Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

I way overslept this morning, in part probably because I'd had two late nights in a row -- a Halloween party and then reading a book where I was sooo close to finishing, and it was the end of a trilogy, so I was not only waiting for the resolution of the story but for the resolution of the characters' lives -- and probably in part because I was just too comfortable to get up. And actually, I wasn't truly sleeping for the last hour and a half or so. I was just lying there, thinking and daydreaming and being way too comfortable to bother getting out of bed. And then I looked at the clock and freaked out because I had no idea it was that late.

So, the Halloween costume for the year. It was a theme party this year, with a focus on 1950s science fiction movies. I did a sort of space vixen spaceship crew member thing the way they tended to be represented in movies from the 50s and 60s, where the men might be in very practical, functional uniforms, but the women wore high heels and cat suits. It doesn't show in the picture, but I had my hair in a bundle of looped braids, kind of like Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. The original plan was to wear the pleather pants, but they're extremely uncomfortable (as I said, like wearing a sauna) and didn't give the sleek look I wanted, so I got very brave and wore leggings in public with a sweater that only came to my waist.

At the party we watched some 50s movies, including the Mystery Science Theatre version of This Island Earth and The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Now I finally have that project I've been waiting on for two weeks -- naturally, on the day I think it would be good to clean house -- so I have serious, urgent work to do. It's a good thing I had a fun weekend.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Preparation

I got a late start this morning after staying up and watching the end of the World Series game. I thought that since I'm a good luck charm in person (the Rangers never seem to lose when I'm at a game) I might help them when I watch on TV. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to hear all my shouts of, "Just one more strike, and you win the World Series. No, that was a hit. That's not what you wanted."

In addition to finally doing something with my Stealth Geek blog, I've also revived my semi-defunct cooking blog, The Mildly Adventurous Chef. Yesterday's cooking adventure was pulled pork in my Crock Pot.

I started re-reading that fairy tale book I mentioned earlier this week, and you know, I really like it. It's young adult, which was a departure for me, and it's possible that it didn't find a home because it's not the angsty Twilight stuff that's taken over the YA market. There's no real love triangle, for instance, and no vampires at all. There are a few things about it that I'm reconsidering, but I won't make any decisions about what to change about it until I've read the whole thing through and maybe had someone else give it a sanity check. Then I guess I'll have to work out how to do a cover (I have a cover in mind but will have to figure out the logistics of producing it) and how to do all the formatting/uploading. Maybe I should aim at getting it out there around Christmas, so people who get new e-readers for Christmas will have something to buy. That will depend, though, on how much work it ends up needing. If I'm going to experiment with e-publishing, I may as well go for it with something I've already written that probably won't sell to a major publisher but that I think there may be a market for.

Now I have to get ready for Halloween. I need to bake for Saturday night's party, and there's an item I may need for my costume. I could do without it, but the alternative I already have isn't all that comfortable. This particular costume is maybe a little more edgy than I usually go, but then again, there was the year I was the Generic Urban Fantasy Book Cover:

The (temporary) "tramp stamp" tattoo is a bunny rabbit, because that's what I had handy. I couldn't be a Generic Urban Fantasy Book Cover without a tattoo. And those pleather pants are like wearing a sauna. I may have lost five pounds that night. But at least they're easy to wipe off after a small child has climbed all over me with sticky hands. The smile probably isn't representative of the Generic Urban Fantasy Book Cover, but I couldn't stop myself, and this wasn't the camera/photographer who captures my evil side.

Tune in Monday to see this year's costume.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hurling Pumpkins and Launching Books

I didn't have preschool choir last night because it was the Halloween carnival, so instead I helped run the "pumpkin bowling" game at the carnival. This involved using mini pumpkins as bowling balls. There were some bowling pins, but they were very lightweight plastic and wouldn't stay up, so they drew ghost/pumpkin faces on toilet paper rolls, and we stacked those into a pyramid. It became a weird cross between a softball throw and bowling, depending on how each kid threw the pumpkins. I must say it was highly entertaining to watch. There is something rather satisfying about hurling pumpkins at things.

I now know to be flattered when my preschool girls call me Rapunzel. I think half the girls were wearing some kind of Disney princess costume, and Rapunzel was this year's favorite. Some went all-out with the long wigs, and they were proud that their hair was longer than mine. We also had a surprising number of Darth Vaders and Jedi Knights, especially considering that some of these kids weren't even born when the last prequel came out.

Speaking of throwing things, I keep forgetting to mention this … At WorldCon, there's a newsletter every day listing events, parties, etc., and there are a lot of book launch parties mentioned. On the last day, they do a joke newsletter, and in that one, there was an article announcing the results of a book launch party, giving the winning distances.

I immediately thought that sounded like more fun than the typical book party. It was a pity I didn't have anything coming out. But then I thought, why would I want to do that to my own books? If you're having that kind of book launch party, it should be for the wallbangers, the ones that deserve to be hurled with great force. Unfortunately, I'd have to find some other place to hold it because I don't have enough lawn to really go for distance, and I live either within or dangerously close to the airspace of a major airport, which would affect how high we could go. And with my friends, yes, yes that would be a potential issue. Mentioning "launch" would start a discussion on the best way to achieve orbital velocity. But we really must have a book launch party someday.

Today is my favorite kind of autumn weather, nicely cool and grey. My (hopefully non-homicidal) Crock Pot is busily making dinner (and possibly plotting against me -- but I know which circuit breaker to flip if it gives me any attitude), I've made a pot of tea and since I still don't have that work that needs to be done, I may declare this a research reading day. I need to provide stimulus input for my creativity.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Being Creative

Wow, it sounds like there's actually some interest in my wacky fairy tale book. Sadly, every single publisher in New York rejected it. I suppose it could be that the idea was clever but the writing wasn't good enough. Or it could be that they expected it to be a chick-litty style comedy when it's more of a mix of humor and drama (I'd say a similar tone to Buffy -- some humor and funny one-liners, and the premise may sound kind of silly on the surface, but they're actually in some really scary situations. Instead of being a comedy it's more of a serious story about characters who have a sense of humor and who are dealing with an odd situation). That is a book I'm considering e-publishing myself, since I have it written, the publishers don't want it, some readers might want it, and it's not doing me any good just sitting on my hard drive. I haven't looked at it in a couple of years, so I may want to give it another once-over and see if maybe the publishers were right and how much work it needs. Or maybe I'll still love it and decide to prove the publishers wrong.

In the meantime, I'm stuck in a holding pattern where I have something with an urgent, pending due date, but I can't do anything about it until someone else gets their part done, and they're already a week past when they said it would be done. When I get it, I'm going to have to leap on it instantly and then work really hard to make the deadline, so I'm almost afraid to delve into any other work that's only going to have to get shoved aside. So I've found odd little ways to spend my time. Yesterday, I was working out my Halloween costume. I had something planned that would actually be pretty timely for pop culture, but it turns out that the party I'm going to has a theme this year, and while dressing for the theme isn't required, I think it would be fun, and my planned costume was the exact opposite of the theme. I planned something else that was kind of tangential to the theme, but then yesterday I got an idea for something else that might fit better and that could be a lot of fun. However, I suspect it will generate a lot of photos posted to Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet. Hey, publicity, right?

The other thing I was doing was reading a book I picked up for a dollar at that warehouse sale. It's a business book on creativity, written by a guy who apparently does seminars for corporations to help them brainstorm new ideas. Supposedly, this whole process is copyrighted, but it's very similar to what I do when working on a book idea. In fact, he seems to have validated my creative process. One of his principles is that just telling someone to come up with ideas doesn't get you a lot of ideas, and those ideas won't be very good. You need some kind of stimulus/input to generate creative ideas. The first step in one of his idea generating sessions is to immerse the group in all kinds of input relating to the project -- research as well as relevant sensory input. That's pretty much how I start working on a book. I read all kinds of random stuff even tangentially related to elements of the story, including non-fiction research and novels that have something in common with the story. Then before I really dive into the work, I do a kind of "retreat" in which I watch movies that remind me in some way of the project, listen to music and create a kind of soundtrack for the book and sometimes even eat food that relates to the setting or the characters. After that, I'll start the serious brainstorming and plotting. This theory also validates what I call "iTunes roulette" that I sometimes use either when I'm stuck or when I'm plotting. I put iTunes on shuffle and let it play in the background while I brainstorm, and sometimes a song that comes on will spark some idea. One of my favorite plot twists ever (in a book that got rejected, but I'm salvaging that plot twist for another project) was inspired by a song that came on at just the right time.

There are a few other things in this book that I haven't tried, so I'll have to put them to the test. I do know that I need to improve my sense of adventure. I tend to be a bit of a scaredy cat -- rather risk-averse -- and I need to force myself out of my comfort zone. Most of his suggestions for things to do to generate a sense of adventure utterly terrify me -- not physically because they're not things like skydiving, but socially, as most of them involve some kind of interpersonal situation that would have me looking to join Mole Boy in his tunnel. Sometime next year, depending on when I get the current slate of projects cleared and depending on what becomes of those projects and whether I'll need to do editor revisions or copy edits, write sequels, etc., I will be diving into a totally new project, so I'll have to apply some of these ideas in the planning stage.

Really, though, creativity isn't my problem. I have no shortage of ideas. I'm not sure what my problem is or if it even is my problem, aside from the problem of being square when round is the big trend of the moment.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fantasy on TV

One weird thing that came out of that "where are they now?" thing at the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books site is that an editor for a romance line e-mailed me to say that she couldn't help me continue my series, but she would love to see any manuscripts I had that might be suitable for her line. I must confess to enjoying a moment of ironic glee at writing a "your line doesn't suit my needs at this time" letter to an editor, since all my manuscripts contain fairies, wizards or other forms of magic and use romance as only a subplot. Not that I'm really in a position to "reject" an editor, but my writing really would not be a good fit for her, and trying would only make me miserable and would likely fail. If only an editor who might want the kind of stuff I write had seen that post and the response to it and had come recruiting.

It does seem like there's a TV cultural trend possibly brewing that fits my style. I caught up with the premiere of Once Upon a Time last night (since I was out singing when it was on), and it seems like the kind of thing I might write. In fact, I have written something similar, except I was using the Piney Woods of East Texas instead of Maine (that area reminds me of some of the forests in Germany, and it gives me a fairy tale vibe). I did a spin on Sleeping Beauty, using the ballet version of the plot, in which the good fairies (enchantresses in my story) took the infant princess away to raise her in obscurity and hide her from the wicked fairy (enchantress) until after her sixteenth birthday, only in my story, they brought her to another world entirely, so this Disney princess with all those magical gifts of beauty and song had grown up in a small East Texas town. Everyone thought that her tendency to walk down the street doing her own musical numbers with lots of small animals following her around was kind of weird, but they couldn't help but love her. Then on her sixteenth birthday the evil enchantress had managed to find a way to open the portal and send her men to fetch the princess, only there was a mix-up and they got the wrong girl, so a very ordinary, non-princessy (but very practical) teenager was in this fairy tale world where everyone thought she was the princess, but once she figured out what was going on, she had an advantage because she knew how the story went, while everyone around her was living it and didn't realize they were characters in a story. The sequel took place in our world, when they found that Sleeping Beauty wasn't the only person who'd found their way here to take refuge. They found Snow White working as an aid in a nursing home, where she was looking after seven feisty WWII veterans, and the evil queen had come looking for her, setting herself up in a beauty parlor where she was surrounded by mirrors. I wrote the whole first book, but no one wanted it, so the series didn't really get developed.

Anyway, I really liked Once Upon a Time, since I'm a sucker for fairy tale stuff. It looks like it could be fun. My only complaints were that the "fairy tale" parts of the story suffered a little from the curse of SyFy fantasy movies, where the characters in this quasi-medieval European fantasy world speak colloquial modern American English -- except when they don't -- and that they seem to be doing a very Disneyfied version of the fairy tales (since ABC is owned by Disney), so that the dwarves have the Disney dwarf personalities, and they seem to be considering everything made into a Disney animated movie to be part of the same fairy tale world, like Pinocchio. Still, I like the characters and the situation so far, even if I now have an urge to dig out my Into the Woods DVD.

However, there was something oddly familiar about the set-up: A snarky blonde with no friends or family who doesn't even know anything about who her family was travels from Boston to a small coastal town in Maine, where she learns that the town is under a kind of curse, the town may be the key to her mysterious past, and she may be key to breaking the curse. Now, where have we seen that recently?

They had a sneak preview of Grimm OnDemand, about 20 minutes of the pilot that I think may be enough highlights to let us know what's going on and to get into the plot, and then cutting off at a cliffhanger moment, and I think I may like it, too. It's like a fantasy procedural, and I like what we saw of the characters. Also, on a shallow note, the main character is really cute and has a very pleasant speaking voice (he would make a really good Owen), so that alone would get me to give it a try.

Apparently, the ratings for Once Upon a Time were pretty good, so maybe this will start a trend. And then maybe they'll want more contemporary fairy tale-like series. I know of a good possibility ...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Peeking Through the Fog

It's a spooky, foggy morning, perfect for the start of Halloween week. I'm sitting at my desk, looking out the sliding glass doors that lead onto the balcony, where normally I have a view of the lawn, the street and the small office park across the street. Today I can see the lawn, the brick wall surrounding the lawn and some hazy outlines of the trees running along the street. The street is mostly visible because it's at ground level, but I can barely see the buildings across the street. It's better than it was when I first got up. Then I couldn't even see the street and there was no sign of the buildings across the street.

I've seen this episode of Haven, and it doesn't go well. I may not go outside today, in case the weather lady is really pissed off (she must be a St. Louis fan).

Not that I was planning a lot of excursions today. It was a busy choir weekend, with a dress rehearsal most of Saturday and then a performance Saturday night. It's a very challenging work to sing, and although I sing the second soprano part, I was still spending a lot of time above the staff. So today I'm a little raspy. But it's a lot of fun, and I love singing stuff like that. Even more fun was that some of my friends came, and we then went to Dairy Queen because I desperately needed ice cream.

I was proud of myself for resisting my usual scream and jump tendencies. Saturday was the first time we'd practiced with the brass and percussion, and since the piece is about war and peace, there's a lot of percussion used to simulate gunfire. There's one movement that's a capella with just the men, doing a Gregorian chant type thing, and at one point the singing stops, and in that rest, there's a loud hit on a drum that sounds like a cannon going off. In the rehearsals so far, that's just been a moment of silence, so Saturday was the first time we heard the drum. It made me scream and jump. But since I knew it was coming, I braced myself and did not scream during the performance. I think my friends were disappointed. The rest of the startling loud drumbeats all came right before I was supposed to sing a loud, high note, so they were less of a problem.

Now we get to start practicing music for Christmas. The nice thing about doing a major choral work in late October is that it means we aren't singing Christmas music in September, but we will have to work hard to be ready for Christmas.

In the meantime, I think this may be a tea and book day, especially if the sun doesn't come out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Running Errands Beyond Thunderdome

My timing was off for my morning errands, so it looks like I'll have afternoon errands. If it gets close to 11, the lunch crowds in my area come out, and then the traffic on the main road becomes a nightmare, there are lines at the gas station pumps and the grocery store and Target turn into zoos full of long lines and unruly customers. I think I was about fifteen minutes too late today. I absolutely had to get gas because my warning light came on when I was on my way to choir practice Wednesday. My car seems to go quite abruptly from looking like there's nearly a quarter of a tank to the "Oh no! We're out of gas! We're all going to die!" light coming on. (Though that is possibly my interpretation of the light. The intended meaning may be "You're running low on fuel, so when you get a chance, you might want to fill up," but I can't stop myself from panicking when a warning light comes on.) Of course, the light only comes on at night when I'm on my way somewhere and don't have extra time, and when I'm in a place where there are no gas stations at all between me and my destination. The needle wasn't yet that close to "E," so I just came home after choir and figured I'd fill up the next time I went out.

The closest, most convenient gas station, the one in front of the grocery store, seems to stay in this scary "every man for himself" demolition derby mode straight out of Mad Max, with lines at the pump and people jockeying for position. I nearly got hit three times just trying to escape after giving up and deciding to try another station. You'd think there was no other fuel for miles rather than just no fuel without making an unprotected left a block away. I got my cookie-baking supplies to be ready for tomorrow's choir dress rehearsal and managed to get to a gas station before my car died (I don't think I was actually in danger, but warning light!), then decided it would probably be best to go home and catch my breath after my ordeal before venturing out again after the lunch crowds die down. On errand day, I should get into the habit of going out before I do my usual Internet reading/tea drinking so I can be home before the mobs emerge. Or else get hood-mounted weaponry (if you're gonna play Mad Max, you may as well go all the way).

This has been a spectacularly unproductive week, in part because of fighting the last remnants of the cold/allergies and in part because I was anticipating getting something I'd need to work on from someone else, so there was no point in getting too deep into anything else, only the delivery estimate seems to keep slipping and I'm still waiting (just watch, I'll get it right before the deadline, at the worst possible time, then have to kill myself to get it done on time after all this waiting). So, today I'm just going to catch up on errands, check out the Half-Price Books warehouse sale (like I need books, but it's practically in my neighborhood, and I'm always on the lookout for oddball reference books), and then bake cookies. The cookies are for lunch at a choir rehearsal, but I suppose I should taste them for quality control. There's a new law in Texas that allows people to sell baked goods made in their homes. You no longer have to use a commercial/industrial kitchen. I do good cookies. Maybe that's something I can look into if this writing thing doesn't work out, or a possible source of bonus income between books. Maybe someone would want to outsource their holiday baking. Unfortunately, I don't really do "pretty" cookies, unless I'm using the cookie press. I'm not a fan of icing, so I don't do the traditional decorating.

Oh, and go Texas Rangers! Winning a World Series would be really cool (especially the same year the Mavericks won the NBA).

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I achieved a great victory yesterday: I got Mole Boy to speak! And he then even participated (sort of) in the choir activities instead of hiding in his corner. We were making tambourines by punching holes in the edges of small paper plates, then tying them together with pieces of pipe cleaners with little jingle bells threaded through them (this is very exciting when you're four). To start, we had the kids color their plates, and as the kids arrived, we handed them their plates and directed them over to the crayons. Mole Boy was just sitting there for a while, either not wanting to force his way through the mob of girls surrounding the crayons or using that as an excuse not to do anything. I asked him what his favorite colors were, and he actually spoke to tell me -- probably the first words he's spoken since he's been coming to choir. So I found those colors for him (aided by the mob of girls suddenly competing desperately to help me) and he then colored his tambourine and played it with the others when we were later using them. He still didn't sing, but he stayed with the group and did most of the stuff the other kids were doing.

The other teacher and I have worked out that she'll focus on leading the lessons and guiding the 80 percent of kids who participate easily and willingly, and I'll deal with the 20 percent who need extra help or encouragement. I also deal with leading the actual singing. It was interesting trying to teach a new song last night with one child in my lap and one sitting behind me, playing with my hair. I have longer hair than Barbie, so I make a great toy. I did double check my hair before going to adult choir practice because I had no idea what I'd look like after being styled by preschoolers fighting over who got to play with my hair next. I had to make the no-combing rule (I had it pulled back with combs, and they started trying to use those to comb it) because if you try to comb my hair, it just gets huge and tries to take over the world. A waist-length Afro is not a pretty sight.

It was a little terrifying to learn that I apparently get these kids at their best behavior. We only have choir once a week, so it's "special" enough that they don't get into a total comfort zone like they would at school. The mom of one of my kids sits behind me in choir, and at rehearsal she apologized for inflicting her child on me. He'd been absolutely awful all day, to the point that she felt like sticking him on the front porch with a "free to good home" sign, and she'd even wondered if she should bring him to choir at all, but she needed the break from him and then felt bad for using me for her break. I told her he's one of the good ones. He never gives me any trouble, and he's so sweet and kind to the other kids. When we still thought Mole Boy was just being afraid, this was the kid who went over to him and tried to coax him out of his corner by offering to be his friend. She gave me this look that said, "Are you sure we're talking about the same kid?"

Next week is the Halloween carnival, so I don't have to deal with choir. I'll still probably help with the carnival so I can see the kids in their costumes, but I won't be in charge. I'm guessing there will be a lot of princesses.

Speaking of choir stuff, for those in the north Texas area, my choir and people from some other choirs in the area, along with a brass ensemble, are presenting The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace on Sunday night at seven at the First United Methodist Church in Coppell. This is a really cool choral work that was originally commissioned by the Royal Armouries for the millennium and was dedicated to the victims of the tragedy in Kosovo. But then the recording was released on September 10, 2001, so it took on an additional meaning. The piece is based on a 15th century French song and contains many of the traditional mass elements, mixed in with bits of poetry by people like Kipling and Tennyson set to music. The music covers a lot of styles, including Renaissance motet and Gregorian chant. It's really fun to sing, even if the composer really likes the sopranos to stay above the staff. For a sample, here's a movement from the original recording, courtesy of the Tube of You (this is not my choir, but it gives a sense of the piece). And it's free! I tried on my black concert dress last night to make sure I could still zip it after losing some of the range of motion in my shoulder, and I'm good to go.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Character Development: Building Traits

I'm continuing a series on character development. Previously, I discussed the way I like to start building a character from the inside by considering what the character's driving need is. Next, I move out a little from that and determine what the character's personal goal is. This is different from the drive because it's something the character has actually chosen, whether or not he admits it to himself. The drive is just kind of there. Few people actually choose that they need to be in control of every situation, but they may have a goal of becoming president of a company. It's also different from the story goal, even if those goals may coincide. The story goal is about plot, but the character goal is about character. This is what the character wants out of life before the story gets started. It may change along the way as the story teaches the character that what he wants and what he needs are two different things. In fact, usually the story goal does upset the character's life in some way, even if it coincides with his personal goal -- often by making him put his money where his mouth is. He's always said he wanted this one thing, but he's never actually done anything about it, and now the story goal will make him do it.

Once you know these key internal things about the character, you can start adding other character traits. Think about how the character fits into her world -- does she fit in, or is she a misfit? Does she like her current situation? Who are the people in her life, and how does she relate to them? Where does she live, work, play, and what does she think about these things? I think the character's attitudes toward the things in her life are as important as the things themselves. There are few things in our lives that we don't have some attitude about, and a character without opinions and attitudes about the details of her life will come across as weirdly blank. For instance, even if you don't think about your neighbors very often, you probably have attitudes or opinions about them -- they're noisy, intrusive, weird and reclusive, messy, leave their trash bins out, don't clean up after their pets, are way too obsessive about their lawns, come and go at odd hours, are like the family you never had, etc. So, it's not just important to know your character's profession, but you need to know what she thinks about that profession.

I once went to a writing seminar where the instructor suggested that each character have four key traits -- like stubbornness, altruism, enthusiasm, etc. -- and that one of them should be something that doesn't seem to fit. Too few traits and the character seems undeveloped, but more than that and the character will be unfocused because you won't have time to really develop all those traits. I've never actually made that work, at least not in a first draft. I find that I'm more likely to discover traits like these along the way because they emerge as I write the characters, and then I can work to develop and emphasize those traits in later drafts. I do think that having one thing that doesn't quite seem to fit, that's unexpected, plays a huge role in creating a character that people find fascinating. A person who isn't entirely what he seems to be or what you'd expect him to be is automatically intriguing. This oddball trait shouldn't come out of the blue, though. It needs to make sense for the character, and you may have to do some digging into the character's backstory or inner life to either find the oddball trait or figure out how the oddball trait fits. In my series, the character who most captures people's imagination is Owen, the super-powerful, very handsome wizard who's also ridiculously shy and can barely have a conversation without turning bright red. There is a story reason behind the shyness that I know and that's only hinted at in the books, and I think that oddball trait is one big reason why readers are so intrigued by him.

How much backstory you need to develop depends on the character and the story you're telling. Some characters and stories may require you to at least think about all the major points in the character's life, even if you don't mention those anywhere in the book. Some characters only need the slightest amount of backstory because their past doesn't matter that much. I would say to develop what you feel you need to understand the character, but remember that you don't have to put any or all of it in the book. If you need to know what his elementary school years were like to grasp where he is today, then think about that, but don't feel you have to develop his whole life story if you have a good sense for who this person is and that information doesn't matter to the plot. I find that there's a point where a character clicks for me and I feel like I know this person well enough to write the book. I'll always discover stuff along the way, and that's what revisions are for.

Next I'll get into how to convey all this character development in a story.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

History Overload

On the good news front, it seems that my plagiarist got taken down. He made the mistake of copying articles from, and that got noticed. I guess I missed my chance to get publicity out of it, but I also didn't have to worry about confrontation and having an Internet psycho after me, which I worried about because his "about me" info indicated he's local. I didn't want some weirdo showing up on my doorstep or stalking me.

On the bad news front, if it was allergies before, I think it turned into a real illness because by yesterday afternoon I was running what for me is a high fever. Other than that icky fevery feeling and the general malaise that comes with it, I actually feel better because I'm not sniffling or sneezing, and I only cough when I get dry. I think that means I'm going to take it easy today and just lie around drinking hot tea. SyFy is showing the entire The Stand miniseries. Maybe that will make me feel good in comparison, and maybe I'll be able to pick out a few more Stephen King references in Haven. Or I could get bored and switch to something else.

I seem to go for different kinds of entertainment with each illness. With last fall's bronchitis, I did the Lord of the Rings trilogy (something that didn't make me laugh or cry -- both of which caused problems). With last winter's cold, it was a weird combination of SyFy monster movies and Lifetime romantic comedies. This time around it's been historical documentaries. Friday afternoon, the PBS World channel did a program on Maria Tallchief, the Native American prima ballerina from Oklahoma. I'd read a bio of her when I was in a brief dance-mad phase as a kid, and she was one of my heroes as a ballerina from Oklahoma (I was born in Oklahoma and was living there at the time). But I'd never actually seen her dance, and this show had lots of footage of her. She was amazing, very powerful. Today's ideal dancer body is a skeleton with a bun (then again, the typical ideal female body for just about everything these days is a skeleton with whatever appropriate accessory), but she had a very solid, muscular body. Still slender and lithe, but not at all fragile looking. She also seems like a really cool lady with a great sense of humor.

Then at night, there was an interesting "When Weather Changed History" on the Weather Channel about the Nome diphtheria epidemic and the frantic dog sled relay to get the serum there in time -- the basis for today's Iditarod race. It says something sad about the History Channel when the Weather Channel has better programs about history. Saturday morning there was an old documentary on the History Channel about pirates (I think it was from when the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out), and then that afternoon there was a program on Jesse James that started out being interesting but that then turned into the more usual current History Channel fare. In other words, conspiracy theories (but no aliens, this time). They were tracking down the places the James gang may have hidden their treasure, based on carvings in the walls of caves in odd geologic formations in one part of Kansas where the gang operated. That part was kind of cool. But then they went off on how James was actually part of this secret society keeping the aims of the Confederacy going, and he was robbing to raise money for this group. I didn't have a problem believing that, but their evidence was often pretty slim -- like they'd point out some supposedly secret sign that he was giving in a photo, and I couldn't tell anything different from the way everyone else in the photo was standing. Then they went off on the "Jesse James faked his own death" theories and pointed to some man who died decades later who claimed he was Jesse James. They did a DNA test that shows that man was no relation, but then said that a forensics expert had problems with the test -- as though that was definitive proof that the test was wrong. But all the forensics expert said was that the test results wouldn't hold up in court because there was no chain of evidence. They couldn't prove decisively where the samples came from, mostly because the sample supposedly from Jesse James had gone through so many hands without firm documentation. They found a stash of old coins in one of the places the marks on the caves seemed to point to, and some of them were minted after James's death, which they took as more proof that he faked his death. I pointed out that those caves were covered with carvings and were ideal hiding places for criminals, so there was no telling who had buried that money. If I can spot the flaws in your theory while lying on the sofa, zonked out on cold medicine, then maybe you shouldn't be breathlessly stating it as fact on TV.

And then there was a program on the great San Francisco earthquake, which devolved into doom-and-gloom scenarios about what would happen if another one of that size hit now -- and it could at any time! Maybe tomorrow! It did raise the interesting question of why, when the city was almost entirely destroyed, they rebuilt it in the same place, on top of a known major fault line, which is a really bad place to have a city. One of the geologists interviewed on the program pointed out that in Europe and Asia, there are ruins of former cities that were abandoned when they proved to be very bad places to have cities. They didn't rebuild Pompeii in the same place after they discovered it was under a volcano, for instance.

I did make one attempt at watching a Lifetime romantic comedy. They were showing New in Town, in which Renee Zellweger is an executive sent to close or retool a plant in Minnesota, where, of course, she starts out as a fish out of water but then is transformed by the locals and falls in love with her total opposite local guy, Harry Connick Jr. I love him in romantic comedies (though not sure I can buy him as a Minnesotan because he never loses his Louisiana drawl), but I barely made it far enough into the movie for his character to appear. I just can't watch a movie with a heroine who is too stupid to live. This woman travels to Minnesota in the winter, wearing a skirt with no tights or stockings and just a little sweater as a coat. Not to mention the spiked heels for travel. And then she's running around in short sleeves with just that little sweater coat. I am from a warm climate, and I've taken a business trip to Minnesota in December. And, you know, there are these things called weather forecasts. It's easy to find out what the weather will be like and to dress and pack accordingly. Since I don't have a Minnesota in winter wardrobe, I went with layers, including long underwear, wool slacks, multiple pairs of socks, sensible shoes and layers of sweaters, under my long winter coat with a hat, gloves and scarf. That was the coldest I've been in my life, even with all that stuff, and it was supposedly a warm winter for them. I just couldn't believe that anyone smart enough to make it anywhere in business would be so clueless as to be surprised that it's cold in Minnesota. That was when I decided to take a nap.

But what did happen to the History Channel? It now seems to be mostly reality series about people who run pawn shops or drive trucks on bad roads. How is that even remotely "history"? I can't even buy their "being made daily" slogan because, no, that's still not history. No one will remember these people or care because they're making zero impact on the grand scheme of things. There are dozens of channels for the lowest common denominator. Why do they also have to get one of the few channels for smart people? I'd even take the non-stop WWII programming they used to run, so long as it's not about how the Nazis were really space aliens.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Choir's Debut

I promised no more whining, but can I help it if things just keep happening? After all the "fun" of last week, to top it off, on Friday afternoon I learned that my high school band director had died. My mom pointed out that I haven't really had any contact with him in more than 25 years, so this could hardly be a case of bad things happening to people I know, but it didn't help my mood. And then I came down with either a really bad allergy attack or a mild cold, or possibly an unholy combination of both. It was strangely a relief to have something bad actually happen directly to me because then I didn't feel like I was being self-indulgent or making it all about me to feel pitiful and wallow in my misery. I was fortunate that although I've had all the symptoms on the Nyquil bottle, I never had them all at once. They came in phases. I started with the runny nose, fever and sneezing on Friday, which continued on Saturday. By Sunday, the fever was gone and I'd stopped dripping but had become stuffy. Today the sneezing seems to be gone, but I'm still stuffy and now I'm coughing.

And, wouldn't you know it, it was one Sunday when I couldn't stay home. I was directing the combined preschool and kindergarten choirs to sing in the early service, and I was the one with the sheet music for the pianist. Then it was my Sunday to lead the preschool singing in Sunday school, and then if I was already there, I didn't want to miss the piece we were singing in the late service. I was feeling a lot better and wasn't running fever (and if it was a cold rather than allergies I probably caught it from the little germ machines), so I dragged myself in at 8 in the morning.

It seems my assessment of Mole Boy, that his behavior was about seeking attention rather than true timidity, was correct, since he was the one kid who refused to wear a choir robe and stood front and center in the group, not singing and glaring straight ahead. Since his older brother is in the kindergarten choir, I figure that if he'd been truly timid and afraid of being noticed, he'd have done exactly what his brother did and clung to him. A timid kid definitely wouldn't have made himself stand out by being the only one not wearing a robe. He may be too shy to outright demand attention, but he's trying to get attention. I think he thinks he's somehow punishing his parents by refusing to get involved and have fun at things they're making him do, and he's too young to realize that he's the only one he's really hurting. At least he stood there and didn't crawl under something. We had a few meltdowns in the choir room, but only one big one while performing, when the most outgoing girl in the group, our class clown, burst into tears and ran off in the middle of the song. It turned out that she'd walked into a wall on her way out of the choir room (because she was goofing around) and hurt her nose, so it was a hurt thing, not a stage fright thing. And then my choir director's son wouldn't go on with the choir without his dad being next to him. I'll get lots of teasing mileage out of that. I may tell the choir director I can't sing unless my dad stands with me (though my dad would object to that, I'm sure). The nice thing is that with kids this young, they're so cute that it really doesn't matter how they perform, and, really, the more crazy stuff that happens, the more the congregation enjoys it because it's that much cuter.

Needless to say, I got home and collapsed. Today I'm a lot better and am functioning without medication so far. There may still be napping this afternoon, and I'm kind of hazy, so I'm not anticipating high productivity. I've got a busy week and weekend ahead, so getting better is priority #1.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rapunzel's Secret Identity: Mole Girl

First, a minor announcement: Several years ago, I snagged the Blogspot address for The Stealth Geek and parked my Stealth Geek FAQ on it. In a fit of procrastination yesterday, I decided to do something with it, so I'll be indulging in my geeky side there. There may be some overlap with topics here, but it will be more focused on being a fan blog instead of a writer blog. If that's your thing, then visit The Stealth Geek and spread the word.

Yesterday was an all-around weird day. It didn't help the general sense of gloom that my friend's obituary was on the list of top local stories that showed up whenever I went to my web mail's landing site. Then when I'd put off going out for groceries too long and was killing time before lunch, I ran out of things to look at on my usual Internet haunts and started just going to all my somewhat publishing-related bookmarks (so I could call it "work"). I got to the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books site, and what do I see at the very top of the page? My bookcover. And my name. I was the "whatever happened to?" question of the day. And I really did find it that way. I was not egosurfing or Googling myself. It was a real shocker, and it took me a while to stop shaking. On the one hand, it's wonderful to know that people are still thinking of me, and that kind of exposure on that popular a site can be a good thing (it looked like my Amazon ranking improved). On the other hand, if you're a "whatever happened to?" question, does that make you a has-been? I responded in the comments, since there was a lot of speculation that wasn't entirely accurate (like the accusation that my web site was out of date -- it isn't. It's just that nothing has changed in a very long time). And then it turned into a discussion on e-publishing, which I'm staying out of because that site can get ugly if they turn against you and the e-book zealots scare me.

I went to ballet class because I figured that dancing would be great stress relief. On the way, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up the essential items from my shopping list, and on my way into the store I ran into someone from choir, then I ended up in the checkout line with my pastor's wife. Since I was on the way to ballet, I had my hair in a tight bun and no makeup on, so I felt a little self-conscious. At least my pastor's wife recognized me even out of context, so that proves I'm active enough in church that she knows me (and it's a pretty big church). Then I got to the ballet school and found that I was the only person there from my class. I guess everyone is staying out until our regular teacher gets back from maternity leave. Worse, the substitute was the Old World-style ballet mistress. If you've seen any ballet movie ever, you know the type, except this one is Mexican instead of Russian. So I had her eagle eye on me and only me for the entire time, which made me even more self-conscious and got me flustered. I'm fairly graceful, but I'm not all that coordinated, so remembering what I was supposed to be doing while moving my feet, maintaining proper positions with my arms, moving my arms and moving my head all at the same time while being flustered and knowing I was being watched intently was a train wreck in the making. I made her shake her head in despair, though I'm sure I did learn a lot and got a lot of minute corrections. I found myself thinking that maybe Mole Boy has the right idea. If I could have found something to crawl under, I would have.

And then I realized that one reason Mole Boy gets to me -- and that I "get" him -- is that I have a fair amount of Mole Girl in me. I simultaneously fear and crave attention. It feels weird and wrong to seek attention openly, but I kind of want to be recognized, and yet it can be utterly terrifying to be the center of attention.

This cartoon came out earlier this week, and my first thought was "Darn! They're on to me! Back to the drawing board for the Ongoing Plan for World Domination, since this is pretty much the basis of it, and now everyone knows."

I generally function on the "if you're good, no one will see you coming" idea, along with the idea that if you're nice, people will want to work with you and want to do nice things for you. But as I've been dealing with some career things and thinking about my Mole Girl tendencies, I'm realizing that there's a fine line between not seeing you coming and taking you for granted. People are more likely to notice the people who make a fuss. Doing PR for Ericsson as long as I did showed me that this may be a cultural thing I've picked up from my dad. It's a very Scandinavian attitude -- you don't put yourself out for attention because if you deserve it, you'll get it. You also don't have to make a fuss about things you're working on because you know that everyone else will get their part of things done when they need to be done. You don't need to nag or remind people -- and doing so is even something of an insult. This could explain why I worked so well with Ericsson that I got recruited by another agency when they consolidated their accounts and the new agency needed someone to run all the Ericsson accounts. It's a very low-stress way to work when everyone's on the same page and operates that way. But it all falls apart when you're dealing with someone who doesn't work that way, and most Americans in the business world don't work that way. You have to push yourself forward and ask for things you want, like promotions, raises and job assignments. If you don't, they'll go to someone else, even if you deserve them more. You have to remind and even nag people about deadlines and deliverables or they won't happen, and you'll get nagged even if you're on schedule. If you're thinking Scandinavian and are dealing with American practices, that gets frustrating. You'll get passed over for advancement and left to languish where you are. You won't find out until the due date that something hasn't been done. You'll get nagged even when you're on schedule.

At first, if you're like me, you turn it on yourself. You'll think you didn't get the promotion, raise or assignment because you really weren't worthy. You'll think that other people didn't get their parts of your project done because it was a low priority item and they didn't care about it. You'll think that you're behind schedule or have given people reason to believe you're unreliable when they nag you. So you don't protest or complain. Eventually, though, you'll start to look at things objectively and evaluate the situation and realize that you really should have been the one to get the promotion, that your project was important enough to be done on time. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, though, so you'll say something generalized and oblique about it, and when that doesn't get the message across, you'll find a polite way to mention it that doesn't place blame. And then the explosion happens, and it usually comes as a complete surprise because the person you're dealing with hasn't been paying attention.

I tend to let things slide, in part because of that "if I'm not getting attention, then it may mean I don't deserve it" thing and in part because I pick my battles and don't complain when I don't think it will matter much. But I'm not really letting things slide. I'm just not making a fuss. That means that by the time I say something in a self-deprecating way, as though it's some kind of quirk that there's this one thing that I really like to have happen in a certain way, with no direct accusations or specifics, that means NORAD has already gone on high alert. When I get more specific but without being too angry or accusing, the "I kind of hate to mention it, but it bothers me when this happens," sort of thing, the bomb bay doors are already open and it's probably too late to get to the bomb shelter. When I actually complain specifically and directly, what you're seeing is the mushroom cloud. The bomb has already detonated. I've been dealing with a situation where NORAD has been on alert for a few years, and I've made multiple "gee, this is one thing that gets to me" remarks. But I think my being "nice" has created a sense of complacency that I won't mind. The nuke went off this week, and there's someone out there awash in radiation who doesn't seem to have noticed. I'm not sure what more I can do to make it clear without getting really ugly, and getting ugly isn't in my nature. Getting ugly would also probably hurt me more than it hurts the people I'm dealing with (for now).

And, yeah, that's on top of everything else that's going on. I had thought about retail therapy, but that can backfire if they don't have anything in my size (and they never do) or if it doesn't fit well. I ended up at Target and bought a couple of fun little things while also taking care of my grocery list. There was a Phineas "big ideas" notebook on the clearance shelf that I couldn't resist. And I obtained chocolate. I think I may head to the library and see what DVDs they have. I think mostly I need a really good laugh, and old favorites don't work in the same way because most of the laugh yourself silly response comes from surprise. I haven't decided what I should do this weekend. It might be good to spend some time with others (more laughing) but I'm not sure I'd be very good company. There aren't any movies out right now that fit my current emotional needs, and there's major construction on the freeway that connects me to the rest of the metro area, so that also hampers things.

I promise next week I'll quit whining.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Adventures of Rapunzel and Mole Boy

I generally try to avoid a lot of negativity or downer stuff here because the main reason for this blog is to promote my books, and since I'm known for writing humor it would kind of go against my branding to have a downer blog. But I will confess to having had a rough month or so. It's not so much because of bad things happening to me -- there are certainly areas of my life that could stand improvement, but there's nothing really horribly wrong right now -- but because bad things are happening to people all around me. I seem to know too many people who are seriously ill or who have seriously ill family members. A friend lost her infant daughter not too long ago. Last week I found out that a friend/former co-worker from two jobs ago was in a coma, they took him off life support yesterday and he died this morning. I'd lost touch with him over the years since I left that job, and now I'm really regretting that because of the potential time I lost and now can't make up. This is all putting my career struggles in perspective, but it also makes it a little more difficult to deal with those more ordinary setbacks. Normally, I can shrug things off or have a mild temper flare-up in the privacy of my office and then shrug things off. Yesterday, I had to stay offline to keep from sending an e-mail that probably needs to be sent but that wouldn't have had the proper tone if I'd sent it yesterday. I also recognize that any big decisions I make right now might be more emotional than rational and not at all about the actual issue at hand.

Strangely, although dealing with the preschoolers is stressful, that was one of the highlights of my day yesterday. It was like a healing prescription to go be surrounded by little people who apparently think I'm awesome. I got lots of hugs, I had kids leaning against me or holding my hand, and then I had kids crawling into my lap. It's like therapy. The girls seem to have decided which Disney fairy princess superhero I am. They were playing with my hair last night and said I was Rapunzel. I am hoping they mean that in a Tangled sense, not like most depictions of Rapunzel (especially not from Into the Woods, though I doubt preschoolers would know that one).

We may be making headway with Mole Boy. There's one kid who will crawl under anything that can be crawled under and hide there. In our classroom, that means under the stack of chairs. I had to physically remove him from his hiding place when we went to the sanctuary to practice for the song we're doing in church Sunday because he wouldn't come out on his own and we couldn't leave him in the room alone. Once in the sanctuary, he crawled under the communion rail and then later the pulpit. I think with this kid we have a deadly combination of shyness and being spoiled. He didn't object to me pulling him out, and I rather got the feeling that's what he wanted me to do. He is truly shy, but he also craves attention, and I think he uses the shyness to get attention in a sort of passive-aggressive way. The other kids will tug on me and shout, "Teacher! Teacher" when they want attention, but he crawls into a corner and expects us to spend a lot of time coaxing him out. That means there's a fine line between really dealing with him in a way that lets him feel loved and catering to him in a way that encourages this behavior. I got a better sense of the situation from talking to his grandmother on Sunday, so I'm going with "we want you to have fun with us, but we're not going to make the world revolve around you." Still, I swear that if we weren't on a concrete slab, this kid would dig a hole and tunnel his way out -- but poke his head up every so often to make sure we knew he was tunneling his way out.

You know, if this writing thing doesn't work out, child psychology is sounding like an interesting career field.

The other bright spot to my day was the announcement that SyFy has renewed Haven. The cliffhanger will be resolved! That show is really, really pretty on Blu-Ray. So many of the shots would work perfectly as postcards. And that's not even getting into the cast. I don't know if it's the balance on my TV or something specific to the lighting/photography of this show, but the blues really pop, and that means blue eyes are even more gorgeous.

Needless to say, yesterday wasn't very productive. I think I have some ideas for fixing the current problem in The Problem Child, but I spent most of the time mentally composing e-mails I should never send while narrowing down on one that needs to be sent. Today I must obtain groceries. I think this weekend I'll make my first batch of veggie soup for the fall. And I think I will allow myself copious amounts of chocolate and maybe some long walks to balance it. It feels weird to be so discombobulated about bad things that aren't happening directly to me, but I suppose I am human and I'm allowed to have feelings. That's why I had the emotion chip installed, after all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


It's a good thing I found tea yesterday because last night was not conducive to much sleep. One problem was the big thunderstorm that hit about 3 a.m. -- the kind with enough thunder and lightning to make me get up and run around the house unplugging electronics, and then since we tend to get hail with that kind of storm I ran onto the patio and moved my new herb pots up under the balcony.

That was after it took me a long time to get to sleep because I'm wrestling with a couple of career issues that are kind of no-win scenarios. With one situation, I seem to be dealing with something that is literally not working for me, but saying anything about it tends to make matters worse. Doing something decisive about it is a huge risk. It could either be something that would make a big change for the better or it could be a career killer, and I can't know which it would be before I take action. Even in a best-case scenario there would still be lots of complications. But I'm not sure I can deal with things continuing the way they are now.

Yes, that's awfully cryptic, but that's part of the dilemma. I can't even really talk about what's going on or ask advice without taking a big risk. Thus the lack of sleep.

Meanwhile, apparently my plagiarist is still out there, as I'm getting more e-mail from readers letting me know that when they do an Internet search on a writing topic, they're getting someone else's blog, with a nearly word-for-word copy of my posts. Worse, that other person's blog comes higher in the search results, probably because his posts are more recent since, you know, they're copies. I'm not sure what I can do about that, either. I don't like the idea of him getting away with it, but any direct action could also backfire on me, and I don't need an Internet nutjob coming after me right now. I don't think I'm a big enough name that the publishing blogs or big-name writers would get involved and turn it into a public shaming that would raise my profile as a victim. I know I'm not the only one he's copying. It seems that very little on his how-to-write site is his own work.

I even hesitate to post links for people to check out because having links to his site will only raise his profile in the search engines. Then again, having minions to call him on the copying instead of me doing it directly could be a strategy.

When the bigger problem was occupying too much space in my brain, I seem to have moved on to the smaller problem to try to figure out a solution.

And during all this, I've been working out a few problems with The Problem Child. It turns out that the big issue isn't where I thought it was (or that wasn't the only issue). There's something missing from one of the plot lines, and I'm not sure what it is. It's like I just sort of forget one of the plot threads for a very long time, leaving those people in suspended animation. I guess I'm out of practice in writing a book with multiple points of view.

On the up side, butterflies! It's monarch migration time, and they're swarming to the park across the street that's full of plants that draw butterflies. Since I have some brainstorming to do, I may take a notebook over there and see if sitting surrounded by butterflies helps stimulate my creativity.

I've decided that maybe my idea of taking an at-home vacation isn't going to work. That is, I shouldn't just take a whole week off. What I may do is allow myself to call in on vacation on any day when I don't have something pressing. I used to think about that when I had a real job. There would be a cool, rainy day that was perfect for curling up with a pot of tea and a good book, and I had nothing urgent at work, and I'd wish I could just call in on vacation that day. Or there would be a perfect day for a hike or a trip downtown. When you have to schedule vacations in advance, you never know what kind of day you're going to get. But now I work for myself, and since after this week all my deadlines should be met (assuming I can get the necessary cooperation from others), I may declare that from now until the end of the year, I have a certain number of days I can spontaneously declare to be vacation days. If it's a good reading day, I'll take a day to read. If I'm in the mood for a long walk or an excursion, I'll do it. That may be more likely to happen than attempting to schedule time off.

And, yes, thinking of this idea also kept me awake.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Quest for Tea

While looking for something to watch while I ate dinner last night, I stumbled across a fun little animated movie on the Disney Channel: Igor. It's about an Igor who really wants to be a mad scientist, but because of his hump he's stuck in the job of assistant. But then after his master has a bit of a lab accident, he gets his chance to create his own monster to compete in the Evil Science Fair. Only things don't quite go as planned, and instead of being evil, his monster just wants to be an actress. And the role she desperately wants to play is Annie (which may be kind of evil, after all). The climactic fight scene done as the monster sings "Tomorrow" may be one of the funniest things I've seen in ages. Adding to the fun are Igor's sidekicks, the results of his previous experiments: an immortal (and very snarky) rabbit with a death wish and a brain in a jar on wheels. I'm assuming this was a theatrical release because the voices are all pretty big names, so I don't know how I missed this one. This could make for a good triple feature with Megamind and Despicable Me, or else a good addition to a Phineas & Ferb marathon featuring the best of Doofenshmirtz (especially their Frankenstein spoof).

Then I was accidentally forced into watching part of Terra Nova when the schedule got messed up by the baseball game and House wasn't on when I switched over after the movie. From the small bits I saw, I can say I made the right decision in not watching that series. The dialogue and the characters made me cringe. I very quickly switched over to a PBS documentary on the War of 1812. I'm also likely to give up on House. The character has never been what could be called "pleasant," but I think he's a more unpleasant version of unpleasant now. At the beginning, it was more like he said the things we all think but don't dare say, and then he said and did some of his more outrageous things as a diagnostic technique -- poke it with a stick and see what happens -- that helped him figure out the people around him. Now he's just acting like a selfish, overgrown toddler who thinks he's at the center of the universe and who expects everyone to cater to his whims. There's less of a purpose in his behavior and there's nothing left in him that I can relate to. Unfortunately, now that the SyFy summer season has ended, there's nothing else in that time slot, and that's my prime time for needing background noise for doing my weekly writing for the medical school (I enjoy the irony of doing medical writing while watching House).

Today's work will mean hitting the part of The Problem Child that will really change it and send it in a different direction. It will be interesting to see how the ripple effects work from this one change. This is such a strange book that I'm not sure how any of it works. I love it, and I love the characters, but I'm worried that anyone else reading it will be going, "Huh?" Once I have it where I'm happy with it, I may recruit a few friends to read it before I subject my agent to it. This is the longest I've spent working on a single book. It's been more than two years since I started it. I have written two other complete manuscripts in the meantime, so I haven't spent two whole years working on it, but I did spend the better part of a year working on it, with a couple of gaps, and then spent about a month on the last draft. I don't know how long this draft will take.

Otherwise, today I must undertake the Quest for Tea. I'm almost out of my favorite writing tea, and we finally have the kind of weather that allows me to enjoy hot tea in the afternoon. Fortunately, obtaining tea is easier than ever since there's an Indian market across the street from the post office. They have an entire aisle dedicated to tea.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Restless Rainy Sunday

I got my rainy Sunday, though there wasn't as much reading and tea drinking as I had planned because I fell asleep on the sofa. But even an unplanned nap is a good thing on a cool, rainy Sunday. It's still cool and cloudy, so this may be a productive day. Or there may be another sofa nap.

I got my Blu-Ray player, and I found a bargain copy of the original Terminator movie on Blu-Ray. I still just had that one on VHS, so I figured an upgrade was in order. That's actually a fairly grainy movie, so the Blu-Ray doesn't make a lot of difference, but I found that the upconverting on regular DVDs makes a huge difference. With regular DVDs, when something is dark, it's pretty murky on the LCD screen, but on the Blu-Ray I can see actual details. I amused myself Friday evening by watching bits of random space shows on DVD. I sense a Firefly marathon in my near future. Rewatching parts of Battlestar Galactica brought me great amusement because of where I've seen the actors recently. It was a jolt hearing Jamie Bamber's American accent again -- and seeing him alive (does his character have to die in almost everything?). Just last week I saw the too-good-to-be-true Helo (or as I started calling him, Halo) as an intolerant, fairly bloodthirsty bad guy on Haven. And these days we're more likely to see Boomer on a surfboard. Ah, good times.

I still haven't watched an entire show or movie on the new player, though. I was strangely restless and couldn't really focus on an entire movie or episode of anything, though I have watched the Phineas & Ferb Halloween special three times. That's about the level of my attention span at the moment. I'd think about watching something, and it all felt like too much of a commitment, so I'd watch the cartoon that comes in at about 20 minutes total, once you skip past all the promos for the hideous Disney Channel sitcoms. Memo to the Disney TV people: The fact that it's meant for children doesn't mean it can't be good. The over-the-top acting that comes across like a hideous cross between a mime and a cheerleader is not necessary.

I had something all ranty planned to talk about today, but now I can't remember what it was. That's probably for the best.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Looking Forward

The air has that peculiar "pre-rain" feel to it, but the chances of rain in the forecast are really low. I've got my fingers crossed, though. Not only are we in a major drought so we desperately need rain, but I could really use a rainy Sunday afternoon. My weekends have been very busy for about a month, and Saturday is going to be kind of crazy in wildly diverse ways (fortunately, the fun part comes after the potentially difficult part), but I have nothing planned for Sunday, for the first time in ages. A rainy afternoon spent on the sofa with a good book would be just what the doctor ordered.

Though there could also be some movie watching going on, as I'm about to go out and buy a Blu-Ray player. I've been too busy/sidetracked to spend my birthday money (from two months ago), and I've had an HD TV for about five years without HD input. I can now get a Blu-Ray player for half what my DVD player cost back when I got it, so I figure it's about time. Of course, that means I'll have to get something on Blu-Ray to watch. I don't think I want to start replacing things I already have on DVD, so that limits me somewhat, as there isn't much that I don't have that I really want. I've already got season one of Haven in Blu-Ray coming from Amazon (I've heard that show is absolutely gorgeous in HD, thanks to the location shooting -- I need to go to Nova Scotia), but I'll want something to watch before that shows up, and since the Amazon warehouse is no longer a couple of miles from my house, shipping may take a little longer than it used to.

One thing I'm not doing this weekend is going to my high school reunion. I went to the first two and had fun, but I think I've reached the point where I'm ready to put that chapter of my life behind me. I haven't really stayed in touch with those people, though now I do hear from more of them on Facebook, and I don't have much in common with them. I'd rather look forward, and I already had an event scheduled with my current friends. Now I also have a memorial service for a friend's child, so I have a double excuse involving the people who are currently important in my life. I got the sense that this event would be not for me when they decided to hold it in a hotel where they could have a bar and a DJ and when all the "awards" they're giving out seem to have to do with marriage and children. It's all stuff like longest marriage, most marriages, most recent marriage, most children, most grandchildren (Yikes!), etc. Surely there are other things to recognize as life accomplishments. Like, say, most books published. Or even who can still wear her prom dress.

Now off to go shopping, and then back to work on the Problem Child. I hit a wall yesterday when I realized there was something seriously wrong with an existing scene, but then I figured out how to fix it while I was making breakfast this morning.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Healing the Mortal Injury

Slight improvement with the preschoolers last night. No tears, and one kid who refused to enter the room last week actually stayed this week. He still hid in the corner and didn't really participate, but he did some of the activities from his spot in the corner. I did come across the Mortal Injury, though. One of the kids called me over at one point, calling out, "Teacher! Teacher! She's hurt!" about one of the other girls, who then held up her finger to show me. The amount of drama surrounding the situation made me worry we'd have to pick up a severed fingertip and pack it on ice to get her to the emergency room. But I couldn't find anything wrong when investigating the allegedly injured finger. There was no blood, no sign of a scrape, no redness, no whiteness, no swelling, no funny angle. It just looked like a finger to me. I suspected the Mortal Injury was more like a Desperate Need for Attention (the child in question was a former clingy non-participator who has gradually warmed up), so I said, "Oh, you poor thing," and gave her a hug. I was immediately swarmed by little girls telling me stories of every injury they'd ever sustained in their lives and showing me the paper cuts they got in school that day. I think I may have added "nurse/doctor" to the Disney fairy princess superhero mom they seem to think I am.

The child soon forgot the injury and was actively involved in a game of zombie tag not long afterward when the kids were playing in the fellowship hall while the adults finished eating dinner. I was sitting to the side, reading a book on my phone and occasionally being bombarded by little kids and being turned into a zombie a few times. The way they described the game to me, the first time you get tagged, you get turned into a zombie, and then anyone you tag will also become a zombie (you have to move around like a zombie during this phase). Then the next time you get tagged, you get turned into a chicken (that phase was highly entertaining). After that, you get turned into Superman. If you get tagged after that, you're out, and you're back to being a normal person. You go through the phases pretty quickly if you stay in your seat, reading Dickens, and don't try to run away. It does actually sound like a fun game, but there's no way I could keep up with those kids.

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't mention the passing of Steve Jobs. At first, I was a little bemused by all the Facebook tributes for someone most of these people never met, but then I realized that every one of my books was written on a Mac, so even someone I've never met can have an impact on my life. I got my first Mac in 1990 and am currently on my sixth. I suppose those books still would have been written on another computer, but I like being able to focus my time and energy on writing the books instead of messing with the computer. And the newest one is just plain pretty. I like the idea of the design mattering. Why not make things lovely as well as functional?

Going back to the earlier post about fantasy plausibility, I have to agree with the comments about how fantasy can become implausible when the author isn't consistent with the fantasy elements. I may be more willing to let that slide when it makes things more difficult for the characters instead of easier. For instance, one thing that kind of nags at me in the Harry Potter series is the fact that in most of the books they act like they can't do magic without wands (and preferably their own wands) and specific spells. If they have their wands taken away, they're entirely disarmed and helpless. But the whole opening of the first book was about how Harry managed to do all these magical things with no wand, no spells and no awareness that he was magical. He made his hair grow out when he got a bad haircut, escaped from bullies by levitating and made the glass in the snake's enclosure disappear. It wasn't just something that was in the first book and then forgotten because the last book showed in Snape's memories that Snape and Lily did bits of magic as children before they got wands. I can kind of handwave that inconsistency as it being an ability kids grow out of once they start learning proper magic (though it does seem odd to train people into needing a crutch) because being required to have a wand makes things harder. I'd have a problem if they'd established that they needed wands, and then Harry suddenly discovered that when he was in a bad situation he could just get himself out without needing a wand.

As for my wish for the couple who may be enemies but who like each other, I should probably clarify that. I was speaking in terms of that "fated/destined for each other" trope that comes up a lot in fantasy/paranormal romance. There are plenty of examples of enemies who fall in love. It's a classic Romeo and Juliet story (though hopefully without the characters being Too Stupid to Live), and that's one kind of romance novel I like (I used to be very fond of the Norman/Saxon medieval romances). The reason I threw in the enemies is that there's not much story without conflict, so a story about two people who are destined for each other and who seem made for each other and actually like each other would be boring. There has to be some monkey wrench thrown in, so have them made for each other but be on opposite sides of a conflict, with their destiny drawing them together. Or they could even be the kind of destined couple where their coming together will bring about something, so there are factions with a vested interest in keeping them apart. I think maybe my problem with the idea of a couple being fated for each other but being totally wrong for each other may be another one of those things where I can't believe it because it contradicts my personal beliefs. "Fate" or "destiny" to me boils down to "God," and I can't imagine that God would destine you for someone who was totally wrong for you in every way except sexually.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Character Development: Starting Inside

My "time off" lasted until nearly 4 p.m. yesterday, when I found myself digging back into the Problem Child project. I think I figured out what the problem was and how to deal with it, so I think I know how the book needs to end. I'm also sure that this needs to be a series, so I don't have to complete all the character arcs in this one book. One character's arc will complete, but everyone else is a work in progress. I may not kill myself on revisions and may allow myself to do some other stuff, but I'm not on "vacation."

For my writing posts, I'm continuing a series on character development. Previously, I talked about some things not to do -- or to do with extreme caution. Basing characters directly on yourself, on other real people or on fictional characters created by someone else is generally not the best way to develop characters. There's no one right way to create characters, and I find that each character is different. I may go through some of the same exercises, but they work in different ways every time. There are some characters I never develop. They just seem to appear fully formed in my head, name, physical description, and all, and I know them without thinking about them. I doubt my readers could tell which characters are like that and which ones have notebooks full of character development.

One thing that essential in forming your characters is your story. Character is plot and plot is character, no matter which comes first. The needs of your story will dictate some of your characterization, or else some of the character attributes will dictate your story. While you don't want to fall into stereotype, there are going to be some traits that will be essential for your characters to do what you need them to do. For instance, anyone in any kind of investigative role -- police detective, scientific researcher, explorer -- has to have a fair amount of intellectual curiosity, and that will have some impact on the character's overall personality. If you want your character to look into things, that trait will be a given, even before you start developing anything else. If your character doesn't have this trait, it will be nearly impossible to make a story where this character must investigate something work.

That doesn't mean you always have to put the perfect person in the perfect position. The story could be about getting the person into the right place. Your character with intellectual curiosity could be in a position where that trait is a liability (that would be the basis for most amateur sleuth stories -- the person who just can't help but dig around, even though it's not their job). You may have to have a commanding presence and some charisma to be a great leader, but you probably have a more interesting story if the person with those traits isn't yet in charge. A CEO who likes to be in control and who can bend people to his will is to be expected. The mailroom clerk with those traits means things are about to get fun. If you have a particular role to fill in a story, at least consider someone who's got some personality traits that are totally wrong for that role, as long as you can still justify that person having achieved that role. While you may find powerful, charismatic people outside a leadership position, you're not likely to find people who lack those traits becoming a general or a CEO. On the other hand, king is an inherited position, so you may find a painfully shy person who'd prefer to avoid the spotlight inheriting a kingdom (and then you get The King's Speech).

I often say that I like to develop characters from the inside out. That doesn't mean the physical description comes last -- sometimes I have a vivid mental image of a character before I know anything about that person. It just means that when it comes to the character elements, I try to go for the core before I think about traits. There are all those character development worksheets out there, with stuff like their most vivid elementary school memory, what's in their refrigerator, what's their favorite color, etc., and if I don't already know the character, those answers are meaningless because they come on a whim or out of thin air. I've found that it works best if I start with what's deep down inside. What drives this person more than anything, even before the story starts and the story goal develops? The inner drive is something that achieving the story goal won't fulfill. Unless the character is really transformed, it will always be there, and even a transformation will just change the drive to something else. That inner drive may have been developed by an event, but it can just be inherent to personality. Two people may go through the same events and come out with totally different responses.

Some of the kinds of drives you can find are a need for harmony, a need for control, a need for answers, a need to belong, a need to be loved or accepted, a need to nurture, a need to be right, a need to be rescued, a need for separation, a need to win, a need to set things right. Everyone may need any or all of these things, but at least one of these may be so powerful that it drives every other decision a person makes, and it may be a need that can never be truly fulfilled -- or if that need is met, there will always be the fear of losing it. A person who needs control may fight to get to the top, and then he'll fight to stay there. Becoming CEO or even supreme ruler of the world will not satisfy that drive. We all have some need for love, but most people will have that need satisfied by feeling loved. People with that drive may be terribly insecure about the love they receive, may become overly protective about loved ones or may keep finding new people to love them, just to prove to themselves that they're worthy of love.

Once you have that, you have a sense of what makes that person tick, and it will affect any other traits you build on top of it.

There are other core things that can be at work. I've read a lot about the Myers-Briggs test and how to apply that to characterization, but I haven't made it work without finding that core drive first. Otherwise, it's like any of those characterization questionnaires. The core drive sort of gets into the Jungian idea of archetypes, and the Myers-Briggs is based on Jungian psychology, so I suppose it all flows together. One thing I do like to determine is whether a character is an introvert or extrovert. That has nothing to do with how friendly or outgoing or verbal they are. In Jungian terms, it's about focus and energy. An introvert can be verbal and outgoing, but finds that draining and needs solitude to recharge, while an extrovert gains energy from being with others and finds solitude draining, so an extrovert can still be a quiet person who just feels most comfortable with others around. There are other elements in that typing, like sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling and judgment/perception, though I haven't done that much work going that deep with this (it does, however, make an excellent procrastination tactic to take the test with your character in mind).

I know of people who do this sort of thing with astrology, figuring out their characters' charts and using that as the core, though I don't know enough about astrology to do that. I have found that when I've needed to come up with a character's birthday for a plot purpose, the astrological profile ends up being eerily accurate.

Next I'll get into how some of these deep inner traits may manifest in more external traits that will show up in the story.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Plausibility in Fantasy

I got the book proofread and off to my agent. Now I want to clean my kitchen, straighten my living room and bedroom and maybe start shoveling out my office. And I also have my medical school work to do. Speaking of which, another faculty member at the medical school where I used to work and that I still freelance for won a Nobel prize yesterday, which brings them to five, which I think is still a record for Nobel-prize winning faculty members at American medical schools. I had to do the research and call around to other schools when we got the fourth back when I worked there, and at four we were on top back then. I don't think I knew this doctor when I worked there, so I haven't added to the list of Nobel prize winners I've met personally, but considering I have Watson and Crick on that list, I think I'm still doing pretty well. I had tea with Dr. Watson once when I had to entertain him while he was waiting for a news interview (they weren't on the faculty at my school but were there as guest lecturers for a seminar).

My next project is already nagging at me. It's a mostly completed book that still isn't quite right, and I'm not entirely sure what to do about it. It's falling apart at the ending -- not the resolution of the main plot, but what that resolution really means to the characters and how it affects them. I think that means I need to go back to the characters and really look at what their arcs should be, since the resolution of the main plot should complete the character arcs. I may not have to change the main plot, but I may need to change what I see as the journey the characters are on and what they're supposed to be learning from it.

A couple of weekends ago at FenCon, I was on a panel that I find myself still thinking about, in part because an audience member asked a question that I wasn't able to answer at the time, and I'm still not entirely sure what my answer would be. The topic was "Plausibility in Fantasy," and we were discussing how to write a novel in which unbelievable things happen and make readers believe it. When you read fantasy, you're pretty much buying into the idea that impossible things will happen -- magic exists, vampires exist, etc. How do you create a world that people will accept? Someone in the audience asked us if there had been a fantasy novel where we couldn't buy the premise or that struck us as implausible.

At the time, I couldn't think of anything. It's usually the real-world stuff that throws me out of the novel. If I'm reading a fantasy novel, I can buy that there may be immortal people who could be hundreds of years old but who look young. I have a hard time believing that these centuries-old people would be going to high school or falling in love with teenagers. In urban fantasy, I'm more likely to question the heroine having a nice Manhattan apartment and a closet full of designer clothes than I am to question the fact that she has magical powers. I guess it's because I don't have any experience with the supernatural, so I'll take what the author gives me there, but I will question the things I do have experience with. One of the conclusions the panel came to was that most of this boils down to how entertaining or engaging the story is. If I'm mentally calculating the heroine's cost of living, then the story hasn't sufficiently engaged my brain or emotions.

Since then, I have thought of a couple of cases where it was the fantasy element that threw me out of a story. One that shall remain nameless because these books are very popular and I'm acquainted with the author probably suffered from the fact that they contained fantasy elements I'm not overly fond of, so the rest of the book would have had to be really engaging to get me involved, and one of the key fantasy elements that was unique to the premise just didn't work for me. I didn't believe it would work the way the book said it would, and something the book treated as a plus I thought was absolutely horrible. I think this was because it was a fantasy element with roots in religion, and the use of that element didn't fit with my personal religious experience, so it probably falls into the category of me questioning things I have experience with.

The other case of a fantasy element that I don't find plausible is a popular trope in paranormal romance and urban fantasy that crosses over with paranormal romance, and that's the couple who are supposedly destined for each other but who have absolutely nothing in common -- no interests, no values, no goals that mesh in any way -- and who may even be enemies, but because they're destined for each other, they can't resist each other. I would think that being destined for each other would mean they're made for each other. They'd be the perfect fit. They may be entirely star-crossed and be on opposite sides of a conflict, but when they met it would just seem right in ways that go beyond physical. I can't get into any book where the characters hate each other, are total opposites, have nothing in common and yet who can't help but be drawn to each other because it's destiny.

Now I kind of want to read (or write) the book where the two people from opposite sides who should be enemies meet and everything just clicks, and they find they agree more with each other than they do with their supposed allies.

Otherwise, for me it seems like a case of getting the real-world details right, and then I'll buy whatever you try to sell me in the fantasy elements. Let me know that you've thought about sources for food, money and clothing. Make the characters act like real people -- or explain it really well if they don't. Put some thought into logistics. And then I'll probably accept that your characters have magic powers.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Crunch Day

Today is a big push/crunch day, in which I will read an entire book out loud to myself in almost one sitting so I can proofread before sending it to my agent. And then I will promptly collapse. I was going to take some time off instead of switching gears while I wait on the next project, but I have a book nagging me for attention, so I may do some thinking and planning about it while I take care of tasks like cleaning my house. I want to do a good fall cleaning before I dive heavily into another project or before I take that fall "staycation" that I am determined to take this year. I figure that this has already been a very productive year, so I can afford a nice mental break (so as to avoid a nice psychotic break).

I stepped away from the work this weekend to spend some time with friends. There was the Lebanese food festival at a nearby church and then Doctor Who viewing, and then the British import shop nearby had a Doctor Who day on Sunday, and a number of our friends were there, including Joe Dalek. Some of the costumes were amazing. And it's always fun to catch up with one of my favorite men in my life (the cardboard Doctor is not life size, and yet he's still significantly taller than I am).

I have more photos from the event, including a Dalek in a fez, but I'd have to get them off my camera, and that won't happen today. This is courtesy of my friend, who took it when my camera battery died.

However, although I spent much of the weekend with the Doctor, I have to say that the Haven finale won for sheer mind-blowingness, possibly because it was a real cliffhanger while Doctor Who sort of wrapped up the story. There were new questions raised, but it wasn't as though any of the major characters were in immediate jeopardy, while the Haven finale ended with all the major characters in jeopardy, along with a last-second "huh?" revelation. Plus, they get bonus points for a TV couple who act like real people, where they get together because they like each other, not because they can't stand each other and bicker all the time, and where making the transition from friends to maybe something more comes with some awkwardness but without major drama (the drama comes from outside because it can be really hard to have a nice first date when people think you need to die in order to save the town from what they see as evil).

I can't really get into Doctor Who details because I don't think my parents have seen it yet. Spoilers!

Now, off to work I go!