Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Power of Imagination

I gave myself a long holiday weekend so I could visit my parents. I spent Memorial Day weekend watching old war movies with my dad. There was also much eating and reading. So it was basically the usual weekend with my parents, though there usually aren't so many old war movies running back-to-back on cable.

I was reading my stash of children's/young adult books from the library, and I was reminded of one of the hazards of seeking books in the children's section: what I call the "Power of Imagination" books. These are the ones where the cover talks about a kid escaping some situation by traveling into another world or running off to have great adventures -- and then you read the book and find out that the adventures only come about through "the power of imagination" and the kid doesn't actually do anything. I suppose it's not the fault of the book/author because the books themselves seldom pretend to be anything but what they are -- there's no fake-out in the story where you're led to believe it's anything but imagination. It's a marketing thing. I guess they're afraid that a book about someone imagining doing cool stuff doesn't sound that interesting, so the cover copy makes it sound like the cool stuff is really happening. Those books made me so mad as a kid because I was a huge fan of the "sucked through a portal" books where kids from our world traveled into another world and had adventures, so I'd pick up anything that sounded like that. It was such a disappointment to start reading and learn that these were only imaginary adventures. I was perfectly capable of imagining my own adventures. I didn't need to read about some kid imagining adventures.

I remember one that I particularly hated, though I don't remember the title or author. It had something to do with a boarding school, which was another one of my favorite things to read about as a kid. The cover said something about the heroine escaping the dreadful boarding school by traveling to another world with one of her classmates, and they had to learn a whole new language and eventually became princesses. I was all over that. I loved the idea of escaping school by stepping through a portal to another world. And then it turned out that they just snuck into some old attic, where they found a trunk of old dresses (because all attics in kids' books contain trunks of old clothes) and made up an imaginary world and created their own secret language. I so didn't sign up to read a book about sneaking into an attic. I wanted to go to another world!

What's really depressing, and what makes me even madder, is that these books about the magical power of imagination usually end up undermining themselves because it seldom seems that the flights of fancy have a positive effect. Usually something tragic happens because the games go too far or someone gets caught up in the game and the distraction allows something to happen, and then the imaginative kid gets humbled. I guess this is the children's book version of "literary," as the kid is usually escaping from some relevant real-world problem, and then there's the tragic ending where the child is ultimately forced to face reality and grow beyond such childish things as imagining other worlds. It's like the message is that imagination is a wonderful thing, but you have to let it go to grow up.

I would have thought I would be sophisticated enough now not to fall for that. After all, I work with the publishing industry and have done marketing writing. And yet I still managed to grab a book that sounded like a fun adventure but that turned out to be about a bedridden kid making up stories. At least this one had a happy ending and didn't turn tragic because of the kid's imagination.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Upcoming Weekend

First, a TV programming note: I know a few of my friends and my parents really enjoyed the wacky spy show Chaos, before it was abruptly pulled after three episodes. Well, it looks like they're going to show the remaining episodes during the summer. There are two episodes scheduled for Saturday night, starting at 7 Central Time on CBS. That works out well this weekend, since BBCAmerica isn't showing the new episode of Doctor Who because of the holiday weekend (I suspect they'll see the error of their ways when their ratings drop significantly for the subsequent episodes that are shown a week late, thanks to viewers who don't want to wait and who have other ways of obtaining the episodes).

I took a walk to the library this morning because it was nice and cool, and I needed the exercise even if I didn't really desperately need books and could have dropped off the books that are due over the weekend. Unfortunately, by the time I dug through my "books to look for" notebook and the library's online catalogue to find things to check out, it was no longer nice and cool, so I am now very sweaty. I resorted to checking out a lot of children's books because I just couldn't take the darkness anymore. I've been reading for market research, and it seems that everything in the genre that best fits what I'm working in is really dark, which may be a bad sign for me. I used to go to YA when I wanted something lighter, but those are now really dark, with dystopia being the big thing. It's hard to find plain old fun reading material.

What I'd love to find is some steampunk that isn't dark and depressing and that doesn't have zombies, vampires, werewolves or dark, twisted sorcerers -- something that's more pure adventure in airships, with a Jules Verne flavor. Cool gadgets, cool costumes and a feeling of adventure and possibility, with Victorian manners and a touch of romance. The closest I've found are the Scott Westerfeld books, Leviathan and Behemoth, but there's not a lot more like that. I may just have to dig out my Jules Verne books.

My Memorial Day weekend plans are simple. I'm singing for a funeral Saturday morning, then I'll be visiting the parents later in the weekend. If I'm really good, I'll finish this round of revisions on the book today, so I can then spend the weekend doing a lot of reading and relaxing.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Day for Frolicking

It looks like my petunia is a casualty of the storm. I repotted the remaining bits yesterday, but today those are shriveled up and brown. It's sad because it was a thank-you gift for being a children's choir director, but I hadn't really bonded with it yet, and I do still have the decorated pot it came in, which is the part mentioning choir. It's been a bit noisy today with chainsaws, leaf blowers and other things that come into play when there's been storm damage.

The upside of a big storm is that you often get gorgeous weather in the aftermath. Today is spectacularly lovely, with warm (but not hot) temperatures and clear skies. I have work to do, and it's the kind of work that must be done at the computer, and the computer doesn't work so well outdoors (I've tried, but there's a glare on the screen), but it would be a shame to spend a day like today indoors. So, since everything on TV tonight is a rerun, I think I'll at least take a walk this afternoon and enjoy the outdoors and then work tonight. I do have at least one minor pen-and-paper task to do, so I may do some outdoor work. This is definitely a day made for frolicking. I may take a bottle of bubble soap to the park and just sit there, blowing bubbles.

And, yes, yes, I do have a bottle of bubble soap handy. Doesn't everyone?

I'm still enjoying this book. I may be in the delusional stage, but I think it's at least as good as the one I just read that's a bestseller in the same genre, and considering that it took me nearly three weeks to read the bestseller because I was more interested in the book I was working on, that I wrote and that I know the ending for, I think that's a good sign. Now, if only the publishers will agree. I think this is one that if the publishers don't get it, I may consider self-publishing online as an experiment (and to prove them wrong).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Open Writing Question Post -- Ask Me Anything!

I had a late night last night due to wave after wave of major storms. The only damage I've noticed at my house was a petunia plant that was sheared off. My other plants were okay, and my patio furniture didn't seem to have been so much as moved, but it looks like there's some wind and hail damage in the neighborhood. Riding through storms like that isn't conducive to a restful night of sleep. I was at ballet class during the worst storm when the sirens went off, so we spent most of the class in the teachers' lounge/bathroom at the studio.

After the storms last night, and the resulting late morning and grogginess, it's a bit of a challenge to come up with a writing post, so I think I'll take a week off. My plagiarist will have to find some other source this week. Maybe I'll make it a comment post. if you have a question about writing, ask it in comments. If it's a short answer, I'll answer in comments. If not, then I'll use it as the basis for a future post.

Now I think I may take a walk to see how bad the damage in the neighborhood is. When we had the really bad storm a few years ago that ripped off roofs, I slept through it and didn't notice the damage until later in the day, so it's entirely possible that I didn't notice something major when I was driving home in a "lull" that was only intense rain without hail or a tornado.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Fantasy Island Experience

I made pretty good progress on the latest round of revisions. No matter how many times I've read something, I still find things that need to be changed. On the other hand, I had some things in mind that I felt like I needed to fix, and when I got to those parts, I realized that what I thought I needed to add was already there.

Lately, I've been watching syndicated cable reruns of the original CSI. I'd never really watched it before -- it was one of those shows where it had been on for years, but I didn't believe there was more than one episode because every time I managed to catch even a part of an episode, it was always the same episode -- but there are only so many times you can watch the same reruns of NCIS, and crime procedurals make some of the best background noise for house cleaning and other unpleasant tasks that require some distraction to make them palatable, so now I have a decade of episodes I haven't seen of this show.

Anyway, a few days ago I caught an episode in which they were tracking down what a murder victim had done on the night leading up to his death. They found that his boss had given him a trip to Las Vegas as a reward, so he got a nice hotel room on the company credit card. Then when he was drinking in the hotel bar, a gorgeous blonde started talking to him. She spilled her drink on him and then insisted on buying him a new (expensive, designer) outfit. Then they went to another place in her Ferrari to go shoot some pool, he got into a game with another guy at the pool hall, and won ten grand. He got to drive the Ferrari on the way back to the hotel, and the guy he'd beat at pool tried to race him in his Corvette, but the Ferrari won. It was like the ultimate vacation fantasy come true -- and that's what it turned out to be. His boss had given him the additional gift of a carefully orchestrated fantasy based on his interests, and it had all been scripted and set up. He liked to play pool and thought he was pretty good, and he was into auto racing and fast cars, so a hot girl who played pool and drove a Ferrari would have been right out of his dreams, and then winning a high-stakes game of pool and a road race made it even better. Unfortunately, the guy didn't realize it was fake, really fell for the girl, and then got himself killed when he went to threaten the guy she'd claimed was her abusive ex that she needed to escape from (letting him feel protective and chivalrous was part of the fantasy). Oops.

But that got me started thinking that it would be really cool if you could actually get that Fantasy Island experience (without the murder, of course), though I suppose it would have to be a gift for it to really work, as arranging your own fantasy would mean you knew it wasn't real, and that would take all the fun out of it. Of course, that got me started thinking about what kind of perfect, "best vacation ever!" someone could arrange for me (and no, I'm not hinting here). I don't really have any dream or fantasy that's the sort of thing that someone could arrange for me in a way that I'd believe it. I want to be a bestselling author, but I wouldn't want a fake book tour with red carpet treatment and people paid to pretend to be fans. I'm not so self-deluded as to think I could somehow luck into being a ballerina, and I'm the slow-build type when it comes to relationships, so a vacation fling wouldn't work for me because I wouldn't have time to get into a comfort zone with a man before it was time to go home.

My vacation fantasies are pretty simple. It would be cool to show up at the airport and be told, "Oops, the flight's overbooked. I guess we'll have to put you in first class." And then to show up at the hotel and be told, "Oops, the hotel's overbooked, so we'll have to give you a concierge suite with a jacuzzi and a balcony with a scenic view, and we'll send up a bottle of champagne for the inconvenience." I like traveling alone, but the one thing I dislike about it is that I hate eating in restaurants alone, so I generally miss out on a lot of the culinary opportunities of travel. I'll often just get some takeout and go back to my hotel room. So it might be nice to run into someone interesting while touring something, strike up a conversation, and then suggest that we continue the conversation over dinner. If we're going farther into fantasy territory, I love ballroom dancing, but people tend to go to dancing-like venues as couples, so if you go alone, you don't get to dance, and it might be nice to find someone to go dancing with or to go someplace just to listen to the music and be asked to dance by someone who knew what he was doing. If we're going into real Fantasy Island territory, then it would be cool to end up singing with a jazz band.

But the funny thing is, I've done all those things, and they weren't arranged (as far as I know). I got the surprise first-class upgrade when a flight back from a conference in Chicago was canceled due to mechanical problems, and instead of standing at the gate and screaming at the agents, I called the reservations number to get rebooked and was friendly and polite and demonstrated a sense of humor with the agent. I didn't even realize that he'd rebooked me onto the next flight in first class until they started calling row numbers for boarding. Unfortunately, that's a really short flight, so I didn't get to take advantage of the full first-class experience. The hotel upgrade wasn't a surprise, since it happened because I had something bad happen on a previous stay, and they said when I came back they'd upgrade me, but I did get the suite with jacuzzi, and they did send a bottle of wine (no champagne, alas). As for meeting people while touring and continuing the conversation elsewhere, I do that all the time. That's one of the reasons I like traveling alone, that I'm more open to meeting new people that way. It's mostly been lunch we end up doing, and it's usually been groups of women I fall in with instead of handsome men, but to be honest, I think I'd be a little leery of going to dinner with a man I've only just met in a strange city. I've been asked to dance when I've been listening to music in a hotel bar, though they haven't been very good dancers. And I've even sung with a jazz band. On a trip to New Orleans, I was having lunch at a patio cafe with a jazz band, and I requested a song. I think the bandleader was picking on me when he said I had to sing it, and then when I did and he realized I could really sing, he made me sit in for a while, and the audience made requests. It was more of a Dixieland band than a swanky piano trio or big band, but still, I got to be the girl singer for a jazz band in the French Quarter.

I don't know if this means that my fantasies are way too modest or that I'm just good at making my own dreams happen. Most of these things come about because I'm nice and friendly and pay attention to people. I get good service because I try to be the kind of person people want to do nice things for, and I meet interesting people and get to do cool things because I act like those people are interesting and I appreciate what they do. So I guess I don't need some big-bucks fantasy concierge service to make good things happen to me, which should mean things are less likely to go wrong and end in murder.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sunday at the Convention Center with Joe Dalek

I spent Sunday helping with the FenCon table at the Dallas ComicCon, and it was an interesting experience. Some of the guys with our group built a full-size Dalek who also helped "staff" the table. Joe Dalek (yes, he has a Facebook page) was quite the star of the show. I never thought I'd find myself serving as Dalek staff, but I did some Dalek sitting, answered questions about where he was when he took a turn around the show floor and helped make sure the path was clear when Joe Dalek was leaving the building.

Spending the day with a Dalek behind you can be fun. Everyone who passed by wanted a photo with Joe, so we had a lot of interesting combinations. There was the girl wearing a Dalek dress and a guy doing a convincing Eleventh Doctor, but then there were also confrontations with a variety of superheroes and other characters. At one point when a uniformed Star Wars Stormtrooper was walking toward us, one of the guys at our table said, "This is definitely not the droid you're looking for." Yes, we know that a Dalek is not a robot or droid but rather an alien in armor, but that's a mistake a Stormtrooper might make. Later, they had speakers rigged so that the Dalek was going through a playlist of Dalek sounds, and as the Stormtrooper was being stopped for photos near our Dalek, the Dalek suddenly shrieked, "Daleks are superior!" I wish we'd caught that on video. Poor Joe, jealous when someone else was getting attention.

I also used the Dalek in a way I'm sure no one would ever have imagined: to reassure a small child. A family had paused near our table, and they had a little boy of about three who was in tears. Apparently, they'd encountered someone dressed as a zombie, and the kid was terrified of zombies. I told him that we were a zombie-free zone because we had a Dalek, and the zombies were afraid of Daleks. I'm not sure if it worked.

Sitting at that table was great people watching, seeing the various groups of people who went by. The demographics were incredibly diverse, and I think at least one myth about comic book fans was busted. I'd say that more than half of the males of teen age or older were there with female companionship, so they're not all social rejects who have never been touched by a woman. There were a lot of families there, and I can't count the number of times I heard a parent explain who the Daleks were to a small child. One cute moment was when a guy dressed as the Joker from Batman was nearby, and a little girl of about five approached him shyly, saying, "Mr. Joker?" He was very sweet with her and posed for a photo with her.

And now I'm back to work on the fine-tuning of the book. I got some good ideas for it over the weekend and am rethinking some scenes I thought were set in stone. This should be fun work. I also have reading to do, as I've realized it's taken me more than two weeks to read the book I'm currently reading, and that means I have a couple more books that will be due back at the library this weekend. I'm way behind on my reading goals for the month, but that's mostly been because I've been writing so much.

I'm going downstairs now because we're having a hailstorm and I have a tile roof. It sounds like I'm being bombarded with asteroids.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Books and Movies

If I'm really good and productive today and don't get a lot of interruptions, either self-inflicted or other-inflicted, I should finish the major surgery part of the revision process today. Then next week I can go back and finesse. I really like this book. That may sound like a no-brainer, but I usually hit a point of hating a book or doubting it, but this one I don't think I've ever hated, and I enjoy all the time I spend working on it. This is one of those books where it may be tempting to tinker with it eternally, just because I don't want to leave the world.

I hadn't planned to bother with the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, since the last one was such a disappointment. I saw it on 50 cent day at the dollar theater and still felt cheated. I mean, what was up with that ending? How depressing! But then I saw that the plot for this one is based on a Tim Powers novel, and Tim is one of my favorite convention co-panelists and a true gentleman. I'm sure there's little recognizable from his book, considering they inserted his story into the Pirates universe and used the Pirates characters, but still, I don't think I've seen a movie where a friend's name will be credited as an author, and it might be fun to go to the theater just to cheer when his name comes up in the credits.

I get asked a lot about how I feel about the fact that if they do make movies out of my books, they'll likely change a lot. I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll be lucky if I even recognize my own characters. I seem to vary wildly as to how well I accept changes in favorite books when I see the movie version. It all depends on how the changes work, if the result is good and if they change the parts that are key to my enjoyment of the book. For instance, I like the Harry Potter movies. They aren't a perfect translation of the books, but I kind of put them in different universes and enjoy them equally. I've enjoyed the Narnia movies because they seem to fit the story I saw in my head when I read the books, even though they aren't a perfect match. On the other hand, I've never seen a version of Ivanhoe that I like as well as the book, possibly because I may be one of the few people who read that book and still wanted Ivanhoe and Rowena to end up together. Most movie/TV versions are very Rebecca-focused and make it out to be some kind of tragic lost love thing, while I have a fondness for childhood sweethearts. I couldn't even watch all of The Guns of Navarone. I hear that it's a good movie, but I LOVED the book, and the things that were changed the most in the translation from book to movie were the things I liked about the book. For instance, the demolitions expert played by David Niven was a laconic Texan in the book, and then they mangled to the point of non-existence the most touching and emotional character arc in the book. In those cases, I can't get past the changes, not so much because of the difference between book and movie but because the changes altered the things I liked about the book. If I'd read a book that went like the movie, I wouldn't have liked the book.

Maybe someday I'll have the clout to have some kind of creative input on movies made from my books, but granting the option now was a practical career decision. For one thing, it's given me money to live on while my publishing career is in a bit of a lull, and for another, if a movie does get made, it should give my publishing career a boost. A movie gets a lot more promotion than a book, so there will be ads on TV and in newspapers, there will be posters, there will be movie reviews, etc., and that could promote my book to audiences that haven't discovered it yet. Those sales could then lead to me getting more clout. So, yeah, I sold out, and I hope it pays off in a way that then maybe gets me a little more artistic freedom. If not, well, it's allowed me to live a couple more years without having to find a real job.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rainy Day Music

I'm now totally done with children's choir for the year, after the directors' end-of-year dinner last night. And I may have had a weak moment and agreed to do it again next year. It is a commitment and a responsibility, but it's fun, and my co-director and I make a great team, so I figured that the burden/fun ratio works out in my favor. This is subject to change if my life/deadline schedule suddenly gets crazy, but it doesn't eat into my schedule that much. It's only an hour and fifteen minutes earlier than I'd have to go to choir anyway.

Besides, based on the fall TV schedules that have been announced, I won't be too busy watching TV, so I'll have more free time in the fall. There aren't really any new series that totally grab me. The magical cop show I thought sounded intriguing didn't get picked up, though there are a couple of fairy tale/fantasy type shows, which could explain why I'm suddenly getting e-mails from TV production companies asking when the option on Enchanted, Inc. expires. When it expires this summer, it looks like it may get competitive if Universal doesn't make an outright purchase.

It's a nice, cloudy day, so I'm looking forward to making a lot of progress on my rewrites. I will have to go back over something I worked on yesterday because I admitted to myself that my research was showing. There was a part that I found preachy and boring, and I wrote it, so I doubt any readers would like it, no matter how many books I read to get the information. Then there's another element I'm not sure whether or not I should keep. I think it's a nice little touch, but it has next to nothing to do with the main plot, other than possibly making things a little more personal for the heroine. I may leave it in for now, but it could go in the next draft.

Speaking of the cloudy day being good for writing, I found something odd in the music department of an electronics store. They have a pretty good stock of cheap (like, a dollar) classical CDs that are actually pretty decent and that make good background music for writing. I was looking through them, and they had some that were along the lines of "Rainy Day (Composer)." At first, I thought it was the kind of music you might listen to on a rainy day, but then the credits mentioned the name of the orchestra or performer, as well as "Mother Nature," and I realized that it was classical music with the sound of rain superimposed. Which sounds really, really strange. Why would you want to mess up the music by adding sound effects? Then again, I love the sound of rain, and I'm more productive and creative on rainy days, so I wonder if I could use something like that to simulate a rainy day. I'd need better blinds or darker curtains (or I suppose I could work in my bedroom, which stays pretty dark), and then I could play the music with the rain sounds and pretend it's a rainy day. Those CDs are really cheap, so it wouldn't be an expensive experiment. I may have to give it a try. It does still fall into the "what made someone think of this?" category for me, though.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rod and Owen as Kids

The Enchanted, Inc. question of the week was about the background of Rod and Owen. I've spent a bit of time imagining this. There are a few details that might come into play in a later book, but I think I can share most of that backstory without spoiling anything. Of course, anything not spelled out in a book is subject to change in later books if the story requires it (though I'm more likely to be influenced in later books by what I've already imagined).

Rod is about three years older than Owen. That's the kind of age difference that's just about meaningless when they're adults but that was a big deal in the beginning. A thirty-year-old (well, almost, as of the latest book) and a thirty-three-year-old are essentially peers. To a seven-year-old, a four-year-old is just a baby. Owen was about four when James and Gloria, his foster parents, took him in, and since they didn't have other kids of their own, they thought that it would help him to be around other kids, and Rod's parents were their friends and neighbors, so all the adults thought it would be a great idea to enlist Rod's help to look after this little boy who'd had a pretty rough life. At first, I could imagine Rod's reaction would have been along the lines of "But, Mooooommm! He's just a baby!" But then he would have come to kind of like having a littler kid think he was an awesome big kid. That's a big confidence boost that might have contributed to the swagger we see in Rod today.

In spite of the age difference, they would have ended up not being that far apart in school once Owen started school, since Owen is exceptionally bright and you don't want a wizard child to get bored, so he'd have been moved ahead in school until they were maybe one grade apart. Then they started gradually becoming real friends, though always with a bit of big brother/little brother element. Owen was a late bloomer who was a scrawny little kid with Coke-bottle glasses, so while they were in school, they were pretty much two of a kind, the kind of nerdy, brainy guys who spent their spare time working on their magic and who weren't the kind of guys the girls noticed. Around the time Rod went off to college, that was when Owen started filling out, grew into his bone structure and got contact lenses, so that was when Rod reinvented himself with the handsome illusion as a way of keeping up with his best friend. I imagine it would be tough to be suddenly eclipsed by your "little brother" who had been on a par with him, and that illusion allowed him to feel more like an equal.

As for the other question that was asked about the founding of MSI in Arthurian days, I haven't thought much about it in any detail because it hasn't mattered for a book. Yet. But now ...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Writing Under Chemical Influence

The allergies seem to be less fog-inducing today, and I'm avoiding medication because I have to drive later today, so we'll see if I have more brainpower. One down side of creative writing as a profession is that your brain has to actually work for you to do it. When you find yourself staring into space, zoning out and trying to remember what to call those things you make when you put letters together, you won't accomplish much. I'm astounded by the output of all those writers in the past who supposedly lived in a drug or alcohol-fueled haze and who still produced great works, considering I can barely spell my own name when I take an infant dose of Benadryl. My great works tend to be produced under the influence of either tea or Dr Pepper.

I ended up lying on the sofa and watching OnDemand episodes of Parks and Recreation and Doctor Who, which is a really weird mix. I did a little freeform brainstorming, but in the state I was in, I couldn't even really read because I'd catch myself staring at the same paragraph for half an hour without comprehending it. I did some revision on one scene during a brief moment of clarity when the drowsiness from the Benadryl had worn off but the anti-allergy effects were still lingering. I also managed a little research. I'm at a frustrating point in revisions because I'm at a scene I really liked, where I'd done a lot of research to create the setting for the scene -- and then I realized the scene was taking place in the wrong setting entirely. There's all this lovely description that's utterly wasted. I had to do more research to figure out the setting where the scene should happen, and, unfortunately, changing the setting changes some of the character interaction. I know the new version will be better for the book, but the original scene was really good. If the book gets published, this may be one that goes up as a "deleted scene" just to show off that writing.

Tomorrow I'm up for another post on the Enchanted, Inc. series and its world, and I don't have a topic. Please, someone ask a question because I don't think I'll be coming up with anything independently this week. Is there anything you're dying to know about the series, that universe, the characters or the process of creating it, aside from what will happen in the future and when/if more books will be published?

And now I have to go sneeze, then make lunch.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Monday Allergy Hangover

I should have had a much wilder weekend to feel the way I did this morning. Alas, it is allergies and sinuses, not the consequences from too much fun. I did have fun over the weekend, but not that kind of fun. I was already rather sneezy on Saturday, but it probably didn't help that I spent part of Saturday afternoon outside in the country, pushing my Mini-Me on the swingset (I was visiting friends whose daughter looks freakishly like me. It's rather disconcerting).

After this week's Doctor Who, I may have my Halloween costume for the year. I just need to re-create that dress. I've already got the hair (especially first thing in the morning) and even look rather similar in the face. I love it when shows "Mary Sue" me into them, with either a character very similar to me or with casting that looks close to me. I just never imagined that my Doctor Who Mary Sue would end up being that particular character, though I have always had a bit of an affinity for her and have been known to give her lines while watching. Yes, I'm being vague so as not to spoil.

I now have to make the decision about whether allergy medicine would make me much groggier than I already am. Even the supposed non-drowsy stuff knocks me out (sometimes worse than Benadryl), but it's not as though I'm very functional at the moment. I hate how my favorite times of the year, weather-wise, are also the times when allergies hit me the worst. It's so beautiful outside and nice and cool -- good frolicking weather -- but I mostly just want to curl up in bed with the covers over my head and sleep off the allergy drugs. And wouldn't you know it, but I've reached a part of my revisions where actual rewriting is necessary.

Now I feel a sneezing fit coming on.

Friday, May 13, 2011

TV and Relationships

I had a rather productive shopping excursion this morning. Places like Ross are hit-and-miss, but they had a pizza peel for getting a pizza onto a baking stone, and for much less than any other place I'd looked online (with the benefit that the store was in my area and didn't require a long drive), plus I found a pair of comfortable casual black shoes. And I should have scored a few line karma points, as when the woman behind me and I were talking about how they needed to open a second register and she mentioned that she was on her lunch hour and needed to get back to work, I let her go ahead of me because I wasn't on a schedule.

Meanwhile, I'm afraid I've finally become a 'shipper for a TV series. Normally, I'm pretty violently opposed to most television romantic pairings. It's not that I'm opposed to romance. I just don't like it that much on TV, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it's so ubiquitous and inevitable. If a man and woman on a TV show are friends and work together, it's a safe bet that by the end of the series, they'll be developing a romance. Even if they don't actually get together, the show will start to focus on the sexual tension parts of the story. I find this irritating because it tends to devalue friendship, as though friendship is somehow less than romance instead of an entirely different kind of relationship. A romance can have a foundation of friendship, but that doesn't mean the friendship without the romance part is less valuable. I've worked with a lot of men without becoming romantically involved with them, and I've got a lot of platonic male friendships that are incredibly valuable to me. And yet it seems that whenever a relationship like that is shown on TV, it's forced to turn romantic eventually. I'm still seething over what happened on The X-Files. During the first couple of seasons, Chris Carter was constantly saying in interviews that Mulder and Scully would never be romantically involved, that they were co-workers and that they might be friends, but they would never kiss. He was always talking about how some fan had said that if they ever kissed, he'd throw his TV out the window, and Carter considered it his job to save that man's TV. Ha! One of the things I really hate about the changes they made to NCIS: Los Angeles this season (and a big reason why I quit watching) was that they had to insert the obligatory "ship." One of the things I liked about the first season was that there were no obvious romantic pairings. The characters seemed to have relationships outside the office that they mentioned but that weren't part of the plot. None of them seemed to be hot for each other. But then they had to add a romantic interest and create a will they/won't they pairing. There's so much talk about diversity and which groups are represented fairly on television. I feel like my group of people who are capable of being friends without ending up in bed isn't represented well at all.

Then there's the fact that TV does a lousy job of portraying relationships. It is difficult in an ongoing series to deal with romantic developments. You don't want to string it out too long, but you don't want to jump prematurely and take all the zing out of the characters or the story. The problem is that they handle it badly to start with. They seem to think that "chemistry" or attraction involves total opposites who have nothing in common and who hate each other and don't get along at all but who are hot for each other. So there's lots and lots of bickering, sniping and even backstabbing, with the occasional moment when their eyes meet or when they touch and things sizzle. But then if they do ever actually get together, either it looks like a dysfunctional to the point of abusive relationship or the characters and their relationship change to the point that they lose whatever spark was there. Or else the writers rely on the will they/won't they trope, where the characters will almost get together, but then there's a misunderstanding or a fight, or just when one is ready to take the leap, the other will get involved with someone else. You know that other relationship is doomed, so it's hard to care all that much. After seeing this kind of thing play out too many times, I've started to think it would be a good idea if TV avoided all romance entirely.

But Parks and Recreation got me, and I'm not even talking about what happened last night (no spoilers). They sucked me into not only caring about whether Leslie and Ben got together, but actively wanting to see something happen. I think it's because they avoided the usual traps. Really, when you think about it, their relationship is like something in a 1980s Silhouette Romance, only funny and with characters far dorkier than in any romance novel. We've got the small-town girl who's an ambitious idealist. She works in the parks department of her hometown because she truly, deeply believes that it's important for the community and a stepping stone for achieving her goal of being president of the United States. But then the city has budget problems, and in comes a state auditor, who wants to cut her programming as non-essential. He seems like a humorless bean counter, but then we learn his history. He was elected mayor of his hometown when he was eighteen, and then he bankrupted the town building an elaborate winter recreation center and was impeached. He became a state auditor to atone for his past and to help other cities avoid the mistakes he made. They clash at first, with her idealism at odds with his ruthless practicality, but then he starts to see things through her eyes. He sees how passionate she is about her job and how good she is at getting things done, and he then becomes her biggest cheerleader and even falls in love and decides to take a job to stay in town. So we have enough difference to have some conflict, but that conflict comes more from having different perceptions than from being opposites or disliking each other. He's thawed a bit, and we've seen behind his facade, as we see he's as big a dork as she is, but them getting together doesn't require them to change drastically. We can see that they really do belong together, and I guess that's why I find myself cheering them on and eagerly looking for the next development.

All those cops on TV can stay out of each other's beds, though.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Copyright Issues

An update from yesterday: The story about the knight marrying the hag has been identified. It was from The Wife of Bath's Tale in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. But it was also a popular story of Chaucer's time, with Sir Gawain from Arthurian legend usually being the knight. I seem to have merged the two in my recollection. The bit about it being a story within a story to illustrate what women really want comes from Chaucer, but the part where the knight marries the hag to save someone else is Gawain, as the Wife of Bath's knight wasn't nearly that noble. Meanwhile, I've thought of one more thing that kind of irks me about the traditional Beauty and the Beast story. The "beauty" is chosen as the best candidate for breaking the curse because she's a really good person, someone who can see past appearances and isn't greedy or selfish -- and so she's rewarded by being forced to leave her home and live in an isolated castle with a beast. It reminds me of all those times people have tried to set me up with men because they needed a confidence boost and I'm so nice. Granted, the girl in the story did eventually get rewarded with a rich, handsome husband, but doesn't a really great girl deserve a great guy without first being kept prisoner by a beast? It might be fun to have a beauty and the beast story where both of them have some lessons to learn, where she may be beautiful, but she's a total bitch. I have tried to write it, but I didn't do it right. Someday, though ...

For this week's writing post, I'm going to tackle a topic from the business side, the issue of copyright. First, a disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and this is not meant to be legal advice. I'm just doing a very general overview based on my knowledge of the industry and the media law course I took in journalism school. If you want to know more, you can find books on the topic in a library, and if you need advice on a specific issue, you should consult an attorney specializing in literary or intellectual property law.

Copyright is established from the point of creation, and you own the copyright on anything you write (with some exceptions, which I'll get to later). You don't have to put the copyright symbol on it or register it with the Library of Congress, though there are additional legal protections if it is registered. Because you own the copyright on your work, that means it can't be copied or published without your permission. If you write a letter to someone, you still own the copyright and it would be a copyright violation for the recipient to publish or copy it without your permission. When you "sell" a book, what you're actually doing is licensing the work to a publisher, giving that publisher permission to duplicate and distribute your work in exchange for payment. That agreement lasts for a certain period of time, depending on the contract, usually as long as the publisher continues to publish and sell the book in certain quantities. The agreement is usually exclusive for a particular geographical area or form of publication, so the author can't license the same book to multiple publishers in the same country, unless it's something like audio or graphic novel rights to the book. When rights revert to the author, the author can sell the book again. Articles and short stories are usually first serial publication rights, so after it's been published (the contract may specify a time period) the author can sell reprint rights. A short story published in a magazine can later be sold to an anthology, for instance.

"Out of print" is not the same thing as "out of copyright." Even if a book is out of print, not available for sale anywhere other than a used bookstore, the book may still be under copyright and may not be republished without the author's permission (likewise, there are many books that are out of copyright but still in print). The length of the copyright period depends on when the work was produced because the laws keep changing, but it's generally a safe assumption that if the author is alive, the book is still under copyright. However, the author being dead does not mean the book is in public domain. The books available for free at archives like Project Gutenberg are in public domain and not protected by copyright. If the author is living, you should probably be paying to download it, and if you aren't, you and the person who put it online are violating copyright because the act of uploading it is an unauthorized publication and the act of downloading it is making an unauthorized copy.

It's often said that you can't copyright an idea, only the execution of the idea. The line between idea and execution can be a little hazy. The actual words are definitely included, but elements of execution that go beyond the specific words are also considered under copyright, like the characters and the situation. So, I could write a book about a boy who learns he's a wizard and goes off to school to learn wizardry, as long as I use my own characters and my own "universe." But I can't retype or scan the Harry Potter books and post them to the Internet. Unauthorized publication of something that the author and authorized publisher should be receiving money for is piracy. And I can't write my own stories about Harry Potter's further adventures or about his kids attending Hogwarts. Fan fiction is technically a copyright violation because it uses characters and situations created by the author of the original work, but most authors and publishers turn a blind eye as long as it's not done for profit. You could possibly get away with writing Harry's further adventures and posting it to an archive, but you'll be in big trouble if you try to sell the e-book of your story about Harry on Amazon.

The exception to copyright ownership falls into the category of "work for hire." In this case, someone other than the author owns the copyright, and this is part of the agreement between the author, publisher and copyright holder. You see this in "shared world" projects, where multiple authors write in the same world about the same characters and situations. Then the publisher usually owns the copyright. You also see this with media tie-in books, where authors are writing stories about characters from TV shows. Then the corporate entity that owns the series owns the copyright. "Work for hire" also usually covers work done as an employee. Unless you have a specific agreement with your employer stating otherwise, it's generally assumed that work you produce for your employer is owned by the employer, not by you. You can't sell it to someone else, and your boss or co-workers can forward or duplicate your memos, e-mails, etc., for business purposes without violating copyright.

The other exception to copyright is called the "fair use" doctrine. You can quote small amounts of a work under copyright without permission if it's for purposes of education, scholarship, criticism or review. It can't be a substantial amount, which is why things get tricky when authors want to use lines from song lyrics or poems in a novel. A song is short enough that one line might be considered too much of the total work, and a novel doesn't really fall into the criticism, education or scholarship category. Even lawyers don't have a clear view of that situation, and that's why authors generally either avoid the issue entirely by mentioning the song without quoting the lyrics or by seeking (and often paying for) permission to use lyrics. "Fair use" comes into play when a critic quotes short passages from a novel in a review or when information from a book or article is cited in an article or another book.

However, a key to "fair use" is that use of other people's work must be attributed -- and that's required whether or not the work being quoted is under copyright. When you're quoting someone else, you have to give the author credit. This is like in research papers where you have to cite your sources for the information you're using. Copying something someone else has written without giving credit is considered plagiarism. I've recently become painfully aware of this as I've discovered that someone has been taking some of my writing posts and putting them on his blog as though they're his own work. That is plagiarism. When I'm basing a post on something from a book, I'm careful to cite my source, and then I don't use that author's exact words, I try to come up with my own examples, and I'm presenting my own take on those concepts. I'm happy for people to share my posts, but I expect to get credit for them, since I do them to help promote my books. Since this person steals from me so regularly, I'm assuming he either reads my blog or subscribes to the writing posts, so this is public notice that I know what you're doing, I'm watching you, and if I don't see a public apology and an attribution of your source for those posts, I will be taking action.

For a hypothetical of how some of this might work, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is under public domain. That means if I wanted to publish it myself, maybe with a forward based on my essay about it that I wrote for a book, I could do so as long as I put Jane Austen's name on the cover as the author. It would be plagiarism if I tried to publish it as though I wrote it, even if it's not under copyright. Because this work is in the public domain, I can use the characters and situations to create my own books, but I'd need to credit that Jane Austen created the characters. Notice that one of the authors listed for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was Jane Austen. There are also mysteries where the P&P characters are the amateur sleuths and sequels about the other Bennet sisters. My essay on the book quoted passages, but citing where they came from. If I wrote a book with a character who was a Jane Austen fan, I might have her quoting lines from the novels, but in the context of the book I would need to show that she was quoting Austen and not try to pass that off as my original dialogue. It would be plagiarism to use descriptive passages from Austen in my narrative without acknowledging that those passages came from Austen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Beauties and Beasts

The pizza turned out to be pretty good as leftovers, too. It just took a few minutes in the toaster oven to reheat it, and then it was almost as good as when it was right out of the oven.

Meanwhile, I've rewritten the first chapter on the latest endeavor, and although that was the part of the book that I thought was just fine as it was, I think I managed to improve it. There were nuances I found in the characters that I think came from having reached the end of the book, and that added an extra touch.

Today's topic is something that popped into my head when I was walking home from the library the other day, and I have no idea what triggered it. I was thinking about the Beauty and the Beast story and how it's always irked me that it always seems to be the woman who is expected to be able to fall in love with a man regardless of appearance, while even a hideous man gets a beautiful woman. It's like those Internet dating ads where it always seems like there's a guy who looks like the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons who's seeking a woman who's tall, blonde and beautiful with a great body and who is willing to look past appearances. There's the Beauty and the Beast story and the Bearskin story, where the man has to go a certain amount of time without bathing, shaving or cutting his hair, and the woman has to fall in love with him anyway.

The Beauty and the Beast tale also has a creepy twist, if you think about it. He has to get a woman to fall in love with him, so he resorts to forcing one to live with him, with the idea that if she spent enough time with him, then she'd eventually come to see his true qualities. That's the kind of logic that stalkers use on their prey, that if they're persistent enough and keep calling, e-mailing and showing up, then the woman will change her mind about him.

The modern Disney take on the story (that showed up again in Beastly, both book and movie) irks me even more if I think too much about it. In the original versions of the tale, there isn't much reason given for the spell. It doesn't seem to imply that the prince was being punished, and he demanded that the daughter be sent to him because he thought that the girl whose only request from her father was a rose might be the kind of person who'd be open to seeing beyond appearances. But the Disney take has him being punished for being shallow and judging on appearances. So he atones for this by falling for the most beautiful girl around? Granted, the other part of the deal was that he had to get her to fall for him, and presumably that's more difficult with a beautiful girl, as a homely girl might have lower standards and be more willing to look past appearances. But what would be wrong with him learning to fall in love with someone he might have rejected previously?

There is a story I can think of that puts a twist on it, and now I can't recall where I read it, if it's a real fairy tale, if it's from a legend, or even if it's a story within a story. I have this sense that it was told as a parable within another story to illustrate what women really want. In the story, a man (maybe a knight, prince, king, or someone like that) is forced somehow to marry a wizened old hag -- I think for some reason that involves saving or helping someone else. But on their wedding night, the woman who comes to him is a beautiful young woman. She tells him that she can only be that way part of the time, and he has to choose whether he wants a beautiful young wife during the day in public and a crone in his bed at night, or a crone that everyone will see as his wife, but a beautiful young woman in his bed. He tells her she can choose how she wants it to go, and that breaks the spell so that she can always be a beautiful woman. Though that still doesn't say anything about him being able to fall in love with a woman who looks like a wizened old crone because he's able to see her inner good qualities. He marries her purely out of duty and is willing to take his medicine, so to speak. I don't recall the story saying anything about him really coming to care for her, except for maybe that he fell instantly in love when he saw the young, pretty version.

People cite Shrek as an example of the reversal of the Beauty and the Beast story, but it isn't really. Yes, Princess Fiona becomes an ogre permanently when the spell is broken, but the hero is an ogre, so to him, the spell being broken turns her beautiful, especially because it makes her someone who is a better match to him. That seems to be an important element -- no one seems to be stuck with the ugly person, no matter how much they come to love the beautiful interior. At the end, the pair is evenly matched.

It might be interesting to have a "Plain Jane and the Beast" story if you're going with the Disney addition to the story, in which he's being taught a lesson about judging on appearances. What if the spell also turns him blind, where the only thing he's capable of seeing is his own reflection in the mirror, so that he knows how awful he is, and then he has to find a girl, fall in love with her, and get her to love him, without having any idea what she looks like. He can break the spell to see one time, but if he then rejects the woman because of her appearance, the spell becomes permanent. It's broken if he really does love her. She doesn't have to be a monster. She can even be "Hollywood ugly" (where a new hairstyle, contact lenses and lipstick make her go from drab to stunning). Or maybe she just sounds like someone he otherwise would have assumed would be unattractive. I went through a phase where I was frequently being set up on blind dates, and it seemed like the guys were always shocked to meet me in person after talking to me on the phone because they assumed based on the way I was on the phone that I would be really unattractive. It seemed I gave off "fat chick" vibes, since one guy did blurt out something about being surprised that I was so small. He tried to correct it to say he meant short, but since we were being set up to go ballroom dancing together, we'd already talked on the phone about our respective heights. I got the feeling that he'd just assumed I would be short and fat. I'm not sure what it is about me that projects that, unless men automatically assume that a woman who is intelligent and into science fiction and fantasy will be physically unattractive (I wasn't dealing with geek guys).

Oh great, just what I needed, something else for the idea file.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Achieving Pizza Greatness

My big accomplishment for the weekend was nearly perfecting thin-crust pizza. Pizza has kind of been my cooking "thing" since I was a kid and my mom got one of those Chef Boy-ar-dee pizza kits with the crust mix (just add water), can of sauce and packet of parmesan cheese. I made it, but it wasn't anything like pizza, so I started tinkering. Next time, I added seasonings to the sauce, added toppings and added some mozzarella cheese. Soon, I moved beyond the kit, getting a crust mix and making my own sauce. By high school, I was making my own crust, using a variety of recipes (I ended up liking the dough from the bread sticks recipe better than the actual pizza dough recipe).

I got the recipe I now mostly use for the crust from a book on pizza a co-worker gave me in a secret Santa gift exchange years ago. It makes a good deep-dish pizza and what some places call "New York style" pizza (though it's nothing like any pizza I've ever had in New York), but the thin-crust pizza was never quite right. It was pretty good, but it didn't compare to restaurant pizza.

Then I found a recipe in a cookbook my parents gave me for Christmas and decided to give it a try. It was pretty similar to the one I've been using, just with less olive oil, and the recipe is used to make two pizzas, so you have to stretch it really thin. I made it using bread flour, which I had read somewhere else can lead to a "crustier" crust. The real secret seems to be cooking the pizza in a really hot oven, as hot as you can get it, on a baking stone. Then the first slice is still pretty chewy, but as the pizza continues to sit on that still-hot stone, the rest of it gets really crisp. The result was extremely close to restaurant pizza -- and I mean the pizza you get in a good Italian restaurant with a brick oven, not Pizza Hut or Domino's.

Since the recipe makes two pizzas and the dough keeps in the refrigerator for a couple of days, I made pizza both weekend nights. Saturday was a less conventional pizza, with pesto as the sauce and chicken breast and roasted red peppers for toppings. Sunday night I did a more traditional tomato sauce topping.

Unfortunately, this will probably be my last time to make this until it gets cool again in the fall since it requires the oven to be so hot. You only bake the pizza for about six minutes at that temperature, but it takes about half an hour for the oven to heat and then it takes hours for the oven to cool down. That's not something you want to do on a hot day.

But when it gets cool again, then there will be pizza, oh yes.

In other news, I spent much of Saturday revising my soundtrack for the book I'm about to revise and brainstorming things I want to develop. Now I'm going to get into some serious work on this book. Plus, I can eat leftover pizza for both lunch and dinner without duplicating, since I have two kinds.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Near Misses

Every so often, there are those moments when you get a glimpse into that alternate universe that would form if you made a different decision, when you realize that you had a near miss. I had one of those yesterday. I've been wanting to see the new version of Jane Eyre, but it's only playing at theaters that fall into the "you can't get there from here" category for me, with a long, indirect and unpleasant drive. But one of those theaters is at a train station, so I had planned yesterday to try the new rail line that runs not too far from my neighborhood and make a day in the city out of it. Then when I got up that morning I really wasn't in the mood for that sort of thing and stayed home.

On the evening news last night, there was a story about the escalator at that station malfunctioning, speeding up dramatically and seeming to come disconnected, with a number of injuries. It happened at about the time I'd have been arriving at that station for the movie. If I'd gone, that could have been me.

I had something similar happen a few years ago during one of those day in the city trips. I was on the train and noticed an ad saying you could get a discount on your zoo admission on that day of the week if you showed your train ticket (and there's a train station at the zoo). I thought that might be something fun to do, since it's been ages since I've been to the zoo. I believe I was on my way to a movie then, too, and I thought I'd pop by the zoo after the movie. But then after the movie, I decided I wasn't in the mood for the zoo, and it was spring break, so the zoo would likely be crowded. I could take advantage of the deal some other week, and I went home.

Then I got home and saw on the news that at around the time I'd have been there, a gorilla had escaped from its enclosure and attacked several zoo patrons.

I guess sometimes that "I don't really feel like it now" feeling may actually be a warning message.

I'm looking forward to my first Friday night at home in ages. I'm going to make fajitas (I'd planned that for dinner last night, but the avocado I bought Tuesday stubbornly refused to ripen enough for making guacamole), watch some TV, and then I may do some writing or watch a movie.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Free Time, and My Mind Goes Blank

I just realized that I'm facing my first weekend in a while with nothing planned, and it's kind of nice. I do have to sing in two church services Sunday since the chorale is also singing, but I don't have any scheduled events or obligations other than that from Friday through Sunday. My house is already pretty clean, so if I do laundry today, I won't even have to do that over the weekend. I'm thinking I'll do an at-home spa day, or something like that, to relax me before I dive into another book.

Or maybe I could finally finish setting up the new computer, transferring the files and loading the software so it will be functional for more than Internet access. I'll probably keep writing on the old one for a while. I like having separate machines so one is at my desk and one can migrate around the house.

I'm already getting excited about the potential changes to the book I'm working on. Now that I've re-read it, some of this seems so obvious, and I think the book will be even better. It was a beautiful day yesterday, so I took a notebook and a thermos of iced tea to the park across the street, sat by the fountain and brainstormed a little. Today may be a little windy for that, but my patio may be sheltered enough to be able to scribble in a notebook without the pages flapping madly in the wind.

I should probably have something more meaty or entertaining to say, but my mind is a complete blank. I think all available brain cells have been dedicated to the book. I'm also having a bit of a "squirrel!" day.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Soundtracks and Background Music

We had a substitute ballet teacher who was like an old-school strict ballet mistress last night, and I'm already sore. That's mostly because of my ingrained teacher's pet impulses that led me to work way too hard to keep from being corrected by the teacher, as she was the type to walk over and physically move the arm, leg or hand that she thought was doing something wrong and then lecture the class with you as an example. Doing ballet while being really tense from trying to be perfect will definitely leave you sore.

I moved from the bad kind of "who wrote this?" to the good kind yesterday, as I really liked the parts of the book that were essentially a first draft. They were undeveloped, but I was turning pages quickly. Now I'm wondering if the first part really is a problem or if it's just that this part was too familiar because it's the part I polished extensively. Anything you've read about a dozen times is going to be a little less interesting than something you're reading for the first time.

Now, for an Enchanted, Inc. question, since someone did ask one (yay!). The question was whether I have any particular soundtracks that I write to. There are two facets to my answer.

First, there's music to write to -- what I play in the background while writing. For the most part, I work best in complete silence. I'm not really a background noise kind of person, unless it's background noise for an unpleasant task. I may play music while doing housework, and I do some of my more boring freelance writing tasks while watching TV. Most of the time, though, I don't have anything that makes noise on in my house, especially when I'm writing. I am a musician, so music is a distraction. I can't just tune it out.

There are some exceptions, though. I may sometimes use music to create a particular mood -- like an intense action-movie soundtrack when I'm writing an action scene or romantic music for a more romantic scene. If there's some external noise that's more distracting to me than music would be -- like my neighbor's dog barking -- I may play music to distract myself. And sometimes I may use certain kinds of music to focus myself on the task at hand.

But it all depends on the book. Some books seem to need music, some need silence. I've even had a rare book that worked best when I set iTunes on shuffle and just let it run. The Enchanted, Inc. series has mostly been "silence" books. I just sat down and wrote them without any particular background music. The exception is Damsel Under Stress. That was a very difficult book for me, due to external factors. A close friend who'd been serving as my beta reader was diagnosed with cancer right around the time I started writing that book, and then she died when I was about five chapters into it. That made it really hard to dig in and focus on writing it. I think part of me thought that writing a book she wouldn't get to read would be disloyal, even though I suspect she'd have haunted me if I hadn't written it. Since I didn't yet have a signed contract, I even briefly considered backing out of the deal and ending the series because I just couldn't make myself focus on the book. What finally worked was taking the computer to another room, and I played the soundtrack from the first season of Battlestar Galactica as background noise. It's kind of ambient music designed to go in the background, and it worked to block out everything else. The down side was that that music they played during the opening to each episode (the stuff about the Cylons being created by man, evolving and having a plan) became my trigger to "work" time, so it became difficult to focus on watching episodes after hearing that music. I eventually added the Firefly series soundtrack when I got bored of listening to the same thing over and over, since it's also very ambient. That was a book that worked best writing late at night, so at about 9, I'd turn off every light in my house other than the one where I was working, put on that music, and I could shut out the rest of the world for a few hours.

There's another side of a book "soundtrack" for me, though. I do sometimes create a mix of songs that work like a musical collage for a book. There may be theme songs for the book itself or for individual characters, as well as songs that fit certain scenes, themes or moods. I'll try to create the emotional arc of the book through a series of songs. I'll listen to that during the time I'm working on a book, but not when I'm actually writing. I'll have the soundtrack in my car for when I'm driving around or I'll play it when I'm doing other things at home before I start writing. I may listen to the songs that go with certain scenes before writing those scenes.

I did soundtracks like this for the second and fourth books. Unfortunately, that was before I had a car with a CD player, so I did those as mix tapes and don't have a handy playlist to refer to, so I'm not sure I remember which songs were on those soundtracks. It's been a long time since I worked on those books. I'm not sure that knowing the songs would mean anything to anyone but me because it's about associations they trigger for me rather than anything actually in the song.

Lately, I've gotten in the habit of putting iTunes on shuffle in the background while I brainstorm a book. Sometimes a song that pops up will give me an idea for a plot development or emotional element. However, I don't think I've done that for any book in this series.

Any other questions about the series or the process of writing it?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Revisiting Older Work (or "Who wrote this nonsense?")

I'm rather enjoying the May cold snap, though I know it will be shortlived, and my body will be disappointed when summer really arrives, since it seems to have decided that the 85-degree days we had last week were summer and fall is now here. Cold, damp weather tends to bring out my inner Betty Crocker. Yesterday, I baked scones for breakfast, baked shortbread in the afternoon and had grand plans to make pizza for dinner, with a new mix of toppings based on what I had on hand. I was going to do pesto (made with home-grown basil), chicken breast and roasted red pepper. But the one packet of yeast I scavenged from the cabinet turned out to be a dud (it was only six months past the expiration date), so I turned it into a pasta dish instead. I think the pizza would need some goat cheese, so I shall have to get some when I buy more yeast and make another go at it. I normally do a fairly thick-crust pizza, but I think this needs a much thinner crust, so I'll be trying a new recipe there.

I did discover that not only had I put away my cool-weather clothes, blankets, etc., but I also didn't have any cool-weather food supplies. I had no soup or ingredients to make soup and I had no cocoa mix. I do have regular cocoa powder and could have made cocoa the old-fashioned way, but time was a factor. I did finally find a gift packet of mix that was in the gift bag one of my choir kids gave me for Christmas, so that saved the day for drinking with the shortbread while watching Doctor Who OnDemand late at night.

Meanwhile, I started re-reading the previous project, which turned out to be pretty painful. There's a reason why it's good to let something rest a while so you can detach yourself from the fact that you wrote it. I was having a serious "who wrote this nonsense?" reaction. Actually, I don't think it's that bad, but my subconscious seems to have been rethinking the approach and rewriting it in the background while I was working on the other book, and what's actually there is very different from what my subconscious has already done with it. I'm having to force myself to read straight through to get the flow of the story instead of stopping to edit. Now what I need is a direct link between my subconscious and the computer so I can upload the version my subconscious has rewritten without all that pesky thinking and typing.

Normally I talk about books on Tuesdays, but lately I've been reading books for market research purposes, and I can't honestly recommend any of them. I wouldn't have read these books if it hadn't been work-related, and I had to force myself to finish them. Not that they were bad. They just weren't my thing, which I think proved that this wasn't the right market for me to go after. If you don't like reading it, then you're probably not going to be successful in writing it.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Another Book Done!

I finished the book on Friday afternoon, then "celebrated" by going to volunteer as a parking lot greeter for a fundraising concert, though the concert was really nice once I was off-duty. Saturday was house-cleaning day. Friends offering to bring over the new Doctor Who episode to watch on my widescreen TV was a good incentive. And then Sunday was delightfully cold and rainy, so I did some napping and reading.

Now it's time to get to work on something else while this one "rests." I'm going back to the book I finished in January to do some revisions. It's had a chance to ripen and develop in my subconscious. I have a few options for directions I can take with it, so I'll have to have a conversation with my agent about it, but today is for re-reading it and refreshing myself. As it's still cold and rainy, it should be a good reading-for-work day.

I think the cold weather may be my fault, as part of my house cleaning on Saturday included putting away the electric blanket and washing my sweatshirts (the kind worn as jackets) to put them away for the summer. I had to dig out things to wear today and may even need to get out the electric blanket because I don't want to turn on the heater again.

There's a blanket, a book and a pot of tea calling my name ...