Friday, December 30, 2011

Confessions of a Bag Lady

The "job jar" approach to house organizing seems to be working so far. I'm actually enjoying finding out what my job for the day will be, and I'm tackling it with some enthusiasm. Yesterday's job was to clean the laundry room. Actually, it's more of a laundry closet in the wall opposite the kitchen/dining room (and it's actually the breakfast nook next to the kitchen, since according to the floor plans, the back part of the living room is the dining room, but I'd rather have a large living room than both a breakfast nook and a dining room).

The main thing I discovered is that I seem to have the makings of a bag lady. I've been mostly using cloth grocery bags for a couple of years, but when I do get grocery or other bags, I use them as trash bags or for carrying out my recycling, and they get stashed in the laundry room, usually on top of the dryer. I thought I didn't have too many, but once I started pulling things out, I found that some must have fallen over the edge between the dryer and the wall, and they must have been breeding for years. The more I pulled out, the more there were. I now have a few bags for trash and recycling purposes hanging on hooks on the wall. The rest will go to the people at my church who cut bags into "yarn" and then crochet sleeping mats for the homeless. I also found that I'd stashed some glass for recycling, probably during an emergency cleaning. The big find, though, was a stray black sock that I must have blamed the dryer for eating. It's one of my good ones, and I don't think I've yet disposed of its mate.

And then I was so enthusiastic that I went ahead and did today's task, which was cleaning out the lower cabinet of my pantry. There I found some plastic water bottles that apparently got stashed there during an emergency cleaning. I also found most of my paper/plastic party supplies and some cloth napkins and an apron I haven't seen in years. I moved some things around and now have a lot more storage space, so I'll have to figure out how to move things around as I get to the rest of the kitchen.

So far, my tasks have all been in hidden areas, so my house doesn't look any cleaner, but I am clearing out space to be able to put things away properly. I must admit to opening the laundry room doors when I go by there to admire how clean it looks. In addition to sorting and decluttering, I scrubbed off all the spots where dryer lint got trapped in detergent drips and I wiped off the handprints around the dryer door handle. Now it's all sparkly and white.

Today's task is cleaning out the top desk drawer. So far, I've been finding pens that don't work, and I've trashed the planner pages from 2001. I'd saved them because I used them to track time for clients, but I don't think there are going to be any questions about that this late. I still have more sorting to do in there. This is just what I've done while waiting for Internet pages to load. Instead of drawing a second task, I may just work on clearing my desk so I can put out the blotter calendar I got.

The trick will be to see if I can maintain the enthusiasm long enough to get around to the whole house. I tend to start these projects with great glee, then get bored and taper off before it's done. I guess I just need to keep staring at the laundry room for motivation.

And, wow, this will be my last post of 2011. I guess I'll do my year in review/looking ahead stuff next week. Happy new year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Colin Firth" and the Crush from Afar

I didn't exactly sleep late this morning. I woke up at a very reasonable time. My delay in starting the day came from thinking late and not realizing how much time had passed. I mentally composed about a week's worth of blog posts, added a few elements to the Plan for World Domination, debated with myself over whether the current project could be rewritten into a cozy paranormal mystery (I think if it goes into a series it has some of the right elements, but it would have to lose a lot and the first book wouldn't fit) and planned today's housecleaning project.

I'm getting a jump on my annual New Year's resolution to get my house in order, and this year's tactic is to create a job jar. I wrote all the areas that need to be cleaned, decluttered or organized onto little slips of paper, put them in a jar, and I'm drawing one (or more, if I'm bored or inspired) a day. Yesterday's task was the cabinet under the kitchen sink, where I found that I'm apparently hoarding Swiffer cloths (or the Target brand equivalent). I just bought a new box because I'd used the last one from the old box, but in taking everything out of the cabinet I found two opened -- and almost full -- boxes. Now I should have clean floors for a while. Today's fun task is to tackle the laundry room. I already have some ideas of how to organize the things in there that tend to produce clutter, thanks to this morning's thinking time.

In discussing the things that were great about Christmas Eve, I forgot to mention an important one: I had a "Colin Firth" sighting. This is sort of like the church edition of "Where's Waldo." From the choir loft, I have a good view of the congregation, and I find myself looking for familiar faces, especially on those Sundays when I have to sing in two services and I'm getting round 2. Playing these little "Where's Waldo" games helps me look alert and focused. A few years ago, I noticed a man sitting alone in the sanctuary. That's actually rather odd. In my years of observing congregations from the choir loft in various churches, I've found that men seldom come to church without being accompanied/dragged by a woman. When they're younger, it's their mother, and that influence may extend into the post-college years. But then if a man isn't married by his thirties and being dragged/accompanied by his wife, he tends to have this big realization that his mom can't make him go to church anymore and he doesn't have to answer to anyone, so he then drops out until he marries someone who makes him go to church. You may see older men alone -- most often widowers who keep going -- but it's very rare to see a man in his 30s-50s sitting by himself in church unless he's the spouse of a choir member. That makes dating very difficult when you're over thirty and one of your criteria for choosing someone to date involves religious faith. It's nearly impossible to meet men in church since they're not there, but outside church it's hard to tell the difference between religious but lazy, lapsed but not entirely gone, and not interested in that sort of thing. So, one Sunday I noticed this man, and I thought he kind of had a Colin Firth thing going on. Not so much of a lookalike that I wondered what Colin Firth was doing in my church, but he's kind of that type (though more Love Actually or The King's Speech than Mr. Darcy). Then when I passed him during the recessional, I noticed he didn't wear a wedding ring. Since then I've made a habit of looking for "Colin Firth" in church. I didn't see him Christmas Eve, but it was too crowded to spot individuals, but then I saw him during communion, with a much older man who had an almost identical profile, probably his father. They seemed to be in the overflow seating in the foyer.

Of course, I haven't done anything wild and crazy like introduce myself during all this time. I am the queen of the Crush from Afar. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I'm extremely shy about that sort of thing, and the crushing disaster that has been my dating life thus far doesn't lend much confidence. I find that when I talk to someone I find interesting, I get loud and shrill and talk too much, too fast. It's like what happens to me with singing stage fright, where I'm aware of what's going on with my voice but have no control over it. That means I'm likely to avoid my crush objects because I figure it's better to come across as aloof and mysterious than as loud and obnoxious. At least he might be intrigued by the mystery, while the loud and obnoxious might repulse him. A friend used to joke that I needed to get cards printed up to use at parties or other events. One would say "I'm sorry if I've given you the wrong impression, but the fact that I'm talking easily to you means that I have zero romantic interest in you. I would enjoy being friends, though." The other would say "The fact that I seem to have been avoiding you other than casting numerous glances your way means I fancy you madly and am afraid of making a fool of myself. You are welcome to initiate conversation with me, but please be patient until I can get over my nerves." The latter card is important because the same behavior can also mean I really am avoiding someone who irritates me, and it can also mean I'm trying to cool things down from someone who took my easy conversation the wrong way (which is why that first card could come in handy).

At the same time, the Crush from Afar may just be for fun, not something I want to do anything about. Having a little crush on someone I see regularly but don't know can give me a little charge that lifts my spirits. Actually meeting him might ruin the fantasy. I haven't decided where "Colin Firth" fits in. He is the exceptionally rare man in my general age range who attends church with no woman in sight, so that gives us one important thing in common, but I don't know anything else about him and I haven't had too many opportunities to get anywhere near him, since I'm in the choir and he's usually at the back of the church. He wouldn't have any reason to have noticed me (other than maybe my looks and my voice) since my being in the choir gives no clues as to my social or marital status. I don't have to sing in the choir on Sunday, so if I can drag myself out on New Year's morning and if I sit in the right area, I might have an encounter (that is, if he drags himself out on New Year's morning). Otherwise, I'll just have to keep acting like I'm in junior high and have a crush on a boy I pass in the halls. We're getting a church directory made, and I'll have to search it for his picture, then draw little hearts around it in my copy.

And now I think I need a viewing of Love Actually. I didn't watch it before Christmas because I needed to sing and that was already precarious, so watching a movie guaranteed to make me bawl would not have helped matters.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Aftermath

I'm home again after Christmas and having a really slow/distracted day. It's amazing the number of things I've found myself Googling, just because of a cascade of free associations. There was a link in Facebook to an event, that I then looked up, but then I wondered if it conflicted with something else, that I then had to look up, and then that made me wonder about something else that might have been a conflict to that event. When it wasn't, I had to research options relating to that event. And then it was an hour later and I realized I was getting lightheaded because I'd forgotten to eat lunch.

Anyway, I had a really wonderful Christmas, and I think my breaking of my usual schedule turned out to be a great idea. When I'm away from home for more than a few days, I tend to get these sudden "I want to be home, NOW" feelings, and I'm very antsy and restless until I can get home. When I go to my parents' house a couple of days before Christmas, my "I need to be home, NOW" urge often strikes on Christmas Day itself, totally dampening the mood. This time, I arrived on Christmas so I had a couple of days of being content where I was, and that made the whole day go better for me. I'm also one of those people who gets my holiday high in the buildup, so that there's a huge, anticlimactic letdown after Christmas morning. This year, we did "Christmas" in the afternoon, after dinner, which stretched Christmas out, and since I was newly arrived at my parents' house, I didn't get the same letdown at all. We went straight from my arrival to Christmas dinner, to Christmas presents, to Doctor Who.

Plus, I really enjoyed the days leading up to Christmas. On Friday night, I turned on my Christmas lights, lit the candles in the fireplace (the ambience of a fire without the mess or danger), made some cocoa and watched The Holiday, which left me feeling all cozy and warm and fuzzy. I slept late on Saturday, made waffles, and had a lazy day eating popcorn, reading and watching bad cable Christmas movies (it's a weakness). The Christmas Eve services at my church were wonderful. The early service, at 7, had an Easter-like crowd, with standing room only, folding chairs brought in for the ends of rows and several rows of chairs in the foyer (there are windows between the foyer and the sanctuary). When we lit all the candles at the end and turned out the lights, it was amazing to look down from the choir loft and see those hundreds of candles stretching all the way to the back. The 11 p.m. service was less full, more like a normal Sunday, but it had its own kind of energy. Driving home at 12:30, I had "What Sweeter Music" on the car stereo and some of the houses in the neighborhood I drove through still had their Christmas lights on. At home, someone had a fire going, with that fireplace scent in the air. It was all very magical.

I went to my parents' house later than I planned because the night was later than I expected and I had a hard time getting to sleep and thus overslept. It was nice to travel with hardly any traffic, and it was dark and cloudy enough that the lights in each of the little towns I went through showed up. I had my Christmas music playing and was singing along merrily. The only hiccup was the fact that my "check tire pressure" light came on when I was between small towns, and it's impossible to tell if that means "you should probably check the pressure when you get a chance" or "YOUR TIRE HAS GONE FLAT!!!!! YOU'RE GOING TO DIE!!!!" Because I've had a tire fall apart on me in the middle of nowhere and didn't want to count on pickup truck chivalry on Christmas, I pulled over at the next gas station to check, and one was visibly low but none were flat, so I put a little air in the visibly low one -- and then suddenly had concerned offers of help from the other patrons at the gas station, which is one of those small Texas town things. The light didn't go off, so I drove the rest of the way worrying a bit, but I made it, and my dad put air in all the tires before I came home so I could get rid of that light.

Anyway, I may make a new tradition of doing things that way, going out of town on Christmas Day and spending Christmas Eve at home. This was one of the best, happiest Christmases I've had in a long time, and I think a lot of it had to do with synching my schedule with my personality, plus I really enjoy that kind of big service with amazing music. My taste veers toward the classical, especially in church, and my parents' church tends toward guitar and drum sets, which is so not my thing in church. We had an orchestra and handbells and sang Faure.

And now I need to focus my brain and attempt to do some work because I do still have work to do this week.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Almost Christmas

Wow, I can't believe it's the day before Christmas Eve. I had all sorts of grand plans for this holiday season that fell by the wayside because I got sick. Then again, I managed to do some things this year that I've been saying for years I wanted to do and then never got around to doing, so I may have done more holiday activities in spite of my illness than I usually do in a good year. I think the key was mentioning some of these things I wanted to do to friends. Then plans got made, and plans I make with other people usually come about. When I'm making plans for myself, it's way too easy to change my mind. I'm also staying in town for Christmas Eve, so that will be something new.

I did have an excursion tentatively planned for today, but I think I had valid reasons for changing my mind. I have a lot of stuff I want to get done today, and it got a lot colder. If I want to sing tomorrow night, being out in the cold wind probably wouldn't be the best idea. Instead, I may go to the library to stock up on books for the holiday and then have lunch at the cafe next to the library. They have a divine tomato basil soup.

I'll be taking my "holiday" early next week, so I don't know what my posting schedule will be. So I'll take the opportunity now to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Good, Great and Mastery

I must be on the mend because in addition to trying to work yesterday, I also managed to get sidetracked the way I usually do. I got fed up with the second call that day from the same number that I didn't recognize on my cell phone, with no message being left, so I tried a reverse directory lookup to see who it was, then Googled the number and found it on a site listing telephone scams or telemarketers that don't observe do not call lists. I also found the other numbers that have called me repeatedly on that site. Apparently one is selling security systems, one is selling some kind of home warranty and one is that "this is your final notice from credit card services" call that I also get all the time on my home phone. It's funny that they don't name the credit card and that you get the final notice several times a day, every day. Then I started looking up how to block those numbers, only to find that with my carrier, the ability to block a harassing number is an optional service that costs extra. While I was at it, I tried seeing what I could do about all the spam text messages I'm getting, and blocking those also costs extra. Then I had to learn how to forward a text message to their spam number from my phone, which I didn't get from the user manual for my phone. I had to go to the online forum for users of this kind of phone to find that answer.

And then after all that when I finally did sit down to work, my phone rang, and it wasn't a telemarketer. I think every time I've tried to work this week, someone has called me. Fortunately, we had a very short choir rehearsal (and I made it through, though I doubt it was pretty), so I got through a couple of scenes after choir.

When I talked earlier this week about mastering an art, I really wasn't feeling down on myself or fishing for compliments. I'd bet that most of the people we think of as having mastered their art don't think they have -- and that's why they're masters, because they're always pushing to be better. As the saying goes, "good" is the biggest enemy of "great" because it's easy to be satisfied with good, and if you are, you won't become great. I think that's why the "participation trophy" mentality is a recipe for mediocrity. Unless you're really internally motivated, receiving the same award for showing up that you'd get for being excellent makes it way too easy to be satisfied with getting your trophy for showing up, and that means you'll never be great. The drive to work hard toward being truly excellent, regardless of external rewards, is pretty rare, so when external rewards become meaningless, you get a bigger division between the people who keep striving just because they want to be the best they can be and the people who are happy with their participation trophy (in whatever form it takes).

Not that I'm saying that this is a sure sign that I'm likely to become a "Master," but based on what I know of my personality, I don't think I'd be one of those authors who starts phoning it in once I reach the point where publishers would fight for the right to publish my grocery list and it would instantly shoot to the top of the bestseller list. I'd feel driven to uphold a certain standard and try to make each book better. I guess I was thinking about this because I had read a book by a perennially bestselling author I have enjoyed in the past and was very disappointed by what seemed to me to be a lack of even trying. If I had submitted that same book, it would have been rejected instantly because the characters were thinner than tissue paper, the conflicts were simplistic and all the major turning point scenes were skipped, with the events being told in interior monologue by the characters sitting and drinking coffee as they remembered what happened. There would be this huge, impossible situation made suddenly even more complicated at the end-of-chapter cliffhanger, and the next chapter would begin the next day, with the character smiling to herself as she remembered what happened next and how crazy it was and how through it all the enemy came around and realized they were on the same side, so they decided to team up. I found myself screaming "show, don't tell!" at the book. These were scenes that were begging to be written out, and they all marked major turning points in the situation and in the characters' relationships. It was like there was a mix-up at the publisher and they accidentally published the synopsis instead of the novel itself. Here was an author who must have been satisfied with "good" because she achieved a certain amount of success, and so she not only didn't push on to "great" but let herself slide to a level that wouldn't have been acceptable without her huge success. (Though maybe I'm alone in this impression because the reviews at Amazon -- both the professional and the reader reviews -- were overwhelmingly positive. Even Publisher's Weekly didn't mention the skipping of pivotal scenes, and they're usually hypercritical.)

Anyway … Today will be my "get my act together" day to do laundry and otherwise prepare myself for the fact that Christmas is in just a few days. I've already started washing all the bed linens -- even washed the duvet cover and put the comforter in the dryer to fluff. If I'm very good today, then I can relax on Christmas Eve before singing for two services, one at 7 and one at 11 (the Methodist version of midnight mass).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Shopping Accomplished

I'm now done with my Christmas shopping. I went out this morning and managed to hit what seemed to be a lull -- even got gas without having to play Mad Max. Now I just have to wrap everything.

I made it to our "bonus" dance class last night and even made it through the whole class. There were a few coughing spells and I pulled back on some of the more energetic stuff, but I think the physical activity was good for me. I know I slept more and better than I have in ages. I even got to indulge my inner five-year-old. Since the school is technically closed for the holidays, we got to use the big studio where they do the serious classes and where the ballet company rehearses, and there were some rehearsal tutus in the room. At the end of class, I couldn't resist putting one on. They were the calf-length ones, very Swan Lake, and I swear, wearing one made me a better dancer (or maybe it just hid my legs). I did a few pirouettes and some tour jetes and felt so very graceful with all that tulle swishing around me. I doubt my teacher would let me wear one to class all the time, but we had fun playing ballerina. Then we all went out for ice cream and some serious girl talk. I may deserve to get shot for it, but I actually invoked the He's Just Not That Into You mantra. I think the situation called for it, and the others backed me up on it because it sounded like too many excuses were being made for why they haven't ever gone out on an actual date after months of flirtation. If he's not asking you out, he's just not that into you.

Tonight we'll see if I can get through a choir rehearsal. I imagine there won't be a lot of singing from me, but just listening will help me prepare for Christmas Eve.

Leaving the house and then coming home has made me realize what a mess the place has become while I've been sick. I may need a forklift to haul off the bags of used tissues -- I went through two entire boxes during this illness. Then I should probably disinfect the entire house. I also desperately need to do laundry. Christmas has kind of snuck up on me this year, and I've gone directly from too sick to do anything to a very busy week. But at least I know that even if I don't get anything else done this week, I will have gifts for my family.

I'm kind of tempted to go on a walk today because the weather is really lovely. I just don't know if that would be overdoing it and asking for trouble or if giving the lungs a good workout and some fresh air might help.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mastering an Art

I knew I'd made great strides in my recovery when I actually worked yesterday -- and optional work, not "I have to drag myself off my deathbed because I have a deadline" work. Part of it had to do with finishing the last of my library books, aside from one that isn't really pleasure reading, and being a bit bored, and part of it had to do with the last of those books being a huge disappointment that sparked the "I can do better than this" impulse. I didn't work much, but I finished a new scene I'd been working on.

Then since I wasn't quite up to dance class, I watched The Nutcracker on PBS. I think they need to find another Christmas-season ballet to make a tradition because, let's face it, this one can be kind of boring. There's almost no actual dancing until about 45 minutes into it, just a lot of miming. And then while some of the dancing in the second half can be really lovely, there's really not a lot going on. It's a story about our main character sitting around and watching stuff happen. This one did have one of my favorite Waltz of the Flowers sequences. I loved their costumes, and the dancer who was the Dew Drop Fairy was amazing. I'm writing a book in which one of the characters is a dancer (so this kind of counted as work), and she danced the way I imagine the character would.

Watching anything like that involving people who have mastered an art tends to give me a slight pang of regret. I've never been able to focus on any one thing well enough to achieve that kind of mastery. I felt oppressed by dance lessons twice a week because they got in the way of other things I wanted to do. I haven't had the time or money (or the nerve) to really master music. I'm mostly a dabbler who does a lot of things reasonably well but none of them brilliantly. I'm at an age when it's a little late to achieve mastery, and even if I did, there's not much I could do with it, and taking the time and effort to do so would probably not be worth the opportunity cost. About the only thing I might be able to "master" is writing, and there "mastery" is in the eye of the beholder.

Although different people may have different preferences for something like dance, there are still objective measurements -- you can tell if the steps are done properly, if the positions are correct, if the dancing fits the music. Writing is a lot more challenging. You can't really measure "mastery" by success because there are some truly terribly written things that are wildly successful. Then again, the fact that they are successful means that they touched a lot of people very deeply, which would imply the mastery of something (even if it isn't avoidance of cliches, character development or the ability to string words together). The more literary set tends to define mastery as beautiful prose, but if I'm reading something for the first time and notice the prose, then that means I'm not into the story, and I would consider that a writing failure. I've read prize-winning books that I found dull and lifeless, which characters who were obvious mouthpieces for the authors' world views, and I've read the kind of commercial novels that critics tend to sneer at that really captured my imagination and made me think about my life and my role in the universe.

So I'm not sure it's possible for a writer to really reach a point where someone can say, "Wow, she's really mastered her art." It doesn't help that writing is something just about everyone thinks they can do -- all those "I'm going to write a novel someday" people. Just about everyone knows that getting up on stage and doing The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy would require years of training and preparation to even get their muscles into a condition to do those things. Everyone knows that you have to practice a lot for years to play Rachmaninoff on the piano. But since just about everyone has had to write something at some point in their lives, they don't see writing as something that has to be learned and mastered.

Too bad it's too late for me to be a ballerina.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Movies

I think I've finally turned the corner. I survived all of Sunday without any medication. I didn't feel great, but I was able to function and breathe without cough syrup or decongestants. Then I finally got some deep, restful sleep last night -- something that hasn't been happening with the cough. I'm still not up to doing much and I think there will be much napping and sleeping, but if I continue improving at this pace, I'll be well by Christmas. I was supposed to have a make-up dance class tonight and tomorrow night, but I don't see it happening tonight. Tomorrow, though, I might be able to make it through at least the barre section of the class, even if the rest might be too strenuous. I made the mistake of looking in the mirror this morning, and I look kind of like the walking dead -- dark circles under my eyes, red nose, wild, tangled hair, sallow skin. I could probably scare a miser into changing his ways.

I managed to fight through the congestion with weapons from a variety of cultures. Friday night, I had pasta with arrabiata sauce (a very spicy tomato sauce with a lot of garlic and peppers). Then Saturday it was vindaloo, which I might not be able to eat when I'm not stuffed up, as it was so spicy my ears were tingling (but I could breathe after eating it). Sunday night I made chili that I'll probably have to eat this week instead of freezing some of the batch, since it also might be a bit too hot for normal eating.

This weekend, I may have overdosed a bit on the cable Christmas movies. I've already confessed to my fondness for these cheesy concoctions. I guess one reason I like them is that they're not at all edgy, and with "romantic comedy" having turned into mostly a gross-out, "edgy" thing on the big screen, this is one of the few places where you can see something unabashedly sweet and romantic. I started my marathon with ABC Family's latest, which I didn't have high hopes for, as their movies tend toward the corny, but it turned out to be surprisingly good, maybe even better than any big-screen romantic comedy I've seen in the last few years. It was called The 12 Dates of Christmas and was about a young woman who's been trying to adhere rigidly to her life plan, which included marrying her now-ex boyfriend. She messes up an obligatory Christmas Eve blind date with a promising prospect because of her focus on meeting up with the ex, only to find out that the ex is now engaged to someone else, and she thinks she's missed her chance -- until she wakes up and it's Christmas Eve all over again. It's sort of a Christmas Groundhog Day concept, and I think they did a good job with it because her reactions to it seemed very realistic as she worked her way through each go-round the way you'd imagine someone would, thinking it's a dream, then seeing a doctor, then focusing on ways to get the ex back, then finally focusing on the new guy, then getting frustrated with the constant re-sets and going a little nuts with it. I actually liked the main characters and wanted them to get together, and they avoided a lot of cliches by not making the ex or his new girlfriend evil. In fact, there was no villain. I wonder if they ever sell these on DVD because I could see myself working this one into my holiday film festival collection (I like to rotate movies and keep them fresh instead of wearing out the same ones over and over again).

And then to get my true cheese factor, I started working my way through the Lifetime Movie Network OnDemand Christmas menu, alphabetically. I landed on one called All She Wants for Christmas, which involved a business-minded young woman working in the corporate office of the local Christmas decorations factory in her small town. She's trying to make the operation more efficient, since it's been losing money, and if the plant closes, much of the town will be out of work. It gets more urgent when the recently deceased owner's granddaughter shows up to review the plant, but she's a little distracted by the charming free spirit who shows up and takes a seasonal job at the plant. This one was cute, but very predictable, and it included the romantic comedy cliche of the woman flipping out when she sees the guy speaking to another woman, and if you don't know the other woman is actually his relative, then you've never seen a movie like this (the women in Lifetime movies never seem to watch Lifetime movies). But it was really hard for me to concentrate on the actual movie because all the women in the cast had the same extremely fake-looking, overprocessed, yellow-blond hair that didn't at all go with their skin tones, and that got to be extremely distracting. It was like Christmas With the Lannisters (geeky reference: In A Game of Thrones it's a plot point that the Lannister family is known for their blond hair, and that means in the TV series that a number of naturally dark-haired actors have really fake-looking yellow-blond dye jobs (or wigs) that don't go at all with their coloring).

I finally found the corny I'd been expecting from ABC Family with a movie on the ION network (I can't tell if they're repurposing Hallmark stuff or if some of this is actually original programming) that was on Sunday afternoon. This one had several of my "don't" elements, but I didn't feel like looking for anything else, and it managed to do the "don'ts" in an inoffensive way. It was called Christmas Mail and was about a young woman who shows up at the local post office, sent from the postmaster to answer children's letters to Santa. The paranoid manager thinks she's been sent to spy on him and assigns a young mailman (the geeky lab tech from CSI: NY) to get to know her and find out what's up with her. What she doesn't know is that he's the uncle of a little girl who keeps writing to Santa about wanting to find a way to make her uncle happy, since he had to put his life on hold to raise her when her parents died. I normally steer away from any holiday movie with adorable moppets and single parents, but this kid reminded me of young Amelia Pond on Doctor Who. And then there's the fact that the letter writer seems to have some connection to the North Pole. They keep it pretty subtle, so I couldn't quite tell if it was a gender-reversed (and less annoying) Elf or if she's supposed to be Santa's daughter. At any rate, she managed to be just enthusiastic and unworldly enough to make it work without being obnoxious. This one also had the "see him with someone else, assume he's married/cheating, then storm off instead of asking about it" cliche. Not one of the better Christmas movies, but possibly the kind of thing I was in the mood for.

What are some of my favorites? In no particular order:
1) The Holiday -- mostly for the English countryside scenery. I wouldn't mind spending Christmas in a cottage in an English village like that.
2) Love Actually -- but I can't watch it when I'm sick because it makes me cry, and that makes my nose run, and that just makes matters worse. It does, however, work for any mood because there's such a mix of stories. There's enough bittersweet that it doesn't make me feel pathetic in contrast if I'm feeling low.
3) The Muppets Christmas Carol -- One of the more faithful adaptations of the novel, aside from the talking pigs and frogs.
4) Scrooge -- the musical with Albert Finney. I love the music, and I love that the perkiest songs are used ironically, until the end. The cheery "Father Christmas" is meant sarcastically to describe Scrooge, and then "Thank You Very Much" is sung during a funeral procession -- the "nicest thing anyone's ever done for me" is Scrooge dying.
5) Christmas in Connecticut -- the original from the 40s -- a great Christmas screwball comedy
6) Gremlins -- I love the contrast between the idyllic small-town Christmas setting and the mayhem that ensues.
7) While You Were Sleeping -- I usually do this one between Christmas and New Year's Day, since that's when it takes place, but it's a nice holiday-set romantic comedy.

These are the ones I can watch over and over, though there are a few of those Lifetime/Family movies I'll catch when they're on. You may notice that A Christmas Story is NOT on this list. I don't really get the love for that movie. It was cute the first time I saw it, but it's not something I can watch repeatedly, and playing it non-stop is a good way to keep me away from your channel for an entire day.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Flashback: Jane Espenson Interview

I seem to have a constantly mutating plague which has now migrated into my nose, where it has poured concrete that is expanding as it solidifies. At least, that's the way it feels. I'm afraid that if I bend forward the least little bit, my head will crash through the floor. I guess that means another day of not being able to think, and to make things even more annoying, the sun came out. I hate being sick on a bright, sunny day.

I have profound thoughts swirling around in my head that I can't quite seem to form into words, so I think instead I'll do a spammer special today. I keep getting notifications of comments on very old posts, which generally turn out to be spam comments. But when LiveJournal sends a comment notification, it includes the whole post, which means I've been getting some fun blasts from the past. Thanks to the spammers, I'm finding some old favorites and some things I'd forgotten about. For instance, when the Serenity Found anthology came out, the Trashionista web site asked me to interview editor (and former Firefly -- and many other shows -- writer) Jane Espenson for them. It was an e-mail interview, with my questions passed through the site, so I never had direct contact with her, and I'd forgotten entirely about it until a spammer tried to post a comment to a post in which I directed to that interview. Once I read the interview, I remembered the questions and it all came back to me. Thanks, spammer!

So, here's my 2007 interview with Jane Espenson, who is now writing for Once Upon a Time, which is one of the things I have thoughts about but can't quite seem to be coherent about at the moment.

A lot of your TV writing career has involved science fiction and fantasy (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica), but you're also a big fan of Jane Austen (and contributor to Flirting with Pride and Prejudice) -- that seems like a complete opposite, but do you see any similarities or parallels between those vastly different genres?

Parallels! First off, is life in Jane Austen's England any less exotic and strange than life on Galactica or Serenity? But the real parallel is a set of characters who seem completely fresh and real and identifiable no matter how alien the world they're inhabiting.

You know what current show I also see as having this quality? Friday Night Lights. It's a gorgeous show that consistently reminds me of Battlestar Galactica and Firefly -- it creates/reflects a real world filled with lots of real and complex characters with consistent but constantly-changing relationships, shot as if the camera just happened to be catching slices of real lives... the fact that FNL is set in small-town Texas instead of on a spaceship doesn't matter one bit to me. Both worlds are a little bit strange to me -- what does it matter that one requires artificial gravity and other artificial turf?

What do you think Firefly fans will get out of reading this essay collection?

They will not just be educated and entertained, but also delighted and outraged! Actually, I think they'll get a couple different things. Several of the essays, including the fine ones by Nathan Fillion and Loni Peristere, give an insider's look at the show, that I think fans will find fascinating. Others, like Orson Scott Card's outstanding contribution, discuss the show's place in the history of this kind of production/literature. I found that particularly interesting. Still others analyze the show from a wide variety of social and political points of view that highlight how much viewers can draw from this show to support or challenge their own opinions.

I think everyone is going to come away from the collection with a different favorite essay, and probably a different disfavorite too. (I know, but it COULD be a word.) It's not just a paean to the show -- it actually adds to the experience of watching. At least I hope so. Read it, watch, and then let me know.

Do any of these essays change your perception of the series in any way?

I was fascinated to read about the history of the SciFi-Western as discussed in the essay by Bruce Bethke. I had no idea this had been a pre-existing model and CERTAINLY no idea that it had been a disrespected one and why. I was riveted by this. I also adore the essays by Natalie Hayes and Maggie Burns, both of which shed intelligent light on Joss's treatment of female characters. But the two that most literally changed how I watch the show are probably those by Loni and Nathan -- it's the inside knowledge that these two bring that actually pulls me INSIDE the scenes.

Why do you think this series has had such enduring popularity, in spite of being cancelled midway through its first season?

I'm starting to think that it's as much "because of" as it is "in spite of." There's something about a life tragically cut short that stokes fascination because of the sense of what might have been. "Firefly" is James Dean, you know? But that's only a small factor. I think the show, with its crystal-clear vision, simply gave people something they were hungry for: a show with a point of view, with something to say, and very human characters to say it. Audiences now are enjoying shows with moral complexity, and "Firefly" had that. The wonderful thing about flawed and complex characters is that you never feel like you've fully gotten to know them, so you keep wanting more. And there you are, around at that James Dean thing again.

What more "girly" stuff (books, TV, movies) would you recommend for the Austen side of the brain?

I think it's all the same side of the brain, but I have to recommend Margaret Atwood's classic "The Handmaid's Tale" and Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let You Go," both books that take a scifi-ish premise and then install strong female (Austeny, if you will) characters that project utter reality.

What are you reading now (or most recently)?

Roots -- "reading" it in the unabridged audio book form, with Avery Brooks from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine doing the reading. It's wonderful and long... fills weeks of commuting time and makes me sorry to leave the car! I'm also reading (actually reading this time), Stephen Colbert's book, "I Am America (And So Can You)". Hilarious -- the marginalia stuff is just the kind of thing that most amuses me.

Your Flirting with Pride and Prejudice essay was a follow-up to Pride and Prejudice. Have you found yourself coming up with additional story ideas for the TV series you've worked on after you've left the staff or the series has been cancelled? Do those characters keep living in your head, or do you have to move on for the sake of your own sanity?

I generally move onto a new show right away, and I always think the characters have gone away, but I have to say that at least once a week I'll think of some little joke or funny observation that references pop culture and I'll think to myself, "Ooh, maybe I could work that into my next script -- Anya or Willow could--" And then I'll remember that there's no way to work a pop culture joke into Battlestar.

If you were going to suggest a topic for another pop culture book, what topic would you choose?

Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert and their fake news empire. I'd love to read more about the backstage workings of putting together those shows, and more about their impact, too. I'm baffled by the way they put those shows together four nights a week. Genius!

Is there an essay you're dying to write about some aspect of pop culture?

I want to write a book about how to write for television, but that's not really the same thing. An essay about pop culture? Well, I'm very interested in the evolution of joke styles in broadcast comedy -- from radio to classic television to today. Not just the topics of the jokes, but the way the information is presented in the joke. I think there's an interesting analysis to be done there.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fighting Alien Incursions

It's a good thing I got all the Christmassy stuff I wanted to do this year done last weekend. Now all that's left on my to-do list (other than the shopping) is the sit quietly at home stuff, and that's about all I've been up to this week. I think the worst of the actual symptoms are over (I think my neighbor's dog is confused because she thinks I'm barking at her when I cough), but I now feel like I've fought off an alien incursion. I guess I have, in a way, but that means I probably need to spend a few more days lying on the sofa, reading and drinking tea.

Actually, yesterday I wasn't even feeling much like reading, so I caught up with all the shows I don't care enough about to watch live by marathoning them OnDemand. Let's just say that Hawaii 5-0 and Primeval make a really odd combination, though I guess they make about the same amount of sense. Today I have some work I really must do, and after that I think I will bond with the sofa. I may break out the holiday movie DVDs, or I may be in the right frame of mind for a marathon of made-for-cable Christmas romances (with mandatory snarking at any stupid decisions by the characters)..

I still want to write a Lifetime Christmas movie, along with a SyFy channel fantasy movie. I even have story ideas. I just have to learn how to write and sell a screenplay, which would probably involve finding an agent who wouldn't sneer at such things (the film agent who handles my books represents Oscar winners for a major agency, so I doubt these would be something she'd consider, but maybe she knows someone with a sense of humor and low expectations).

Now I'm going to go make more tea and see if I can remain coherent long enough to write five "health news you can use" scripts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writing Advice

I didn't get any writing questions submitted for the last writing post of the year, so I'll do a list of the best writing advice I've been given (that I can remember). In no particular order:

Don't chase trends (but be aware of them)
If something you're working on happens to fit into a current trend, then play that up and take advantage of the situation. If a current trend really sparks your imagination and fires you up to write something like it, go for it. But if you try to write something just because it's currently hot, you probably won't do a very good job of it, you'll probably be miserable, and by the time you get a book written and submitted, the trend may already be on the downswing. You're better off sticking to the stories you're passionate about and doing them really, really well. Then maybe you'll set the next trend.

When you're stuck, make a list
This was a lifechanging piece of advice for me. If you don't know what to do next or if you've got a scene with not enough going on, make a list of at least twenty things that could happen. That will force you to really think and be creative. You'll probably come up with a brilliant twist down in the last few items, or else you'll find the element that will give your scene a spark. The trick is to force yourself to keep thinking even after you've come up what you think is the perfect solution.

If a scene isn't working, look for the goal and conflict
Each scene should be about someone trying to accomplish something, with something else trying to stop that from happening. If no character in the scene has a clearly defined goal, then the scene isn't really necessary. If nothing is getting in the way of the character achieving the goal, then you can probably sum up any important action in a sentence and move on to the part where there's conflict.

A touch of the unexpected makes for interesting characters
Each character should have at least one element that doesn't seem to fit. Not necessarily something out of the blue, but something unexpected that only starts to make sense once you really get to know the character. There's something about that surprise or that "something here doesn't fit" that makes readers latch onto characters. The tough guy who turns to mush in the presence of a baby is a little more interesting than your standard-issue tough guy who doesn't turn to mush for anything, for instance.

Let it rest
It's really hard to be an objective judge of your own work, particularly when it's fresh. Either you'll hate it more than it deserves because you only see the flaws or you love it more than it deserves because it's your baby. It's very easy to see what you meant to be there rather than what's really on the page. I've found that I do a much better job at revisions when I put a project aside and work on something else for a while before I look at it again. Then I can see what's really there and fix it.

Finish the book
In most cases, you're better off finishing a project instead of flitting from project to project. Once you're a more experienced writer, you can judge when a book isn't working and move on to something that will work, or you can sell based on a partial and only worry about writing the book when you're under contract. But when you're starting out, finish the book, even if you hate it and have a dozen better ideas. Even if the book remains hidden and never sees the light of day, you'll learn a lot from getting to "the end." Your next book will be much better, and those dozen better ideas will have had more time to process in your subconscious, so they'll be more fully formed by the time you're ready to use them.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The World Domination Potential of Snowglobes

Today was going to be MonTuesday, but I think I'll have to just have a big MonTueWednesday tomorrow. I have this bad habit of getting sick after stressful or tiring times, so it seems that the allergy attack over the weekend was a harbinger of something worse and as soon as the stress eased, the worse hit. I decided it was in my best interest to spend the day with cold medicine, hot tea and a book.

Since I wasn't up to doing much else, last night I decided to do an Evil Snowglobe Double Feature. I re-watched the Haven Christmas episode, where the snowglobe wasn't exactly evil but it did do some terrible things to the town, and then I watched the Saturday-night movie I'd taped, Snowmageddon, which was about an evil snowglobe trying to destroy a town. In short, having a snowglobe of your town is a very bad thing. Snowmageddon was awesome in its utter silliness. I got the feeling that the script was a result of locking a writer in a room and saying, "Okay, your writing prompt is 'evil snowglobe.' Now, you have two hours to write a movie," and then they went with whatever got written, with no revisions.

The movie made no sense whatsoever. Our generic nuclear family in a small town in Alaska finds a mysterious Christmas present on their porch, and they think it's from a neighbor. The box contains a beautifully crafted, kind of steampunky snowglobe of the town. Their young son starts playing with it, which sets off all the steampunky gears. Soon, a mysterious crack opens in the ground in the middle of town, which sets off a chain reaction of disasters. The kid notices a similar crack in the ground in the snowglobe and starts to suspect something is going on, but everyone thinks he has an overactive imagination because he likes to play fantasy games. Then the next day, when something else sets off the snow globe, a terrible storm comes up that involves ice missiles shooting from the clouds. Yes, ice missiles! It was worse than a Texas hail storm. Then there was the avalanche. Of course, there's the screaming, useless teenage girl trapped on the mountain during all this. Eventually, they start to believe the kid, mostly because the clock on the town hall has started working again -- in spite of all its workings having been removed years ago -- and it shows the same time as the clock on the town hall in the snowglobe. And then it doesn't seem to matter what happens to the snowglobe because disasters hit at the top of every hour, and these include giant spikes coming out of the ground. The kid, who has read fantasy novels and knows how these things work, suggests throwing the thing into a volcano to destroy it, and wouldn't you know, one of the disasters is that the nearby dormant volcano mountain becomes active again, which makes that solution a lot more viable.

The thing is, they never bother figuring out what the deal with the snowglobe is -- what it is, how it works, why it works, who sent it and why, etc. It just shows up, horrible things happen, and then they throw it into a crevasse full of molten lava, the end. Whoever gave the snowglobe doesn't do anything to stop them from destroying it, and that person is presumably still out there. There's also no character growth or any character arcs -- heroic dad is still heroic at the end, screaming teenager is still screaming at the end, no one learns A Valuable Lesson, no one falls in love, no one even realizes just how heroic they really can be. But still, ICE MISSILES!!!! SHOOTING FROM THE CLOUDS!!!! If there were Gremlins riding those missiles, it would be the best Christmas movie ever!

I had no idea that there was so much world domination potential in snowglobes. I need to start collecting those things. Oh, wait, I have a snowglobe from a client event where you can put in your own picture and make it a snowglobe of anyone or any place you like. That should make me invincible! Kneel before me, peasants, or face my wrath!

Ahem. I did mention I'm on cold medicine, right?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Has Been Postponed

I survived my Crazy Christmas Weekend, but barely. As these things tend to go, the sinuses decided this would be a good time to go nuts, so I spent the weekend with the kind of drainage that makes the throat really raw. I didn't lose my voice, other than perhaps the very low end of my range. It just hurt to talk or sing or to go without liquids for very long. But I managed to lead preschool Sunday school singing, direct the preschool choir and sing in the church service Sunday morning, then get through a dress rehearsal and concert on Sunday evening.

Today has been cancelled due to lack of enthusiasm and energy.

But my kids were very, very cute. One of the parents posted video to YouTube, but I hesitate to repost here, even though that was public, since not all the kids' parents necessarily knew they were being recorded and I don't think they know that one of the teachers is mildly famous enough to have people around the world reading her blog. We had no major meltdowns, no kids leaving the stage in tears during the song and they were mostly audible. There were a few who refused to wear robes, but that's a pick-your-battles issue.

The rest of the month should be relatively easy. I have a choir party Wednesday night, then all the choir has to sing on Sunday is the Hallelujah Chorus, which I can do in my sleep. And then there's Christmas Eve, with two services, but it's just repeating other stuff we've already rehearsed.

I suppose at some point I need to do my Christmas shopping, since I came to my "do we really need to do the gift thing?" epiphany after my family had already bought gifts for me. But seriously, I've realized that the gifts are my least-favorite part of celebrating Christmas. It can be fun to give the perfect gift, but otherwise it's just stress for everyone and not even essential to my enjoyment of the season.

But for now, the allergy drugs are calling, as are a stack of library books and my bed.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Crazy Christmas Weekend

It wasn't even all that cold this morning, and I still didn't make it out of bed for a very long time. But it was dark and foggy, so I didn't realize how late it was, and I got to bed late after dance. And it turned out to be productive time, since I finally fixed the main problem I've had with the book I'm working on. I was thinking about one aspect of the story and then realized I hadn't explained why some of the characters had a particular piece of information. In fact, there's even a reason given why they shouldn't have that information. So, in thinking about how they could have learned it, I realized that they would have learned it in a situation like the problem scene. This scene is utterly pivotal to the book going forward, but it's never made sense how the previous part of the book led to it. I always knew it had to be there, but getting there was the hard part. And now I have a reason! So even though I slept too late to run the errands I was planning to run this morning, I feel like I accomplished something major before I even got out of bed.

I'd been worried about ballet last night because we were going to have a substitute teacher, and we'd all feared the Strict Ballet Mistress. We'd even made a pact to be there, so no one would have to be alone with her. Instead, we got this cute little punk rock ballerina -- a teenager with an asymmetrical haircut and tons of piercings who thought she was just filling in for the children's classes but who jumped in when she realized we didn't have a teacher. She seemed a little intimidated about teaching adult ballet, but then she got into a groove and did a great job and we all had a ton of fun.

This is going to be my crazy weekend for this holiday season. Sunday morning I'm leading the preschool Sunday school singing, then the preschool choir is singing in church, and right after they sing I'll have to run into the choir loft to sing Vivaldi. That afternoon we've got the dress rehearsal for the big Christmas concert, and then the concert that evening. In that concert, in various songs I'm singing first soprano, second soprano and alto. The alto is new for me, so I guess I'm really being a switch-hitter now. I always alternate rehearsing between the first and second soprano parts so I'll be ready to sing either, depending on what we need when it's time to perform. I'm also going to a party Saturday night and out to a German Christmas festival with a friend tonight. Whew. I may not leave the house on Monday.

But since I didn't get errands done this morning, they have to be done this afternoon. I wonder how I should count that thinking time I did this morning toward my work total. I have no idea how long it took to work out those plot threads, but it really did fix one of the biggest problems with this book.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ideal Sleeping Conditions

TV programming note: Grimm is back this week, with an episode tonight at 9 central and again tomorrow night.

And I noticed the promos for this weekend's SyFy Saturday night movie that I think I must record (since I'll be out that night). It's a disaster movie involving an evil snow globe! That should be epic. Between the Haven episode and this, I may develop a phobia of snow globes. Then again, I've always been a bit suspicious of them …

This time of year is proving deadly to my morning productivity. My favorite sleeping conditions are essentially an igloo under a pile of bearskins. I love a nice, cold room and a big, fluffy comforter and an electric blanket (just to warm the bed initially -- I don't leave it on). It's been cold enough to chill the house, but not so cold that I have to leave the heat on at night for fear of freezing pipes. That makes for ideal sleeping conditions but nearly impossible getting out of bed conditions. I probably need a programmable thermostat that can cut the heat off at night and then turn it back on an hour or so before I need to get out of bed.

On the up side, that makes for some very good thinking conditions. I've found that changing the one scene that was wrong is creating a ripple effect. I won't have to rewrite the entire rest of the book, but I will have to tinker with a lot of it. That's good because I think it fixes most of what wasn't working. There were scenes later in the book that were there because I had this feeling that they should be there, even though I was having to strain at the plot logic to justify them. Now, though, they make more sense. Maybe all along I knew what needed to be happening and it just took my conscious brain a while to catch up.

However, I kind of have a strange shopping impulse tugging at me right now. I don't know if it will last or if I'll be focusing on the book in the afternoon. Maybe tomorrow ...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Coming Attractions

That was a fun night of science fiction Christmas TV (as a person who considers Gremlins one of the best Christmas movies ever, I can appreciate the odd mash-ups). The people behind the Eureka episode must have found some really good drugs. I actually like It's a Wonderful Life (though a lot of that has to do with my deep and abiding affection for Jimmy Stewart) and I thought the Warehouse 13 episode was a fun take on that motif. I liked that they were able to show someone the impact he has on others without him having to be in the pit of despair first. And then Haven inverted the It's a Wonderful Life motif by showing Our Heroine how the other people in her life affect her.

When I was discussing movies, I forgot to mention the trailers that I found interesting. There's an upcoming Snow White movie called Mirror, Mirror that looks a lot like a movie version of the Snow White backstory as seen in Once Upon a Time, but with the evil queen (played by Julia Roberts) as the central character. The trailer had a lot of good laughs in it, and one of my friends suggested that as a good girls' night out movie. I normally am not a fan of Julia Roberts, but I'm okay with her being evil and getting her comeuppance. I also, for personal reasons that should be pretty obvious, have a keen interest in fantasy comedies doing very well at the box office.

Then there was the upcoming Pixar movie, Brave, which is getting buzz as the first "girl" Pixar movie. If that's going to be the focus of any analysis of the success/failure of the film, that makes me kind of nervous because it means that if it doesn't make money on a par with previous films, they'll consider it proof that "girl" stuff doesn't sell. I actually hadn't noticed that the previous Pixar films were all "boy" movies centered around male main characters because I was too caught up in the story and characters to do the statistical analysis (and wasn't it the mom in The Incredibles who really saved the day?). But apparently that matters to some people, and now they're making a conscious effort to break the mold. The thing is, "boy" stuff is generally going to do better than "girl" stuff because while girls will go see "boy" movies (and may not even notice that they're "boy" movies), boys are less willing to go see movies perceived as "girl" stuff. That means "girl" movies automatically have a smaller potential audience (especially when they're aimed at an age group too young for boys to be forced to take their dates to them). Some of that is cultural expectations -- there's far less stigma to girls doing "boy" stuff than there is to boys doing "girl" stuff . Some of it is availability -- there's traditionally been less "girl" stuff available, especially of a fun and adventurous sort, so girls had to resort to "boy" stuff if they wanted anything other than "Princess Sparkles Plans Her Wedding," while there's been enough good "boy" stuff that boys don't have to broaden their reach to have things to enjoy. In the book world, it's shifting, to the point they're now worried about there being next to nothing aimed at boys. While there is a lot of the "Princess Sparkles Plans Her Vampire Wedding" type stuff in books, there is more girl-oriented action and adventure these days. Movies, though, are more focused on the male demographic.

Anyway, Brave is about a female main character and still looks like a good action movie. My other concern with this film is the hair. In the trailer, she has wild, curly hair that looks a lot like mine, only a bit redder, and since I've seen movies before, I have this dread that at the Happy Ending when she's accepted as the great warrior princess, or whatever, that they'll make her "beautiful" by giving her sleek, glossy, straight hair. I'm not sure even the storytelling geniuses at Pixar will be able to escape that particular cultural image.

Meanwhile, I had a very vivid dream last night in which I was served this absolutely divine chocolate cake/pie/cheesecake type dessert, and now I will have to dedicate my life to actually creating this recipe.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Secret Bookcases and Conspiracy Walls: Modern Office Decor

My house is now about as Christmasy as it's going to get. I'll probably swap out my tablecloth and put out my Christmas cookie jar as a centerpiece, but that will be it. I think next year I may make some modifications in the decor, since this is my 14th Christmas in this house, and I've been doing things more or less the same since I moved in. I did change the way I did the tree in 2000, but nothing else has changed. The main modification will likely be the garland on the loft and staircase railing. It's a (fake) pine garland with small white lights. I originally had also wound a metallic garland through it -- a gold wire with little gold mylar snowflakes on it. But this year I took that off because most of the snowflakes had come off and those things won't go away. I'd still be finding them in August because they'd cling to something and lurk, and then pop out. I may pick up some ribbon at post-Christmas sales and try something with that next year.

While I'm talking about stuff to do with my house, I found instructions for making a hidden door bookshelf and now I desperately want that. Unfortunately, there's no way to do it in my current house, since I barely have doorways (it's hard to have secret rooms with an open floor plan). But if I ever get a house with walk-in closets and use one of those bedrooms as an office, I think I will have to put bookcases on the wall with the closet door and make the closet door the "secret" bookcase door. It would go well with that "conspiracy wall" thing I kind of want to do -- you know how in TV series or movies, if a character has a conspiracy theory or is obsessed with something, there will be a secret or hidden wall collecting and connecting all the information, with photos and newspaper clippings and lines drawn between them. That would be a fun way of organizing information for my books, though I guess the conspiracy wall would have to be in the office itself instead of hidden in the secret closet or it wouldn't do much good as a reference. Maybe I could get a moving whiteboard that I could stash in the secret closet. Or I could start my day's work by triggering the secret bookcase door, going into the secret closet, pulling the string to turn on the single bare bulb (because it has to be a single bare bulb) and then studying the important aspects of the Book Conspiracy Wall before closing it up again. I could probably do a good Conspiracy Wall on the mirrored closet doors of my current office, but it wouldn't be as much fun without the secret bookcase door.

Meanwhile, today marks five months without comment since I sent a project off. I'm torn between nagging and letting it go and seeing how long it does go without nagging, since I've got plenty to work on (that may even be more profitable) and seeing how long it goes will give me valuable data points in any decisions to keep working with this organization. The people I'm about to start working for are very big on deadlines and timelines, which sounds lovely. And they aren't a state agency, which has its own administrative frustrations (you've got to love bureaucracy, unless you're relying on it to pay you in a timely manner). In general, as a self-employed writer you're usually either fighting with corporate or government bureaucracy or you're dealing with the glacial pace of the publishing world. I suspect that's a big reason self-publishing sounds appealing to a lot of people. To me, that sounds like I'd have to deal with even more of the business end of it that I'd rather let a publisher take care of. In my ideal world, I'd prefer to hide in my cave and write stories, and then a publisher would do all the work of getting them out into the world, occasionally sending me a check. Sadly, I'm not sure the world works like that anymore.

Tonight we get the SyFy summer series' Christmas episodes. I think I'll be making some pizza and then I may even turn out the lights and just have the Christmas lights on when we get around to Haven, since that one's bound to be at least a little spooky (even if they're going with the funny side of it in the promos). I'm not crazy about the way they do the "out of continuity" Christmas episodes that take place sometime in the past of the previous season, but then I guess they can hardly resolve the cliffhanger of the previous season, jump forward to Christmas, and then have a Christmas story, all in one episode. They manage it with Doctor Who because they really wrap up their seasons, without cliffhangers, and then they have a time machine that allows the Doctor to jump right to Christmas from whenever he was. With the SyFy way, it's a little disconcerting to have to do a mental rewind and disregard whatever changes happened near the end of the season. And you know there can be no consequences for the Christmas episode, or we'd have already noticed the fallout. I'm not going to complain about bonus Christmas stuff to break up the wait for summer, though.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Muppet Movie Monday

I got a start on the Christmas decorations yesterday, getting the wreath on the door and the garland on the fireplace mantel. Today I need to get the garland on the loft and stairway railing, and then I think the tree will go up during tonight's airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

In the meantime, I have some writing to do. I was brainstorming some things to work on in a scene I knew wasn't working, and that sparked an idea about a previous scene that I'd thought worked, but then when I really analyzed it, it didn't. And fixing that will solve a lot of problems going forward.

It was a movie weekend, so I have a full Movie Monday report.

Saturday I went with a bunch of friends to see The Muppets, and it was awesome. I think it was written more for adults who watched The Muppet Show as kids than it was for kids. The one child in our group seemed to enjoy it, but not nearly as much as the adults did. I laughed myself silly, and my face hurt at the end from smiling so much. In addition to twisting, poking holes in and subverting just about every movie cliche ever, it actually had a relevant message about the cynicism in our world and what counts as "entertainment" these days. Plus, there was good music (that definitely showed its "Flight of the Conchords" roots) and a duet between Amy Adams and Miss Piggy. I think I need the soundtrack CD for that song alone. And we had quite possibly the best use of Jack Black in any film. I may need to see this one again to catch all the cameos and jokes.

Then on Sunday afternoon, I made the mistake of watching Never Let Me Go on one of the HBO channels. It seemed to fit the grey, gloomy atmosphere of the day. It wasn't a bad movie. It was well-made and well-acted. It was just such a bleak worldview that it left me so bummed out that I needed to watch The Muppets again to get my head on straight. Fortunately, last year's Phineas and Ferb Christmas episode was showing on the Disney Channel at the time the movie ended, and that worked. I got the feeling when the movie came out that some information that was in all the trailers and movie descriptions was supposed to be spoilery for what was a major twist in the book, so I don't know how to describe this without possibly spoiling the twist. It comes pretty early in the movie, so it doesn't seem like a huge secret that these kids in the boarding school are actually clones being grown to be used as organ transplant donors when they're adults. You can tell this is "literature" with science fiction elements instead of science fiction because in science fiction, the story would have ended up being about the clones banding together and fighting back while trying to get the story out to prove their humanity and force people to know who they were killing when they got life-prolonging transplants. I think the movie thought it had a happy ending, but I found it very depressing, and not in a "made me think about the meaning of life" way. I would say that I probably need to read the book in order to see what it was really supposed to be about, since the movie inevitably overly simplified it and messed it up, but I'll have to wait until The Muppets comes out on DVD, because I'll either need to have it on while I'm reading or have it standing by to watch immediately afterward so I won't want to slit my wrists -- or else I'll have to write the "clones fight back" story, though I suspect it's already been done, repeatedly.

I was really very pleasantly surprised by the first part of Neverland on SyFy. It was actually rather good, and not just in the typical SyFy movie "so bad that it's highly entertaining" way. The cast was all top-notch and though some of the effects weren't so hot, the story was interesting. It tinkered with the Peter Pan mythology a bit, giving a slightly different backstory and making it science fiction instead of fantasy (Neverland is another planet and the fairies are the local life form), but I think what they did worked. I kind of like the idea of Hook and Peter having had a past father/son relationship that ended in a sense of betrayal. They also seemed to mend some of the more problematic elements from the original story, like making an effort to more accurately portray the Indians instead of going with the stereotypes of that time (and using Tiger Lily's name in her native language). This version of the backstory even explains how all those disparate adventure story elements like pirates and American Indians ended up in the same story. I'm looking forward to part 2 tonight.

Meanwhile, I've discovered that all the Family channel and Lifetime Christmas romantic comedies are available OnDemand. I know some of what I'll be doing this month. I'm considering changing my usual travel schedule, since I really want to sing for the Christmas Eve services at my church, so instead of going to my parents' house several days before Christmas and then leaving the day after, I think I'm going to head over there Christmas morning and stay a few days after. That means I'll have a few days leading up to Christmas with not much going on, and that will be a perfect time for a cheesy movie marathon.

Friday, December 02, 2011

It's Beginning to Feel a Lot Like Christmas

I had a meeting this morning to meet with my new client. This is actually an agency, so there will still be a client beyond that, but I'm working through them, and I'm a contractor rather than a regular employee, which to me means it's the best of both worlds (aside from the benefits issue, but I was already providing my own benefits, like health insurance). I can probably have fairly steady work with these people, as steady as a regular job, but I work at home, set my own hours (as long as I meet deadlines) and take on as much or as little work as I can handle. When I'm not on a book deadline, I can take on more. If I have a book due, I can do less. This may help keep me from burying my agent in manuscripts, since I can write them almost as fast as she can read them, while paying my living expenses and adding to the World Domination fund (a good plan for world domination requires capital).

Though it was a little embarrassing to open my oh-so-professional-looking notepad and find that it had dust in the creases. I haven't had to meet with clients in a very long time. It sounds like I should have taken that "vacation" in November because I'll be rather busy for the next month or so. Then again, being that busy may mean that I can afford to take a real vacation. Or that I can add some days to a trip to New York for a conference early next year and maybe even splurge on my own hotel room instead of sharing (which is the biggest stress of a conference for me).

I'm actually starting to kind of get into the holiday spirit. It started with choir Wednesday, where we're finally digging into our Christmas music (including some old standards in creative keys). But this morning driving across town on a grey, misty day really got to me, since it meant that any lights that were still on really showed up, and then when I stopped by the grocery store afterward, I had to walk through the forest of Christmas trees to get to the door, which really flipped my "Christmas!" switch. I may even put the Christmas music back into the iTunes playlist, and I'll be baking some cookies this afternoon, since the church cookie sale fundraiser is this weekend. The Christmas decorations may go up this weekend, too.

I'll have to get the decorating done before Sunday night, though, because there will be some good TV. First Once Upon a Time, which I'm really loving, and then the channel formerly known as SciFi is doing a two-part Neverland miniseries, and the cast looks astoundingly good for this kind of production. Of course, next Tuesday they're showing the Christmas episodes of their summer series, though Haven is requiring real creativity to get a Christmas episode, since the entire series so far has been set in a single summer.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The My Little Pony Death Match

I had a frustrating day yesterday dealing with business stuff. I actually had to talk to someone on the phone, which is getting extreme for me. But a client not only owes me money, but hadn't sent me a new contract covering last month, which might have kept me from getting paid for work I've already done, so I wanted it resolved, ASAP. It turned out that they'd misspelled my name in my e-mail address and no one had noticed that the e-mail address they had on file for me didn't match the way my name was spelled in the contract itself or in any of the e-mails forwarded to them by the person I usually deal with. But I was friendly and perky on the phone and got the matter resolved, and then I may have indulged in a little primal screaming of the "What is the matter with you people?" variety once I got off the phone. I ought to look up their policy for what they do if someone is a month late paying a bill to them and then establish that as my policy for dealing with them. I seriously doubt that "Oh, I guess that didn't get processed when it first came in, so we forgot about it" would fly as an excuse when you owe them money.

Then later in the evening I got to break up a fight between preschool girls. It helps that I'm enough larger than they are that all I had to do was stand between them. We then had a chat about how they were friends, so why were they fighting, and I'm still not sure what was going on because I got a long, garbled explanation that seemed to have something to do with a My Little Pony birthday party and who got to be which pony. It was definitely smile and nod time because I had no clue what they were talking about. At any rate, my conflict resolution skills were apparently good enough to end up with both of them settled into my lap and not trying to kill each other. I know the very idea of My Little Pony incites me to violence, but I didn't realize it had the same effect on the target audience. I may have to do research. If the ponies are getting into death matches, that whole thing may be a lot more interesting than I realized.

Speaking of research, I was reading a list of upcoming book releases that are considered "genre benders," and it seems like the cozy mystery genre has taken a turn toward fantasy, with a number of series involving magical elements. Since I love cozy mysteries, I may have to look for some of those. I'd probably enjoy them as a reader, but that might also be something I could do as a writer. Those kinds of series are a great fit for the way I like to write romances, so it could take a number of books for the amateur sleuth heroine and the hunky cop to get together. I just can't think of a gimmick (and they seem to require a gimmick these days), and all the situations I come up with seem to turn into a strange Haven/Once Upon a Time mash-up. If I move it to Texas, would anyone notice the similarities? And then apparently you also need knitting or cross-stitch patterns or recipes. I've been known to create cross-stitch patterns (like Firefly hand towels) and recipes, so maybe I could do this. I'll need to find and read a bunch before I can start thinking along those lines. It seems like a few of those series come up in Amazon's "people who bought this also bought that" function for my books, so that's a good starting point.

First, though, I need to finish reading the new Terry Pratchett. And writing a book.