Thursday, May 31, 2012

Back in the Office

I took a short break this week to visit my parents, since my dad's birthday was on Memorial Day and I hadn't been for a visit since Christmas. But now I'm back in the office and frantically working on the finishing touches of the new web site, which I plan/hope to unveil tomorrow. I just have about seven more pages to put together and then I have to go through and double check all the links, file names, etc. This site isn't going to be too drastically different from the old site, just in a new layout and with the info updated. I may add new features going forward, but for now this is just to get the new info out there.

I'm seeing more differences between traditional publishing and the digital world in the way the timeline works. In the traditional world, you have your publication date for months. Here, I know we're aiming for July, but I don't have a set release date yet. Previously, I'd have been near panic in preparing for a release so soon, but I've already got the web site mostly done, and I'm not sure what PR I can really do. I'm not part of any of the blogging groups I used to be in, and I'm not sure any of them were a great fit for me anymore. I suppose I should try to scare up some blog tour opportunities. Mostly, I just need to be sure the word gets out to readers that there's another book in the series. If you're involved in any book-related Internet forums, like on Goodreads or on the Amazon forums, help spread the word (especially after the new web site launches). I do want to have to choreograph that victory dance.

Heck, maybe I'll even come up with some kind of thing where if the book hits a national bestseller list, I'll do the victory dance, get someone to record it, and put it online. Mind you, this isn't a promise yet. I wonder what song would be best for the dance of "Ha! Told you!" Any suggestions? Remember that I'm a ballet dancer and am terrible at anything more modern (or rhythmic), so it would need to be something you could choreograph ballet to.

And just to make the run up to the new release more crazy, I'm going to be out of town for a week next month, as I somehow had a fit of madness and agreed to chaperone the youth choir mission trip. I never got to go on one of these when I was a teen (we didn't have anything like it), so I guess I'll get to go as an adult. I have to admit that the thought of it is rather daunting, but you only really grow as a person by doing things that are out of your comfort zone. I imagine I will garner a lot of blog fodder along the way, and it will be great research for writing young adult books.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Lost TV Series

The housework didn't get done, but I designed the master layout for the new web site and did a number of the mostly text pages. Now comes the hard work with the pages that are graphic-intensive, which will have to be completely redesigned. But I now have the cover for the new book, so I can do the whole site. I think all will be unveiled next week, if I get it done in time.

My one regret is that I can't find a way to use the original artwork in the new design. My friend Rob Chambers, who now does the web comic Meatshield, drew that art for me while I played with his twin babies. I loved the "magic" of having the rollover elements so that the fairy and the frog changed to "normal" people (or vice versa) when mousing over them, but I can't fit them in this layout, unless maybe I stick them in as Easter eggs in random places on the site, which could be fun. Then again, they've lived a long and useful life, considering that I believe these babies are now finishing second grade.

(I don't have cats, so I have to use other people's babies to fulfill my "cute Internet photos" quota.)

The web designing hasn't helped this week's nagging semi-insomnia. Last night, I was designing web pages in my sleep. On the up side, I've figured out how I'll work it into the site if I sell the projects I've got finished. With one, I'll just fit it in as a second series and all of this design should still fit, unless the cover is totally out of whack (I seem to have also dreamt giving descriptions and input into that cover -- the result was something that looked kind of like the Typical Urban Fantasy cover, but instead of the tattooed chick in black leather, it would be a woman who looks a lot like Amy Adams did in Leap Year, wearing a very 1950s floral dress with pastel cardigan, but still looking utterly terrifying). With another, I'd link to it from the front page but do a totally different master layout for pages relating to that book/series.

In other news, we finished the semester of ballet last night (I've completed four years now!) and we went to Sonic after class to celebrate. We sat on their patio and had milkshakes and talked. They have their own "radio station" for the sound system and were playing a lot of what are now considered oldies. One of the songs they played was "Private Eyes" by Hall and Oates, and it brought back a memory of something I hadn't thought of in years. That song was popular when I was in eighth grade, and I developed an entire TV series based on it, with the idea to use that as the theme song for the opening credits (you know, back when TV shows had nearly full-length songs as opening credits). It was going to be a romantic comedy private detective show, with detectives from rival agencies who were always trying to undermine each other and snag the big clients, but then they'd run across a real crime in what looked like a more basic divorce/corporate espionage type case and have to team up to solve it. They were always having to use disguises and fake identities to infiltrate things, so they didn't always recognize each other but were always attracted to each other. Mind you, this was before Moonlighting or Remington Steele and this kind of series wasn't all that common at the time but was on the horizon, so I was very cutting-edge. I'd even visualized exactly how the opening credits would work as synchronized to that song. Hearing that song last night, I could still see those opening credits. I bet I still have the notebook with all those ideas written in it lying around somewhere. It probably has Muppets on the cover.

Alas, I missed my true calling as a television writer, so the world will never see that series. It would have been awesome, though. Come to think of it, it would probably be a perfect fit for the USA network today.

And now it's Memorial Day weekend. Tonight will be taco night, and I think I'll watch the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie on ABC Family. Tomorrow night, one of the HBO channels is showing the most recent version of Jane Eyre, which I never got around to in the theaters. Then Sunday afternoon I'm singing in a patriotic concert for Memorial Day at church (with ice cream afterward). And then I'll take my "holiday" early next week, since Memorial Day is also my dad's birthday. Posting may be sparse next week. Have a great holiday weekend, and take a moment to remember those who served and gave their all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Web Site Redesign

I spent yesterday playing around with possible layouts for a website redesign. One thing that seems to be tricky is figuring out how wide to make it. My old site seems awfully narrow on my current wide laptop screen, but it was based on the recommended parameters at the time. These days, do too many people not have widescreen format displays? If you design for the old-style monitor, there's so much space to the side and then to have any content you either need a lot of pages or require a lot of scrolling. Then there's the fact that the content seems to float in the middle of a blank screen, unless you design it so there's a colored background that stretches the width of the window, with the content in a different color in the middle. I actually find that rather distracting. I've done a test site where I don't bother with that, just keep it all white and have lots of white space and maybe do some color blocks to anchor the content, and I rather like that. It's also so much easier to work with. Then again, I'm the kind of person who finds lots of white space soothing. I can live happily with blank white walls. Other people might find that dull.

Then I realized that there's not much point in completely redoing the site until I can include the new book cover and info, but I can do the general master layout and do a lot of the pages. I think I'll mostly carry over the content from the old site, with some tweaks and updates and in a new format, but is there anything you'd like to see on my web site that isn't there? I mean, other than the complete content of the next book. Sorry. You'll have to buy that.

Meanwhile, I've really fallen behind in my housework. It's not to the point where I'd have to spend a day in panicked cleaning if I found out someone might come over, but it is getting a little messy and I've missed all my chores this week. I may play catch-up today.

And after shopping for a birthday card for my dad this morning and ending up buying a rather generic one, I'm back to wanting those greeting cards for geeks. Most of the funny cards were not the sort of thing you can give your father. Otherwise, they were really tacky or rather gross about the effects of aging or were about beer, scotch or golf, none of which my dad is into. My dad dragged me to see Star Wars, the first two Star Trek movies and Raiders of the Lost Ark (seeing all of those was his idea). He's more about church than about beer and scotch. There just weren't many funny cards that weren't about "ha, you're getting old" or about getting drunk. From the selection of cards, you'd think jerks were the only people buying greeting cards, and that seems counterintuitive.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Small Towns and Soul-Restoring Places

And today I walked to the bank. Exercise! Again, I went by way of the park across the street. It used to be a vacant lot the canal and walking path ran through, with a widened "pond" area and a fountain-like spray to keep the water aerated and flowing. A few years ago they turned it into a butterfly park, planting the kinds of plants that would attract butterflies, adding an additional path and some trees to the other side of the water and making the fountain something that seems ornamental as well as functional. The plants are still filling in, but the ones that have reached some degree of maturity, especially the roses, are now glorious. It's become one of those soul-restoring places. I can happily sit and look at the flowers and listen to the fountain.

It was a little unnerving when the teller at the bank called me by name, even before I handed her my check and deposit slip, but then I remembered that she had me coach her on pronouncing it on my last visit. Apparently, Norwegian names don't roll off the tongue for Indians. It's funny, I spent my teen years desperate to get away from small-town life, and I end up in a neighborhood that functions a lot like a small town even though it's part of a big city in a major metropolitan area -- in fact, even more like the idealized small town than the small town I'm from, in that I can walk just about everywhere and there really are neighborhood services like the bank, library, post office and coffee shop where the people recognize you and often know your name. My home town is very spread out and you'd be taking your life in your hands to walk anywhere. And then everything I don't do in my neighborhood I do in the neighboring small town where I can seldom go to the grocery store without running into someone I know. I think "part of a major metropolitan area" is the key part that keeps this from being the kind of small town I'd want to escape. Not only can I walk to a movie theater and library, but just about anything else I could possibly need is a short drive away. My home town was about 14 miles from the nearest "city" that still wasn't entirely civilized, and we lived on a farm outside the town, so there was no way to walk anywhere. This is more like the towns and villages you read about in books.

I don't really have any new book 5 -- Much Ado About Magic -- news, other than that things are in progress. The cover is almost complete, the copy editor is at work, and an author whose books I love has read it and given a quote for the cover. All of that will be revealed soon.

I spent yesterday working through the tutorial for the new version of my web design software because they've added features and I've forgotten a lot. I started playing around with a test site. Before I purchase the upgrade after playing with the trial, I may also try a test site using the software that came with my computer, since I'm starting from scratch anyway. I'd forgotten how tedious this process can be.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The End of an Era

This morning's walking errand (I'm trying to trick myself into exercising) was to walk to the Indian market via the park and get some lemons for making Greek food for dinner. I get a bizarrely perverse delight in buying my ingredients for making cuisines from other ethnicities at the Indian market. The only things I've bought there for making Indian food have been rice and some spices. Sadly, the only kind of lettuce they had was iceberg, so I'll still need to go to a regular grocery store tomorrow if I want to make BLT sandwiches (I'm partial to red leaf lettuce). However, their tomatoes looked divine. If I hadn't already had some, I would have stocked up.

I seem to have stumbled into a TV cop show along the way. While I was walking there, a police car abruptly did a fast U-turn -- right out of a cop show chase scene -- and tore off in the other direction, leaving the stench of burning rubber in his wake (must remember that sensory detail, in case a similar situation comes up in a book). Then there was another police car in front of the market, with the cop talking rather intensely to someone sitting in a car parked in front of the store. When I left, that car was gone and the cop was standing on the sidewalk, talking to a very agitated elderly man and seeming to try to calm him down. The "chase scene" car was headed in a different direction from this shopping center, though, so whatever it was, it was two different incidents, unless that cop was going in pursuit of someone who'd left the shopping center. Now that I think about it, I recall that the cop was talking to the man in the car and the man in the car was telling him who his cell phone carrier was. I wonder if maybe someone stole his phone (and maybe more) and ran off, and they were getting to the carrier to track it. Normally my neighborhood is very quiet and has a really, really low crime rate, so this level of excitement is a big change. I've heard that the local police have a funny name for this particular beat, something like "Sleepytime Ranch," because it's usually so dull. I suppose I should have lingered, whipped out a notepad and pen and said, "Don't worry, I'm a writer. Carry on."

With the series finale of House last night, the main TV season is pretty much over. That was about the only thing I liked that was cancelled this season, and I was ready for it to end, so I guess that makes it a good season for me. No spoilers, but the final episode encapsulated for me what the main problem with this series became over the years. I loved the first three seasons and even contributed an essay to a book about the series, and then it just imploded. The big event that a lot of people talk about as the turning point was when they demoted/moved around the original cast and brought in replacements, and while I don't think the show ever got its balance back from that, I feel like the real problem was that they lost sight of what they were trying to do with that character.

The concept that I liked about him at the beginning was that while he was a jerk, he was mostly saying the things that most of us may think but would never dare say out loud. It was kind of cathartic to have him say these things, to be willing to call stupid people stupid to their faces instead of having to smile and nod and play nice. The rest of his jerky behavior was diagnostic. Just as his approach to medicine was to poke things (metaphorically or literally) and let the response give him valuable information, he did the same thing in figuring out people. See what riled them or how they reacted to his outrageous behavior, and then he'd have a better understanding of what made them tick. But somewhere along the way, he just became mean and selfish and acted like a spoiled toddler. There was no rhyme or reason for him to do the things he did, and he got so outrageous that it was unbelievable any hospital would let him on the grounds. And then they went and woobified him, turning him into a victim. In the first couple of seasons, they seemed to go out of their way to say that there was no particular thing that made him that way. He was the same person before his leg was damaged, so it wasn't about the pain and the limp. He never outright stated that he wasn't abused, but I thought that was strongly implied in an early episode where his parents visited. But then later they decided that he was abused horribly by his father! Who wasn't really his biological father, so his mother had been lying to him and allowing her husband to abuse him! Poor, sad, pathetic House! And then they went the standard television route of trying to show that a woman could heal him with her love! Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case, but watching them attempt to go that route was incredibly painful.

Though, oddly, what lost me for at least half a season was when they hired a third-year medical student for a fellowship. I got the feeling that the writers didn't actually know what a "fellowship" was (it's something you do after completing a residency, so it's not something you can do while still in medical school). Not to mention they kept hiring actresses to play doctors in a fellowship who were barely old enough to have completed medical school. I guess women old enough to be fully qualified doctors who have completed residencies are too icky to have on TV. I mean, they'd be over 30. And then they'd get older! (Technically, Jesse Spencer (Dr. Chase) was also too young for his role, but apparently there's a different training track in Australia that might have worked out, so you can kind of handwave that, but they had way too many 25-year-old fellows.)

I did come back for the final season when they jettisoned the romance plot and the medical student, and it did get back to what I used to love in some ways. I thought the finale was a little self-indulgent and went to the well of "let's analyze this fascinating character that is House" one too many times, but I liked the final outcome.

And next season my Monday nights will be free, unless there's something on cable. Warehouse 13 should run into October this year, so there's that. That's usually my best writing day, so I guess it will be even better.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Aliens vs. Vintage Ships

I took care of my civic duty this morning by walking over to the library for early voting in the primary. I found that if I take the route along the canal that comes up to the library the back way, I can avoid all the campaigners. They don't stake out the path from the canal, so by the time I'm in sight, I'm already within the "no electioneering" zone. No sea monsters this time, though I did chat with the staff about that. Unfortunately, the walk seems to have re-triggered my allergies. Oh well, it's that time of year.

My big entertainment for the weekend was the SyFy version of Battleship, called American Warships, and it was glorious. It might even have made a halfway decent big-screen movie with a little more thought into the script and a higher effects budget. Yeah, some of the acting was at "jock taking drama to boost the GPA" levels and the effects mostly looked like they were copied and pasted in (here's some film of a fire, now let's superimpose it on our action!), but I suspect it was still the better "the Navy fights an alien invasion" movie of the weekend.

The story was essentially Battlestar Galactica on the water -- there are mysterious attacks using EMP to fry everything with an integrated circuit, but the battleship Iowa manages to save the day because it's a WWII relic on its final voyage and is already being restored to its WWII state to become a museum. They can fight the aliens using WWII technology and aren't immediately disabled by the aliens' weapons. There's also a convenient SEAL team that provides an Aliens interlude by boarding the alien stealth ship and finding cave-like corridors (because, naturally, your high-tech stealth interstellar ship is going to have an interior that looks like a cave). Meanwhile, the aliens' evil plot is to make the Chinese and North Koreans think these are American attacks and make the Americans think they're Chinese attacks so they'll attack each other, nuke the planet and make invasion easy (these aliens apparently thrive on radiation). So everyone's scrambled bombers with nukes, and the Iowa has to defeat the mother ship and prove that it really is aliens before the bombers reach their targets -- and all they've got is shortwave, so they can't even send photos.

There was one big disappointment for me that I think a big-budget treatment would have avoided. At one point they mention that backup's on its way, as they've scrounged together a squadron of vintage aircraft that won't be affected by the EMP. Unfortunately, with a total film budget made up of change found between the sofa cushions, that amounted to seeing two planes that went down pretty quickly. I wanted to see an all-out battle of WWII aircraft vs. aliens. I'm one of the few people who actually liked the Doctor Who episode with the Daleks during WWII because, hello, Spitfires vs. Daleks! What's not to love?

However, the very, very best part of this movie was the disclaimer at the beginning that said something to the effect of: "According to the Department of Defense, these events never happened."

Really? You mean the Iowa didn't fight off an alien invasion that involved the sinking of the carrier Enterprise? I'm not sure I would have realized that this wasn't a documentary otherwise.

Anyway, it was totally worth a big bowl of popcorn and a root beer. But I do desperately want to see the movie it could have been. Oh, and apparently the big-screen Battleship doesn't contain the line, "You sank my battleship!" But this movie had the captain snarl, "They won't sink my battleship!" Which I think is a win.

In other weekend news, I had my fifth Sunday in a row of singing in two services, and this time there was a severe soprano shortage, so I switched to singing the first soprano part, which I hadn't practiced (I'd become accustomed to not needing to rehearse both parts). Of course, this was a weekend when the allergies meant I probably could have sung alto. Now we'll see if it'll be six weeks in a row. Will I get the frantic Saturday-afternoon "can you sing in a quartet?" phone call?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fall TV

I did finally sort of overcome the procrastination/don't wannas yesterday and do some of that work, but then quickly melted under pressure. One of the things I need to do is update my web site, but the files and software for that are on the old computer that can't access the Internet anymore. I found that there is a new version of the software that will work on the new computer, and it will supposedly open files from older versions, so I downloaded their trial version to check. It did open the files, but there seems to be a problem with the graphics, as the software is looking for the graphics in the resources folder via the path on the old machine, which has some different names on the new machine. I may have to delete and re-insert all the graphics, because otherwise even updating one bit of text will mean the software sees all the graphics as changes and will change that throughout the site. And if I'm going to do that, I may as well redesign the whole web site and make it obvious it's been updated. The new version of the software has a lot more bells and whistles, features and functions. But boy, is that tedious work. It may have to wait for next week.

However, the new skirt worked out beautifully in ballet class, and the teacher even complimented me on it. It did lack somewhat in twirlability, which any little girl can tell you is the most important thing in a skirt, but it wasn't really designed to twirl, since its main function is to cover the behind, and it's not doing that if it's twirling. The teacher did tell me I have to move up to the intermediate class in the fall so there can be a true beginning class and she doesn't have to try to teach so many different levels in one class. I guess after four years I can't consider myself a beginner anymore. The intermediate class for adults used to be more of an advanced class, with a different teacher, and most of the people in there were really experienced dancers -- like, former professionals who were no longer dancing professionally but who wanted to stay in decent shape. But that class kind of dissolved, and my teacher will be starting a new true intermediate class in the fall.

Now for some geeky news and stuff. The movie Battleship opens this weekend, which means we also get the SyFy channel Saturday night "mockbuster." Their version is called American Warships. There's a chance this one might come close in quality to the big-screen movie (not that this is something to aim for). I have to get up early Sunday morning, but I may take my shower beforehand and then make some popcorn and watch in my pajamas.

Meanwhile, tonight is the season finale of Grimm. And then my Friday nights will become a vast wasteland for a while -- especially with the news that SyFy is moving Haven to the fall. On the up side, Grimm and Haven will make a delicious cross-network double feature. On the down side, I have to wait that much longer to see how they resolve that insane cliffhanger, and the season premiere date is the Friday night of FenCon. I managed to get home in time to watch last year, but then I spent the weekend feeling very frustrated about not being able to discuss it with friends who hadn't seen the episode because they were at the convention. I may have to do what I did when the release of the last Harry Potter book came during a convention and force myself to wait until Sunday night to watch. After nearly a year of waiting, what's a couple more days?

And it's a good thing that they're moving something worth watching to the fall because I'm pretty blah about the new season. On the bright side, there were no cancellations that made me sad, but on the down side, there aren't that many new shows that have me very excited. There are a few things that may be interesting and that I might try watching if they fell into my open slots, but all the shows that look moderately interesting are either opposite something I already watch or on at a time when I probably won't be home (though I don't know what my dance class schedule will be for the fall). So, there are a lot of shows that I'm hoping will be available OnDemand but that I probably won't make much effort to watch otherwise.

But, hey, that leaves more time for reading and writing!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Indulging My Inner Seven-Year-Old

I'm looking forward to ballet class tonight because I have some new gear to try out. I'm finishing my fourth year of dance, and every year I complete, I reward myself by buying some new item of dance gear. After year 1, I got a second pair of tights so I don't have to wash them every week. After year 2, I got a new leotard. After year three, I had to replace my shoes. This year, since my shoes are in good shape and I've got plenty of tights and leotards for a once-a-week class, I indulged in something a little more frivolous. The adult class doesn't have a dress code, and that means most of us don't strictly wear the leotard and tights ensemble. We generally wear shorts, sweatpants, yoga pants, leggings, etc., over the leotard and tights. I've been wearing an old pair of knit shorts that I think were originally meant to be "loungewear" -- not really pajamas, but not for wearing in public. They're lounge-around-the-house clothes. But I decided to buy one of those chiffon wrap ballet skirts to wear instead of shorts. I'm finally starting to feel like I'm really dancing instead of just going through the motions, and that kind of makes me want to dress like a pretty ballerina. Plus, we're starting to do actual choreography. Most of a dance class involves doing exercises that are the building blocks to steps, then doing the steps themselves in a sequence of combinations. Now, though, we're learning a dance. And I get to wear my fluttery little skirt for it tonight. Yay!

I feel weirdly like a seven-year-old, back in my previous dance-crazed phase, when I would have killed to wear a fluttery little skirt for dance class, but we had a strict black leotard/pink tights/no skirts policy. Only now I'm an adult and I can wear what I want, so there! My inner seven-year-old is overjoyed. I think I'll even wear the purple leotard tonight (although my other leotards are black and I like them better).

I really have to buckle down and do some business/promotion type work, and although that used to be my favorite form of procrastination, it's now becoming something I procrastinate on. It doesn't help that I seem to have an extreme case of book hangover from getting to the end of what's available in the Song of Ice and Fire series. My brain doesn't like incomplete stories and keeps trying to finish it for me, and I have to remind it that it's not my story. For one thing, it's not nearly funny enough for me to have written, way too many people die, and there's too much blood and guts. Funny thing, though: the editor for those books is a big fan of my books. Go figure. I guess she needs a happy break every so often. At any rate, I'll be trying to focus on something and my brain will be going, "Hmm, what if …" and then I'll find myself checking the background for a theory either by digging through the books I still haven't returned to the library or by looking in online forums. I may need to get copies to keep because I'm seeing that there's lots of stuff I missed.

I should have known better than to let myself get into a never-ending doorstop epic fantasy series. This sort of thing never goes well for me. I fall into obsession way too easily. I guess I need to find something else to read that will be a new obsession trigger, and I actually have a whole Saturday with no plans ahead of me that I can dedicate to reading and relaxing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Learning to Write Dialogue

Happy day. I got my favorite checker at the grocery store, the one who sings along with the Motown songs on the in-store sound system while he checks out groceries and gets me to groove along with him. We have way too much fun (and I think he remembers me as the customer he can do that with).

I had a reader question about writing dialogue that flows without sounding stilted and awkward. I'm not sure I can just tell you how to write dialogue, but I can tell a little about how I learned to write dialogue and give some exercises that might help you develop your ear.

What you want to do in writing dialogue is write it so that it sounds like the way we think people really talk. You don't want to write the way people really talk because it would drive you nuts. Real human talk is full of filler words, things like "um" and "uh," repetitions and half statements that get sidetracked. You just don't notice these things unless they get really, really awful because your brain automatically edits them out. You might not even notice if you recorded a conversation among your friends and played it back, but if you transcribed that conversation, it might read like pointless drivel. I've seen a similar effect in amateur blogger/journalists who get the chance to interview someone or participate in one of those group conference call interviews, and then their post from that interview is a direct transcription. Even a very articulate person who's used to working with the media comes across as something of an idiot if you transcribe every word he says, exactly the way he says it. In writing fictional dialogue, you want to write it to sound the way we hear people talk -- the edited version.

I think the biggest help for me in getting an ear for dialogue was going to journalism school. You get the information for an article by interviewing people, so you really have to listen to what they say, and the article is also largely made up of quotes, so you have to capture the way the person talks while getting the gist of the info in what they're saying. Most people don't speak in soundbites, so this can really require some work. You may not actually quote someone word-for-word, since a lot of that would be useless words, but you want to convey the sense of what they said in a way that they would say it, using the words they actually said. In taking notes from an interview, you only write down the real content that matters, not the extraneous stuff. If you do it right, the person you interviewed can read the article and think that's exactly what they said because it's what they meant to say, even if in reality there was some meandering along the way. Do this enough, and you get used to capturing people's speech patterns.

Beyond that, I was a broadcast journalism major and did a lot of work in radio news. I even interned at a bureau for a radio news network. A radio news story generally contains a story the anchor reads with a clip or two from the interview with the subject speaking. Because of the fact that there are hesitations, repetitions and useless words in the way people normally speak, there's no time in the story to just run a clip verbatim (about the only people you can do that with are politicians working from a script). You have to edit the tape to the point that it will sound to listeners like what they'd hear anyway, since we mentally edit out that stuff. I spent a lot of time editing tape the old-fashioned way, rocking the reels on a reel-to-reel deck back and forth to find the start/stop points, marking with a grease pencil, then cutting out the bad part with a razor blade and then splicing the tape back together again. Then in the scripts we sent to the network, I had to transcribe the clips. Sometimes I also had to transcribe an interview for the correspondent so he could pick the clips he wanted. All of that taught me to really listen to the way people talk and also get an ear for the way they talk without the excess stuff.

(Incidentally, it's more challenging with TV because you can't edit within a clip without it being obvious. TV reporters are more likely to ask the same question in multiple ways throughout an interview, so by the end of the interview the subject will have had a chance to think about the answer and phrase it better, and then there will be a usable clip. That's also why people tend to come across as kind of stupid in TV interviews, because the reporter can't clean them up. And it's why TV sound bites are so very, very short -- they have to find the few seconds of footage that contain good content without insertions or digressions)

A good way to get a sense of the way we think people naturally talk, look for a TV show or movie that strikes you as having good, natural-sounding dialogue. I think Friday Night Lights was a good one because sometimes it sounded almost improvised, it seemed so natural. Try transcribing a scene or two and see how the words come across in print. Otherwise, just listen to people, a lot. Eavesdrop on conversations and imagine how you'd write them. Look for speech patterns like word usage or rhythms. Listen to the way a conversation flows.

A few tips for writing dialogue:
* If you're writing contemporary American characters, use contractions unless there's a specific reason not to. If someone is saying "do not" instead of "don't," it's usually to emphasize the "not." Not using conjunctions is going to sound stilted -- though that may be what you want to convey with some characters.
* If you have trouble getting distinct voices for your characters, mentally cast them, then watch something with those actors to get their voices in your head and try to hear those voices saying the lines as you write.
* Read your dialogue out loud to yourself. Is it uncomfortable to speak those lines? Do you feel stilted? Can you tell a difference between the characters? Do you run out of breath? If you can't say a sentence in one breath, you need to break it up or trim it because your character would also need to pause.
* It may help to take an acting class. You may be able to find a class through a community college or continuing education program or though a theater organization. Learning how to embody characters and speak dialogue can really help in writing dialogue -- or at least in the way you read your dialogue out loud to yourself so that you can tell if your dialogue works.
* Edit, edit, edit. Most first-draft dialogue is too long for the way people really talk. Pare it down to the minimum, unless what you're trying to convey is a long-winded character.
* Make use of subtext. Most people aren't going to directly say what they're thinking unless they're really in a comfort zone or are too desperate to play games. They may say only a few words or deflect while their body language gives them away. In writing dialogue, remember that not everything has to be said in words. Incorporate non-verbal communication, as well, and it will feel more natural. Remember that people are more likely to subconsciously believe what's being said non-verbally than they are to believe the actual words being spoken, especially if they contradict each other. Think about someone saying through clenched teeth, "No, I'm not angry at all," while clenching her fists.

And now a brief commercial announcement. If you write fantasy, science fiction or horror and write short stories and you want a chance to get feedback on your story, as well as an opportunity for publication and a cash prize, FenCon, a science fiction convention in Dallas, sponsors an annual short story contest. Go here for details. You don't have to attend the convention to enter. If you think you might attend the convention, there's also a writer's workshop held at the convention. Here are the details.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I've just realized that I need to do a writing post tomorrow, and I have no clue what to talk about. Hit me with questions about craft, the business or the life, please!

I spent a lot of yesterday pondering what kind of story could include all those elements I mentioned yesterday -- the caper, trapped with a killer and with a freedom fighter in hiding while there's internal tension and one of the characters has to step up. I'd been thinking that I'd have to come up with an entirely new story or series idea because it didn't fit into anything I currently have in the works, but now I've realized that if I give the elements a few twists, that's actually a perfect scenario for a climax to a story idea I've been mentally playing with where I have the set-up but I couldn't come up with a plot. That one's going to take a lot of research, and when I get a chance to work on it could depend on what happens with a book that has supposedly just gone out on submission. If that one doesn't sell, then this could be my next stab. If it does sell, I'll need to write those sequels.

But I suppose I may as well start some of the reading for the research, since I finished the last available book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and now I need to find something else to read. The trick will be to find the right transition. I think I need something lighter (and shorter), but at the same time, that's a pretty immersive world, and something too far from it would be hard for me to get into right now.

I must say that getting to the end (so far) and having the story still entirely unresolved, combined with the season finale of Once Upon a Time, is making me realize that I like closure. I read an essay recently on how these books aren't so much "books" as they are chunks of story. In a sense, this is similar to the way Dickens' books were published, as one big story in serial form, but instead of publishing chapters monthly to tell a novel-length story, it's Dickens-length books published every five years or so to tell one story. Meanwhile, Once Upon a Time seems to be telling one story that may morph and adjust over the course of the series without ever being truly resolved until the series gets cancelled. I guess there's a reason I never really got into soap operas because that slow progress and lack of resolution is very unsatisfying.

On the other hand, I'm also not crazy about the pure procedurals where each story stands entirely alone and has no consequences down the line. They don't do a lot of those these days because they'll at least have some kind of season arc, even if it's just in the characters' personal lives, but I remember the cop/detective shows in the 80s where an episode might end with one of the heroes seriously injured or in love with a guest character, and in the next episode he's fine and there's no sign or mention of his one true love.

I seem to like a hybrid, where there's an overall big-picture arc but there are also episode cases that get resolved, so there's some closure even while the big-picture story continues, like with Grimm and Haven. Or shows like Buffy and Angel and Deep Space Nine most of the time, where there might be a Big Bad for the season and instead of a true cliffhanger at the end of the season they'd actually resolve that season's story arc and defeat that Big Bad, and then in the last moment they'd introduce the next season's problem. In between, there might be standalone episodes with sub-problems that might or might not relate to the arc that could be resolved.

That's sort of what I've tried to do with my books. The same Big Bad is out there, but each book is about defeating a particular scheme. And now for your weekly Book 5 hint:

Book 5 wraps up the arc of the series so far. We learn who the real Big Bad is and have the ultimate confrontation with that Big Bad. Think of this as the season finale.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Favorite Episodes

I hope everyone had a lovely Mother's Day. Although I'm not a mom, my church has the kids hand out flowers to all the women in the church because we all play a role in the lives of the kids, which I think is a nice touch and keeps the day from being depressing for those who wanted to be mothers but aren't, for whatever reason. Because I got the last minute "can you sing the soprano part in a quintet at the early service?" call, I got two flowers from singing for two services. This quintet was a little nervewracking, as we didn't get much rehearsal and as the choir director was singing with us (he's a former professional opera singer). I felt a wee bit intimidated singing what amounts to the lead in that kind of group, but I think I did okay, and I was more nervous in the one run-through we did than I was actually performing. I may eventually defeat the stage fright entirely.

While I was starching and ironing all my bedroom Battenberg lace last week, I put on one of my favorite episodes of Grimm to watch, and then I noticed that the episode was written by Jose Molina, who also wrote my favorite all-around episodes of Firefly and Haven. Either I need to start a fan club, or I need to become his best friend because we seem to like the same things. He wrote the Grimm episode "Cat and Mouse," which was the one with the fleeing freedom fighter. I'm not sure yet I'd say it's my favorite, but it's an episode I've already rewatched several times OnDemand. On Firefly, he wrote the episode "Ariel," the one where the crew robs the hospital and nearly gets caught by the Feds. There may be scenes, moments or storylines I like better in other episodes, but for an all-around episode that embodies all the things I like about the series, I think that's my favorite. And on Haven he wrote "As You Were," the one where the cast is trapped in an old hotel on an island during a storm, and then discovers that one of them has been taken over by a murderous shapeshifter. Again, there may be plots, scenes and moments I like better, but for an episode as a whole that embodies what I like about the series, this episode is currently my favorite.

Then because overanalysis is pretty much my hobby, I started trying to figure out what these episodes have in common that seemed to push my buttons. One thing I determined is that they all center on some of my favorite story tropes, which would be an argument for the "best friend" plan, but they give the familiar trope a twist or two that makes it even better. The Firefly episode is mostly a caper -- an elaborate and intricate scheme that requires the whole team to work together. But this caper goes awry not because there's a flaw in the plan but because one of the team members turns traitor, and that then turns this seemingly one-off episode into an arc episode because it brings our characters right up against what had been a mostly off-screen antagonist.

The Haven episode is a wonderful example of the "group of people is stranded in an isolated, spooky place -- and one of them is a murderer" story (that I still want to write), but unlike the Agatha Christie style take on the plot, motive doesn't really come into play. There's no reason (that the characters are aware of) for the shapeshifting killer to have taken any one form over another, which makes it more difficult to ferret out who the shapeshifter is. Then the Grimm episode is pretty much a classic WWII resistance/spy thriller plot, just set in modern Portland and with fairy tale creatures. Books about that kind of stuff (the resistance/spy stuff, not the people who are also wolves and foxes) were my bread and butter in junior high and high school.

But then further analysis uncovered more parallels. One thing all of these episodes have in common is that they've got a lot of tension and conflict -- but much of the conflict is internal to the regular characters/good guys rather than between the good guys and the bad guys. In the Firefly episode, the Blue Hands guys and the Feds are there and are a threat, but Jayne is the real antagonist because he's the one willing to betray members of his crew. He's out to get Simon and River, and he thinks that will earn him favor with Mal. But even before his plot comes to fruition -- though after it's too late to stop it -- even he starts having second thoughts. A lot of the tension in the episode comes from how he reacts to the fact that Simon trusts him and thinks he's really trying to help them.

The Haven episode is really a showpiece of internal conflict among the regular characters because the "villain" of the episode isn't actually doing anything to stir things up, other than getting them into the situation. They're all doing it to themselves because the situation brings out all the underlying tensions. Aside from one newcomer in the group, all of these people have known each other most of their lives, so there's a ton of baggage. We've got the older generation vs. the younger generation, the mother and daughter who love each other but can't seem to stop fighting, the father and son with a rift that can't really be overcome because the father thinks the best thing he can do for his son is toughen him up and that makes the son think his father thinks he's a weak idiot. There are the brothers who are usually close but who also have very different opinions of what should be done. There are three cops in the group and one career criminal. There are the young men who've been "frenemies" since they were five -- you get the impression that they were actually friends at some point but that there have been a lot of betrayals and disappointments along the way. And there are the cop partners who get along well and consider each other friends but who realize in these circumstances that they don't actually know each other all that well. Throw in the fact that one of these people has been replaced by a killer shapeshifter and they don't know which one it is, and things get extremely volatile.

The Grimm episode has more of a presence by the bad guy, but there's still internal conflict, with the woman whose family connection with the resistance drags her into it, and that then drags her friend into it when he's tried to stay out of that stuff. Then there's the fact that our main character, Nick, the "Grimm" who normally would kill people like them, would traditionally be the enemy of the freedom fighter, plus he's also a cop and the freedom fighter is a murder suspect. And then the audience knows that Nick's boss is in the middle of all this, while Nick doesn't know, so we get the tension of knowing more than he does about how perilous his situation is.

But the real thing that I think makes these episodes resonate with me is that they're all turning points for a character and are about a character really stepping up to face a challenge. Since this is all arc-type stuff, it may not come from this particular writer, but he does seem to get assigned those stories. In Firefly, Simon has up to this point considered himself an outsider. He may be a federal fugitive, but he's not a criminal like the rest of the people on the ship. Here, though, he's the one who crafts the elaborate (and extremely successful) heist, proving that he just might be the best criminal on the ship. We also get to see him in his element in the hospital, and then we get to see him really rise to the crisis when they're captured. He stands up to their captors, never losing his cool, and then he's able to take out one of the guards with his hands chained behind his back. One of the disappointments of the premature ending of the series for me was that we never really got to see where this led. I loved the idea of Simon as budding criminal mastermind. We did see in one more episode after this one (by the same writer) that Simon was capable of scaring even Jayne. There was a lot of potential for a character arc stemming from this episode.

On Haven, the turning point wasn't so much something that changed for the character, but rather that it changed the way we (the audience) and the other characters saw this person. Up to that point, they'd mostly focused on the nice-guy aspect of Nathan. We knew he had some seething anger beneath the surface, but for the most part, he was the sweetheart of a guy who turned into mush in the presence of a baby, got shy and awkward when talking to women and who was capable of empathizing with people in emotional distress. We knew he was physically tough because of the "curse" that keeps him from feeling pain, and we knew he was a smart, good cop, but we weren't sure that his father wasn't right about whether he could handle the tough stuff emotionally. And then in this episode, he's the one who solves the case and who is capable of coldly shooting someone who is an exact duplicate of someone close to him, so we learned that there's a lot of steel under that nice-guy exterior. This is not someone you want to mess with, and you really don't want to mess with someone he cares about.

On Grimm, this was the episode that really made Nick stand up and take a side in the conflict in this magical secret world he's found himself in, and this was the time he ended up acting in that role rather than as a cop. In previous situations, he's come down on the cop side, regardless of whatever else he knows is going on. Here, he witnesses a murder (though in self-defense) and lets the killer go because he knows that even going through the process of booking and going before a grand jury will only cause more harm to the secret world. I have a feeling there will be a lot of ramifications from this episode.

Now I think I need to find a way to force a character to step into a destiny-like role and amp up the tension among the good guys -- while they're pulling a caper in a remote hotel where freedom fighters are hiding. That would be the best book ever.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Greeting Cards for Geeks

Earlier this week, I was shopping for a Mother's Day card, and if I had any artistic talent and if I were capable of being pithy and terse, I think I sense a potential untapped market: Greeting Cards for Geeks.

None of the cards the store had really fit my situation. For starters, the syrupy sweet cards with "meaningful" poetry and drawings of flowers just wouldn't work. As my mom would say, "Urp."

There were some amusing cards about Mom taking a well-deserved break that might have applied while the kids were at home, but my mom is retired and the kids are grown. My dad's the one who needs to tell her she deserves a break because he's the only other person in the house.

The cards about now appreciating how tough it must have been to be a mom don't work for me because they're about the shared bond of motherhood now that you have your own kids. Spending 45 minutes a week with preschoolers hardly applies (even if I do have 17 of them at a time).

A lot of the cards are about how awful you were as a kid and needing to make that up to your mom now. I did have a bad bratty phase when I was about ten and probably should have been stranded in the woods without even any breadcrumbs, but for the most part, I think I was a low-maintenance kid. I did my homework, made straight As, practiced my band instrument, didn't spend that much time on the phone, didn't stay out late, didn't run with a bad crowd, didn't go through a rebellious teenager phase and didn't get into trouble. I don't think I'm responsible for that many gray hairs.

A lot of the cards meant for adult daughters to send their moms are based on the idea of what mom taught and how your relationship has transitioned to a friendship, and I like that concept, except that all of the cards seem to express that through shopping or shoes (or shopping for shoes). Newsflash: women can do other things. I'm not opposed to recreational shopping (though I haven't done it for anything other than books in ages), but that's definitely not anything I learned from my mom, who hates to shop for things other than books.

What I need is a card about a mom who started the geeky indoctrination early by watching the original Star Trek with me when I was an infant, who took me to all the Disney fairy tale movies and gave me books of fairy tales, who introduced me to Broadway musicals and who gave me my first Narnia book. We're more likely to watch Firefly or Doctor Who together than to go shopping. Our conversations are more about this week's episode of Grimm or the last Terry Pratchett book we read than about shoes.

So, what we need is a line of cards that expresses that kind of sentiment. Ditto for Father's Day, though in that case it would be about my dad dragging me to see Star Wars, Star Trek the Motion Picture, the original Battlestar Galactica pilot (it was released as a big-screen movie overseas) and Raiders of the Lost Ark. We also need birthday cards for geeky friends. Instead of stuff about shoe shopping and drinking martinis, we need cards about Firefly marathons and seeing movies on opening weekends. It's really difficult to find birthday cards for female friends that celebrate female friendship in some way other than buying shoes together. Forget about finding a card that's appropriate for a woman to give a platonic male friend. All the cards aimed at men seem to be about beer and sexy women -- unless they're about getting old. It does seem like platonic male/female friendships are more common in the geek world, perhaps because a lot of geeky interests are stereotypically "male" and geek girls grow up hanging out with guys because those are the people they have more in common with. Hallmark doesn't seem to acknowledge that men and women might be friends and might not want to give each other cards laden with innuendo, though.

I bet cards for geeks would sell really well at conventions -- unless geeks are more inclined to just send e-cards and have forgotten how to use postal mail. For special occasions, I do like to send or give a real, physical card, though, and the right card is very hard to find.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Real" Work

Last night was the final session of preschool choir, and while it's kind of a relief to have that one thing off my schedule, I think I'm going to miss all the hugs, having little people snuggle into my lap and having trusting little hands curl around my fingers. They make me feel so loved while also being a little overwhelmed by the awareness of the responsibility that comes with that trust and adoration. I'll still see these kids around. I have a couple more Sundays to lead the singing in preschool Sunday school, and I imagine I'll still have my fan club for singing in choir (they get all excited to see me, like I'm their celebrity they actually know). I did get a lovely drawing from one of them that will have to go on my refrigerator.

But before children's choir starts again in the fall, I have a lot to do, like getting a book out. It's been a while, so I have to adjust my mindset. For the past few years, "work" has been focused on writing new stuff. Promotional activities were procrastination techniques to avoid the real work of writing. My work tracking system even focused exclusively on time spent actually writing. But now, I need to get back into business and marketing mode, which is difficult because I've trained myself not to think of that as real work. If I'm sitting at my desk, doing Internet stuff, I'm not really working, and I should be away from my desk at the other computer, writing. This week I've been doing some proofreading, so I have had that regular "writing" time, but next week I'll have to remind myself that this is stuff I need to be doing. Doing stuff like deciding I need to brainstorm a story idea or re-read an old book with an eye to revising it will be my procrastination techniques, while doing stuff online, updating my web site, etc., will be the real work.

I still feel a little twitchy about not having a book in progress, though. My problem is that I have several proto-books swirling around in my head, and I can't seem to focus much on any one of them. I have fleeting moments with each of them. I guess that's okay at this point in the process, as I don't yet know what I'll need to be working on next (there are a lot of things pending), and any development puts each of these ahead of where it was. There's that mystery series idea, there's a kind of YA past dystopia steampunk meets Orwell thing, there are always more Enchanted, Inc. ideas (those people just will not shut up), there are subsequent books in series I've written but not sold, there are old books I'd like to revisit. Since no one of these is urgent and no one is predominating, they're all just kind of jumbling together in one big mass of noise. I wonder if picking one to deliberately focus on might ease some of the noise. I'll need to do something, since most of the TV season is drawing to a close, and I'll have free time that I should probably fill with writing.

But first, proofreading and promotion. I'm trying to do my household chores for the next couple of days today so that I don't have to do any of them tomorrow and can focus on work. I've already made a good start on laundry, and I've even washed the Battenberg lace from my bedroom (since it's the week for the thorough bedroom cleaning). Starching and ironing will have to be my between-chapters break today.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Digging up the Backlist

I had a fun little moment of minor fame last night. It was the church women's supper, and when I was checking in, one of the ladies at the check-in desk heard my name, gasped a little and said, "The author? Oh, I love your books!" I guess she didn't realize I went to the same church, but then, who thinks that an author you read might be around you in your daily life?

Last summer I pondered the idea of seeing if I could get the rights to my old Harlequin romances back and then e-publish them. It turns out that wouldn't have been a possibility because even then, Harlequin had already put them out for Kindle and Nook (strangely, I can't find them on the Harlequin site itself). I learned this when I got an unexpected royalty statement in the mail. Since they never told me they were releasing these as e-books and they don't seem to be making any effort to link them to my real name, which is far better known than that old pen name, I suspect that this is more about keeping the rights and keeping me from being able to e-publish than it is about making any money.

However, if you're a completist and want to read everything I've written, these are available. They're strictly romantic comedy and not fantasy at all (unless you want to pretend that all the characters are wizards, which could be fun). They were written in the mid-90s, so I'm sure they're dated, and I hope I've grown as a writer since then. Buyer beware, since I haven't re-read these books in ages and am kind of afraid to, since I can't fix them. But if you want to give them a shot, go for it.

Dateless in Dallas is about a pair of reporters assigned to field test the advice in a dating how-to book. Back when I came up with this idea, the hook for the line involved the written word -- that the plot had to revolve around some element in writing, like personal ads, letters, etc. By the time the book was published, I think they'd moved beyond that because they realized it was a little narrow and it became a sort of proto-chick lit/romantic comedy line. This was one of those strange books that popped into my head fully formed. I'd read the guidelines looking for books focusing on the written word, and I was waiting for the box office to open to buy theater tickets when the idea, the characters and their names just sprang into my head. The inspiration was probably one of my favorite books from when I was a teen, The Alfred E. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations by Ellen Conford, in which each chapter starts with an excerpt from the school handbook, and the chapter shows how that really works. This book works a similar way -- each chapter starts with a bit of dating advice from the book, then shows how it really works. Some of those things may or may not have actually happened. I wrote a query letter and sent it off, then got a request for a proposal, and then months later I got the phone call that they were buying the book. Oddly, I wasn't able to find a copy of the Conford book while I was writing this one, so it was purely inspiration from vague memory. I did find a copy a couple of years ago, and it wasn't quite the way I'd remembered it (but is still one of my favorite teen books).
Dateless in Dallas for the Kindle

Dateless in Dallas for the Nook

The next book is The Emergency Stand-By Date, which is sort of self-explanatory from the title. It sprang from my ten-year class reunion and some other events. I was at a phase in my life when I wasn't dating anyone and didn't really even know anyone to date, and yet I had a lot of events where I felt like a total outsider because I didn't have anyone to bring. I'd been involved in a committee to put on a charity ball and ended up giving the tickets that were a mandatory purchase to a friend because I didn't know anyone to take and the tickets were only sold for couples, so going alone would have been miserable. There was that reunion coming up, where I'd have to go solo. Our company social events were very couple-oriented, where not bringing someone was kind of frowned upon. And there were a lot of weddings. I know people are always saying that weddings are great places to meet people, but that has not been my experience because every wedding I've been to has been like Noah's Ark, where everyone has a date, even if it's someone they dragged in off the street. If you go alone, you end up sitting alone and feeling invisible. I found myself thinking one day that what I needed was an emergency stand-by date, someone I could bring to those kinds of events who was a close enough friend that I'd be able to have fun with him but who would know that me inviting him didn't necessarily mean anything. And then I realized that sounded like a great book idea and proposed it to my editor, who bought it. The irony is that although the opening scene involves the aftermath of a miserable reunion without a date, which I wrote before going to my reunion, I actually had a lot of fun at my reunion, even without a date. Again, some of these events may or may not have actually happened (the one involving the wedding where everyone the heroine had dated in the last few years was there did happen, but not in quite that way).

The Emergency Stand-By Date for Kindle

The Emergency Stand-By Date for Nook.

It looks like those books are available at Google books, too, so you can search there if those other formats don't work for you.

I was using the pen name Samantha Carter at the time, and I had it before SG-1 came on. I signed the contract for that first book with that name in early 1995, and it was actually an X-Files reference because the episode where they meet the fake Samantha Mulder had just aired, and my co-workers thought she looked a lot like me and had started calling me Samantha. When I had to pick a pen name (Harlequin required them at the time), I thought that would work because it started with the same letter as my real first name, which gave me time to recover from brain lock during autographs, and I chose Carter as a last name because it was an X-Files reference that put me near the top of the alphabet. When the second book came out and I was doing Internet searches to see if anyone was talking about it, I learned about the SG-1 series. It was on Showtime then, which I didn't get, but when it came on in syndication, I watched it to see who this person with my name was, and it was a long time before I quit giggling every time someone said her full name. Now it's been so long since I've used that name that my brain first goes to the character, not to my pen name.

My alter ego is no deep, dark secret, so if you feel inclined to write reviews at those sites, feel free to mention the connection. I haven't found a way for me to get into the system and get those books linked to my real name.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Title

It's now time for your weekly (or as often as I have something) tidbit about the upcoming Enchanted, Inc. book 5.

How about a title? Drum roll please ….

The book will be called Much Ado About Magic.

If you were aware of the Japanese edition, you may have seen that the English title Spell Bound was on the cover. That was the title I gave the book when I turned it in to the Japanese publisher, since I figured they'd give it a Japanese title anyway. I didn't think it was the best title ever, but it does fit the book. However, since then, that seems to have become a very popular title in paranormal romance and urban fantasy, in all the variations -- one word, two words, hyphenated. When I did an Amazon search on that title, I came up with at least five pages of results, and the first two pages were published in the last couple of years. So, I figured that was an overused title and I needed a new one because I want my book to stand out.

I spent a day or so listing the key elements of this book, then finding some common sayings, quotes, movie/play/song titles, etc., and seeing how I could plug something relating to magic or fairy tales into them. I came up with a page-long list of possibilities, with Much Ado About Magic at the top. That one just clicked, and my agent agreed. There has been another book by that title, and by an author who gave me a cover blurb on one of the series (I think book 2), but it was more than five years ago, so I figured I'm safe and we can cross-promote each other.

I guess my writing tip for the day would be to plug your title ideas into Amazon and see how unique they are. You don't have to be totally unique, but you don't want so many that there's a risk you could be on page five of the search results, and you want to see if there's any baggage associated with the title, like another book that's either a huge bestseller that might eclipse yours or another book that's a huge flop or that's caused negative controversy that might get confused with your book.

Picking a title was one of those slightly scary "working without a net" things. The publisher usually has final say on titles, so if a title didn't really work, I could always blame them. This time, I did seek input and advice from others, but it still came down to my final decision, and this wasn't a book that seemed to come with a ready-made title.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Flavors of Geekdom

I had a rather challenging Sunday. For one thing, it was my third week in a row to have to sing for two services. For another, one of the songs we did involved Hebrew text (fortunately it was written phonetically) and the other was Mozart in Latin. And then the preschoolers sang in the late service, and the song they did involved rhythm sticks. Yes, we gave sticks to preschoolers in church. We like to live dangerously. But they were good and didn't hit themselves or anyone else with the sticks, and they mostly just hit the sticks when they were supposed to. And they were so very, very adorable. I just have one more Wednesday session with them, where all the choirs do a program for the parents. And then we eat pizza.

Now I feel very, very drained and tired, but this will be a busy week. Essentially being my own publishing company is a fair amount of work, even with delegating everything to experts. I suppose I'm not doing much more actual work than I was doing while working with a regular publisher, but it weighs more on me. Before, they might run stuff by me, but I didn't have any more say than they wanted me to have. They might or might not take my suggestions. Now, though, the buck stops with me. If I don't like something, it doesn't happen that way, and there's a lot of responsibility to that. It's also a big mental shift to make. So far, I've liked most of what's been done, but when I haven't, I've had to remind myself that it's okay to say so and that they have to listen to me. I'm mostly just trying to stay out of the way and let the experts do their thing, but I do have to make the ultimate decision. The other difference is that the timeline is seriously compressed. We're doing in a few months what would take a regular publisher a year or so to do.

I may have to hand in my geek card because I didn't see The Avengers this weekend, and I have to admit that I'm not overly keen to see it. It's one of those things that I feel like I ought to be into but that I could actually take or leave. I've never been all that into the whole superheroes thing, I guess, aside from that mad crush I had on Robin in the old Batman series when I was in second grade. There are flavors of geekdom, and that isn't one of mine. I also don't do games of any kind. I don't enjoy computer games, video games, card games or tabletop games and I've never played roleplaying games. I might occasionally play solitaire (with cards, not on a computer), and when I was a kid I liked to play Payday against myself, using different money-management strategies for each game piece to see which one did best. Otherwise, I get bored with any game within about two minutes. On the other hand, I read fantasy novels, can discuss Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, Doctor Who, etc., and go to conventions, so I think I'm plenty geeky enough, even if I do have weak spots. I'll just never win the gold medal in the all-around geekiness competition. I'll have to be an event specialist.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Sea Monsters and Other Stories

Apologies for the posts without paragraph breaks. Apparently, Blogger changed their interface, and it stopped accepting the paragraph breaks in the text file, unlike LJ or WordPress.

I've done my major errands for the day and my exercise. I walked over to the library to pick up the next George RR Martin book and to do my early voting for the municipal elections (it's very convenient to vote in the library). And I really wish I'd brought my phone or some other device containing a camera. The library is on the side of one of the canals, and the walls facing the canal are floor-to-ceiling windows. They put the voting location against the windows, and apparently it was a slow day because all the election judges were staring out the window when I got there. Instead of asking for my voter registration card, they pointed to the window and said, "What do you think that is?" There was this thing floating in the canal that could have been a log, but it also kind of looked like a baby alligator or like the top of a hippo. After I did my civic duty and got my book, I went down to the canal path to look, and one of the election judges went with me.

And that's when I wished I had a camera because the thing was a bloated fish corpse. A huge bloated fish corpse. Or maybe a sea monster corpse. It was easily as long as my leg and twice as big around -- or bigger (mind you, I'm not a very big person and my legs aren't exactly enormous). It had these weird fins that looked kind of like stunted tentacles on one end and spikes along the top.

However, it turns out that we could maybe use a few sea monsters because apparently there's a huge turtle problem. While we were gawking at the sea monster, there was a lady trying to capture some ducklings to take to a wildlife rehab facility. One of the ducklings had an injured leg from a turtle attack. She said that the turtle population in the canals has exploded, and they're eating the ducklings, attacking the ducks and going after the other waterfowl. If you look into the water, you can see the turtles swarming just below the surface.

Once again, I'm glad I don't have a house directly on the canal. They'd have to move nearly a block away from the water to swarm all over my house and attack.

In other news, I went back to the grocery store where the employee asked me if his orange safety vest kept him from being invisible, and this time, I was in the meat department, deciding what I should cook this week, when one of the butcher guys came up to me and asked if I needed anything. I said I was doing mental menu planning, and he said, "Okay, but if you decide you need the love of a good man, I'm right here, and there are a couple more guys in the back." But he said it in exactly the tone he'd use to say, "Okay, but if you don't find what you need, I can check in back for you," so I sort of did an auditory double-take because for a second I couldn't believe he'd said what I thought I heard. They must hire based on quirk at that store, or maybe there's something about me that says I'm quirk tolerant. I just kind of laughed and said thanks and made a beeline for the bakery.

Where I suffered a total self-indulgence fail. This store sells hand-made tortillas that are baked in the store. On the bakery clearance cart, they had a few packages of different varieties, and they had some cinnamon sugar ones. I decided to indulge. Then I got them home, heated one, went to eat it, and found that I'd somehow managed to grab a package of whole wheat (it was labeled correctly, but I guess I didn't read the label). It was supposed to be a treat, and I managed to get something moderately good for me. It was so disappointing. I may have to bake a cake to get over it.

Except today may be a little too hot for baking. I really need to get my living room ceiling fan fixed or replaced, but it looks like all my income this year (if I have any) will come in the last quarter of the year, so I'm really trying to put off any major spending. The fan itself isn't all that expensive, but getting it installed up in that vaulted ceiling may be. Then again, it is pretty essential for getting through the summer.

Finally, it's Star Wars Day -- May the 4th be with you (get it?). I celebrated early, as one of the pieces of music used in last night's ballet class was a piano arrangement of the cantina band music. I amuse myself by playing "name that tune" with the class music, and that one cracked me up (we've also used the "Oompa Loompa" song in class -- the teacher has fun with music).

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Housekeeping for Creative People

So, I've managed to keep the house relatively clean for nearly four weeks now. If a neighbor dropped by, I'd have to move the computer and some papers off the sofa to sit, and I might be a little embarrassed by some dirty dishes in the sink (not a tower worth), but I wouldn't feel like I had to stand in the doorway, blocking their view of the interior of the house. If I knew I was going to have company, it might take me half an hour (depending on how many dishes I needed to wash) to get the house ready. My parents are coming over this weekend, and I don't have to do anything special to prepare. It may be a case of the blind leading the blind for me to give housekeeping tips, but I think what I've done might be helpful for other creative, disorganized people. This has been a gradual process over the year, with one big push a month ago that got things into the current state.

Mostly, I've created a chores schedule. I assign the basic house maintenance tasks to days of the week. Monday is dusting, Tuesday is the bathroom, Wednesday is a flex day that I can use to catch up, get ahead or do anything else that needs doing that's not on the schedule, Thursday is floors, Friday is laundry. These aren't in-depth cleanings by any means. Dusting involves running a Swiffer duster around the house. The floors mostly means vacuuming the traffic patterns and any other areas I can easily get to and dust mopping the few hard floors. Bathroom means a spray with the scrubbing bubbles, a wipe and a rinse. I generally spend fifteen minutes tops on each of these. Then I also have each week of the month assigned to a particular room, and when it's that room's week, I'll do a more thorough job of the daily task in that room. So, say when it's bathroom week, that's when everything gets a more thorough scrub. When it's living room week, dusting will mean moving stuff around and using furniture polish, and vacuuming will mean moving small furniture or getting under big furniture, as well as vacuuming the upholstery. Plus, I try to come up with some other daily task in that room if the daily task doesn't involve that room. It comes down to maybe half an hour of housework a day, at most.

 I'm still struggling with the office, which is a little overwhelming, and I still have my task jar with decluttering projects for when I'm in the mood and have time, so that's a project in progress.

I think there are two keys to the success so far. One is that I've convinced myself that perfectionism isn't necessary. Doing anything is better than doing nothing. Even if I just sort of swipe at something, it'll be cleaner than if I did nothing. The schedule isn't rigid, so if I miss a day, I can catch up the next day. If I want a day off, I can do two days worth of tasks ahead of time. I can do the bare minimum and catch up the next week. And that brings me to the other key success point: consistency. If I'm dusting and vacuuming weekly, I'm more likely to keep things off surfaces and floors, and any clutter stands out more. At the very least, if I'm doing a thorough job once a month, that gets clutter out of the way then, and not much can build up in a month. Plus, once I've done the thorough job a couple of times and the weekly quick jobs in between, even the more thorough job becomes pretty easy. I can also skip a week on a task or barely do it if I really can't get it done without things getting too bad, as long as it was in good shape before and as long as I pick it up again the next week.

One of the keys to consistency is to find your own "broken window." This refers to the broken windows theory of communities. There's a correlation between broken windows that stay that way and high crime rates. They used to believe that it was probably because if they have high crime rates, the community doesn't have the resources to waste on little things like fixing broken windows. But then they found that if they fixed the broken windows, crime rates went down, even if they didn't do anything else. Little things can make a big difference, and that one change in environment made people more sensitive to other things, and that eventually added up to a drop in crime. So, find the one little change you can maintain that triggers your need to keep everything else in order. There's one housekeeping system that uses the sink -- if you make sure your sink is empty and clean every night, your house will likely stay clean. What works for me is making my bed every day. If I don't make my bed, the extra decorative pillows and pillow shams stay on the floor, which makes it easier to drop clothes on the floor, which makes the room look sloppy, so I accept the sloppiness everywhere. Worse, since I have a featherbed, I have to undo the bed, shake out the featherbed, and remake the bed every day if I want the bed to be comfortable, and if I don't make my bed, I just have to do all that at night before I go to bed, and then I'm tired and more likely to get sloppy about stuff like putting clothes in the hamper. If the bed is totally made every day, the bedroom stays neat, and then any clutter in the rest of the house is so jarring I want to do something about it when I leave my bedroom.

The test will come when I get busy with work and lose myself in a book. Then we'll see if I can keep this going. I tend to find that I can either write or keep a clean house, but not both, but I have high hopes that this method will still work. I do like having things neat.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Getting Feedback

So, there seems to have been some minor enthusiasm about yesterday's announcement. I guess I'll sell a few copies of that book. Stay tuned for more details as I have them.

Now, for a writing post. I'm spinning out from a reader-submitted question about finding beta readers and will talk about getting feedback. Writing is a pretty solitary endeavor (unless you're collaborating) and sometimes it's difficult to be objective about your own work. That's when it's helpful to get another set of eyes. When you start writing professionally and deal with agents and editors, you're going to get that outside input throughout the process, and it really does help improve the book. Whether or not you get outside input before you submit is up to you. Some authors have been successful going it totally alone, so that no other human being sees their work until they turn it in to an editor, but if you're not getting the results you want, getting feedback may help. That extra set of eyes helps because you know your story and your world inside and out. You know what you want to be on the page and you understand the background and motivations of everyone in the story. That makes it difficult to judge whether someone who doesn't have all that information will get what you're trying to convey. Another person can give you the kind of perspective a reader might have.

You can get feedback in a variety of ways.

There are critique groups, where a group of writers meets either in person or virtually to read and critique each others' work. Some groups may submit material in advance and then discuss it when they meet. Others read work aloud at the meeting and then discuss it.

There are critique partners. This is like a critique group, but with just one other person. The partners exchange work and provide feedback. It may not be on as set a schedule as a critique group, just sending each other material when they need feedback.

There are beta readers. I generally think of these as like critique partners, but without the reciprocal element. They're people who read and give feedback without necessarily having anything of their own that they want critiqued.

There are also public forum critique opportunities, like writing workshop sessions at conventions or writing conferences, online classes, message boards or even blogs. For instance, the Dear Author blog does First Page Saturdays, in which authors can anonymously submit the first page of a manuscript for critique by the blog readers.

 And you can get feedback through some writing contests. Romance Writers of America chapters often sponsor contests where the main benefit isn't so much the prize as it is the fact that your manuscript is critiqued by knowledgable judges, including editors and agents if you make it to the final round.

 Some writers submit work for critique as they go -- if the critique group meets monthly, then that month's output gets critiqued. Others may wait until the book is finished, then run it past a beta reader or critique partner before doing another round of revisions.

What you look for in a feedback provider, whether critique group, critique partner or beta reader, is someone whose opinion you trust and who knows something about the genre you're writing. You don't want someone who will read your fantasy novel and then comment, "A person gets turned into a frog on page twelve. I don't think that's possible." When working with beta readers, you may have multiple readers who provide different kinds of feedback. You may have one person who's read absolutely everything in the genre and who can tell you where you stack up, one person who's the nit-picking grammar guru and one person who can spot a plot hole a mile away. While writers can make good critique partners or beta readers, a knowledgable reader may be just as good. You don't have to be at the same point on your path to publication as your feedback provider.

The thing that's important to remember about feedback is that you don't have to listen to it. You should consider it thoughtfully, but ultimately, it's your book and you get the final say (unless you're dealing with a publishing house editor). The feedback may or may not be right. It's just an opinion. If multiple people give you the same feedback, they may be on to something. I've often found that while I don't like the suggested change, the fact that a suggestion is made clues me in to the fact that something is wrong that I need to fix, and I come up with my own change. If what you're looking for is someone to tell you how awesome you are and you're going to get mad if they say anything mean about your writing, then you probably don't want serious feedback. Show it to your mom, best friend or dog, but don't waste a critique partner or beta reader's time.

How do you find critique groups or partners or beta readers? A good place to start is with a writing group. You may find a community group meeting in the library or bookstore. There are also national writing organizations that have local chapters. Many of these groups will have critique sessions or maintain a list of people looking for critique partners. If you attend writing conferences or writing-related sessions at science fiction conventions, you may meet other aspiring authors who are interested in finding a critique partner or starting a critique group. You may also find knowledgable people who might be willing to beta read for you. Another way to find critiques is through online writing forums, like Absolute Write, whose forum has a section for critiques. You can do an Internet search for writing groups, conferences or forums. You should probably get a sense of any group by attending, participating and listening before you jump in and ask people to critique your manuscript.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Major Announcement

So, yesterday I mentioned that I had something to announce today, and I've mentioned over the past few weeks that I was working on business-type stuff for a project. Well, drum roll please …

 Book 5 in the Enchanted, Inc. series will be coming to electronic bookstores this summer.

Is that big enough for you? I actually wrote this book a few years ago. My Japanese publisher wanted to continue the series, even though the American publisher didn't, so that book has been available in Japanese for a year or so. I had some qualms about e-publishing and self-publishing, but then earlier this year I started noticing a distinct shift toward e-books in my royalty statements for the first four books. Meanwhile, my agent has put a program in place to make it easy for her clients to digitally publish. I'd worried about self-publishing the fifth book while the first four books were controlled by another publisher, which meant they have much higher prices, but then I re-read this book and while it isn't necessarily an ideal entry point for the series, I think someone could start there without being totally lost. You might miss some character nuance, but the story stands pretty well on its own. Then my agent beat me about the head and shoulders with the clue stick and mentioned how much some of her other clients were making from publishing this way, and I thought, well, the book is just sitting on my hard drive, and lots of people want to read it, so I might as well go for it.

The cool thing is that we managed to keep the Dream Team together. The copy edit is being done by the same copy editor who edited the previous books in the series. The same artist is doing the cover (and I've seen the preliminary sketches -- the frog is back!). This means that it will be the same quality you'd get from a major publisher, only at a lower price and with me making more money per book. All the specific details, like price, exact release date, etc., are still being worked out, but it should be available via all the major e-book outlets, like Amazon, B&N, the iBookstore, Smashwords and possibly even OverDrive for libraries, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be global instead of just US, so if you can read English, you're set. There may be the possibility of print versions, but I don't know about that yet. There is even a precedent for major publishers picking up the print rights for highly successful e-published books, so if my legions of fans swarm to this book and if new readers give it a try and it becomes a best seller and I get to do the Dance of I Told You So (I'm already working on the choreography), I may get to live out my fantasy of the publisher begging for this book after all. I like to dream big.

Of course, if all that happens, I'm sure my agent and a lot of fans will be giving me the Dance of I Told You So, but I can live with that. I want all of you to be right. There's actually more good news beyond this, but I want to save it for later because I like to spread out good things. I'll also announce details as I get them, but I wanted to start getting the word out so maybe I'll get fewer "you should totally self-publish it" e-mails. Feel free to spread the word to other fans of the series you know or to throw virtual confetti.

 I'll share the title and some info on the plot later. Again, stringing things out is fun! (And it will force you to keep checking up on the blog to make sure you don't miss anything. I'm evil that way.)