything that would put her on the right path, so every time her boss made her do something horrible, I would think "or you could freelance or work for a smaller magazine or newspaper." The book was a bestseller and the movie was very successful, so I suppose that wasn't a kiss of death, but that probably had more to do with the insider look at the fashion magazine industry and a thinly veiled portrayal of working for a famous person than it did with having clear-cut, strong motivation.

In other words, if you're making your hero swim across piranha-infested waters to get to his goal, there shouldn't be a bridge right there, unless maybe the bridge is guarded by trolls. It would take something pretty dire with no other way to do it to make someone do something so extreme.

A good exercise to learn to work with motivation is to think of some things your characters would never do, and then come up with reasons to motivate them to do those things. Those will likely be some really strong motivations if you can make characters do things they would have thought they'd never do and make it so that readers would believe they'd do them. You may have noticed that whenever a character in a book or a movie says near the beginning that he'd never do a particular thing, he'll be doing that thing by the end because the story will be set up in such a way that he has no choice.

To sum up, if you want a really strong motivation, have it come from some deep-seated need, make sure the consequences of not achieving the goal are dire (or make the outcome of achieving it be really, really good), and narrow the characters' options so that the thing they're doing is the only way they can achieve their goal. To make readers more sympathetic of actions that might otherwise be distasteful, make the motivation be about helping or saving someone else.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Report: More Victoriana

I guess I was more tired from the weekend than I realized because yesterday wasn't as productive as I hoped it would be. I did some freelance work and a lot of laundry, then did some editing on the book and planned how to fix the current chapter, but actual writing didn't happen and then I was in bed by 10 because I couldn't stay awake. Today, though, there will be writing.

I mentioned last week that I was on a Victoriana kick, and it continues with this week's book report, Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede. This is an alt-history fantasy set in an American frontier where the west is dangerous because it's inhabited by mammoths, dragons, and various magical creatures. There's a big magical shield along the Mammoth River (I think it's our Mississippi), and settlement beyond the shield is very risky. The settlements have to put up their own magical shields, and there are circuit-riding magicians who visit the settlements to maintain the shields.

Into this world is born Eff, short for Francine. Her father is a seventh son, which makes him a powerful magician, and her twin brother is the seventh son of a seventh son, which makes him extra-powerful and lucky. But Eff is the thirteenth child in the family, which tradition says is unlucky, and people generally believe she's doomed to go bad or become evil. In part because of the way Eff is viewed, her father takes a job as professor at a land grant college in a town on the banks of the river, on the edge of the settled territory, where he'll be training magicians to help with the settlement efforts. Because the older children in the family have already married and are out on their own, no one in this new place should realize that Eff is a thirteenth child, though she's acutely self-conscious of it and afraid of what it will mean for her and for her family.

I would classify this as a "girl grows up" book, since much of it is slice-of-life stuff about growing up on the edge of the frontier. It follows Eff from age six to eighteen as we get snapshots of major events along the way while skimming over some years entirely. Since it's from a child's perspective, the major events happen on the periphery, and she only gradually becomes aware of what's really going on. The real "action" of the book comes at the end when she's nearly an adult and has to overcome all her fears about herself and put everything she's learned into practice in order to save the people she loves. This book is the first in a planned series, and it looks like it's mostly the set-up, while the series will follow her adventures now that she's grown up.

When I was a kid living in Oklahoma, I loved those "growing up on the prairie" books. I would have called this "Little House on the Prairie with Magic" except I didn't like those books (mostly because the TV show was popular when I was a kid, and I hated it). The book I would most compare this to from my childhood is so obscure it stretched my search engine skills to find it, it's not available at Project Gutenberg or any other book repository I've found, there were two used copies at Amazon (at a really high price), and other online used bookstores had only a "notify me if this book becomes available" button. This book was called Cricket, so you can imagine that searching for it got me a lot of books about bugs or sports. The author, Forestine Hooker, had grown up at Fort Sill, where I lived, and the book was about a girl growing up there during the 1800s, so it was very popular on base. There were story times on the Old Post Square where a woman in period dress would read excerpts from the book, there were multiple copies of the book in the school library, every girl read it, and we all knew which house on the square was Cricket's house. I could have sworn that you could buy copies at the base museum, but it seems like if those were still available, they'd have found their way to Amazon or Gutenberg (and a quick search found the museum shop, but they don't have this book. But now I kind of want to re-visit the post, as I'm feeling very nostalgic). Apparently, this wasn't this author's most famous book, as there's another one of hers that shows up everywhere.

Anyway, that's what this book reminds me of, a story about living on a settlement on the edge of the frontier, where life was relatively safe but surrounded by potential danger, and being a more or less ordinary kid in that situation. The magical system is interesting, and the book spends a lot of time on the magical education. Meanwhile there are chores to do and there's mischief with her brother and friends. I enjoyed reading it, but I'm really looking forward to the sequel because now that the situation is established, there's a lot of interesting stuff that can happen.

This does seem to validate my belief that magic makes everything better in fiction. Now I need to find a Jane Eyre-style governess story with magic and a Madeleine Brent plucky orphan with exotic skills story with magic and I'll be deliriously happy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Time Traveling Football Players (and other OnDemand woes)

This was definitely a weekend that requires a weekend for recovery. I'm not planning to leave the house today, and I'm looking forward to enjoying that. But it was a good Easter weekend, with lots of singing (lots and lots of singing) and I got to spend a lot of time with friends.

It was a good thing I went to a friend's house for Doctor Who viewing, as my cable company really messed up the OnDemand stuff for the weekend. As of last night, they still didn't have the new Doctor Who episode posted, and when I went to watch Friday's Friday Night Lights, I didn't recognize any of the events in the "previously" recap and was totally lost when the episode started. Apparently, they were channeling a previous Kyle Chandler series and showing us next week's episode this week. Fortunately, I'd taped the episode while I was at the Good Friday service, since my initial plan was to watch it when I got home, so I still got to watch the right one, which was definitely different, and it seems that the one they put up as the second episode of the season for NBC OnDemand was even further into the season than I thought, as most of the "previously" clips for that episode weren't even in the one I watched.

As unreliable as TimeWarner is when it comes to OnDemand viewing, it looks like I'll have to find a viewing location for next week's Doctor Who, as I don't want to wait too long for the resolution of that cliffhanger.

Now I mostly want to sleep, but I'm closing in on the end of the book. Today I'll be dealing with the part where I pretty much snapped before. I think the bits I've fixed up to this point will help make the next part easier. I'm ready to be done with this one and on to the next, though there may be a break for housework while I do some prep-work on the next project. I need a palate cleanser.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I ended up shopping in my closet for an Easter outfit after looking at dresses at two different stores. At one store, all the dresses would have been appropriate either for the prom in 1986 or a cocktail party in 1963 (but without the kind of tailoring you'd have had in 1963). If I wanted a 1986 prom dress, I have an authentic one I can still wear, though I don't have any shoes that work with it anymore. Then at the other store, all the dresses had belts, but the belts were attached so they fell midway down my rib cage, which made me look dumpy. I didn't have the energy to shop elsewhere, so I dug around in the closet until I found a top that goes with a skirt I haven't previously worn for Easter. I've never worn that particular top with that skirt, so it's a new outfit, and it should be relatively comfortable under the polyester choir robe that creates a lovely sauna effect.

I may have to start sewing if I want dresses with waistbands that fall anywhere near my waistline without also having skirts that drag on the floor. I'm short, but my body is long, which means I need a "tall" dress if I want it to fit well in the body, but then the skirt will be way too long on my short legs. Then there's the fact that being small does not necessarily mean you have no curves, but the smaller sizes seem to be made for women with stick figures. No wonder I haven't bought clothes other than Target t-shirts in years.

I'm continuing with the tinkering on the trouble chapters and doing the thing where I think I have a chapter finished and am working on the next one, but then realize that something in the previous one needs to be fixed. It's slow going, but I'm so close to the end. I don't know how much I'll get done today, though, and the weekend will be too busy for work.

I'm way too excited about the premiere of a new Doctor Who season, and this time around, it's happening on the same day in the US and UK. I'm going to a premiere party for the first one, and after that I'll have to hope that the TimeWarner OnDemand service isn't as unreliable as it's been lately. They have a bad habit of just never getting around to putting up anything that airs between Friday and Tuesday until maybe Wednesday or Thursday, and then it's always the BBCAmerica stuff that gets skipped and is never posted. I don't actually get BBCAmerica, only their OnDemand channel.

In sadder TV news, CBS has already pulled Chaos from the schedule. That makes my life a little easier since I'm out the next couple of Friday nights, but I do hope we eventually get to see the episodes they've filmed.

Meanwhile, I'm doing some reading related to another project that I'll turn to once I'm done with the current one. There are two possible directions I could take with it. My agent suggested one and I suggested the other. I'm not sure about what she suggested, she isn't sure about what I suggested. So, I'm reading similar books from both sides. I've found myself plowing through the books similar to my suggested direction and plodding through the books similar to my agent's suggested direction. I think that's a pretty good sign. If I don't like reading something, I probably won't be able to write it well, but I think it was important for me to keep an open mind and do the homework and at least seriously consider the other option. The thing is, I would love it if I could do it on that side of things, but I don't believe the market will be open to the way I would do it, and my reading pretty much backs me up. I do still have a few more books to read before I come to a definite conclusion, though I think I should be allowed to put a book aside and conclude that I couldn't write something like that if I've rolled my eyes more than five times in the first hundred pages -- and these are the most successful examples of this kind of book, the bestsellers.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's a Thursday

The soreness from Tuesday night's dance class binge hit during children's choir last night. We were sitting on the floor, and suddenly it was very difficult for me to get up because my thighs went into total rebellion. The kindergarteners were too small to provide much leverage for pulling me up, so I had to struggle to my feet on my own, with much groaning. We combined classes with the preschool choir since my co-teacher was out of town and we've been having so few kids in our class (in this town, the kindergarteners are over-programmed with extracurricular activities). All those kids together was a little overwhelming. I think it was even getting to my kids because I noticed that my kids tended to migrate over to me and hover on the edges (I was guarding the door so we could keep it open without any kids escaping and so I could keep an eye out for any of my kids heading to the wrong room). I did utterly terrify one of the preschoolers who refused to enter the room while I was in there. Normally I just frighten adults who know what they're dealing with. Kids usually like me. Apparently this one is going through a phase of stranger issues, so I left the room until they got her in and settled.

I think after that, today will be a quiet day. It's delightfully gray and off-and-on rainy, so it's a perfect writing day. I've been going back over the last bits I wrote on the current project, around the time I snapped. It's not as bad as I thought, but it is a bit underdeveloped and rushed. I only need to do a little bit of tinkering with the chapter I'm on, but the next two are the ones that will need a lot of work.

That's about all I'll be up to as the dance soreness has really hit with a vengeance. I have spots that are sore to the touch. That probably means I need to do more strenuous workouts more often. This career is not good for physical fitness. I've heard of writers who set up a desk on a treadmill and walk while they write, but I can barely walk and think at the same time, so that would be asking for a disaster of Lucille Ball comic proportions. I've been known to almost fall down the stairs when I get a good idea while going up or down the stairs because I get too sidetracked to properly place my feet on the next step.

Speaking of exercise and fitness, I may bake my chocolate chip cookies for the weekend's Doctor Who party today, since it's good baking weather. I wonder how many will survive until Saturday. I do need to properly test the batch to ensure that it's worthy of serving to my friends.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dance as Mental Exercise

It appears that I've answered all the questions anyone has about the Enchanted, Inc. series, so I guess that's it for that feature, unless questions come up. And I am not saying that in a passive-aggressive "nobody loves me, so I'll sit over here in the corner until someone begs me to come back" sense. I'm merely stating a fact that no questions have been asked, so I am drawing the conclusion that I have answered everything that anyone cares to know, for the time being. I can't even think of any random factoid to share today, so maybe I have said everything that needs to be said.

I took two dance classes last night, so my body is mad at me and my brain is tired. The jazz class is mostly learning choreography, so it works like a mental exercise, and unlike ballet, there aren't a lot of standard moves we practice over and over again so that when it comes time to put them together in choreography, it's merely a case of putting puzzle pieces together. Jazz does use a lot of moves and steps from ballet, as well as some unique to jazz and some the teacher makes up on the fly, but the class isn't structured to teach and repeat those usual moves, so learning the dance involves both learning the moves and putting them together, and then remembering it all and doing it at the tempo that goes with the music. Supposedly, ballet is good "anti-aging" work because it strengthens all the muscles needed for balance and works on balance, which lessens the chances of falling and breaking a hip when you get older (the leading cause of death in the elderly -- since complications like blood clots and pneumonia tend to follow broken hips). Then jazz must be good for keeping the brain going and working on the brain-body connection. It's just the immediate aftereffects that are rough. By tonight, I may be barely mobile.

One of the books I have backburnered involves a dancer. I wonder if that means I can write off the dance classes as a research expense. Forget all those sword-wielding urban fantasy heroines. If you want to find someone who can really kick ass, find someone who has survived years of ballet training. You'll get leg muscles to die for and an impressive tolerance for pain.

As a Doctor Who fan, I would be remiss not to note the passing of Elisabeth Sladen, our lovely Sarah Jane Smith. When I was younger, I saw Sarah Jane as a role model because she was a universe-trotting journalist. When she returned through the revival of the series and then went on into her own spinoff series, I still saw her as a role model as an independent single woman whose life wasn't awful because she never found a husband. Do you know how rare that is in entertainment? I think when I get home from choir tonight I'll have to re-watch "School Reunion" in tribute.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Report: Victoriana

I'm supposed to do an Enchanted, Inc. post tomorrow, but I don't have any questions to answer. Is there something you want to know about the series? I mean, aside from when the next book is coming (which is totally out of my control).

I mentioned that I was on a Victoriana kick in reading. Here are a couple of books I found in my library recently. It seems like once you start reading this stuff, you just seem to find more of it.

First, there was The Mysterious Howling, the first book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood. My agent suggested this one, and she definitely knew my taste. It's actually a children's book -- maybe aimed at tween readers -- but it's one of those books that's probably good for children of all ages. It would make a fun book to read out loud to younger kids (so much potential for funny voices), but I think adults who are well read in the "governess goes to work in a house with secrets" subgenre or who are Jane Eyre fans will probably find it funnier because they'll get all the references and jokes. Sixteen-year-old Penelope has left the Academy for Poor Bright Females to interview for a governess position. She has high hopes that the fact that the advertisement specified that the candidate be good with animals means that the children have ponies, but she's surprised when the interview essentially consists of "Please, please, please work here, and you'll have to sign this letter stating that you won't just run away." Then she hears a mysterious howling sound coming from the barn, goes to investigate and finds three children who act more like animals. It turns out that the earl found these children who'd been raised by wolves in the forest on his land when he was out hunting, and she's expected to civilize and educate them. The kids are bright, but still mostly act like dogs. The big question, though, is why the earl is bothering with a governess instead of just sending them off to an orphanage. Does he have plans for these children?

This book manages to be a perfect spoof of those "governess goes to work in a house full of secrets" books while also being a good example of the genre. I was reading it at my parents' house and kept reading funny bits out loud to my mom. Just the imagery of an inexperienced governess dealing with children who'd literally been raised by wolves cracked me up. And then there was the fact that the kids were so completely distracted by squirrels -- which I learned while teaching Vacation Bible School last summer happens even with children who weren't raised by wolves. The one down side is that the ending is pretty cliffhangery -- not so much the "They're all going to die! Tune in next week to see what happens!" kind of cliffhanger, but the book just rather abruptly ends right at the point when a big discovery is made. The sequel is already out, but if you like books to have tidy, satisfying endings, be warned and have the sequel ready.

Then when I was picking that book up from the library, I ran across a book called Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale. This book demonstrates how blurry the lines between young adult and adult fiction can be. This was published as young adult by a YA/children's publisher, but has none of the usual hallmarks of "teen" fiction. None of the characters are teens -- the main character's age is never given, and while he might have been a teen at the beginning, by the main action of the book he would have to be an adult. I suppose the pacing is faster than you'd find if the book were written for adults, and the subject matter is something boy readers might like. This isn't a criticism, just a mention that if you don't like "teen" stuff, this is a teen book that isn't a "teen" book. Our hero is a thief in Victorian London who was captured when he fell through a skylight while trying to flee across the rooftops. He was badly injured and would have been allowed to just die, but a young surgeon who'd developed some new techniques for treating severe injuries needed a test subject, and so he was saved. Now he's being taken to meetings of the scientific societies to be shown off as a specimen. But while sitting through all these meetings, he listens to the lectures and studies the gentlemen of science. This gives him the idea for a grand scheme. London's new sewer system makes for the perfect escape route from thefts, and someone who acts like a gentleman may have a better chance of selling the stolen property. When he gets out of jail, he puts his plan into action, creating two identities, Scarper the street urchin who steals the stuff and Montmorency, the gentleman who sells it. Once he gets the money, he moves into a nice hotel and starts buying nice clothes instead of stealing them, and he finds that he quite likes the life of a gentleman. But how long can he keep up this double life?

I read this in just about one sitting. It's a real page turner, and I couldn't help but like the main character, in spite of his less-than-lawful behavior. Although we don't know how old he is, it still reads like a coming-of-age story as he deals with the issue of identity. Plus, the capers are fun, almost like a one-man Victorian Leverage. It's the first book in a series and seems to work as a set-up to stories that move in a slightly different direction, due to people he meets and things he does as a gentleman. I've already checked the second book out of the library.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The World Keeps Turning

It's nice to get away and take a break every so often, but somehow, that always means a huge catch-up, even if I was only gone for one weekday and then took the weekend off from the computer. People need to stop posting stuff to the Internet when I'm away. Meanwhile, the to-do list is getting epic because of all the stuff I didn't get done last week while I was focusing on taxes. There were a lot of little tasks in there that need to be done today.

What did I do on my break? Mostly, I read. I read three whole books, then I skimmed another just to analyze for content/pacing. I seem to be on a Victoriana kick, as almost everything I've been reading lately has been in that setting or an alternate history version of that setting. I don't yet have a strange urge to wear crinolines, but that might not be too far away.

I'm planning to take it moderately easy this week, since it's Holy Week and that means it's pretty busy. Tonight is my free night. Tomorrow, there's ballet. Wednesday is choir rehearsal. Thursday is Maundy Thursday service (optional, since I don't have to sing). Friday is Good Friday service (I have to sing). Saturday morning is a choir rehearsal for Easter, then that afternoon there's a Doctor Who premiere party. And then I have to sing for three services on Easter morning. For some reason, all the Easter music seems to involve much shrieking on the part of the soprano section. I guess the order of the day is high and loud. So, with all that going on, I'm going to prioritize the getting little things done, then do writing work when I have time between the little errand tasks and the rehearsals, classes and services. Oh, and there's baking to do.

Now I'm off to the library because there are books due and books to be picked up.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time for a Break

The taxes are done! All I have to do is write the check and put it all in the mail, and then I won't have to think about it again for a while, other than organizing my life to remind myself to keep up with the bookkeeping on an ongoing basis instead of letting things pile up.

Now I've decided that this weekend may be my best window of opportunity to visit my parents, since things will get very busy for the next month or so and I haven't visited since Christmas. I think getting away for a couple of days will be good for me, and then I can return refreshed and invigorated, though I suspect next week will be a low work week with all the extra Easter stuff I have going on.

I was thinking about getting a new dress for Easter this year, since I haven't done that in a while, but I'm in the choir, so I'm wearing a choir robe the whole time and I have to sing for three services. It gets hot under those robes, so there's not much point in wearing something nice. I generally go with a skirt and a nice t-shirt. So then I thought I'd look into new shoes. I was looking at one of those department store ad inserts that came in the newspaper and just skimming it while I ate breakfast without reading it. Instead of it being organized by department, it was organized by the kind of sale that was going on, so there was the page for the early-morning doorbusters, the page for the night-owl deals, the page for weekdays, the page for weekends, etc. (I guess they want you to keep coming to the store over and over again), with everything all mixed up on each page. I'd looked at some of the shoes they were advertising and wondered if they came with the stripper pole or if that was sold separately. Then a few pages over, they showed some really cute sandals that were just what I wanted, with a medium heel and straps that didn't look like bondage torture devices. With choir, we do a processional at the start of the service and then have to climb into the choir loft that's a full story above the sanctuary, then go down the stairs again at the end of the service for a recessional. Comfortable shoes are essential, and I need a lowish heel, depending on where they have me standing, because as short as I am, I'm tall for my section, and the people who stand behind me complain when I wear high heels. These shoes in the ad looked ideal.

And then when I looked closer, I saw that those shoes were for little girls in the 4-6 age range.

No wonder I haven't bought shoes in a while if the adult shoes look like something people in an "adult" industry would wear to work and if the shoes for little girls look ideal for a grown woman.

But for now, I'm just going to throw some jeans in my suitcase and go hang out with the folks. I probably won't post tomorrow unless I feel really inspired.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Business Side of Writing

The taxes are pretty much done in draft form. Now I just have to fill out the forms in ink while double-checking my math/numbers. And I just realized the deadline is the 18th, but I think I'm going to go ahead and get it all done. I'll feel like I'm early and have that weight off me. Besides, based on what my savings earned in interest last year (next to nothing on a very high balance), it's not like I'll earn massive amounts of interest by keeping money in the bank longer. The good news is that my estimated payments were very close to being the actual amount owed. Meanwhile, I started cleaning my desk, to the point there are expanses of actual desk surface visible. I didn't find anything particularly interesting on the desk, just the desk itself. Now I have to tackle the other leg of the L-shaped desk, and I have a lot of filing to do.

Since I haven't had any new writing questions come in, I'm coming up with my own topic, and since I've been working on my taxes, I thought I'd discuss the business side of writing. Unless you're writing purely for self-expression and personal enjoyment, you probably hope to one day make money from your work. And if you're hoping or planning to make money writing, there are some realities you need to face.

One is that this is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It can take months to sell a book to a major publisher, even with an agent. Then it can be a few more months before you get a finalized contract, and then a month or so (at least) after that before you get the first advance payment. I've heard that the average advance for a book is in the $10,000 range, and based on personal experience and the experiences of others I know, that sounds about right. Of course, there are exceptions, and those are the ones you hear about. They get reported because they're so unusual as to be newsworthy. Whether you're getting $5,000 or $5 million in an advance, you're probably not getting it all up front. You'll get a portion on the signing of the contract, a portion when the complete manuscript is accepted (even if you sell the book as a complete manuscript, the editor will often request revisions before the book is considered "accepted") and a portion on publication. What you don't often hear in reports of those huge deals is that they usually cover multiple books, so that big amount is broken up into even smaller pieces and may be spread over several years.

The "advance" is called that because it's an advance against royalties, kind of like a loan based on what they expect you to ultimately earn, except you don't have to pay it back if they miscalculated. Royalties are based on a percentage of the book's cover price, usually in the 6-15 percent range, depending on the kind of book and the contract. You don't receive any royalty payments until the book has earned more in royalties than you were paid in advance. Many books never earn out, so the advance is all you get. Some books keep earning royalties for years if they stay in print.

Foreign sales are another way you can earn money from your books, though that depends on your contract. Some publishers also buy the foreign rights, so foreign sales fall under your advance and you don't see additional money until you've earned out. But if you only sell US rights, then you can sell foreign rights separately in each country as individual deals with advances and royalties. This is where having an agent is very helpful, both to make sure your contract isn't grabbing rights and to have the contacts to sell to foreign publishers.

But all that money coming in from advances and royalties isn't free and clear. There are agent commissions, which are usually higher for foreign sales because there are other agents specializing in foreign markets involved. There are business expenses -- things like postage, web hosting, promotional expenses, etc. And there are taxes. Writing income is considered self-employment income, which means it's subject to self-employment taxes. That's essentially the money that's deducted from your paycheck for Social Security, etc., plus the amount the employer would usually pay, so it's about double what you'd have deducted from a paycheck. I pay a lot more in self-employment taxes than I do in income taxes. You have to make quarterly estimated payments since you don't have a monthly paycheck to deduct your taxes from, so you have to remember to keep money aside from any check you get so you can pay your taxes. You also have to pay for any other employee benefits, like retirement plan, health insurance, life insurance, etc.

So while the advance amounts may sound really good on the surface, that may be the total income for a year or more, and it's a pre-expenses, pre-taxes number. Which explains why writers get so riled about book pirates -- when you're not making that much money to begin with and then have to pay extra taxes and any employee benefits you want to give yourself, it is irksome to have people feel entitled to steal your work without paying for it.

However, this is still the best job I've ever had. I like the freedom and I like making a living by making up stories. If that's what you enjoy, then you can deal with the financial woes. If you think you can just dash off a book and make a ton of money, then you'll probably be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Report: "Literary" Urban Fantasy

Even while sort of taking it easy yesterday, I managed to be pretty efficient. I got most of the business bookkeeping finalized for my taxes, did laundry, did a little house cleaning and did my medical school freelance work. During the housecleaning, I found that stopwatch I lost months ago. What's weird is that it was on my dining table, where I never use it, and it was only under one newspaper section I'd put aside because I wanted to save an article in it, and that newspaper wasn't very old -- far more recent than the last time I saw that stopwatch. So, how did the watch get there, and how did it hide before that newspaper came along? I may have to blame the ghost for this one.

I'm going to have to do another one of those book discussions that gets a little negative because while I do recommend the book, it's a recommendation that comes with some warnings and caveats. That's because it's one of those "literary" novels that uses fantasy tropes, and while the fantasy elements are handled well and I think you'd get an awesome fantasy novel from this premise, if you're expecting a fantasy novel, you'll be disappointed.

The book is Petty Magic by Camille DeAngelis, and it deals with a race of magic users. They live exceptionally long lives and age very slowly, so that a 40-year-old is practically a teenager. There's some stuff that is fairly similar to the Harry Potter world, and I don't think it's the stuff that's drawn straight from folklore -- they travel by the "loo network," which sounds like a cross between the Harry Potter floo network and the flushing through public toilets entry to the Ministry of Magic, and then they live either in small towns that are mostly populated with magic users or in secret warrens in cities, where you need to know the right alley or gate to go through, and then you find these old parts of town that in the "real" world have been destroyed.

Evelyn was born the day the Civil War started, but in our present day, she's just starting to look like an old woman. Her retirement hobby is using magic to make herself look young again and then going out and picking up hot young men for one-night stands. But then she meets one who is the very image of the love of her life, a man she knew and lost during World War II when they spied together behind enemy lines, and she can't limit it to a one-night stand. She continues the relationship, which has some Cinderella overtones as she always has to leave him before her magic fades and she turns back into an old woman, and tries to determine if it's just an uncanny coincidence that he reminds her of her lost love or if maybe he's a reincarnation. The book then alternates between this present-day relationship and the story of her spying during the war. Meanwhile in the present day, there's strife and a power struggle within the coven as her sister is accused of having murdered her husband decades ago.

I enjoyed the book and almost couldn't put it down. It's one of the more interesting views of magic in the modern world and is close to what I wish urban fantasy was. But it's very much a literary novel using fantasy tropes. "Literary" fiction is more concerned with the characters' inner lives than with external plot, and that means that there's a lot more reaction than action. So, if you're reading for the "witches fight the war!" factor (which I love the idea of), you may be disappointed, as the actual spy missions are skimmed over in quick summary, and then much more space is devoted to the main character thinking about how she feels about the spy mission and her lover. Actually, there's a lot of lying in bed and thinking in this book. The modern-day plot with the discord within the coven is barely dealt with at all and I think was supposed to be some kind of metaphor for something, but it's not really there as "plot."

I would say read it for the world building and the hint at what urban/contemporary fantasy could be, but be prepared to be a little frustrated if you're a fantasy reader who is used to books with real plots that focus on the action.

I also read the latest Terry Pratchett book, I Shall Wear Midnight, which concludes the Tiffany Aching/Wee Free Men series, and what can I say about that? I love this series, and this was a satisfying conclusion. I'm going to miss the Nac MacFeegles. It does throw in some unexpected twists -- some things that you think are being built up in the previous books in the series don't work out the way you expect them to. Plus, there's a visit to the city, which means cameos from the Watch characters. I've really missed Carrot.

Monday, April 11, 2011


I had one of those "need a weekend to recover from the weekend" weekends where I always seemed to be running from one thing to the next. As a result, it took me forever to wake up this morning and I could probably fall asleep right now if I just sat still for too long. I may finally have enough tea in my system for coherence. It wasn't that I was so stressed out or doing anything truly exhausting, so I don't know why the weekend left me so tired. It's possible that I was tired going into it.

I had a minor epiphany Friday afternoon when I realized that I was stressing myself out over an arbitrary deadline. I was desperate to finish the draft because of all the stuff I need to do this week, and so I was getting impatient and rushed, and the book was suffering. So I made the executive decision to chill. I'll deal with the stuff I need to deal with this week, maybe go back to do some revision on what I wrote last week, and not worry about self-imposed deadlines. I think the stress from feeling so rushed and driven last week had a lot to do with the weekend exhaustion.

Now, some follow-up to Friday's post. I am aware that not all young adult paranormal books follow the formula I outlined. I've even read most of the ones that were mentioned in comments as not following the formula. I'm aware that you don't have to follow that formula to sell a book or have it be successful. However, the fact remains that this formula appears to be wildly popular among that audience, and if I don't get it at all and don't understand the appeal of it among that audience, then I worry that I don't understand what would appeal to that audience, which is important even if I write something different. If that makes any sense at all. I think part of my issue is that I should probably avoid the more "romancey" books where the focus is on the developing relationship between the heroine and the sexy supernatural stalker guy and focus more on the books where the emphasis is on the action part of the plot, with perhaps some incidental romance.

And now to do one final scour of the house for any stray receipts that might apply to my taxes. Fun.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Generic Young Adult Paranormal

I'm two chapters away from the end of the book. While I think the first half is more or less complete, the second half will require some major revisions. I think I already know what those revisions should be, and I'm torn between stopping now and going back and tinkering the way I've done with the rest of the book, or just plowing through to the end and then revising. I'm leaning toward the latter because I think that will give it a sense of urgency and momentum, plus I'm not sure exactly how some of the twists will work out, and knowing that will help me in revising.

I did run across something that rather surprised me, though. There's an event that I'd been planning for years. In fact, I largely built the plot of this book around that event. And then when I got there, it just felt wrong. I sort of wimped out on doing what I planned, and I'm still not sure if that was right or wrong. I think it could have some fun payoff, but I also think I need to set it up better. That's another argument for finishing the plot and then fixing it. I need to see how it ultimately works out before I can know how to go back and either change it or set it up differently. Since I'm leaving space to expand upon things later, I may finish writing the plot today. I'm ready to get this all out of my head and then take a little break to work on something else for a while and then be fresh when I revisit it.

I mentioned the other day that I've looked into trying to write young adult books, since my voice supposedly fits there and I write more innocent books that are teen-appropriate. So, I've been trying to read a lot of the popular YA books in order to get a sense of what's out there and what's selling. And there seems to be a definite pattern to the wildly popular contemporary paranormal YA books.

There's a girl who either thinks she's super-ordinary and boring or who thinks she's a freak. And then she meets a guy in her school who is hot. Super hot. Like, scorching. The most beautiful guy ever. All the girls swoon in his presence. Did I mention that he's hot? She's forced to interact with him because of some thing at school, like being lab partners or working on a class project together, which makes the other girls hate her. He's exasperating to deal with because he seems to run hot and cold. Sometimes he acts like he really likes her and goes out of his way to be nice to her, but then he'll turn around and be almost cruel, ignoring her entirely while flirting with other girls. Every time she allows herself to think that maybe he does like her, he'll suddenly run cold again and she'll see him hanging out with someone else.

But then she finds out that he really does like her. In fact, that's the reason he runs hot and cold, because his feelings are so intense that sometimes he can't handle them. Plus, he's some kind of supernatural being, and he could be dangerous to her, so even though he knows that they're meant to be together, he's afraid of really getting together with her. There's usually some stalking, and at some point he ends up in her room watching her sleep. After she learns about the supernatural and the danger, she insists that she doesn't care, she loves him and wants to be with him, and she's willing to face the danger. But then she is put in danger because of whatever otherworldly stuff he's associated with. He rescues her and they're in love (until the sequel, when some other issue comes up).

And I'm not just talking about Twilight here. There are a number of books that fit this exact pattern, with a few variations (in one, she is actually able to resist hot paranormal guy because there's someone she already likes), and all of them are huge bestsellers. But I'm not sure I get the appeal of this pattern.

I totally understand the hot-and-cold guy. That was the story of my life in my teens and the reason I practically have to have a sworn and notarized affidavit before I'll let myself believe that someone likes me. I was always having the guys who started acting like they really liked me, paid a lot of attention to me, and just when I was starting to let myself think they liked me, I'd learn that they had a girlfriend. I don't think I was being entirely delusional to think that a guy liked me when he'd invite me over to his house to study together and even offer to pick me up and take me home, in spite of me living out in the country, and then he'd have study snacks all arranged like it was a mini party for two, his mother would pop in while we were working and do that fluttery "isn't it cute that my son has a girl over?" mom thing, and we'd hang out and talk after we finished studying before he took me home. The maddening thing was, most of the time, I didn't even like these guys until they started paying attention to me. Then I'd start looking for things to like about them and seeing their good qualities, and it always seemed that just when I'd convinced myself that they really did like me and just as I convinced myself that I liked them, that's when I'd find out that it really was just a study session and he really did have some cheerleader girlfriend that everyone in the school but me knew about.

But in my fantasies, this guy doesn't turn out to be some magical dude with so many issues that he can't either stay away if he thinks there's possible danger to me or communicate his true feelings without being a total jerk. A guy who likes you shouldn't hurt you and shouldn't play games with you. He shouldn't behave in a way that he knows hurts your feelings or confuses you. That's where all my "sucked through a portal" fantasies came in, where the guys who were waffling were the ones who ended up losing out when it turned out I was a princess from another world and the prince/knight/hero type showed them what a real man was like. I might not have been homecoming queen, but then a homecoming queen doesn't get to lead an army. So, it's hard for me to get caught up in these grand, dramatic love stories where the guy waffles like crazy. Not to mention that I crack up about all these immortal dudes who are hundreds of years old and still hanging out in high school. Just say you look young for your age. At the very least, go on to college. College was tons more fun than high school. My idea of hell is spending eternity in high school.

And I really don't get the bit about him sneaking into her room and watching her sleep. Ask my mom what happens when someone comes into my room when I'm sleeping. Let's just say that the guy would have to be good and immortal, or at least immune to a pair of sharp scissors, and there would be much screaming. I wouldn't consider it romantic.

So maybe I'm not cut out to write YA, since I don't get the stuff that's popular. If you don't get it, you can't do it well.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Brain Zags

It seems that nightmares about working in a grocery store deli weren't as motivating as I thought. I got next to nothing done yesterday. But I don't think motivation was my problem. My brain decided to zag instead of zigging (or maybe it zigged instead of zagging), and it took a while for me to catch up. They may say that success (or genius) is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration, but if you go for the perspiration without the inspiration part, you'll just end up running in circles.

This whole section of the book is based on the idea that they absolutely must stop X from happening because that would be really bad. I've managed to make it very difficult for my characters to stop X from happening because easy is boring. But that means I've been straining my brain trying to come up with ways they can stop X from happening, and it was starting to feel repetitive. It was like the bad guys try this, the heroes stop them, the bad guys try that, the heroes stop them. And then the good guys try this preventative measure that works until the bad guys try something else.

And then while I was brainstorming new things to try, my brain said, "Why not just let X happen?" At first, I protested. After all, that's what all this is supposed to be about, stopping X. It would be like getting almost to the end of Star Wars and saying, "Why not just let the Death Star destroy the moon where the rebel base is?" But then as I thought about it, I started realizing that it would actually make things more interesting. It wasn't so much "let the Death Star destroy the moon where the base is" as it was "let the Death Star track them as they flee to the rebel base," since hiding the location of the rebel base had been what Princess Leia had been trying to do through much of the story. She resisted torture without spilling the location, and yet they ended up leading the Death Star right there when they freed her. But the movie would have had a less exciting ending if they hadn't had the ticking clock of the approaching Death Star to force them to find a way to destroy it -- fast.

So then, once my perspective shifted, I started seeing all the possibilities, but I still had to re-plot this section. I'm not entirely sure when X should happen, but I think that will depend on how long making X happen and then dealing with the consequences and then possibly later undoing the damage ends up taking. I may end up having to cut some of the "the bad guys try this, the heroes stop them" iterations earlier.

Now that I've worked most of this out, today should be productive. No "ack! A real job!" nightmares last night. I just somehow managed to dream about the A Game of Thrones miniseries, in spite of not having read the books or even seen the trailers. I managed to create a dream out of a couple of photos in a magazine. Oh, and the Jonas Brothers were in it, which I think was triggered by a comic strip joke I read yesterday. I'm not entirely sure what they all look like, since my exposure is limited to the one who failed miserably in Les Miserables and the occasional Disney Channel promo during Phineas and Ferb, but that's who my brain thought they were in the dream, and I find the idea of them being in a nightmare about a gritty and somewhat twisted fantasy series to be rather ridiculously hilarious. They were so very out of place. Now I kind of want to write a story in which a made-for-TV boy band gets transported into a gritty and twisted fantasy world where they have no power over tween girls and don't know how to cope.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Well, nobody asked an Enchanted, Inc. question, so I guess everyone knows everything they want to know (aside from what will happen next). I guess I'll skip that feature this week, since I have book brain and ballet legs. The music for last night's class went with a "stage and screen" theme, so some of us were attempting to sing along with the songs from musicals and were playing name that tune. And then there was the exercise we did to the Oompa Loompa song, which was awesome, except it involved going up and down from bent knees to on the toes a lot, back and forth, and I suspect that I'll be really sore from that by the end of today. We usually stick with the same music for a month, so if I keep this up, maybe I'll be able to sing and dance at the same time, which will help if I get the nerve to audition for the community theater's summer musical.

I didn't quite get to my page count goal yesterday, which means I have to write a little more each day the rest of the week, but I'm hoping that I can mostly make it up on Thursday, since I have nothing going on that day. I've learned that I can't plan on writing after ballet because it exhausts me, but I can usually write after choir because that tends to rev me up. I think the deep breathing for the singing must send extra oxygen to my brain. Maybe I'll start singing a bit before I sit down to write every day. I can practice potential audition pieces.

I guess I can still talk about my series, even if no one had any specific questions. I've been thinking a lot lately about classifications, since it's an issue that's coming up again with my work, and it is something I get asked about in general. Although the series is based on a fantasy premise and uses fantasy elements, it's shelved in general fiction. There are works with fantasy elements that get shelved there, but when literary fiction uses fantasy elements, the fantasy elements tend to be a metaphor for something else. In my case, though, the magic is magic. You could probably find a metaphor in there somewhere, but it's not really intended. My books are shelved in general fiction not because they're literature using magic as metaphor but because they were considered "chick lit." Back at the time when the first book sold, in 2004, that was the hottest genre in the publishing world. Publishers were grabbing all they could get and were starting to look for new twists on it, like fantasy elements. Meanwhile, "urban fantasy" hadn't quite become big yet. It certainly hadn't turned out to be as female-dominated as it's become, with the huge crossover with paranormal romance and the emphasis on sexy creatures of the night. Although I've been trying to distance myself from the chick lit label and have been calling my books "light urban fantasy" or "humorous contemporary fantasy," they really do have a lot of chick lit in them.

That's declined as the series has progressed, but the first book I think really straddles the line between chick lit and fantasy. It's what I would call "relatable fantasy." There is a fantasy world, but the characters also go through the same kinds of things readers go through, with the fantasy elements intensifying the situation. I did write it thinking in terms of using a chick lit framework to tell a fantasy story, but when it came time to market it, it really could have gone either way. My agent and I decided to market it as chick lit, since that was what was hot at the time and it would stand a better chance of getting a push there. That may or may not have been the wrong decision. The chick lit market did start to tank right at the time the second book was published, but I'm not sure the first book would have sold as a fantasy. Maybe it would have sold a couple of years later as fantasy when urban fantasy took off, but then again, by that point, urban fantasy was being associated with dark and sexy, so it still wouldn't have fit in. It seems like more of my readership comes to the books as fantasy than as chick lit, and I think I'd have a bigger readership if they were shelved as fantasy where fantasy fans could find them, but now with e-books and Amazon having such a huge role, and with the books being classified as urban fantasy on Amazon, maybe shelving doesn't mean so much anymore. On yet another hand, publishing decisions still have a lot to do with orders from the major chains, so all those Amazon and e-book sales don't help much if Barnes & Noble sees the books as chick lit and thinks chick lit is dead.

But there is some logic to classifying them as either chick lit or fantasy. The one that surprises me is that I hear from a lot of people who expect them to be classified as romance. Yes, there's a romantic subplot, and that does seem to be the part of the books that most captures people's imaginations, but I can't imagine that these books would have been successful if they'd been shelved as romance. A romance generally requires that a relationship begins before the end of the book. It took two books to start getting this couple together, and romance is never in the forefront. Apparently, I do the romantic elements well enough that they capture readers' imaginations, and I even get suggestions within the industry that I ought to write romances because I'm so good at that part of the books.

The thing is, I have done that, and I was terrible at it. I guess I was good enough to get some published, but it was a constant battle with my editor because I like the subtle, slow build, and that doesn't work in the romance genre. It's not even about being able to write sex scenes or sexual tension because I also bombed at trying to write inspirational romance, even though the publisher tried to recruit me for that. I think there's a distinct difference between a love story in another genre and a romance novel, and the fact that I seem to be good at weaving a love story into another plot doesn't mean that I'd be good at a romance novel. A romance reader expects the hero and heroine to get together at the end of the book, not at the end of five books.

Maybe I should move into yet another category and write young adult, where there's no dividing line between fantasy and romance and they like the slow build, triangles, and all that. Not that I've had much success there, either, as my voice seems to be too young for regular fantasy and too old for young adult. I think my main problem is that I never really was a teenager. I thought and acted like a thirty-year-old when I was a teen. I didn't do teenage-type stuff until I was in my twenties. I was looking through some photo albums at my parents' house, and I looked a lot younger in the pictures taken when I was in my twenties and thirties than I did in my high-school pictures. I look younger in a picture taken at my twentieth high school reunion than I do in a group shot taken my senior year in high school. I think that makes it tough for me to write about teens, even though I spend time with teens. It's the non-typical teens that tend to gravitate to me -- the ones who are older than their years in some ways and younger than their years in others. I guess they recognize the kindred spirit.

So, there I stand, writing fantasy that's not typical fantasy, with romance that's not enough for it to be in the romance genre, too "young" and innocent for adults, but not young enough or with whatever other quality they seem to be looking for in teen books. I have a potentially huge audience with all that crossover, but it also makes it hard for all those people to find the books, and it makes everything I write hard to classify.

I dreamed last night about working at the grocery store. Maybe I should put in an application.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Library Vigilantism

I wrote 24 pages yesterday, and now I can finish the book this week if I just write at least 23 pages a day. Then next week I can finish my taxes (I keep records throughout the year, so doing my taxes mostly involves putting numbers onto the forms) and clean the sty my house tends to become when I get really focused on a book. It's starting to annoy me, so I need to do something about it. I may then take the week before Easter as a spring break, since that will be a really busy week anyway, with extra services and rehearsals for choir and then a Doctor Who season premiere party. I might start doing some work on the next project, which will be revising the previous project, mostly because I'm really eager to get to it, but I may not be spending four to six hours a day on it the way I am now.

Tomorrow's supposed to be Enchanted, Inc. discussion day, and I don't have any questions in the queue (that I remember -- I have book brain). So if there's something you want to see discussed, ask away! I'm also taking writing questions for the writing posts. In case you haven't noticed, I alternate on Wednesdays between writing posts and Enchanted, Inc. universe discussion.

I have particular motivation to get to writing. I just got notification from the library that the new Terry Pratchett book is finally ready for me to pick it up. They seem to have just bought one copy for the entire library system, and I've been in the number one position on the hold list for more than six weeks. Considering the checkout period is three weeks and you're not allowed to renew a book if there's a waiting list, that means someone was keeping the book way overdue. I also got notification this week about something else that's come in after I've been in the number one position on the hold list for nearly three months, so maybe the library system has started cracking down on people keeping items overdue. With the Pratchett book, I was on the verge of suggesting that the easiest way to reduce the number of overdue items would be to give the contact information on the person who's significantly overdue to the next person on the waiting list. Then we would have a wave of library vigilantism. I can just see me showing up at someone's house and saying, "Okay, hand over the Pratchett and nobody's legs will get broken." Instead, they just seem to have started a policy where you can't check anything else out or use the library computers if you have overdue items, and they've started assessing fines after a certain time. Which I thought were already their policies, but apparently they weren't doing much about overdue materials before. That would explain why so many items went missing for months. There were times when I was in the number one position on the hold list for so long that the hold expired. If you want to keep a book, go to the bookstore, and it will cost you less than paying library fines or paying the library replacement fee.

But, anyway, I think I'll wait until I'm closer to done before I get the book because it will be impossible to resist reading instead of writing. Which means it's time to get to writing.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Other Side of the Story

I'm on the home stretch of the current project, with only about a hundred more pages to write. I'm not entirely sure I have that much story left, but things keep popping up, so I'm sure it will all work out. This is the part I hadn't planned in that much detail, the part that comes between the "Ordeal" and the "Death/Resurrection," in hero's journey terms. I know the big, climactic ending, but I'm not entirely sure how I'll get there.

I loved that new TV series, Chaos that was on Friday night, which I figured was pretty much a death knell, and yeah, the ratings sucked badly. It probably didn't help that I had to go look for information on it, which is a sure sign that the promo is somewhat lacking. In one of the articles I was able to find, they were talking about being inspired by the 1970s Three Musketeers movie, which was mostly an action comedy. This is essentially the Three Musketeers in a modern setting, where they're spies and not musketeers. We've got the three veteran guys who've been working together a long time and dealing with the complicated politics of their situation, and now they've got the new guy, the idealistic rookie. It probably won't last the rest of the season, but I plan to enjoy it while I can because it's perfect Friday television. It's definitely pizza-worthy.

A few weeks ago (could be longer -- time is doing funny things to me lately), I talked about how I don't seem to have a "favorite" show right now. There's stuff I watch and enjoy, but there's nothing that's really capturing my imagination (at least, until Doctor Who comes back). I've since realized that the show that's most captured my imagination is the one I'm not seeing, one that's taking place behind the scenes of another show. I was never too deeply involved in the NCIS spinoff. It was mostly Sunday afternoon OnDemand fare, but it was perfect for that -- some action, some comedy, characters I found interesting. Then they retooled it this year for reasons that remain a mystery, and while I still generally eventually end up watching it, I tend to let weeks of episodes pile up, and I'll watch other things multiple times before I get around to them because I find the characters that they added to be highly irritating. One part of the retooling that bugged me was that they wrote out the character I liked the most, the psychologist. I think I could have dealt with that, since I'm used to my favorite characters being marginalized, killed or written off. But they didn't just send him off into the sunset, never to be seen again. No, they gave him this off-screen storyline where he's had to go deep undercover for reasons that remain entirely unknown (considering there was an episode last season mostly about how he shouldn't try to do field work), and he still pops up from time to time, always in some tense, crisis-laden situation.

Which means that there's a story going on about a mild-mannered, slightly nerdy psychologist who's been suddenly thrust into the world of international espionage and counterterrorism, going so deep under cover at times that even his colleagues don't know where he is or what he's doing, he's having to learn to use weapons and to do hand-to-hand combat, and whatever he's seeing or doing, it's giving him this dark, haunted look, like he's going through hell and barely hanging on. And I'm not getting to see this story. Instead, I'm being forced to watch a mediocre, run-of-the-mill procedural where the supposed "deep cover" unit's undercover operations mostly consist of stuff on the level of saying "Candygram!" to get someone to open the door. They're taunting me with my absolute favorite kind of story -- the ordinary guy gets thrown into extraordinary circumstances and learns what he's really made of story -- with added mysteries of why and how he's doing this, and they're not letting me see it. It's like when shows sometimes do those one-off episodes from the perspective of a secondary character, so that he's going about his day while there are glimpses of these major things happening just off in the periphery. So the show's focusing on solving the dead marine of the week or busting the smuggling ring within the military transport system while elsewhere there's a guy without the usual spy or law enforcement training, the guy they wouldn't even let touch a gun before, hauling around arsenals in his suitcase while tracking terrorists through the middle east, and all we get to see is him popping up with his small arsenal and haunted look to tell us what he's discovered while sneaking through back alleys in Yemen or monitoring an imprisoned terrorist from his cover as a prison psychologist before he disappears again. So, naturally, my storyteller brain keeps trying to fill in the gaps, which means that the show that's currently captured my imagination the most is the one I'm not getting to see.

I'm not sure how interesting it really would be if I did see it. The hints may be the intriguing part. But it does seem weird to me as a writer to create an entire offscreen storyline that involves a complete character arc and a transformation of a character. If you're going to take someone from innocent and physically awkward to haunted and badass, you should probably show the process -- especially if all the other characters you are showing are relatively static and aren't going through any real arcs or changes.

Now I kind of want to try writing one of those "ordinary person surrounded by the real heroes" stories -- the guy going about his daily routine and occasionally getting the glimpses of people trying to save the world in the background. It would probably have to be a short story because I don't think you could keep it up for an entire novel without eventually putting the main character in the center of the action. It would probably be a pain to write because you'd have to plot all the "main plot" stuff first so that you could weave the daily routine through it. It could be fun to do as a duology -- have the version from the viewpoint of the peripheral character and then the "real" version. I guess it's like that short film on the Wall-E DVD focusing on that little robot trying to repair the light while the events of the main movie take place around him.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Not an April Fool's Joke

I am not going to attempt any April Fool's jokes here. There's too much risk of something coming up in a future Google search and someone not noticing the post date and taking the post literally. Heck, last year I made a joke about what April Fool's jokes I wasn't doing and someone took it literally. When you have to explain your joke about not making a joke, it's too much effort.

I managed to get my characters out of the tricky situation they were in, and then from there into another tricky situation, for which I think I have a solution, so I hope to make progress today. It's a little frustrating to work for hours without changing page counts, but I have undone the damage I did in making the wrong decision, even though I feel like I should apologize to my characters for what I'm putting them through.

Let's see, random news type stuff of the day …

The Bronx Zoo cobra has been found and is back home. It seems it really never did leave the reptile house, so that whole Bronx Zoo cobra Twitter feed (and the related Bronx Zoo mongoose Twitter feed) of the snake's adventures was apparently a hoax. Bummer. (And, yes, that is a joke. I am aware that a cobra can't tweet, even if it does have an iPhone and there's an asp for that -- the cobra's explanation for its tweeting ability.) But I loved the idea of the snake on the lam and the mongoose chasing him all over the city, just as long as I was very far away. I think I watched that cartoon of Rikki-Tikki Tavi too many times as a kid.

I'm not hearing a lot of buzz about the new CBS show premiering tonight, Chaos. I looked into it because I thought I saw a couple of familiar faces in one of the promos, and now I'm thinking it could be a ton of fun. It's sort of a comedy/adventure spy show, about a group of loose-cannon CIA agents and the rookie who gets assigned to their unit to spy on them for their boss. It involves Eric Close, and while the clips I've seen don't indicate the extreme amounts of shirtlessness we had in Now and Again, he does seem to put on glasses a few times, which isn't bad (hot men in suits putting on glasses just does something for me). Then there's James Murray, who played the paleontology research assistant/big game hunter (really, really, really big game) in the first two seasons of Primeval, though it looks like he's playing the opposite of his stoic, reserved Primeval character here, as he seems to be the loud, obnoxious comic relief. Plus, in a departure from all the British actors doing American accents on American TV shows, we have a British actor doing a Scottish accent on an American TV show. I found some clips and behind-the-scenes stuff online, and it looks like the cast is having way too much fun, which tends to mean the show will be fun to watch. This could be perfect Friday-night entertainment, which means it will be cancelled in about three weeks. Even so, tonight I think I'm making a pizza so I can enjoy this properly.

Plus, new Phineas and Ferb tonight, though it's apparently a "clip show." We'll see how that really translates in their universe. They've already re-made an earlier episode in the form of a musical, so there's no telling how they'll do a clip show.

And now to go see if I can finally move my page count forward.