Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Wednesday Book Report

It seems that being out of town on Monday and coming home on Tuesday got my days mixed up this week. I made a point of talking about a movie yesterday because I usually talk about movies on Mondays. I talk about books on Tuesdays, and I have books I want to talk about, but I forgot it was Tuesday. Then I either do a writing post or a post about the Enchanted, Inc. series on Wednesdays. I suppose these aren't etched in stone, and it's even possible that people haven't noticed the pattern, but I do like having some structure.

I think I'll take a break from the writing posts for one more week (I took last week off, too). I've kind of dried up on topic ideas. I'm sure there are things floating in the back of my mind that I could address, but none of them are coming to mind at the moment. I'll open the floor for questions -- is there something about writing or the publishing business you'd like me to discuss or some question you have about writing? I'm also open to more questions about the Enchanted, Inc. universe -- OTHER than when the next book will be published. The next person who asks me that instead of asking the publisher may get turned into a frog. Ask the people who can do something about it. Asking me does no good whatsoever.

I did read a couple of good books while I was traveling, and I'm going to talk about them today, even if it isn't Tuesday (but I may need to put Post-its around the house to remind me that it's Wednesday so I don't forget choir).

First, the book that kept me engrossed during my outbound travel and most of the week of the convention, to the point I skipped going to the Hugos because I preferred to stay in and read and then ended up staying up until 1:30 in the morning to finish it after going to parties. That was The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I would describe this as kind of a White Collar or Leverage type story set in a fantasy world in a Venice-like city that reminds me of a more serious version of Terry Pratchett's Ankh Morpork (there is humor, but it's not a comedy like the Pratchett books are). In this often-cruel city, orphan children are dealt with by rounding them up and selling them to slavers. The lucky kids get diverted to criminal gangs when the gang leaders bribe the watchmen. One particular kid, Locke Lamora, proves to be too clever for his own good, creating elaborate schemes instead of simply picking pockets. That gets him sold to another gang, where he learns a variety of skills that help him find his true calling. The criminal gangs, which all report to one crime boss, have a sort of understanding with the authorities: they are allowed to get by as long as they don't target the wealthy aristocrats. Locke thinks this rule is rather silly and goes about secretly breaking it while still pretending to be a common criminal, but not by sneaking in through windows or picking pockets. He creates elaborate schemes to convince the wealthy to willingly give him their money. He's on the verge of his biggest score ever when a new distraction arises. Someone is killing all the heads of criminal gangs and even though that means he's a potential target, the crime boss wants him to do something about it.

It's hard to put my finger on what I liked about this book, other than "the book." It was kind of a slow build, at least for me. I was skeptical at first (a thief hero?), but it gradually sucked me in, especially once we met Locke as an adult. The narrative bounces around a bit in time, starting with his childhood, then going to his adulthood, with interludes that continue the story of his childhood and how he became what he is. Although he's a thief, there's a core of honor to Locke that made me like him. He's loyal to his found "family" within his gang, he's incredibly clever, and he works hard to improve himself. The pace and the tension keep building until it's almost unbearable, and the main characters really go through hell and have to make impossible choices and great sacrifices to prevail. I had to re-read the ending because I tore through it so quickly while barely keeping my eyes open. I'm about to head to the library to pick up the second book in the series, and that will be my holiday weekend reading.

But after that, I still had a day (and a light day, at that) of the convention to go, plus my trip home, and after reading a book like that, it can be difficult to get into anything else. Fortunately, I had the good luck to be standing by the freebie table at the exact moment that someone brought back a book she'd picked up when they'd put some books out (that were then snatched up in a heartbeat). She'd found that her husband also got a copy and put her copy back. I picked it up because it looked interesting but didn't start trying to read it until I was on the airplane, and then I read the entire book on the flight home.

This book was Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine. I would describe it kind of as a post-apocalyptic steampunk version of the TV series Carnivale (though with an actual circus instead of sideshows). In a world where some major wars have devastated the landscape and left a lot of isolated small communities, a mysterious traveling circus creates awe while giving its participants a home and safe haven -- and something else. The head of the circus had a gift that allows her to repair human beings mechanically -- clockwork lungs, unbreakable metal bones, etc. -- and these repairs are life-changing. It's hard to describe the plot beyond that. The book is written in a more "literary" style, so it's not a straightforward, plot-driven narrative. It jumps about between first-person, second-person and third-person viewpoint and jumps around in time, weaving incidents from the past into the present. At first, that can be hard to follow, but eventually all the timelines click into place so that you really get what's going on. There's something about all that jumping around and vagueness that makes it rather hypnotic, and although I felt that it was skimming past things and never really telling us much about the characters, by the end of the book I felt like I really knew and understood them and their world. When I finished the book with at least half an hour left in my flight, I wished there had been more because I didn't want to leave that world and I wanted to know more about those people. I couldn't make myself get into anything else after finishing it, so I read the SkyMall catalogue for the rest of the flight. It's definitely different and probably not for everyone, but I found it captivating (the book, not the SkyMall catalogue). I think I'll have to re-read this one now that I know how it all fits together because that will likely change the way I see things.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Starting my "School Year"

I took a quick trip to the parents and enjoyed a day in which my only computer time was downloading books from Project Gutenberg to my dad's e-reader. Instead of being online, I ate my weight in Mexican food and barbecue and got a lot of sleep. Now, it's back to the "real world" and catching up on all the stuff that happened on the Internet while I was off-line. I am rather looking forward to the holiday weekend. After a few very busy weekends (and with a number of busy weekends ahead of me), I have absolutely nothing scheduled this weekend and it's supposed to be cooler and rainy. I'm stocking up on books and am planning to finally get around to watching some DVDs I stockpiled during a Blockbuster store closing sale. I may even do some cooking since it won't be too hot to turn on the stove or the oven. It's going to be jam-making weekend, too, I think.

But before the holiday weekend, I've got a busy week, since this is the week when my schedule gets back to "normal." Children's choir starts again on Wednesday, and this year I have preschoolers. I already know at least two of the kids who'll be in my choir (and better yet, I know their parents). That's added to my usual Wednesday choir rehearsal, and ballet is now on Thursday nights. I guess it's back to school time for me. On the bright side, it is good to have things that make summer different from the rest of the year.

My weekend was too busy to watch any movies, but on Friday afternoon, I did see part of the recent Ridley Scott version of Robin Hood. I missed the beginning, so I was a little lost about what the situation was supposed to be, and there seemed to be a lot of legend and historical revisionism, but I was enjoying the movie. And then it turned into a remake of Saving Private Ryan. The French were landing at the beach in Dover in their medieval Higgins boats, and there seemed to be some shot-for-shot matches. I laughed myself silly. It was like a parody film taking the D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan and doing it in medieval times and with (somewhat) medieval technology. I hurt myself from laughing so hard. That was the funniest thing I've seen in ages. I don't think it was supposed to be funny. It was the film's climactic scene, and the rest of the film was very serious, but if you like World War II films or military history and want a good laugh, watch the last forty minutes or so of this movie.

Friday, August 26, 2011

When Am I?

In my effort to get back on the right time zone, I set my alarm this morning. It helped that as incentive to get up, the channel formerly known as SciFi is doing a Primeval marathon, and the 7 a.m. episode was the last from the first season. The first season was a great deal of fun, and there was some promise in the second season after the timeline was changed, except they never really explored the timeline shift to the full extent and a lot of things in the new timeline made no sense. For instance, in the original timeline, the whole operation was very ad hoc, so it made sense that the idiot slacker undergrad who was into conspiracy theories and News of the Weird tabloid stuff would be part of the team, because he was the one who found out about strange things they needed to investigate, and then silly zookeeper girl just happened to be in the right place at the right time, so she fell into the team. They weren't funded at all, so it wasn't like they could recruit anyone else. They were stuck with the people who were in on the secret and willing to volunteer. But in the new timeline, it was this huge, official government operation, so you'd think they'd have handpicked the best and brightest. I could buy the paleontologist who was the expert on this stuff being part of the operation, along with his uber-competent big-game hunter/wilderness survival expert research assistant, but they never came up with any explanation why the too-stupid-to-live twins were on this team. And then they totally forgot about the timeline shift (including referencing specific events that happened pre-shift that supposedly these characters never experienced) and the characters I liked all left, leaving us with just the Too Stupid to Live Twins (I never really forgave them for killing off the hot, tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed guy). I've still been watching, when they bother to post episodes OnDemand, but it's not as much fun as that first season was. It has been interesting after seeing Chaos to see James Murray back in serious mode where he's not tossing off charming and droll one-liners while wearing a three-piece suit.

On another TV note, Doctor Who returns this weekend. I think I need to rewatch the mid-season finale, but finding time will be a challenge, since it's going to be a very busy weekend between choir stuff and going to visit my parents. That also means I won't get much online time, so I'll be bursting to analyze and discuss everything from both Doctor Who and Haven.

I did become more coherent yesterday and managed my med school writing. I've also been working on a new soundtrack/musical collage for the current book. This will be the third soundtrack so far for this book, but it keeps shifting as I hone in on the core of what it's about. Sometimes this sounds like procrastination or time wasting, but I came up with some ideas yesterday while listening to music that I think will really raise the stakes for everyone and create a real dilemma. I wouldn't have come up with these twists without the music, so I think it's a worthwhile exercise.

And now that I've been awake for several hours, I'm craving a nap, but I must stay awake so I can get to sleep on time tonight so I can get up in time for a choir rehearsal tomorrow.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rolling Heads

I seem to be simultaneously on two different schedules. I'm falling asleep on Central time and waking up on Pacific time, with some middle-of-the-night bouts of wakefulness in between. I had choir last night, which tends to wire me and make sleep difficult, but I have ballet tonight, which should tire me out some, and then I'll have to set an alarm in the morning to force me onto Central time, as this weekend will involve some morning activities. I've got a choir retreat on Saturday and then have to sing in the early service on Sunday. For someone with almost no internal clock, time differences can really get to me. I'd be happy to just get out of the fog I've been in all week. I got a little extra time for my medical school work because writing about medicine just hasn't been happening this week, and I have some convention PR work to get started on, if I could just focus the brain.

I'd forgotten to post the few photos I took, so here are a couple:

First, the throne from the A Game of Thrones series has a new inhabitant. This may have to be my FenCon staff photo for next year. Just sitting there made me want to order beheadings.

And then there was this lovely depiction of the Discworld.

On an entirely unrelated note, this article shows that there may be some hope for a dropped series getting another chance. But it takes a big effort by the fans, with an influential blogger getting involved, and the author can't do much more than let fans know what's going on so that they can spontaneously take action. If you want to take that as a hint, then go for it. You can't let another group of fans make you look like total slackers, can you?

And, finally, last week a few people were encouraging me to get on Twitter. So far, I have little interest in that sort of thing. I can't say anything in under 140 characters, and I can't imagine that many people caring what I have to say. The thought of one more social media thing makes me twitchy, and I stay offline most of the day. But if it can raise my profile and help boost book sales, which could lead to more books, I suppose it's something I must do. Any thoughts or advice on the topic of Twitter?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Few More Thoughts

A few more random and scattered thoughts about the past week:

I had a nice view of the mountains from my hotel room window, and there was snow on the top of some of the mountains. I could sit on my bed and see snow, and it was lovely. It was warm during the daytime where I was, but that was low 90s and dry, so compared to home, it was delightfully cool. There was whimpering when I stepped off the plane in Dallas and got hit with the sauna.

The other thing I could see from my room was fire. One evening, I was sitting on my bed, either surfing the Net or reading, when out of the corner of my eye I saw flames shooting into the sky. I rushed to the window to see what building was burning down. It turned out to be something to do with the hotel/casino. One of the bars was in a skybridge crossing the street, and since the hotel was the Atlantis, they had these quasi-Grecian pillars on either end of the bridge. On top of these pillars were cauldrons, like the Olympic torch, and at night every so often these cauldrons would light up, sending flames shooting into the sky. I guess it's a lower-key version of some of the casino shows you get in Vegas, like the Mirage volcano or the pirate battle at Treasure Island. Once I knew what it was and realized the city wasn't burning to the ground in a fiery holocaust, it was kind of cool to look out the window at the flames.

I learned that a slim-fitting pencil skirt may look nice when I'm standing in front of a mirror, but it's not ideal attire when I have to walk long distances (the hotel may have been "adjacent" to the convention center via a skybridge, but someone said they measured it as nearly half a mile from the elevators to the meeting rooms). My usual marching band instilled 60-inch stride at 120 beats a minute didn't work in a skirt that only allowed me to move my legs below my knees, and I now understand where Marilyn Monroe got that walk. To make matters more interesting, the waistband actually hit around my hips. If it had really hit at the indentation of the waist, it could have stayed anchored, but instead it kept trying to climb to my waist, twisting as it went. That meant walking while holding my skirt in place. I thought this was going to be my basic khaki skirt, but I think it will have to be held for more static occasions, and I'll get a utilitarian school uniform skirt to be my basic khaki skirt. I bet this one will look awesome with stiletto heels, though.

My basil plant appears to have been a casualty of the trip. I worried it would dry out, but the soil was still damp when I got home, and yet all the leaves had fallen. I suppose I drowned it while trying to give it enough water to last the week. I left it outside all day yesterday, and the soil is still damp. I may just give up on it and get a new plant. Considering the price of fresh basil, I more than got my money's worth from this plant, and not having basil handy to snip cramps my cooking style. I felt strangely compelled to cook last night, and basil would have helped the dish I made.

One of the intangibles I got from the convention was a sense of what's missing from the current book that I think it needs. The magic isn't quite magical enough. In this book I'm not spoofing the software industry, the way I am with the Enchanted, Inc. books, so the magic needs to instill a sense of awe and wonder, and the way the characters respond to magic needs to say something about them. The main character's arc has to get her from being too rational about it to accepting that it works and that there aren't explanations for it. For some other characters, it's like an initiation into a reality they previously didn't know, and this will forever change the way they see the world. Pulling this off will require getting into a particular head space. I think this is why I haven't been able to find the ending for this book. I can resolve the main conflict, but I can't get a good conclusion. Oh, and I think I just figured something out so I'd better go write it down before I lose my tenuous grasp on it.

And then I need to go grocery shopping because my emergency post-trip supplies have run out. And then I have to do the medical school work I put off the last couple of days because I was really tired.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

WorldCon Benefits

I'm home now, safe and sound. It was a reasonably good trip back, and even though the time difference theoretically shortened my day, it still felt very long. My timing did seem to work out perfectly -- being checked out just in time to catch the airport shuttle that got me to the airport in plenty of time to make my flight but without a lot of time to kill, then back in Dallas the shuttle to the remote lot where the city bus stops came very soon after I got to the waiting area, and then the city bus was there when I got to the stop. Things went so smoothly that I caught one bus earlier than I had expected, so I was home half an hour earlier. I think I've finally worked out all the kinks for taking the city bus to/from the airport, aside from the minor detail that the bus to the airport doesn't run on weekends (I would go on a rant about the silliness of no public transportation to the airport on the busiest travel days, but I always seem to be the only person on the bus going all the way to or from the airport, so there's apparently not much demand for the service, or else no one knows about it). I am eagerly awaiting the opening of the light rail line to the airport because then I'll be able to take the bus from my house to the rail station, and that should shorten the travel time plus make it possible to do on weekends.

It's very difficult for me to quantify the benefit of going to this convention. There was no truly concrete outcome, like an editor asking me to write a short story for an anthology, or anything like that. I did a lot of non-networking, which mostly means hanging out with people who might possibly be beneficial to me in some way, but doing so without thinking about how they might be beneficial. I may never even use any of these contacts, and I think that's part of why I have them because I know that some of these people get frustrated with how many people seem to be trying to leverage something with them. And I would still hang out with these people even if they weren't prominent because I just happen to like them as people. Besides, it's always fun to be surrounded by men who are talking about how beautiful I am. That's not something that happens to me in real life. In real life, I'm invisible. At a convention, I'm a sex symbol. I suppose I should prefer that they talk about what a great writer I am and build up some kind of feminist ire, but in that crowd I'm not sure I count as a "great" writer, and at least one of them has talked about me being smarter than he is (even wrote that when autographing a book for me), so I'm not going to get my panties in a twist about being considered the pretty one.

I gave away a fair number of bookmarks and met lots of people, and I did fun things. Even though this was a "work" trip, it did have the elements of that relaxing vacation I keep talking about taking. The time difference meant I never had to set an alarm to get up in the morning, and my mornings actually felt pretty leisurely (usually when I'm staying at a nice hotel, I don't have time to linger in bed and have to get up early and rush off to events). I had enough time to just hang out and enjoy the nice hotel room. I did a lot of reading and hit the swimming pool/hot tub most days. I'm not even that tired, other than the general travel tiredness and some possible time zone adjustment. I did wake up in the middle of the night feeling disoriented when the arrangement of the room felt wrong, and it took me a while to realize I was at home and not in the hotel room.

I think most of my benefits were intangible. I picked up some bits and pieces of info that will likely make it into my career or my writing. I've got a better sense of what I need to do with this problem child book. I have some new promotional ideas. I'm more motivated because I've had the reasons I do what I do reinforced. I want to create great books that inspire fans. If I can carry that forward, then it will have been worthwhile.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Maxed out on Fun

I pretty much ran out of steam Saturday evening. It was about the time I needed to get dressed for the Hugo award ceremony, and I found myself thinking that I wasn't up for an award, and while I had friends up for awards, it wasn't as though I'd get anywhere near them at the ceremony. And then there's the fact that I kind of hate ceremonies like that. So I decided to skip the ceremony. I spent a pleasant evening in my room, listening to music and reading while drinking tea, and every so often I'd look online to see who'd won the various awards. When they announced the last award, I got dressed and went to the post-ceremony parties.

On that final night, I stayed up until 1:30, but some of that was reading because I was right at the part where Our Heroes were in the impossible situation they couldn't get out of, and I didn't want to try to sleep until I knew how they got out of it. I was still up early enough this morning to go to the morning church service and went to a panel. Then I had a nice chat over lunch with an Australian fan before I decided I was done and went back to my room. I spent some time in the pool and hot tub, then had dinner with a friend and then called it a night. They've been showing the recent Les Miserables concert on PBS (pledge drive), and that's been good background noise for packing, aside from the sad times when that poor Jonas brother is trying to keep up with the rest of that cast.

I must say that I'm more than ready to be home. This has been fun, but I may have reached the limits of my capacity for fun. I'm also eager to get back to work. I may be physically tired, but that may have something to do with being mentally energized. I've got a long day ahead of me, though, as the time difference means I'll be traveling all day, getting home just in time for dinner after leaving shortly after breakfast.

I'll do more detailed posts about the content of what I saw and heard at the convention later in the week.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Being Arty

Yesterday was a more typical convention day for me. I guess I went more "arty" than I usually do, as I visited the art show and went to an artist presentation. I had a fun surreal moment in the art show. I was getting a close-up look at the sketches for the A Song of Ice and Fire calendar when I noticed a gentleman standing next to me, looking at the same sketches. I stepped out of the way so he could get closer, then realized it was George R.R. Martin. It was kind of cool to be looking at that art with him. The artist, John Picacio, is a friend (and the main reason I keep ending up with the Cool Kids at cons), and he got a kick out of the story. He was the artist whose presentation I went to. I'm not a very visually oriented person, and I thought it might be interesting to hear the artist talk about the process behind the art. I ended up playing tech support when the projector wasn't working. I knew what to do on his Mac to make it work with the projector, so I was able to figure out that the problem was with the projector, and sure enough, when they brought a new projector it worked fine.

Then I managed to stay at parties until after midnight. As a result, I'm barely awake today. I made it through a few panels and now will need a big nap before the Hugo Awards.

The Texas bid won for WorldCon in 2013, so that year I'll just have to go down to San Antonio. That means I'll be able to save some money for going to London in 2014 (assuming their bid wins).

It looks like other than forgetting the camera cable, my packing was on target. I'll have used or worn everything I brought, except for maybe a couple of pairs of socks. That's how I judge my packing effectiveness. I haven't brought unnecessary stuff if I use everything I brought. Now I'm trying to decide if I want to use one of the swimsuits or take my nap now.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dangerous Dancing

Yesterday's "I haven't done this at a con" adventure involved dancing. They had a session teaching the Victorian rotary waltz, which got my brain all tangled up because it's the opposite of the Viennese waltz I know. Then there was a "tea dance" afterward, where I seemed to be much in demand as a dancing partner. That meant three hours of pretty vigorous dancing (the waltz is not for wimps). It was a ton of fun, but I'm paying for it today. That hip flexor muscle I pulled in jazz class last week is now objecting loudly to what I put it through yesterday. I'm barely mobile today.

I think today may be a more typical convention day, as there are panels I want to attend. And then there may be hot tub time so that maybe I'll be able to walk again without pain.

On the up side, there was more cello music at the dance, and I bought the musician's CD because it was really lovely stuff and I think it will be good writing music because it fits the mood of something I've been thinking about/working on.

Last night after a post-waltz nap I hit the party circuit briefly. I had two people I didn't know see my nametag and mention loving my books, so I felt like a minor celebrity. I had some brief conversations shouted in passing with friends, but those parties get very loud and very crowded, and someone who doesn't deal well with noise or crowds (like me) can't deal with that for long. I may be back to hanging out in the lobby bar with my friends tonight. There's more space and it's a little quieter.

I did discover that in all my efficient packing, I forgot one thing: the USB cable for my camera. So I'll have to wait until I get home to post pictures. I haven't taken many, but there is one that is rather fun.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

One of the Cool Kids

I survived day one of WorldCon. After a long nap, I finally got dressed and headed out at about the time things opened. They were short-staffed at the SFWA table, so I volunteered to sit there for the first hour, which was a good place to see familiar faces drift by and to meet new people as they came by the table. During a later wander through the dealers' room I ran into still more people, ranging from a college friend to writers I only run into at cons.

Since I don't have a real schedule at this convention, I decided I want to do stuff that's different from what I normally do. For instance, although I like music, I almost never go to concerts at conventions. Well, they had the musical guests (Tricky Pixie) perform a number at the opening ceremonies, and the band included a cello for the "bass" part. I love the cello sound, and they were very good musicians, so I decided to go to their concert (I guess you could say they had me at cello). I'm even considering getting their CD.

Then there was a brief run through a few of the parties and finally meeting up with some friends in the lobby outside the bar. Thanks to the friends of my friends, that was a rather august gathering. If I mentioned who I was hanging out with, it would sound like I was indulging in egregious namedropping. I got to hear some great stories of conventions from way back, including tales of some of the great Grand Masters (from someone who qualifies as a Grand Master, himself). There was a minor debate/discussion about generation gaps among fandom and a general discussion about fans freaking out about meeting favorite authors -- and authors who still freak out a little about meeting their favorites.

I don't know what it says about me that I usually end up in the middle of a group of men like that -- all married, and while there are some compliments, there's no real flirtation or anything that would upset a wife. I once read a book where a character was described as the kind of woman the boss's wife would hire to be her husband's secretary, and I think I fall into that category, not so much because of being unattractive, but because of some personality thing. I guess I come across as someone who wouldn't be receptive to anything untoward and maybe also as a little remote, like someone you look at and interact with but don't touch. I don't mind because I like hanging out with men like that, but it is interesting that at almost any gathering, I'll be surrounded by admiring men who aren't hitting on me in any way.

I made it until about 11 before I started collapsing, then was up not long after 6 this morning. I did a shift helping out in the SFWA suite, and now I guess I need to get ready for the one official event I plan to do today -- which is another thing I never do at conventions (I'll report on it tomorrow). After that, there will probably be napping before another round of parties and hanging out with the cool kids again tonight.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Time Lagged

It turns out that my concerns about the time difference in Reno were well-founded. I managed to stay up until 10 local time last night, but the last half hour was a struggle. Then I was wide awake and starving at 6 this morning. Fortunately, there's one 24-hour restaurant in this hotel, so I was able to have breakfast (the other places didn't seem to open until after 7). I was surprised that there were people in the casino at that time of morning. It wasn't exactly rocking, but it wasn't dead. I did notice that instead of the cocktail waitresses working their way around the casino, they had a coffee and donut cart. I also saw them disinfecting the slot machines. A casino at 6 in the morning is kind of pathetic. I don't buy into the glamour at the best of times, but this removed any last shreds there might have been.

I had a pretty good trip yesterday. I took the bus to the airport and decided to get off at one of the stops that transfers from my neighborhood bus to the airport bus instead of riding all the way to the transit center while fretting that I'd miss the connection (because the bus from my neighborhood is always late). That meant standing outside for a while, but it wasn't too bad. Then my plane was full of Vietnam veterans on their way to a convention in Reno. The one sitting by me reminded me a bit of my dad, and I'd bet he was a retired officer (with my upbringing, that's something I've learned to recognize). When he saw me tear through the American Way crossword puzzle in just a few minutes, he offered me the puzzle in his New York Times, and then at the end of the flight he got my bag down from the overhead bin, then asked every other lady nearby if she needed her bag. Otherwise, he read his book and I read mine and we didn't feel obligated to chat, so he was pretty much the perfect traveling companion. This plane had in-flight entertainment, so I plugged in my phone's headset and listened to classical music, except for when they showed an episode of Parks and Recreation.

Once I got into my room, got checked into the convention and got something to eat (great discovery: the appetizers and drinks in the Italian restaurant bar are half-price during the late afternoon when my body is craving food -- I inhaled a pizza and then was surprised when I got the bill and saw it was half-price), I made a quick Walgreens run to pick up some toiletries (cheaper than paying to check a bag) and snacks, then hit the indoor swimming pool to loosen up my muscles.

Nothing starts at the convention until about noon today, so I will likely end up taking a nap soon. I may have been awake at 6, but I'm still sleepy, and tea isn't helping.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Prep Day

I'm hoping that a trip preparation day works kind of like a dress rehearsal, where a bad one means the actual event will go well. Not that it's been bad so far, just more eventful than I might like.

First, there was the attack of paranoia in the middle of the night last night, when, for some odd reason, I got it into my head that I'd bought my plane tickets or made my hotel reservations for the wrong day, that my flight was actually today instead of Tuesday or that my hotel reservation started a day late. I'd started thinking about how it would be a scramble, but I could have managed to leave today. This was so consuming my mind that I couldn't sleep, so I got up, went up to my office, found my airline receipt and my hotel confirmation, then made sure that everything was as it should be. I don't know why I get paranoid about that kind of stuff because I've never made that kind of mistake, but I have known people who did.

And then this morning I was running all my pre-trip errands. One of those was to drop off my recycling at the drop-off center in the Home Depot parking lot, where I almost got run down by the getaway driver from a group of teenagers who'd apparently shoplifted the Home Depot garden center. I'd noticed that they were running to the car and jumping in a lot faster than you'd usually expect from someone just having bought a few gardening items, so I sensed that they were going to tear out of there and got out of the way. Then I saw the clerk running out after them, describing the incident on the phone, and I realized what must have happened. I'm afraid I'd be a terrible witness to a crime because I couldn't have described them or their car. I was focusing more on how I was reacting and feeling because I thought it could be useful in writing.

My big achievement for the weekend was finally getting the new computer set up and the files transferred, for the most part. I loaded the Office software, got my e-mail contacts and critical folders transferred, then transferred my photos, iTunes stuff and documents. Now I can take the new computer with me and have access to everything I might need. I'll still probably do most of my writing on the old computer because it's not connected to the Internet, but this should give me some flexibility. It's only been more than five months since I bought that computer. I have no idea why I procrastinated this long. I guess because I didn't need it before now.

Now I just have a few little things to take care of (like putting the trained attack nosy neighbor on the alert) and a few big things (like packing!), and then I'll be ready, so I hope I can relax and sleep tonight. I even have stuff ready for meals when I get home. The 12-ounce bottles of milk from Target have really long lifespans -- the expiration date on the ones I bought today was in October. They're more expensive than regular milk, but not having to go grocery shopping the day or the day after getting home from a trip is priceless. And I have some frozen entrees handy in the freezer, so I can get home and throw dinner in the microwave.

I'll have the computer with me, so I'll be reporting from the convention.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Wrap-Up

Our hot streak broke yesterday. We were two days away from breaking the record for consecutive days over 100 degrees when a front came through, so we only got up to 97. However, there was a brief time in the afternoon when it was in the 80s. I went outside and just reveled in it. We'd had 40 days of 100+ degree temperatures, which is rather Biblical. And now we're back to the heat, as today is supposed to go over 100. There may be another break tomorrow, and then the streak apparently will start over, but they doubt it will be as long a streak, since 40 days from Sunday would be late September.

And it turns out that all the exercise I've been doing has been GREAT for my performance in ballet. I have a little jogging trampoline (a mini, low-to-the-ground trampoline you use for jogging in place) that I got when I was rehabbing after knee surgery, but it's been living in my office, where unsightly things go to die (probably bad feng shui for a space where I'm supposed to be creative or efficient). I got the bright idea of dragging it downstairs and putting it in front of the TV. I try to do about 45 minutes a day, mixing jogging, marching and some ballet-type leg raises. At first I was doing it in intervals, with the various leg exercises and marching during the show itself and then jogging during commercials, but in the last couple of weeks I've started warming up with the marching and leg raises, then jogging for about 25 minutes straight. I found last night that I could raise my legs higher and hold them steadier, and then I wasn't at all winded after doing jumps or doing leaps across the floor. I even stayed for jazz class, since I'll miss a class next week and need to make up, and wasn't too tired after two classes in a row. I did something to my hip in jazz, though. It's almost like a punchline to a "you know you're old" joke, since we were using a Ray Charles song and doing steps that are mostly from swing dancing, so I may have been a trifle overenthusiastic. You know you're getting old when you throw out your hip while dancing to oldies. In my defense, Ray Charles is my mom's music, and I grew up listening to him because of her, not because I'm in that generation. Still, usually jazz class is more semi-hip hop to current music I've never heard of. Doing something closer to what I consider "jazz" and with steps used to dance to real jazz was much closer to my speed. If the class were like that all the time, I might actually register for it and do it full-time, but I pretty much loathe most of the music in that class. I did get my hip back in line, but it's a bit stiff today. I think I'm up for gentle exercise to keep it moving, but I'm definitely motivated to keep this up, since it made such a big difference.

I should finish the current draft of the current book today. I just have to rewrite the ending, which has been a trouble spot. And I came up with a title yesterday (see, the temperature drops and my brain starts working). I've been totally blank on a title for this book for two years, and a very obvious one struck me yesterday. In fact, it was so obvious I was sure it's been used to death, but I didn't come up with a single match in an Amazon search.

And now it's Friday. I'm pretty much going to be crazy busy from now until the time I get on the bus for the airport on Tuesday. On nights like this, I really miss having a real "Sci Fi Friday" because I'll need the break to just veg out in front of the TV (and maybe do my nails or some mending). There's Haven (yay), but that's late and there's just wrestling before it. I may marathon the previous Haven episodes OnDemand.

But I think I've figured out one of the reasons I love that show: It may be as close as I can get to seeing Katie and Owen on TV unless someone makes Enchanted, Inc., the TV series. The main character, Audrey, has a unique ability: she seems to be immune to the weird abilities of others. In this town, a lot of people have what they call "afflictions" or "Troubles," that affect other people, but they don't affect her. They may or may not be something the people can control. For instance, there was a young woman who couldn't look at someone without them seeing their worst fears come to life, so instead of seeing her, they saw what they feared the most. But Audrey saw her normally. That's fairly similar to Katie's magical immunity, and it's Audrey's big strength that helps her deal with the crazy stuff in the town. Plus, she's extremely practical, has a lot of common sense and has the ability to see what's really there, though in her case that's more metaphorical than it is with Katie. It just means that when she notices that the weather in the immediate vicinity gets weird whenever a particular woman is really upset, she's willing to consider that the woman is affecting the weather instead of trying to rationalize some far-fetched scientific explanation. And she's got a dry, snarky sense of humor, to the point that I now seem to hear her voice in my head when I read Katie (the actress might actually make a decent Katie -- wrong hair color and no Texas accent, but that can be dealt with and I think she could nail the personality). She's not exactly like Katie, though. Instead of being the small-town girl in the big city, there's more of a Northern Exposure thing going on, with the big-city FBI agent in the small, remote town. And instead of coming from a big, loving (and kind of infuriating) family, she has a background more like Owen's, not knowing who her parents were or where she came from after growing up in foster homes.

Nathan is a little less like Owen than Audrey is like Katie, but he has a pretty similar personality. He's rather shy in social settings but is perfectly fine -- and even kind of good at -- dealing with people professionally. He also has the dry, understated sense of humor, though less snarky than his partner. He's the really nice guy who doesn't seem to realize how good-looking he is. He's also good with babies (though with Owen, it's more that the babies like him, while Nathan loves babies and can go from tough cop to puddle of goo in about two seconds in the presence of an infant). He's not supernaturally powerful the way Owen is, but he is now the town's police chief, so he has that kind of power, and he's more or less in charge of dealing with the weird things happening in town in the way that Owen is on the front lines for all the magical mayhem. Plus, dark hair and blue eyes, though Nathan is tall and Owen is not.

Incidentally, although I've described Owen as fairly short, my mental picture of him is around five-nine to five-ten, which isn't that short. I guess I tend to go for tall, so when I was trying to give him some physical flaw to make him not entirely my perfect man, I made him shorter than my usual "type," which skews the perception of "short" since my type is over six feet. Nathan on Haven is pretty much my ideal physical type.

So, I guess if you want to watch Enchanted, Inc., the TV series, watch Haven and kind of blur your vision to make Audrey's hair darker, Nathan shorter, and the surroundings Manhattan instead of a small coastal town in Maine. Add a few gargoyles, and then you're there! It's like an alternate universe fanfic in which Owen is a police chief, Katie is an FBI agent, and they're in Maine. Ooh, idea for future book, where they're all under a spell …

And now to continue the epic loads of laundry while moving around enough that my hip won't stiffen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fun with Technology

Sometimes, I think technology senses stress. This week I'm trying to fit in two weeks of work, doubling up on medical school writing, trying to finish a draft, and then I had an additional thing come up that I needed to write this week. That's in addition to all the other little to-do items for getting ready to leave town. So when I took a brief break yesterday afternoon to check my e-mail and look up a couple of things for the med school, it had to turn into an epic adventure. Suddenly, every web site I tried to go to, it bumped me back to my ISP, which told me I had the wrong password for my DSL modem. I've got a password for e-mail, but in all the time I've had this service, I haven't had a password for the modem. When I got the new computer, I just had to plug it in, and it went straight to work. The notice page told me to call tech support, where I learned that "I don't know, you moron machine, I'm calling because you told me to" is apparently not a valid response on the voice recognition system. It took forever on the phone with customer support to deal with it, which took an hour out of my workday. And, would you believe, the same thing happened again this morning? But I still had all the codes from the nice Indian tech support guy I got to yesterday when I stopped yelling at the automated system and zeroed out, so I was able to re-set it all again myself. Then I had to do it again. My modem may be dying. I've only had it since 2004.

This was after my toaster oven bit the dust over the weekend. The bottom of anything put in it was burning, while the top was untouched. And in this weather, you really don't want to turn on the big oven. So that had to be replaced.

This means I've been deleting still more items from the to-do list. Things that seemed vitally important are now in the "I'll live without it" category. I'm focusing on the must-do work stuff. I know the book will need one more draft because there are some things I need to go back and work in, but on this draft I'm focusing on straightening out the plot. I may start the next round of revisions at the end, since I can tell I'm getting a little impatient with the sense of having a deadline. There really isn't any time pressure here because I think my agent would kill me if I sent her one more project before she gets the two she's already got off her plate.

I guess my real time pressure is that I hope to take a "vacation" in October when (I hope!) it finally gets cool, and I want everything done by then. I'll have completed three books this year (one start to finish, one the second half of a first draft and then a major rewrite, and one a major rewrite on a completed book), so I've been very diligent this year. I think I need to take a break, and I've been trapped inside by the heat for so long. When it becomes nice out, I want to spend some time getting out and about, going on long walks, walking to restaurants in my neighborhood, eating on the patio, exploring the city and generally enjoying my favorite time of year before I plunge back into the same level of diligence in writing. I have a side project I want to play with while I'm starting the extensive research that the next project in the queue will require.

Ballet starts again tonight, and I'm excited to see if all the exercise I've been doing has any impact on the dancing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beyond the First Draft

I'm giving up on adjusting my body clock to Pacific time because staying up later and sleeping later left me groggy all day, and I ended up going to bed even earlier the next night. I think the hotel has an indoor pool, so maybe I'll do my "vacation" stuff in the mornings before the convention starts.

One of the most important parts of the writing process is rewriting. In fact, I'd say that rewriting and/or revision is what separates aspiring authors from published authors and the unsuccessful self-published authors from the successful ones. There may be some authors who can write one draft and be done, but generally those authors do a lot of revising and tinkering as they write, so that one draft is actually more like three, and/or their plotting process is so extensive that it counts as a draft.

The first draft is usually the stuff that initially comes to mind -- the easy ideas. In revision you can add complexity and raise the stakes by delving beyond the initial idea. The first draft may include some of what I call "plotting on paper," where I work out what needs to happen in the story by having the characters talk or think about what they should do, or where I develop characters' backstories by having them ask each other personal questions. I usually end up incorporating that information into the story in another way, so I don't need those talking or thinking scenes in the book. On the other hand, sometimes there are new scenes that may be needed to set up additional plot points or do the stake-raising. I often find that I don't see the patterns in some of my plots until I've written the first draft. I think it's a subconscious thing going on, where I have events, characters or subplots that come up for no obvious reason at the time, but when I look at the draft as a whole, I can see how they actually play into the bigger picture, and it takes some rewriting to tie it all into the pattern. There's what my mom calls "Bill and Tedding," which is when you have to make changes to the earlier part of the book to properly set up ideas that come to you later in the book. You'll also need to check on continuity -- do descriptions, events and names remain consistent? You'll need to keep an eye on continuity in each draft, to make sure any changes are carried throughout the rest of the book or that you don't have mentions to events or characters you've cut.

The first draft is also usually more cursory, getting the plot down. After fixing the plot, it's time to make the writing better. Dialogue in a first draft tends to be rather "on the nose," with people asking direct questions and giving direct answers. In a later draft, you can add tension and subtext to conversations by making them more oblique. Most people who aren't cops or reporters don't ask direct questions about personal matters. They hint or talk around the subject. The closer the question comes to hitting home, the less likely someone is to give a direct answer. They'll make a joke, deflect the question or answer only part of it. You can also look for places where action or body language can replace thoughts or dialogue. You may need to work in emotions (or actions that show emotions) and description.

And then there's all the word work. Have you used the perfect word in each situation? Have you repeated a particular word too frequently? Are there any unnecessary words, phrases or sentences that you can cut without changing the meaning? Is there one vivid word you could use to replace a phrase? Are your sentences clearly structured? Do you have a variety of sentence structures? What about grammar, spelling and punctuation? This is when I usually read the book out loud to myself because it forces me to look at each word instead of skimming, and it means I hear rhythms and repetitions.

The book isn't done until you've dealt with all these things, and sometimes this is more difficult than writing the initial story. There have been times when I've written the first draft in six weeks, then spent four months on the revisions. You may need outside help seeing the things that need to be fixed, like with a critique partner or group. The people who never achieve their publication dreams are often the ones who won't do the rewriting. They insist that their first draft is the way they want the book to be and refuse to listen to criticism that requires them to make changes, or else they're too impatient to get it out there and skip a step or two.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Conquering the To-Do List

I made a little progress in adjusting the body clock by staying up late writing last night. I was still awake early but fell back asleep. And now I feel like a slug for sleeping so late. I guess I've bought into those cultural expectations.

I just talked myself out of getting a haircut before I go to WorldCon. My hair has reached my waist (when it's stretched out instead of all curly), but I mostly wear it up, so the length doesn't matter that much. I'm about haircuts the way some people are about going to the dentist. I need to find a new stylist, since I didn't like the last one (the one who insisted on straightening my hair over my objections -- a good way to piss me off) and the one before that blew me off when I tried to make an appointment and then never followed up when I left a message requesting an appointment. The one before that vanished, leaving the salon and not telling anyone where she was going. I wouldn't think that in today's economy it would be wise to ignore or alienate customers. I don't have time this week to find a new stylist, so I guess I'll just keep wearing my hair up. I can say I'm being steampunk by having Victorian hair.

There's your tip for the day: the key to getting through a long to-do list is removing items from the list.

I think part of my reluctance to go out and find someone to cut my hair is also to do with needing a bit of an introvert retreat. I had a very busy and social weekend, which was fun, but it left me drained. I've got a busy/social weekend ahead of me, followed by a week of being "on." Getting a haircut can be an uncomfortable social situation, especially with a new stylist. It's like a cocktail party where you're trapped in a chair, talking to the same near-stranger. And then there's the stress about what will happen with your hair. So, yeah, probably best to let myself stay in the cave for a day instead of pushing myself. Besides, I have tons of work to do at home.

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Birthday Weekend

I'm starting to have a little more sympathy for morning people. I often gripe that being a morning person is generally considered to be more virtuous than being a night person. Stay up working until 1 a.m. and then sleep until ten a.m. and all anyone notices is that you're still in bed at ten, so you must be a lazy sloth. But you're virtuous and diligent if you get up and get started on your day before six, regardless of how long you actually work. I'm still not what a real morning person would consider a morning person, but my body clock tends to shift earlier in the summer, and during the evil heat wave, I've been trying to deal with stuff like errands before it hits 100 degrees, which means before noon, at the latest. That can be a challenge. The bank opens at 9, it's nearly impossible to get a haircut before 11 a.m. (and that's when the salon opens, so the haircut starts later and probably isn't over by noon) and today I was at the grocery store trying to buy tortillas so I could make fajitas, and they said they don't make tortillas until after noon. Trying to get stuff done in the morning is difficult.

Then again, that might come back around to discrimination against night people. Morning people would do these kinds of errands after they've done a full day's work. It's night people who do this kind of stuff early before settling down to work.

But enough griping. I had a terrific birthday weekend, and I managed to spread the celebration throughout the whole weekend. First, on Friday night, a gathering of my friends to watch the Phineas & Ferb movie turned into a bit of a birthday party when one of my friends brought a dark chocolate with dark chocolate icing (YUM!) cake. You can't possibly be old when you have a Phineas & Ferb birthday party. I've never really liked the idea of actually having a birthday party, since I don't want people to feel obligated to bring presents. I just enjoy celebrating with friends, so this was perfect. Then on Saturday night I went out to dinner with friends, and we did some wandering at Target (where I found season one of Parks & Recreation and a cheap DVD of Secondhand Lions) before spending a little time at the lake just before sunset. And then on Sunday, my actual birthday, someone from church took me out to lunch with a mutual friend, and we got cupcakes with a candle (and the real joy of watching a two-year-old eating a cupcake, which is true entertainment, almost as good as eating the cupcake yourself). Then I had tons of birthday wishes via Facebook and even got a phone call from my brother. I think all that counts as "something good happening to me," which I was whining about needing a couple of weeks ago.

I didn't get much fuss for my birthdays when I was a kid. Having a summer birthday meant I didn't get a party at school (there was one school that had a "summer birthday" party, but it was shared by every other kid who had a birthday in June, July or August) and I only had a couple of parties during childhood since being away from school made it difficult to invite school friends. Plus, in the military world, there's a lot of moving going on during the summer. If I hadn't just moved to a new place so that I didn't yet know anyone (or if we weren't in the middle of moving), then often my friends had just moved away and I didn't yet know the new people who'd moved in. A birthday party for me was dinner with my family. One nice thing about adulthood has been making up for that. In my office job days, there were office parties, and then I was actually able to do stuff with friends for my birthday.

This is going to be a busy week. Choir and ballet start again, and WorldCon is next week, so I have lots of getting ready to do, and I'd like to finish this draft of the current project before I go so I can let it rest.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Book to TV Series: The Colorado Kid/Haven

I do a lot of comparisons of books to movies because it's like a writing exercise to me -- seeing what a screenwriter does to adapt a novelist's work for another medium can sometimes point out things that maybe should have been there all along. In the best adaptations, it's like seeing the result of a really good editor working on a manuscript. Some of the changes are made because of the shift from one medium to another. A book can include internal things like thoughts while a movie must be solely external. On the other hand, a movie can show in a split second things that take pages to describe in a book. In a movie, lots of dialogue slows the pace, and it's preferable to convey as much of the story as possible through action, while in a book, dialogue speeds the pace and too much narration -- even if the narration is describing action -- slows things down. But I've found that a lot of times in good adaptations the screenwriter will raise the stakes in a way that would have made the novel better, or the screenplay will find ways to make things from the novel into events with actions.

Then there's the book-to-TV series transition, which is trickier because a book usually has a beginning, middle and end, while a series is usually ongoing. There are a lot of ways to do this. There's the relatively faithful dramatization of the book, which seems to be what they've done with A Game of Thrones, where I was able to practically follow along in the book. With True Blood, the first season was mostly based on the first book, and apparently the TV series is more or less following the books, but veers away from the books along the way to tell its own story. Then there's using the book to provide the situation for a TV series, but not really basing the plot on the book, like they did with the series based on The Dead Zone. In that case, the book's initiating incident kicked off the series, and they used incidents in the book as the basis for some episode plots. Ultimately, the series did use the book's main plot as the basis for an ongoing arc. The series was very faithful to the book while not being a direct dramatization of the book.

I found a copy of The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, which is the basis for the series Haven, at the library, and it may be the most unique book-to-series transition I've seen. For one thing, the book is a straight mystery without any of the elements we usually associate with Stephen King, while the series is paranormal/supernatural, with those elements seemingly inspired by other King works. For another, the book mostly serves as the backstory for the series.

The book has a framing story set in the present (in 2005, which was "present" when the book was published) in which a big-city newspaper reporter has come to a small town in Maine to talk to the local newspaper editors about any unsolved mysteries in the area, for a book he's working on. Once the reporter is gone, the two old men who run the local newspaper tell their intern that there was one mystery they didn't tell him about because it was theirs. It's truly unsolved, with no real hope for resolution, and a reporter like that would try to tie it up into a neat bow and make sense of it all, when the point of it is that it's a mystery. Then the rest of the book is mostly one long conversation between the newspapermen and the intern as they tell the story of a mysterious death that happened in 1980 and what they did to try to solve the case. A man was found dead on a beach, and while his death seemed to be what I guess you'd call a natural accident (not really natural causes, but no foul play), who he was and how he got there and what the various clues meant were the real mysteries, and some of those clues hinted that his death might not have been an accident, after all, though they can't figure out how it could have been murder.

On TV, the series itself would be the equivalent of the book's framing story, but with an FBI agent who comes to town on a case and ends up staying and joining the local police department so she can investigate this old case instead of a newspaper intern. This old case that has remained unsolved is shrouded in a lot more mystery in the series, and it seems to be a major clue for other strange things going on in the town. For instance, the newspaper photo from when the body was found has in it a woman who looks almost exactly like the FBI agent the age she is now, even though the photo was taken 27 years ago. Most of the people in the photo don't remember the events of that day. And the death happened during a phase the town goes through that locals call the Troubles, which is when many of the town's residents start manifesting strange abilities or qualities (none of that is in the book). And now the Troubles are back.

In the book, the town is on an island instead of being a coastal town, and it has a different name. The main characters are the two newspaper guys, Vince and Dave, who are in the TV series (and they really capture their voices in the series because I could hear them in my head as I read). But in the book they're older and they're not brothers, the way they are on TV. The local bar/restaurant is called the Grey Gull in both book and series. The local cop who investigates the death is named Wournos (I think they spell it differently in the series), though he has a different first name, and he barely appears in the book, so we don't know if he's a widower with a young son (who'll grow up to be a detective). They have built an episode around one of those local unsolved mysteries the newspapermen are willing to share with the reporter, and now I'm wondering if we'll see any of the others. It looks like tonight's episode draws somewhat from another one, or at least includes some of that imagery.

The book is a short read, which is good because it's impossible to put down. I think I got through it in about an hour and a half. I must say, though, that never in a million years would I have read this book and thought, "You know, this would make a great basis for a paranormal TV series." There is an afterword to the book written by King and explaining that it was actually based on a real case, which makes it even more chilling. But I think the bit that probably has a lot to do with the idea of the series is where King talks about what he calls the "contrasting yet oddly complementary atmospheres of community and solitariness. There are few places in America where the line between the little world Inside and all the great world Outside is so firmly and deeply drawn. Islanders are full of warmth for those who belong, but they keep their secrets well from those who do not." And that seems to be the series in a nutshell, that there is a town with that many huge secrets that just about everyone in town is aware of but that they can keep hidden from outsiders. I noticed that the book's editor gets credited in the book, and he also gets screen credit on the series as a consulting producer.

And now to brave the world outside before they turn on the broiler for the afternoon.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Spam! The Movie!

Our sojourn in hell continues, but now they're saying our temperatures will drop by about a degree a day for a few days, though we're still breaking records. Going out to the library at noon yesterday was like stepping into an oven. I've been keeping an eye on temperatures in Reno, where I'll be the week after next, and their highs have been in the low 90s, and they seem to be heading into a phase of upper 80s, with lows in the low 60s at night (compared to our mid-80s). I may need to take a parka to WorldCon.

I also probably need to adjust to the time difference. At the Denver WorldCon, I was up way too early, before anything was happening, and that was only one hour difference. This will be two hours. It seems like I'm always going to writing conferences in the east, where they tend to start events early in the morning, so it's even earlier for me. Science fiction conventions start later, and the events go later at night, but I seem to keep heading west for those. I'm falling asleep by 11 these days, so I'll be ready for bed before the Reno parties really get started, and that's where all the good networking happens. I'm hoping it's mostly the heat, so I'll be more lively in a slightly different climate.

After dreaming up all those board game movie ideas, I was thinking about finding other sources of unoriginal movie ideas, but it's hard to go lower than board games. Video games at least have some visuals, and many of them involve narrative. A theme park ride worked pretty well for the Pirates franchise. They seem to have made a movie out of every superhero comic book ever, and they've even taken Saturday-morning cartoons to the big screen. There have been lots of movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches. I guess we're down to ad campaigns, which I know they've tried to turn into TV series, but I'm not sure about movies. During the 70s there were a few movies based on pop songs.

I know! Movies based on Internet spam! And the best part is, you don't have to pay royalties or option fees because if anyone tries to claim credit and demand payment, then they could be prosecuted for the spam and/or scam. There's all sorts of movie potential in the story of the relative of a foreign dignitary desperate to find a safe way to get the royal family's money out of the country. And then all those "male enhancement" spams could be made into a gross-out guy comedy in the vein of The Hangover.

I've got a conference call with my movie agent tomorrow. I'll have to bring up these ideas.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

I'm Melting!

I'm about to wilt from the heat. We're on track to have the worst summer on record, and I'm not a summer person in the best of circumstances. Yesterday we hit 110 degrees, and it was still 100 at 10 p.m. It's supposed to be worse today. Since my Internet connection is upstairs in the office in a space that gets very warm in the afternoon, I'm doing all my online stuff in the morning, then shutting off the office and staying downstairs the rest of the day. On the upside, that means I'm getting more work done since I can't get sidetracked by playing online. Today I may move from my sofa to my bedroom, since the bedroom is the darkest, coolest room in the house and they're encouraging people to save electricity because the power grid is being strained. I can bump up the thermostat a few degrees by working downstairs, and I can bump it up even further and feel just as cool by working in the bedroom. Or I may give up on working in the afternoon and instead work tonight, since it's my last free Wednesday before choir starts again. I do have to venture out briefly to return some library books and pick up one that's on hold, but I'm definitely driving, not walking.

I'm remembering why I've written most of my books in the fall/winter.

The book I'm currently working on is a departure for me because instead of it being a single, first-person point of view, it's multiple points of view in third person. That means I have to deal with different perspectives. One thing that's been particularly interesting to work with is the way a particular character appears depending on the perspective. First, we see how one character who knows her well thinks about her. Then we meet her from another character's point of view. He knows the first character and has heard what she has to say about this other character, so he's viewing her through that lens. And then finally we see things from her perspective and what she thinks about things and about herself. She's someone who puts up a very conscious and deliberate front and tries to make people see her a certain way, and while it's not really fake, it's not not the whole story, and there are chinks in her armor.

It's tricky, and I guess that's one reason why I'm in the sixth draft of this book, and each draft has involved several passes. I'm mostly in the "fixing the plot" pass now, and I know I'll have more work to do on it. I hope it turns out to be worth it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Board Game Movie Ideas

I'm up for a post about the Enchanted, Inc. universe tomorrow, but as far as I can recall, the only questions I haven't answered have been spoilery. So, if you've got a question about the stories, characters or world that isn't about what will happen in future books, ask away.

That unintentionally hilarious Battleship trailer and the response to my musings about making a movie out of the board game Candyland got me started thinking that there's a whole franchise of board game movies out there. I had a ton of these games as a kid, mostly because I was rather susceptible to TV ads, in which the kids playing these games seemed to be having so much fun that they were about to pop. And then I'd get these games and realize that I didn't really like playing games of any kind and I didn't really have anyone to play games with. My friends and I did more active things during the daytime. We were too busy running around the neighborhood acting out TV shows and other let's pretend games, riding bikes, riding skateboards, roller skating or playing on the playground. We didn't often go to anyone else's house at times when we couldn't play outside. When we did, we played with Barbies or did smaller-scale versions of let's pretend games. Although I had these games and there were plenty of other kids in the neighborhood, I don't remember ever playing board games with my friends.

So, I don't recall the rules to most of these games. I tended to make up my own games with the bits and pieces of the games, and they were more narrative-style games rather than competitions. Which makes me the perfect person to come up with storylines to turn these games into movies.

Here are a few of my ideas:

I already discussed Candyland as a trippy but twisted Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp. I don't remember the exact elements of Candyland (I never had that one), but there could be a kind of Hansel and Gretl thing going on, with kids sucked through a portal into the candy world and trying to survive.

The game of Life could be an ensemble romantic comedy of the Love Actually variety, with interwoven stories about various couples and singles at different phases of life. Are they really in control of the way things work out, or is it all just a roll of the dice?

Then there's Trivial Pursuit, which could be a wacky college comedy in which groups of students (fraternities, dorms, clubs, or the like) split along the usual college comedy demographic lines (nerds, jocks, preppy rich kids, artsy types) try to succeed in the classroom and in life while competing in an ongoing trivia contest in the student union. The trivia contest could be a metaphor for the college experience, implying that most of the work done toward a modern college degree is truly a trivial pursuit.

I don't remember much about Dungeon Dice other than there was something about rolling the dice and having to match runes of some sort, and that could be the making of a fantasy quest type story in which a group of prisoners in an evil wizard's dungeon realize that the small bag of rune-covered dice they discover in a niche in the wall is their key to escape, as they have to match the runes on the dice with symbols on the dungeon walls that point the way to the secret passage. Little do they know that these dice are also the secret to the wizard's power, and he'll stop at nothing to keep them from escaping with the dice.

I think they already made a Mousetrap movie. Payday was essentially Life-lite, so it could be handled like Life, but maybe as more of a workplace comedy, with everyone working toward that all-important paycheck. Risk is pretty much tailor-made to be a geopolitical thriller.

Hey, with all these, no one needs to come up with another original idea for a film! Are there any other board games that would make good movies?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Monday Movies: Cowboys and Dragons

I went with some friends this weekend to see Cowboys and Aliens, and I must say that it was a fun movie that merges two genres. There was room for improvement, but it was the perfect summer Saturday matinee. I would describe it as starting as the classic cowboys and Indians movie, but with aliens instead of Indians (Indians/aliens raid small Western town and kidnap residents, then the townspeople overcome their individual differences to put together a posse and go get their people back). Then it morphs into Independence Day in the Old West, with disparate groups teaming up to kick the aliens off their planet. It hits all the story and character beats you expect in a classic Western. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford make a great Western duo. I'm just not sure what Olivia Wilde was doing in this movie or why she keeps getting cast in stuff. I would think that an ability to express emotion would be a plus for an actress, but her face and eyes remain totally blank and her voice is flat. I'm not male, so maybe I can't judge, but I don't even think she's that gorgeous. She looks like a store mannequin, but maybe men are into that sort of thing. At any rate, she came across as something of an anachronism, and her perfect eyeliner that remained perfect after being out in the rain and then under water kept distracting me. Fortunately, Daniel Craig's eyes were also on screen, which distracted me from the distraction of Miss Anachronism. I don't actually find him all that attractive as a whole, but some of the parts are rather pleasing to the eye.

I will say that this movie made me miss Firefly. Some of the music even sounded straight out of Serenity. I'd almost bet that they used parts of the Serenity score as a temp track when editing the film.

Then on Saturday night there was a truly epic bad movie on the Channel Formerly Known as Sci Fi. I think the title was something like Age of the Dragons, but it was essentially Moby Dick with dragons (Herman Melville actually got screen credit). They moved the story into a quasi-medieval, quasi-European (but mostly American/Canadian accented) fantasy world, and instead of hunting whales for their oil, they were hunting dragons for their "vitriol," which was used in lamps. Instead of whaling ships on the ocean, they used a vehicle on land that looked like a metal-plated boat on wooden wheels. One thing that kept bugging me was that there was no means of propulsion. There were no sails, there was no mention of magic in this fantasy world, there were no signs of combustion engine or any sort -- no smokestacks, no mention of needing fuel, no gathering fuel or stockpiled fuel. I guess maybe there were a bunch of unseen galley slaves powering the vessel Fred Flintstone style. What was really hilarious was that large portions of the script seemed to involve taking the actual text of the novel and doing a search and replace to change every use of the word "whale" to "dragon." But, of course, they couldn't do a word-for-word adaptation of that novel in two hours, so there were bridging scenes, transitions and the like that were written at about the level of your usual SyFy Saturday-night movie. To make matters even more fun, the actor playing Ishmael was essentially Keanu Reeves-lite, so his delivery of the Melville language was reminiscent of Keanu Reeves being horribly miscast in the Branagh version of Much Ado About Nothing, while his delivery of the non-Melville parts of the script was more like Keanu Reeves in the Bill and Ted movies. I was pretty much collapsing in hysterical laughter through the whole thing, either because of the obvious dragon/whale substitutions, the Keanu delivery of the Melville language and the ridiculous transitions between the Melville language and the very non-Melville parts of the script. Aside from Keanu-lite, we had Danny Glover playing Ahab, and they must have kept him away from the catering truck so he was forced to subsist on an all-scenery diet during the shoot, and then there was the supporting cast that mostly seemed to have been recruited from various Shakespeare festivals because that archaic language just rolled easily off their tongues and they really seemed to embody those characters. In other words, this movie was awesome.

It did bring up one of my pet peeves about this kind of movie. I don't believe that the only strong female character is Rambo in drag and that for a female character to be a kick-ass chick she has to be capable of singlehandedly taking out an entire platoon of armed Marines using only her awesome martial arts skills, but if you're going to write this sort of character, if you introduce her by showing her beating up a group of large, armed men while Our Hero looks on in admiration, you can't turn her into a damsel in distress later in the story. Anyone, male or female, no matter how skilled, may find themselves in a tough situation where they're momentarily at a disadvantage and need a hand, but let her at least participate in the fight once the hero comes to the rescue instead of having her stand on the sidelines looking helpless.

But that movie wasn't my biggest laugh of the day. That came from one of the trailers before Cowboys and Aliens. It was for a movie that looked like it was going to be a Top Gun sort of thing, only in the water instead of in the air -- hot-shot young naval officer who apparently isn't living up to his potential, which is made worse by the fact that he's in love with his commanding officer's daughter. There's all sorts of yelling by commanding officer (Liam Neeson) about young officer needing to prove himself, and then their ship goes out to sea on a mission, where they encounter something mysterious. It was looking all Top Gun meets Independence Day, but very, very serious and portentious, until they finally showed the name of the movie as they zoomed out for an aerial view of the sea battle. The movie was Battleship, and the ships are lined up like on the board game. I totally lost it at that point because it was like something in a comedy spoof trailer, with this over-the-top fake-serious looking movie that turns out to be based on some silly premise, like a board game. Or like those trailers for the upcoming Muppets movie where they spoof trailers for other kinds of movies, playing it totally serious until the Muppets show up. Giving the title of this film was essentially the Muppets showing up. It was the last trailer before the movie started, so I was still shaking helplessly with laughter five minutes into the movie.

Now I want to see Candyland, the movie, which should probably be directed by Tim Burton as some trippy but dark and twisted fantasy (starring Johnny Depp, of course).