Saturday, June 30, 2012

Romantic Comedy: The Very Thought of You

I normally don't post on weekends, but I have a feeling this is going to be a movie-intensive weekend, so if I don't get one of them out of the way today, I'll end up with a more epic than usual post.

Last night, I seemed to be in A Mood (yes, it deserves capital letters), and I couldn't face the idea of watching a movie I knew would piss me off, which meant my Bad Romantic Comedy project was a no-go, but I was afraid to go for an unknown quantity. One of the reasons I buy movies I've already seen (and reread books) is that there are times when you need just the right thing, and getting something that seems like it might be right but turns out to be wrong can ruin everything. The only safe approach is going with a known quantity. Since I highlighted it in my list, since I hadn't watched it in ages, and since I needed a movie just that length, I decided to watch The Very Thought of You (the original title that's on the DVD cover shown on the IMDB page is Martha -- Meet Frank, Daniel, and Laurence).

The story's about three guys who have been best friends since childhood. Now they've grown up to be a superficial big-shot music producer (Tom Hollander) and a former child star turned embittered unemployed actor (Rufus Sewell) who now resent/disrespect each other and the nice-guy peacemaker caught in the middle (Joseph Fiennes and His Amazing Eyelashes). Their friendship is strained, perhaps to the breaking point, when all three of them independently meet and fall in love with the same woman (Monica Potter), an American who got fed up with her life, went to the airport and bought the first ticket she could afford to go anywhere else -- and ended up in London. What makes this film unique is the story structure because we see it play out from the perspectives of each of the three guys, and it isn't until we see the last story that we find out what's really been going on all along. It's not a Rashomon kind of thing with subjective viewpoints. What we see is the objective truth. We're just limited to the information each guy has at that time. The first two stories take place more or less sequentially, but the third story overlaps the first two and fills in the gaps. It's hard to talk about it without telling which guy of the three is Mr. Right, but then that's pretty obvious even from the start of the movie, since it's told in a framing story with the Joseph Fiennes character telling all this to his psychiatrist neighbor (Ray Winstone).

So, rating it as a romantic comedy, I'll first tackle the "is it romantic?" question. I think so, though the romance comes later in the film and isn't at all your typical movie romance. For one thing, this isn't any kind of "opposites attract" thing that involves lots of bickering and witty banter. This romance is the rare case in movies of the two people being absolutely perfect for each other from the start. They're soulmates. They have a tendency to say the same things (like he'll say a line we previously heard her say before they even met) and can finish each other's sentences within hours of meeting. They figure out pretty quickly that this is IT. The romantic conflict comes from the friends, with him having to wrestle with the dilemma of choosing loyalty to his lifelong friends or being with this woman he's just met but who may be the love of his life -- and then him having to deal with the fallout when she discovers that the three guys pursuing her know each other, and she has to wonder how real any of it is. I find it very refreshing to see a relationship where they're obviously compatible and it's things outside the relationship that cause the problems, and it means I'm really pulling for them to work it out and get together -- and I think it will work out for them even after the cameras stop rolling.

On the "is it funny?" side, it's more of a wry sense of amusement rather than a lot of big, comic scenes. A lot of the humor comes from the characters. The two friends are rather ridiculous, and it's fun to see how unimpressed she is with their antics that they think are guaranteed seduction. The entire opening sequence involves the over-the-top things the music producer does to try to get closer to her and the way her common sense foils them all (and in ways that undermine a lot of romantic comedy tropes -- she acts like a real person would act here, not like a romantic comedy heroine). I've never thought of Rufus Sewell as funny. He's generally more the smoldering type, but he plays on that typecasting here to show how ridiculous that smoldering, bitter actor type can be. I think most of the laugh-out-loud moments are from him. Joseph Fiennes is mostly the straight man, but he gets a subtle kind of funny as his frustration builds to the breaking point even as the surge of emotions leaves him totally frozen and inarticulate. His scenes with the neighbor as he tells the story are some of the funniest in the movie, and I think the biggest laugh in the movie goes to Ray Winstone in one of those scenes. It's also surprising just how funny it can be when two people who are perfect for each other find each other. They become total dorks with the giddiness of that and with the way they're totally in sync without realizing it. You probably won't laugh until you cry, but you'll smile a lot.

I first saw this movie on TV on a weekend afternoon, either on some cable channel or on a local station back in the day when the local stations would air something other than infomercials when they weren't airing a network sporting event on weekend afternoons. Because of that story structure, it's the kind of movie you want to rewatch once you know what was going on, but it was impossible to find. I finally found a VHS copy at a used bookstore. I don't think it got much of a theatrical release because I'd never heard of it until it came on TV, and normally I'd be all over a British romantic comedy starring Joseph Fiennes and His Amazing Eyelashes (yes, they deserve equal billing). I do wonder why he hasn't become a bigger star. I think he's better looking than his more famous brother. He's been in some big films (for crying out loud, he was Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love), and he seems to be a really talented actor. I guess he's mostly stayed busy on the British stage and has avoided the limelight, so he's probably happier that way, but it limits my opportunities to be spellbound by The Amazing Eyelashes (seriously, those eyelashes are incredible. He must have had to learn to synchronize his blinking and walking so he doesn't trip. I hope he doesn't wear glasses or they'll be constantly smudged).

There is a kind of rough, low-budget quality to this film, but for me, it scratches my romantic comedy itches while breaking most of the romantic comedy molds, and that's a real achievement. Now I need to see if I can find this on DVD because I think my VHS tape is disintegrating.

And now today I'm off to see Brave with some friends.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Romantic Comedies -- a List

In response to a reader question, here's a starting point list of romantic comedy films. I'm mostly going by memory and what's in my collection. This list is likely to grow or change because I imagine titles will be popping into my head for days. (And, it's already happening)

Classic films (films that came out before I was born)
The Philadelphia Story (love, love, love -- fabulous dialogue)
Bringing Up Baby
The Awful Truth
It Happened One Night
My Favorite Wife (there's a later version called Move Over Darling, with Doris Day and James Garner, but I like the B&W Irene Dunne/Cary Grant version better)
The Shop Around the Corner (far superior to the remake, You've Got Mail)

Historical (set in a time period different from when they were made -- costume romantic comedies)
Pride and Prejudice -- the miniseries with Colin Firth (I wasn't crazy about the film version with Keira Knightley)
Sense and Sensibility (the Emma Thompson version)
Emma (just about any version -- I think I've liked all the recent ones. There was an A&E version with a young Kate Beckinsale, then there was the Gwyneth Paltrow big-screen version and then a more recent PBS miniseries)
A Room with a View
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Much Ado About Nothing (the Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh version)
Down With Love (a spoof of the early 60s Doris Day films)
Shakespeare in Love
I Capture the Castle
Cold Comfort Farm
(the bottom three might not technically be romances as two of them don't have the happy romantic ending and one hardly deals with the romantic relationship, but they still scratch the romantic comedy itch for me)

Contemporary (meaning I saw them first-run or could have seen them first-run)
Not all of these are brilliant movies. I may have some issues with some of them, but for the most part, I don't think any of them are truly bad movies that I would consider "cynical."
Bridget Jones's Diary (but not the sequel)
While You Were Sleeping
When Harry Met Sally …
Love Actually
The Holiday
Letters to Juliet (I've only watched it once and liked it then, but I haven't had a chance to revisit and be more analytical about it)
You've Got Mail (but not as good as the original)
The Very Thought of You (had a different title for British release -- kind of obscure, but very interesting because it plays a lot with perception and viewpoint)
I'm With Lucy (another obscure one, but interesting because of the story structure because it's non-linear -- the heroine is getting ready for her wedding and telling the story of how she met her husband, and then the stories of several men she dated in the past year are woven together, but we don't know which one she's marrying)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (except for the ending)
Mrs. Winterbourne
Notting Hill (except for the ending)
Office Space
The Fabulous Baker Boys
Working Girl
Hope Floats
Sleepless in Seattle (though I really don't think of this one as that romantic, since they don't even meet until the end)
Romancing the Stone

Tangled (yes, the cartoon, the one Disney fairy tale movie that is structurally a romantic comedy)
Kate and Leopold (trivia note: this screenwriter wrote the Enchanted, Inc. screenplay that didn't get produced. I'd love to see what he did with it to see if I like it or to see why Universal didn't like it)
Just Like Heaven
Sliding Doors (I'm not sure how comedic this one really is, but it works when I'm moody and need to both laugh and cry)
The Princess Bride (not really focused on the romance, but still, it has to be on all lists of movies to watch)
Enchanted (duh, can't believe I forgot this one)

The Bad Ones
To be honest, I've enjoyed some of these, but mostly, they irk me and I wish they could have been done better
Leap Year (just a few tweaks to the script and it could have been decent)
Raising Helen
Something Borrowed
28 Dresses
Knocked Up (I know this was very successful, but I hated it, mostly because I loathe that overgrown frat boy man child thing)
Must Love Dogs (I read the book, but somehow the movie was bland)
The Wedding Date (an abomination -- they completely missed the point of the book it was based on)
New in Town -- I couldn't get past the first 20 minutes on HBO, so it has to go on a "bad" list
Because I Said So -- I think I have a rant written somewhere about this one. The problem isn't so much the cynicism behind it as it is the fact that it doesn't seem to realize it's about pathological behavior. It had potential, though
Addicted to Love -- something Meg Ryan would probably want off her resume. She tried to act edgy. It didn't work.
French Kiss -- I saw this on a date and still barely remember it

Cynical Comedies

I finished entering my copy edits yesterday. Now I need to do a good proofreading pass, but today I'm mostly going to focus on other things, like research. I did my grocery shopping this morning and may have allowed myself to get a little self-indulgent, but then it struck me that I sold a book this week. Yes, it was to Japan and not the US, and it wasn't the kind of money I get in the US, but it was more than I got for writing category romances, and it was a sale based almost entirely on my past performance rather than the proposed plot of the book, so that should be celebrated. One of my indulgences was a bouquet of flowers from the quick clearance rack in the floral department. There was some yuck, but I was able to take out the good flowers and put them in various size vases (depending on how the stems looked) that are now scattered around my house. I've aspired to being the kind of person who keeps fresh flowers around the house, and although they're not at all practical, they make me happy. And they're better for my thighs than chocolate (though I got some of that, too).

There's going to be one challenge in my project to research the cheesy, bad romantic comedies that fit all the stereotypes: I tend not to have them in my collection. I do have some movies that I consider flawed but that still have something about them that intrigues me, but the kinds of movies I need to watch are the dull, forgettable ones that don't give me a reason to want to watch them again. I guess I'm going to have to rely on cable TV and the library.

What I'm going for are what I call the "cynical" romantic comedies -- not the ones where the movie itself is about being cynical about romance, but the ones where I get the feeling that the people making the movie are cynical about what they're making. They don't like these kinds of movies, they don't understand why people like them and they don't have a lot of respect for the people who like them, but hey, they're relatively cheap to produce, with few special effects or stunts, they don't require a huge cast and you can generally just focus on getting names for the leads and fill out the rest of the cast with B-listers, and all you have to do is follow the formula and the fans will eat it up. It's the movie equivalent of the people who read one Harlequin romance (or just think they know what a Harlequin romance is) and decide that it should be easy enough to crank one of those out in a weekend because all you have to do is follow the formula, and then they'll be rich. Of course, those people generally don't get books published because either they start writing and realize that it's not that easy or their books are immediately rejected because they don't understand or have respect for what they're writing and it shows. But somehow, people who don't seem to get romantic comedy still keep getting romantic comedies made, perhaps because the people who make the money decisions in Hollywood are also cynical about such things, while the editors and publishers at Harlequin truly do love romance novels.

But what we end up with in movies is films that follow the formula but that lack heart (and often logic). We get a couple of attractive people who bicker a lot but who, for some reason, are forced to be around each other. Then we get a montage of scenes of them together set against a romantic pop song to tell us they're falling in love. Some secret comes out or some betrayal happens to drive them apart, then one of them will run frantically across town to reach the other one so they can get back together again. Sometimes they think they're being edgy and throw in what they think are twists, like moving the sex to the beginning of the relationship, relying on gross-out humor, letting the woman act more like the man, etc., but it's still the same old thing at the core. Now to find enough of these movies to pick up on enough cliches I can use in my spoof. I can probably just search IMDB for Katherine Heigl. These kinds of films have been the bulk of her career lately. HBO is obliging me by having Life as We Know It in their rotation right now. Sometimes I can count on Lifetime showing some of these kinds of things, but they're more in "my Internet lover is trying to kill me" mode right now. They mostly seem to show romantic comedies at Valentine's Day or Christmas.

It did occur to me that my wacky dream the other night about having to go back to high school sounds like the premise for a high-concept comedy, though I suspect Hollywood would make my character male because there would need to be a romance, and 40-something man with 20-something woman is standard operating procedure in Hollywood, while a 40-something woman with a 20-something man would become about the enormous age difference and how weird and creepy it is rather than about the idea of the student knowing a lot more than the teacher. I also can't think of any contrived reason for a successful author to have to take a high school English class, so maybe it would have to be college, with the young teacher being a graduate student teaching assistant leading the study/discussion group, and maybe the successful writer is self-educated but now wants the degree. Even there, I would think a successful author would be able to test out of freshman English, and universities are often willing to grant credit for relevant life experience. Being a bestselling author would probably meet a lot of English course requirements. There was a movie called Teacher's Pet that did sort of go along these lines, where Doris Day was a journalism professor and Clark Gable was a self-taught, experienced newsman who scoffed at the idea of teaching journalism in school instead of in the newsroom (reporters should start as copy boys, like he did), with a lot of ivory tower vs. the real world bickering, but as I recall, he wasn't actually enrolled in her class. He just sat in on it to mess with her.

And now I am going to force myself to enjoy a summer day. I may hit the swimming pool, and I bought a packet of Slush Puppies at Target (the ones with the juice in plastic tubes that you freeze). Other than when I taught Vacation Bible School a couple of years ago, I don't think I've had those since I was a kid, and they say "summer" to me. I will try not to think about how much better a crisp, cool autumn day would be.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Revisiting When Harry Met Sally ...

As I mentioned, for an upcoming project I need to study romantic comedy movies. I'm going to do a spoof-like twist that requires knowing all the cliches and stereotypes. But since Nora Ephron passed away and since you need to understand the foundations of the stereotypes and cliches (even the stalest cliche was original at one point), I started my study with When Harry Met Sally …, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. I have a lot of emotional associations with this movie that make it difficult for me to assess the movie itself, but I'm finally far enough removed from most of those associations to finally be objective. So, I'll start with the movie itself.

When it comes to judging a romantic comedy, for me it comes down to two questions: Is it funny? and Is it romantic?

For funny, I need to laugh out loud at least once. I want witty dialogue that's so appropriate that I find myself quoting it when I'm in similar situations. I'm not a fan of gross-out or humiliation humor, which is why most current "romantic comedies" fail for me. I'm the weirdo who cried all the way through There's Something About Mary because to me, all those "funny" situations were so sad and awful.

For romantic, it gets a little more nebulous. I need to want the couple to get together, and I need to be able to see why they should be together. I also want to get the sense that they know why they should be together. Screenwriting teacher Michael Hague joked in a seminar about a movie where the big revelation of feelings should have been "I love you because we're in this movie together," and too often, that's what's going on. Yes, there are going to have to be differences between the characters to have a movie, but you can't spend the whole movie focusing on how different they are without showing any moments of connection and expect me to believe that they belong together. I'm especially not a fan of cheats and shortcuts like the romantic montage set to a pop song with lyrics that tell us what we should be feeling, or contrived big emotional moments, like the cliched "rom com dash" at the end of the movie. I also want there to be more to the relationship than lust, so I'm not a fan of using a hot sex scene as a shortcut to tell us they belong together.

When Harry Met Sally … wins on both counts. The characters have funny quirks, the dialogue is hilarious, and there are brilliant comic set pieces like the infamous diner scene. And yet I never feel like the movie is trying too hard or doing funny things just to be funny. For instance, the infamous diner scene is directly tied to the emotional crisis of the movie. It happens because Harry has just been talking about how he hates to stay overnight after sleeping with a woman, but he doesn't think they mind because he knows they had a good time in bed with him. Then Sally proceeds to prove that he can't be so sure they really had such a good time. But then when they do end up sleeping together, and he does get up to leave, she can't help but remember what he said about his other dates, and she fears she's just another notch on his bedpost he wants to escape. What was hysterically funny becomes emotionally relevant. You can't remove the humor from the movie and still have the same story.

As for romance, this couple seems unlikely in every way, and they have enough differences for funny conflict, but the movie focuses more on their connection, using the differences just as seasoning. We see them have long conversations. We see trust building and growing. We see how they can be honest with each other, how they challenge each other. We can see how they're better together than they are apart, how they make each other better people. I find it interesting that there is a "developing relationship" montage in the movie, but instead of being set to a pop song, it's set to voiceover of a late night phone call between the two of them. The only musical montages are the two Christmas season montages, which contrast between the Christmas when they're friends and the Christmas when they aren't. We do have perhaps one of the earlier examples of the "rom com dash" when Harry realizes his love for Sally and rushes to find her, but I think this one works because he explains why he felt he had to do it. It's not just there because the screenwriter thought it was an obligatory part of that kind of movie.

This may be Meg Ryan's best role and performance of her career, and she seems to have spent the rest of her career either trying to recapture or escape from Sally, without quite grasping what it was about Sally that worked. Sally is an uptight neurotic, but she's so relentlessly perky that it balances out without it falling into Ryan's later "perma-snit" romantic comedy performances. I never would have considered Billy Crystal a romantic leading man, but he's so funny and charming here that I can totally see falling for him. I think this was also Carrie Fisher's best role, making full use of her natural snark.

One thing I found interesting in this viewing was just how absolutely perfect all the dialogue was. Every line zings, and as a writer, I can recognize the work that went into this script. Then those lines are all delivered with perfect timing, nuance and inflection. And yet there's an improvisational quality about all those scenes that makes it seem like these people really are just spontaneously saying these perfect lines in such perfect ways. I almost feel like I'm eavesdropping on a private conversation. I think it helps that the music is used mostly in transitions, and there's no score behind the conversation scenes, which makes it sound less "movie" and more natural. It's really hard to make it look this easy, so this movie is a triumph of writing, acting and directing.

Then there's all the lovely New York scenery (mostly in the fall) and the score of jazz standards, which helped introduce Harry Connick Jr. to the world (I immediately bought the soundtrack, which was part of my discovery of jazz when I was just at the "this is the kind of music I like" stage of discovering jazz -- and I think I need this soundtrack on CD. I'm listening to the cassette now).

But this was also the perfect movie that hit at the perfect time in my life. I saw it late in the summer between my junior and senior years of college. That summer was sort of my "training wheels for adult life" phase. I stayed in Austin and had a job at a weekly entertainment newspaper (a now long-defunct more family-oriented alternative to the Chronicle, for those who know Austin media). That was when Austin was more bust than boom, so you could get cheap apartments, especially in the summer when most of the students were away, so I got a fully furnished apartment in walking distance of campus for a song, and then my friends going away for the summer stashed their stuff with me, so I ended up with a TV and VCR and a couple of stereo systems. My job was mostly part-time, so I still had plenty of free time, and my job meant I knew everything that was going on around town. I dressed up like a grown-up and went to work at the newspaper, lived in a semi-chic (for that time) apartment near the middle of the city, took informal summer courses at the university (including ballet), and went to a lot of movies (sometimes with passes I got at the newspaper). It was all very single-in-the-city stuff, and it was sheer heaven.

So, one afternoon I went to see When Harry Met Sally, since I'd read the press kit at work and our critic liked it. I was hooked pretty much from the beginning, since it started with the heroine having graduated from college and heading to New York to be a journalist -- something I hoped would soon be happening for me. Even Sally's car was a lot like the one I had, though mine was beige (I didn't get a close enough look to judge the make and model, but I think mine was even the same model from several years later). I kind of looked at this movie as a preview of what I hoped my life would soon be like. It was like getting to watch my fantasies play out on the big screen. I realized while watching this time that my senior year wardrobe was very much like Sally's wardrobe in the movie (though I had a fedora instead of a bowler hat). I don't know if that was something I did subconsciously because of the movie or because that's what was in style then, but I definitely seemed to have been going for that look. This is also a rare case of a heroine's hair getting curlier as she became more romantically desirable. Normally, they start at frizzy/curly, then their hair becomes flat and straight when we're supposed to see them as beautiful. I don't know if Sally was supposed to have had a perm or if she was supposed to have had naturally curly hair that she quit blow-drying into submission as she softened and matured, but it was still very validating for me.

And then there was that friends issue, which hit home because most of my closest friends tend to be men. In one of the interview clips they showed of Nora Ephron this week, she said that men didn't really want women friends because they have friends, so if they were friends with women, it was because they wanted something more, and women want men friends because they want to understand men better. I disagree entirely, but maybe it's a geek thing. I tend to have male friends because they're more likely to have interests in common with me. I had a few female friends before college, but in a group, I usually was more comfortable with the guys because I had something to talk about with them. If those guys were friends with me only because they wanted something more, then they never showed it and missed some big opportunities. I had a bad habit of developing crushes on my various guy friends, but looking back, I'm not sure that it was because I actually was attracted to them. It was more about proximity. In junior high, I was the queen of the crush from afar, but when I got to high school, the town was too small for there to be such a thing as "afar," and I think I also realized that my odds would improve significantly if I focused my interests on the guys I actually knew, the ones who liked me enough to hang around with me. From there, it seemed pretty obvious to me that if they liked me enough to hang around with me, and if they realized that I liked them enough to hang around with them, then maybe when it came time for them to ask someone out, I'd be the most likely candidate. Except it didn't work out that way at all. They hung around with me and asked out other girls. That led to a fair amount of pining, so this movie, in which the male friend realizes that his female friend is the love of his life, was essentially my romantic fantasy. It gave me hope.

Looking at it now from the other side of forty, as much as I like the idea of friends becoming lovers, I know that it's really tricky to make it work. For one thing, if you're not both on the same page at the same time, it can get really awkward. For another, if you've known each other well as friends for a long time, you know too much about each other. There have been a few male friends I was attracted to that I never would have dated because there were things about them that I could accept as a friend but that I couldn't tolerate as a girlfriend and that would be a dealbreaker for me as a wife. I also know myself well enough to know that I'm not a person who can be friends with an ex. My exes are pretty much erased from my life (though part of that is that they often become exes by vanishing entirely). Therefore, if a friendship is really valuable to me, any romantic feelings would have to be really, really strong, and what I've seen about the guy would have to lead me to believe we'd be compatible in a romantic relationship or marriage for me to be willing to risk the friendship by taking that leap, and I'd still want to move slowly and cautiously before getting to the point of no return. I think that what I consider friends into lovers is really just a slow-burn relationship, where there's initial attraction, then you become friends and get to know each other on that level before the attraction becomes something stronger and deeper and based on more than the initial vibe, so it just looks like friends becoming lovers, but you were never really "just" friends. You were merely building a foundation for an eventual relationship. I think that's what I tend to write. I certainly no longer dream about any of my male friends looking at me and having that burst of realization that I'm the one they've been looking for all along (most of my male friends are married, anyway).

So I guess I both agree with and differ with the premise of the movie, but it's still my gold standard for romantic comedy. More like that, please! Or, in the language of the film, I'll have what she's having.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Miracle of Tea

I somehow managed to violate the laws of physics this morning. Every morning, I make a pot of tea, and I make it in the same way, filling the teapot to the top with water. Then I pour a cup full -- the same kind of cup every morning, the teacups that go with my dinnerware -- and pour the rest into my Thermos to drink throughout the day. If I pour that first cup, then the rest of the tea from that pot fits into my Thermos with a little room left over. In fact, I have at times managed to fit a pot of tea into that Thermos without pouring a cup first. But today, I poured my usual cup of tea, then started pouring tea into the Thermos, but then I noticed that the liquid wasn't going through the strainer. I removed the strainer and saw that the Thermos was close to overflowing, and yet there was still tea in the pot. I have no idea how that could happen. Someone must have known I'd need extra tea today. It was a miracle!

I was sad to open the newspaper this morning and see an obituary for Nora Ephron. I remember reading her novel Heartburn when I was in high school. And then, of course, there's When Harry Met Sally …, one of the best romantic comedies ever and one of the few that has me saying, "Yes, that's exactly how that is." Since I don't have choir tonight, I may do a memorial viewing of that movie. Part of the research I need to do for an upcoming project involves finding the archetypal/stereotypical romantic comedy, so I'll need to watch it anyway. And, yes, it's the same project that requires research on totalitarian/police state regimes. What could I possibly be cooking up with that combo? Mwa ha ha haaaa! Actually, romantic comedies might be a fun topic for a blog post series, since I'm always griping about not getting the right kind of romantic comedies. What is the right kind, and what's wrong with the ones that exist?

Oh, I just thought of a possible answer to the tea mystery. There's a possibility that I forgot to pour out the hot water I use to pre-heat the Thermos before I poured in the tea. The way I make tea, it's strong enough that an extra half-cup of water in the pot doesn't make enough difference for me to taste it. That just goes to show that I need a cup of tea before I'm capable of making a pot of tea. I guess I'll never know what happened, since there's no way to prove it.

You'd think that getting a new contract (even though it's not a big one and not enough to ease all my financial woes) would have made me feel more secure, but last night I had another one of those "returning to school" nightmares that usually indicate insecurity. I'm always dreaming about going back to high school or college, at the age I am now and with the experiences I have now. Last night, I was in a high school English class with a relatively young, new teacher. I'd been in the class for a week when we got an assignment that had something to do with creating charts of the character arcs for the Twilight series, and I told the teacher I'd read the first book, but I hadn't read the rest of the series. She told me that she'd given the assignment, and I reminded her that I'd only been in the class for a week, which wasn't time to read that series. I could plow through Thomas Hardy or Charles Dickens quickly, but those books were a real slog. Normally in those nightmares, this would have been one of those "I didn't study for the test/didn't do the assigned reading and am unprepared" things that leaves me in a panic, but I started snarking at her about the assignment, and later an older teacher came to ask me what I'd said to this teacher to make her cry. It turned out that she felt really insecure having me in her class, since I was a published author, and my criticism of her assignment really hurt. Perhaps it's a sign of growth or progress that I got that twist and maybe have grown out of the "unprepared" nightmare. In the dream, I just kind of rolled my eyes and did the assignment based on what I'd heard about those books, throwing in some critiques. It still felt kind of nightmarish, given that I, at my age, was having to take a high school English class, but I think it was my first back-to-school nightmare where I ended up feeling like I had the upper hand instead of ending up in a panic. Even so, I woke from that dream and somehow messed up making a pot of tea, so it must have left me a little addled.

Meanwhile, since there are so many books I want to get written, in addition to the contracted one, I'm going to be really pushing my productivity this summer. My goal is to not only put in a good amount of time at actual work, but to also fit in time for exercise and organizing my house. The one thing that can easily go is my Internet time. I can cut back severely without losing anything because I tend to get into doom loops, where I check the same sites over and over to see if they've changed. I can get exactly the same info by checking once in the morning, once in the early afternoon and once around close of business. To make me less likely to get drawn into the Internet doom loop when I take a break to check e-mail, I've started not turning on the ceiling fan in my office during those Internet breaks. It gets really hot and stuffy up here without the fan, so I'm more likely to check e-mail and then get back to work. During the summer, especially, I work somewhere downstairs, like the living room or bedroom and leave the office for tasks that require the Internet. No WiFi here. I'd never get anything done.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

But Wait, There's More!

It's been a while since I had an Enchanted, Inc. series update, other than that I'm working on the book 5 copyedits and the final push toward publication. So, I may as well share an additional bit of news I've been holding back. It falls into the category of "but wait, there's more!"

You see, not only did the Japanese publisher want the fifth book in the series even though the US publisher didn't, but that one did well enough that they asked for a sixth book. I wrote that one last year, and that means that not only will book 5, Much Ado About Magic, be published this summer, but so will book 6, No Quest for the Wicked. I don't have final publication dates, but the plan is to do them less than a month apart, so you won't have to wait too long after reading book 5 to see what happens next.

And, drumroll please, yesterday I accepted an offer from the Japanese publisher to do a seventh book, so there will be even more. That book only exists in a brief synopsis, so I have to write it and edit it and do all the usual stuff that leads to publication. Whether I digitally publish that one, as well, depends on how well these two books this summer sell. There is some expense in getting cover art, copyediting, formatting, etc., to publish a book, and I don't know yet if they'll earn enough to cover those expenses. It's even kind of a risk to have already done all that for book 6 without seeing how book 5 sells, but we thought that doing two books back-to-back would increase exposure. Even when you're acting as your own publisher, you still have to think like a publisher, so the books have to make a profit in order to keep doing them. It's just that my profit expectations are different from a major corporation's. I don't have to maintain a building in Manhattan or a huge staff, and I'm the only author whose books I have access to, so I'm not weighing the potential profitability of one book vs. another and choosing the one I think will make the most money, even if both books would be profitable. I just need it to earn more money than it cost to produce it.

So, what happens with the seventh book comes down to readers. It will help if those who know this is coming and follow the news buy the new books on publication day (and don't worry, I'll let you know). That raises the ranking and makes them more visible to readers who might be interested but who don't follow everything I say online. And then if they buy the books within the first week, that raises the odds of making one of the e-book bestseller lists, when then raises visibility to others. I'm not hoping for Fifty Shades of Grey type numbers that will then have major publishers paying millions to publish the print editions. I'd just like a respectable enough showing that my agent can then use it in negotiating future deals with publishers for other books. And maybe to have someone at my old publisher asking questions like "Didn't we publish this series? Why didn't we publish these books?" I'll never know unless I can find a spy on the inside, but it's fun to imagine.

On another topic, I was able to track down some books about living under totalitarian regimes via Wikipedia. I know it's not a valid research source, but they have a good search engine and interconnected articles, so I was able to search key terms, and then find links within those articles to get to the specific topics I wanted, and then they usually have a bibliography or list of recommended reading. I'd search for books on those lists in my library's online catalogue, and if I found them, I'd then also do the search for nearby items on the shelf. For the more immediate need, it was just research to build a situation and not a major part of the book. But for the future book, there's a lot of reading there, and I'm a little giddy with glee at the thought of doing it. Though, with any luck, it'll be a couple of years before I get to write it because I'll be busy writing the sequels to the book in that genre that's already on submission.

Some of this reading has involved revisiting books I read in high school, and that's brought me to a realization. I've always claimed that I never went through a moody teen "I'm dark and that makes me deep" phase where I wore a lot of black and listened to depressing music (I was into ABBA as a teen), and I've been old-person baffled by the popularity of dystopias in teen fiction today. Well, it turns out I did have my phase like that, but instead of it coming out through music, I had this weird obsession with World War II. I've been reading some of those same books now and finding them almost too grim to tolerate, but I read them over and over again as a teen. I don't know if it was better or worse that my dystopia really happened, but I still think it's different from today's dystopian trend. It's hard to get much grimmer than the Warsaw ghetto, but that's in our past. Today's dystopias are about the future, and I prefer to think of the future as a shiny, happy place where we're always trying to improve. I don't want the future to be grim and bleak.

I'm still not sure why all that stuff appealed to me so strongly when I was a teen. I've always been a history nut, and I had lived in Germany as a pre-teen, so I think some of it was trying to understand it all and work it all out. I wasn't particularly happy as a teenager and was pretty lonely and felt like an outsider, so maybe I identified with the persecution and it helped put my own situation in perspective -- no matter how bad I thought my life was, I had it very, very easy. Then there's all that triumph of the human spirit stuff that comes in many of those stories, the people who risked everything to help others and those who made a desperate stand against tyranny, in spite of hopeless odds.

Anyway, after doing the current round of research, I sense a chick lit binge coming on so I don't get too moody.

And it looks like my summer survival strategy will be to focus on work. I want to have the first draft of this book done this summer so I can enjoy the fall without being locked inside with a manuscript.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Movie Monday: Not as Advertised

Summer is now upon us, with our first 100-degree day yesterday. This should not be a surprise, since I have a calendar and have lived in Texas a long time. But I was still wrapping my mind around spring, so I can't believe it's summer already. I feel like marking off the days until fall like a prisoner marking off the days of his sentence. If I tell myself it's just July and August I have to get through (only one week of June left, so that hardly counts) and then things will get better, it's not quite as discouraging. Yeah, I know, we have "summer" weather through September, but it's usually not in the 100-degree range then. Because it was hot and I was tired, it was a big movie and TV weekend, so a few reviews!

First, I caught up with the first and second episodes of Bunheads, from ABC Family. A "bunhead" is a ballet dancer, because of the ubiquitous mandatory hairstyle (though I must say that when I've heard the term used by dancers, it's not in the sense of "this is what we call ourselves." It's the way they describe the subset of dancers who have nothing in their lives or in their heads but dance). This series is about a ballerina turned Broadway dancer turned Vegas showgirl who realizes she may never be able to get back to legitimate dance, and in a moment of desperation, she impulsively agrees to marry the ardent admirer who's been plying her with flowers and gifts for a year. He's kind to her in a way no one else has been lately, and the way he describes his home in a small town on the California coast makes it sound idyllic. Except he neglected to mention that he shares that home with his mother, a kooky and strong-willed former ballerina who now runs the town's dancing school and who is not at all happy about her precious boy bringing home this floozy. At first, I thought this was going to be like something out of a Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel. She writes romances that usually have the heroine being utterly down and out, so she does something impulsively out of desperation that gets her into what at first seems like a worse situation, though if she can manage it right and survive it may be the best thing that happens to her. But then there are very strong indications (that constitute a major spoiler) that the show is going to be more about the relationship between the wife and mother than about the wife and her husband coming to terms with what they've done. Meanwhile, there are the teenage aspiring ballerinas at the dancing school who have their own stories. It's by the creator of Gilmore Girls, so there's lots of snappy banter and quirky characters. The first two episodes made me bawl in a good way, so I'll probably end up watching the series, but I'll have to wait for the right mood to watch it (like I can only read a Susan Elizabeth Phillips book when I'm in a certain mood).

Then I had a couple of HBO movies that fell into the category of "should have/could have been better, and I want to see the movie that was in my head." There was The Eagle, which was about a Roman soldier whose father led the Ninth Legion that was lost in northern Britain. Now, he wants to restore his family's honor by traveling with the aid of his British slave north of Hadrian's Wall to recover the eagle standard that was lost with the legion. I think this movie thought it was a buddy road trip movie built around the growing friendship and trust between the Roman and his slave. It even had a few big turning points based on the question of whether or not they really trusted each other and ended with an eighties buddy cop show freeze-frame. And I really wanted to get that out of this movie because that was the interesting part. But it was all sadly underwritten, so when we weren't sure if the slave really was turning on the Roman when he got a chance or if that was a plan to help keep the Roman alive, I didn't feel any pangs of loss about how their friendship might not have been real. I didn't feel any sense of betrayal. I just thought the slave had made a good decision, and even if he was selling out his master, then good for him. In fact, we never really saw any reason for the slave to have any loyalty to the Roman. Yeah, the Roman had spared his life in the arena when he was forced to fight a gladiator, but in my view, that's not a life debt. That's just not being a total jerk. After all, the Romans had already killed this guy's whole family, enslaved him and threw him in an arena with a heavily armored gladiator twice his size. Saying, "Hey, let's not kill him because he shows great courage," is only just beginning to atone for what's been done to him. Not to mention, the slave saves his master's life pretty quickly on the journey. Given all that happened to him, I needed a lot more reasons why this guy didn't slit his master's throat and run for it at the first opportunity. A lot of that probably comes down to the fact that Channing Tatum played the Roman, and my, but is he a chunk of wood -- and not even all that attractive a chunk of wood, since he's so dull. His reaction to everything seemed to be "huh." His slave tells him the terrible story of what the Romans did to his family, and his response is essentially "huh." His slave seems to betray him by telling the Celtic tribes north of the wall that he's actually the slave, and instead of getting angry betrayal or even "so, this is what it's like to be a slave, it kind of sucks, so I can't blame him for screwing me over," we mostly get "huh." It also didn't help that Jamie Bell played the slave, and he had an excess of charisma and life that made his co-star look even worse. I must say, he's grown up nice since his Billy Elliot days, and I don't know if he's still dancing, but he still has the dancer's body. And there's something about his face that made me think we have the perfect casting if they ever need someone to play Arthur Darvill's (Rory on Doctor Who) younger brother, although he'd look like a midget in comparison.

However, a good script and good acting couldn't have saved this movie from one fatal flaw: it was essentially Saving Private Ryan, but over an object instead of a man. In Saving Private Ryan, the issue of whether this one man was worth the sacrifices it took to find him was a key ethical dilemma of the story, and it ended up haunting him throughout his life, as he always wondered if what he did with his life was worth the sacrifices that had been made for him. Here, they're putting everything on the line to retrieve a metal bird on a stick, and they even end up bringing in the surviving members of the lost legion who have gone on to build lives in that area, and a lot of them and a lot of Celts die in the battle, and no one ever raises even the tiniest bit of doubt as to whether it's all worth it. The hero never has any self-awareness of the futility of what he's doing, never questions it, never realizes that the way to restore honor to his family is by doing something honorable, not by getting a lot of people killed to steal back an object. He just brings back the eagle and everyone says "You win! Now take command of a legion!" and then buddy cop freeze frame and that's that. That alone put this in Saturday-night SyFy movie territory. They'd have just had to make the tribes north of the wall into zombies, vampires or warlocks. The movie is based on a novel, and now I want to read the novel to see if it handles some of these things better. As it is, I'm already mentally rewriting it to involve more of a renegotiation of the relationship between master and slave once they're in the slave's territory and the master suddenly realizes that the basis of their relationship has become meaningless. Hmm, sounds like a good core of a story idea to put in a different plot. Must add to literary bucket list.

Then on Sunday I went for something completely different. I was in a chick flick mood, so I watched One Day. The description made it sound like a kind of blend between When Harry Met Sally and Four Weddings and a Funeral: two people meet at college graduation, and then we visit them on that date for the next twenty years and get glimpses of how their lives and relationship have developed. So, like When Harry Met Sally, they meet at graduation, but it takes years for them to get their act together and really find each other, and like in Four Weddings and a Funeral, we only see them at particular times. However, this is so very not that kind of movie. For one thing, it's not really a romance, at least not in genre fiction terms. The book it was based on might have been eligible for "novel with strong romantic elements" for the Romance Writers of America Rita award, but I suspect that most of the romance novelist judges would have hurled it across the room with great force because it's a love story written by a man, which generally means they get together for a while and then something parts them -- it was good while it lasted, but it can't be forever (exhibit A: Nicholas Sparks). That attitude in general pisses me off because romances tend to get dismissed entirely by the literary establishment and even the pseudo literary book clubs, while if someone dies or the couple is forced to part, then it's considered more real and valid. I'm not a huge fan of romance the way it's published today, but that's more to do with the fact that lust has replaced the romance part of it, not because of the happy endings. What's so wrong with a happy ending? I suppose even hinting this way might count as a spoiler, but it's more of a warning of what not to expect. I don't know if this was meant to be a comedy. There's a lot of supposedly witty banter and some quirky characters, but the only time I laughed out loud was at the most tragic thing that happened. I was doing commentary by this point, and I said to myself, "Okay, now [this thing] will happen." I meant it snarkily, like it would be the most cliched thing ever to happen. And then it did, and I couldn't help but laugh.

So, basically, this is the story of two unlikeable people who ignore the obvious and mess up their lives and a lot of other people's lives along the way, while much of the major stuff happens off-screen because of that device of only seeing them on that one day every year. We don't see them become friends, so we never know why they're friends, since all they do is criticize each other and they seem to have nothing in common. We also don't see why they decide they can't be anything but friends and why they delay so long in considering that, which is even more maddening when the end of the movie loops back around to the day after the day they met and we see the immediate aftermath of that first day. In short, a lot of stuff happens because it's in the script, not because there's any reason these characters would do these things. Plus, this movie tries to convince us that Anne Hathaway is a frumpy sad-sack by putting a pair of glasses on her and making her hair frizzy.

And now I want to see a really good chick flick -- something with witty dialogue, a love story that ends well between people I want to see get together, and with some fun supporting characters, something that makes me both laugh and cry. Definitely not a Bridesmaids-esque "women can be nasty, too" story or the common these days "uptight shrew forces overgrown manchild to grow up" story. I checked IMDB for the coming year, and there's nothing on the radar.

But in the meantime, I will get through the summer by being crazy busy with work. On to the final proofread of book 5!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Copy Edits and Crowdsourcing

My air conditioner is now in good working order. All I need to be really ready to face summer is to replace the living room ceiling fan. Buying one isn't the problem. They're not that expensive. Getting it installed on my high ceiling is the real problem and will probably cost more than the fan itself. Which is why I've been using an oscillating fan on a stand in the living room for the past two years. I really need that book contract and good sales on the digital books.

I'm about halfway through the copy edits on book 5. Mostly, it's style stuff, where my instinctive Associated Press style from journalism school clashes with publishing style. I tend to hyphenate or use two separate words when publishing style crams them into one word. The thing I most often have to change is "non-magical," which is the way I write it, to "nonmagical" which looks wrong to me but which is consistent with the other books that were done in Random House style. She did catch me in one inconsistency for the name of something from earlier in the series, and there was one big oopsie, where it seems a line of dialogue disappeared somewhere between versions. I had to go back two versions to find what was supposed to be there to make the scene make sense. I don't know if it was overzealous editing or overzealous highlighting and deleting (Word sometimes takes matters into its own hands and decides that if deleting one word is good, deleting an entire paragraph is even better), but I can't believe I hadn't noticed that, as many times as I've read this book -- and even read it out loud, in character voices.

Dealing with copy edits is where having two computers comes in handy. I have the copy-edited document on one computer and the manuscript on the other. I suppose it would be easier to just accept or reject changes, but I'm a little paranoid about that because I've seen too many cases where the comments and edits never actually go away and pop up again at inconvenient moments (like when a client gets the document with snarky commentary reappearing), and this document is going to be published electronically. So, I work on a clean copy and insert the changes. That means spreading out on my bed, which is the one place I have that kind of open work space (the copyeditor would change that to "workspace," I'm sure). Plus, it's comfortable, and that's the coolest room in the house.

Meanwhile, I'm starting to do some world-building research on my next project. I like taking aspects from reality to work into my fictional worlds to make them more realistic. Conveniently, the same research will apply to another book I have planned. They're totally different kinds of books, different worlds, and different stories, but they both draw on aspects of the same kinds of real-world situations. And that brings me to some crowdsourcing because this is turning out to be more difficult than I thought to put into Amazon or library search engines. I'm looking for firsthand accounts of living under a totalitarian regime, like Stalinist Russia or Nazi-occupied Europe. I'm not really looking for people who are actively persecuted, like Jews in Nazi Europe (besides, that's easy to find and I have tons of resources there), but more like resistance or dissidents who have to at least put up the front of living a normal life while knowing they might be watched or informed upon. What I'm trying to capture is what living like that really feels like, as well as what they might have had to do to keep their activities a secret. I've got a couple of books that look promising on the French resistance and the Danish resistance during WWII on hold at the library, but I'd appreciate any recommendations if anyone knows of a good book on the subject.

I went back to ballet last night, and for the summer they just have one adult class, so all the people who are normally in the intermediate/advanced class, most of whom have danced all their lives or even danced professionally, are also in the class. I was feeling really outclassed, especially since I'm a bit rusty. My teacher will be taking on the intermediate class in the fall (it used to be the scary ballet master) and she wants me and others who've been there a while to move to that class so the beginner class can be for real beginners, but I'm a little intimidated by that. It will be a blow to my ego to go from being one of the best in the class to one of the worst (if not the worst). Then again, that will certainly push me to try to improve, and I have to remind myself that I'm doing this for fun and fitness. It's not a competitive sport and I'm not going anywhere with it. I'm just improving my strength, posture and balance.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


I'm looking forward to a fun day of waiting for the air conditioner repairman to call me back. Not that I was planning to go anywhere because I have work to do and am feeling very antisocial, but still, waiting is irritating. The AC isn't exactly broken, but it doesn't seem to be working as efficiently. For a while, I thought it was just a perception, since I'd been in a cooler climate and in situations where others controlled the AC, which meant it was cooler than I was used to, so naturally I'd feel warmer at home with my usual settings. But yesterday it really seemed like it was cooler without the AC than with it, and the air coming out of the vents was just coolish, so I figured it's been at least seven years since it was worked on and I might as well get a check-up. The last company I dealt with irked me by acting like doing any work on it was pointless since it would fail completely very soon, and I should just buy a whole new system from them, and thus the not dealing with them (and it's still plugging away). After an Internet search, I found a locally owned mom-and-pop operation that got outstanding customer reviews on all the various customer-review sites, and they all seemed to say the kind of things I did about previous companies -- got tired of them barely doing any repair work because they were too busy trying to sell a new system -- but these guys are supposedly a lot easier to deal with and are more honest. We'll see. I just hope they can squeeze me in before we hit 100-degree temperatures next week. If it's running non-stop to maintain my 80-degree indoor temperature on a 92-degree day, 100 degrees will kill it.

And if waiting for the repairman to set an appointment isn't enough, I've just entered the nailbiting phase of a project. The first book of a potential new series went out on submission this week. It's a young adult steampunk fantasy, and I really, really love it, so I want it to find a good home. If you've heard me do readings at conventions in the past couple of years, you may have heard the opening to this book. Say a prayer, cross your fingers, light a candle, do a ritual dance or whatever it is you do to invoke good fortune for others. The submission phase can be draining because it seems like even with a successful project, you start being hammered by rejection after rejection, each one wearing away at your self-confidence. By the time someone makes an offer (and making an offer takes more time than rejection because it usually has to go through layers of bureaucracy), it's more relief than joy. That's kind of the down side of having an agent make submissions. On your own, you're really only supposed to submit to one publisher at a time, so it's submit, wait, get rejected, then submit, wait, get rejected. With an agent doing multiple submissions, you can get rejected nearly every day for weeks. Whee! But apparently my agent got a great response from talking about this book to editors, and I think it's a wonderful book and have had enthusiastic responses to my readings from it, so I'm optimistic.

Having copy edits to review/input for book 5 will help distract me for a while. There's a lot to do to get that book ready for publication, and we're heading into the final stretch. I had some attention span issues yesterday, to the point I timed my attention span at about seven minutes, but I think most of it was dread of starting. There's something about getting copy edits that makes me not want to look. It's like getting a school paper you slaved over handed back to you, and you dread seeing the red marks all over it. Then I reminded myself that it's my book, the copy editor works for me, and if I don't like her feedback, I don't have to take it. And then I looked at the edits, and so far they've been really minor. This is the same editor who's done my other books, and she's a fan of the series, so she gets my voice and my style and doesn't try to "fix" it, like some editors are prone to doing. The rest of it should go pretty quickly. That is, if the AC gets tuned up before it gets too terribly hot.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Frequently Asked Writer Questions

I think I'm mostly back to normal now. Instead of sleeping late, I woke up around my usual time, and I no longer feel like I'm in a moving tour bus. That means I have to get down to work. I've got a lot to do to get book 5 ready to go. I have to fine-tune the cover copy and review the copy edits. And then I have a couple of projects lined up after that (more details when they're ready). I should be pretty busy for the next few months, so it's good I had a little vacation. Not that it was a restful vacation, but it was definitely a change of pace, and that helps recharge the mind.

For this week's writing post, I've got a fun topic suggested by a friend: things people say to you when they find out you're a writer. Some of these apply whether you've just decided to try writing a book or you've hit the bestseller list, while others apply more to published authors.

I think the number one thing all writers, published or otherwise, hear from others is "I've always wanted to write a book." Whether or not this is irritating depends on the attitude in which it's said. Most people are just making conversation or expressing admiration that you're actually doing something they've only thought about doing. Then there are those who think writing must be easy, that anyone can do it because we all know how to write, and that churning out a book is a good get-rich-quick scheme. Or there are those who seem to think they've reinvented the wheel, that they know a way to write a book that will somehow be better and more successful than what those idiots doing it now are doing, and as soon as they find the time, they'll have instant success. And there are the "I don't really read much, but how hard can writing be? When I retire, I'll write a bestseller" people. They sometimes get my snarky "I think I'm going to take up brain surgery on weekends after reading a how-to book" response, though the best response to most of these people is to smile and nod and look for an escape route. If I'm feeling particularly nasty, I'll ask the next time I see them how the book's going, since most people who say they're going to write a book never even start, and most of the people who actually start never finish once they start and realize how difficult it really is.

The next most frequent thing said to writers is along the lines of "I have a great idea for a book. I could give it to you, you could write it, and then we'll split the profits." Most of the time, the great idea is some variation on their life story, where something has happened to them that they think would make a great book. Oddly, the people who really have had something book-worthy happen to them never say this. It's always the people who've had some minor personal trauma that's not that unique who think no one has ever experienced anything like that, so the world must know of their pain and triumph. That's another "smile and nod" situation, or else I say I have a backlog of ideas of my own to write, enough to keep me busy for years, and along the way I'll probably come up with even more ideas. I then encourage them to write their own story, because no one else can tell it like they can (that's me being diplomatic).

Another one both aspiring and published writers hear a lot is along the lines of "Am I in it?" or "Can I be in it?" I've found that a lot of the people in my life have a tendency to read my books with a fine-toothed comb and try to find themselves in them or figure out which characters respond to real-life people I know. Or else I get a lot of "You should base a character on me!" Sometimes when I meet people they'll ask if they're going to end up in a book. I even had a lawyer ask me that when I was on jury duty. I do occasionally steal traits from real people and put them in characters, and sometimes people close to me who know those real people will recognize those traits, but then I also get fan letters from people I've never met who claim they know people just like that. I generally tell people that I write fiction, and while I may use details and traits, I never just put a real person into a book because I create the characters I need to tell a story. If I'm feeling snarky, I may say something like, "Well, first you'd have to do something heroic." I forgot what I said to the lawyer, but it was along those lines. I may have asked if he had magic powers, and if not, he wouldn't make it into one of my books. As I recall, that was one of the rare times when I didn't get put on the jury.

Then once you have a book published, you get the questions like "Can I have a copy?" or "Can I have an autographed copy?" or "How can I get a copy?" Most of the time, that means, "Give me a free copy." Unless they come right out and demand that I give a copy, I play dumb and assume they're asking me how they can obtain a copy, and then I'll say they can buy one at a bookstore or online, and then I'd be happy to autograph it for them, or I'll tell them when I'm having a booksigning. I guess I'll have to think of a different answer now that I'm digitally publishing the next book. If they do ask outright for a free copy, it's usually with the (mistaken) idea that I have an unlimited supply of free copies. Then I go into lecture mode. I only get about 24 copies for free. I give some of those to family members (who also insist on buying copies to support me -- if my mom buys a copy of my book, you can too) or to people who helped me with research or who did beta reads. The rest I usually end up sending to my agent, who needs them to send to film agents or foreign rights agents to try to get additional contracts. In fact, I usually end up buying more books for that purpose. Any left over are used for promotional purposes -- contest giveaways, to go in conference gift baskets or goody bags, charity auctions -- or for contest entries. Most contests require from three to five copies, with additional copies required if the book makes the final round. And then I explain that I get paid a percentage of each copy sold. That's how I earn my living, and the publisher bases decisions of whether to publish more books on how well the other books have sold. Asking me for a free book is like me asking them to do their job for free. I've been known to chirp, "Sure, and you can do my taxes for me!" or whatever it is they do for a living. Guilt also works -- if I can't count on my friends to support me and buy my books, then who can I count on?

Most people aren't so rude as to ask specific questions about money, but there are veiled remarks hinting at it, usually with the assumption that all authors make JK Rowling/Stephen King/Nora Roberts money and live lifestyles of the rich and famous. Once I stop laughing, I may attempt a little education, or I may just remark that I make less money as an author than I made working at a PR agency, but I'm much happier and I'm willing to make sacrifices in order to live my dream.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Rest of the Adventure

I'm continuing to recover from the trip. I still feel a little like I'm in a moving bus, but I'm catching up on sleep. I think I was averaging about 5-6 hours a night all week, and normally you don't want to be anywhere near me if I haven't had at least 8 hours of sleep. I have no idea how I managed to be as chipper as I was all week. I am seeing that while I didn't have a togetherness freakout, the week of togetherness has totally drained me. I'll likely be pretty antisocial for a while, and I'd like to avoid being in a moving vehicle for a while. I'll need to get groceries tomorrow (since there are some things the Indian market doesn't have), and I have choir practice tomorrow night and ballet Thursday. Otherwise, I'll probably remain locked in my cave for about a week.

So, part two of my tale. Tuesday through Friday were our work days, with a bit of fun mixed on. We spent all day Tuesday at a ministry that serves the poor and homeless. On Tuesday nights, they set up under a bridge in downtown Nashville, serve a hot meal, have a worship service and then pass out groceries, toiletries and clothing. We spent the day in their warehouse sorting items to hand out that night, and then we were part of the army of volunteers that manages the service at night, then we sang as part of the service. The whole thing was a real eye-opener for me, and surely for these kids, who are pretty much growing up in a bubble. They live in a very affluent small suburban town, so they aren't likely to see much poverty. A lot of our kids were working with the children's church at the event, and they were awed by how happy these kids were with what little they had. My job was handing out the cutlery as the people went through the food line, so I had a little personal interaction with each of them, and that forced me to see them as individuals instead of as an amorphous mass of generic "homeless." I was singing with the youth choir as kind of a ringer so they'd have someone on the second soprano part, and I have to say that singing under a downtown overpass was one of my more interesting performing experiences. Although the service as a whole wasn't the sort I'd want to go to every week (I'm rather high church, and this was very Pentecostal), it was a very moving service. One of the coolest things was when they were singing old gospel songs and the lead singer gave the microphone to some of the attendees -- and then they turned out to be professional-quality singers. Or better than professional, since these days "professional" seems to mean good body, great hair, and then Autotune their voices to cover the fact that they can't carry a tune in a bucket. It was awesome to see the kind of people you might find shuffling along a downtown street singing with such soul and passion.

The rest of the week we rotated among three different job sites, with rest and/or fun in the afternoon. One day I went with the group that was tending to trees planted by an environmental group, which was nice because it was outdoors in a historic neighborhood with gorgeous old houses. I may have possibly gone into lecture mode to convince the girls I was working with that history was not boring, no matter how badly they teach it in school. Then we spent a morning at Soles 4 Souls, which distributes donated shoes. We sorted donations in their warehouse. They have a neat organization that gives the new and like-new shoes to people in need, especially after disasters, but then they have a microenterprise program where they give the shoes that need some repair to people in third-world countries so they can go into business for themselves repairing and then selling the shoes. Through that, they can earn enough money to support their families. We went away from that planning to hold a shoe drive at our church. It was kind of embarrassing realizing that the shoes I was wearing would have gone into the "recycle" pile, though that was actually a plan that I'll get to later. And then the other work site was at a food bank, where we sorted the food donated by grocery stores.

Wednesday night, the church where we were staying invited us to their potluck dinner, and we sang during the dinner. If you've never been to a potluck at a Southern church, you're missing out on some seriously good food. I think the last few events like that I've been to have been funeral meals, so it was nice to be at one for a happy occasion. Then we went to a park for some play time. That was another odd little eye opener for these kids, who didn't seem to have realized that they could have fun without a lot of expensive stuff, just maybe a Frisbee or a ball. One group was playing a game called Ninja, where they seemed to be moving into poses that would allow them to tag each other. I never quite figured out the rules, but I got some good photos because my name for the game was "Compromising Positions." Thursday night we went to a minor-league baseball game, where I was chastised by the mascot for checking e-mail on my phone. I'm not sure why I was singled out for the one time I looked at my phone when I was surrounded by texting teenagers, but it's hard to compose an e-mail to your agent when a person in a cat costume with a giant head is leaning over your shoulder.

Friday after we finished our work, we drove down to the Ocoee River, which is near Chattanooga. We stayed at the lodge for our whitewater rafting excursion, with two cabins of girls and one of boys. We were supposed to unload our stuff into the cabins and then get back on the bus and go to dinner. It turned out that all the adult women headed to the same cabin, with all of us trying to avoid the Crazies. The last adult then went over to the Crazies' cabin, but they rebelled. They decided they wanted me, so they picked up her stuff, carried it to the other cabin with many war whoops and while chanting my name, picked up my stuff and carried it back to their cabin. Except they got the wrong stuff, so back they went to get my stuff, still whooping and chanting. Unfortunately, I wasn't there to see this, but it must have been a sight with these whooping, chanting girls trooping back and forth with suitcases and sleeping bags. I was just informed later that I'd been kidnapped. After dinner when we were getting ready for bed, they discovered that the cabin was rather infested with spiderwebs, and then the screaming started. One of the girls was seriously arachnophobic and had a bit of a meltdown because there were live spiders in those webs. So I, as the resident adult, got to go around the room with a packet of wipes and clean up all the spiderwebs and kill the spiders. If I hadn't already been popular with them (for reasons I don't really understand), that seemed to make me the queen of the Crazies. Once I finally convinced all of them that it was okay to get in bed, there was some chattering for a while, and then I put in my earplugs and pulled my sleeping bag up over my head. They chattered and giggled for a while longer, and then I heard, "Shhh, Shanna's trying to sleep." And then a miracle occurred: they went totally silent for perhaps the first time in the entire trip.

The next day was rafting, and it was one of the most awesome things I've ever done. You're in groups of six with a guide on rubber rafts going down the rapids, and part of the river was the whitewater events venue for the Atlanta Olympics, so there are a lot of class 4 and class 5 rapids (here are some photos and technical descriptions). It was exhilarating and fun and maybe a bit scary. On the big rapids, I'd have about half a second of scream before it turned into a laugh of sheer glee. I don't like roller coasters or amusement parks, but this was a thrill. We did the upper part of the river, then stopped for a lunch that had been set up on the riverbank, then did the middle part of the river, which was a little less intense. The scenery was gorgeous, with tree-covered mountains to either side of the water, and in places, there was no sign of human civilization. Our guide had a sticker on his helmet that said "I hear banjo music, paddle faster!" I did get the cute guide, according to the Crazies. Every time one of their boats got near mine, they started shouting to me, chanting my name, trying to splash me with a paddle, etc. I would have felt very popular, except I knew they were mostly showing off so my guide would notice them. I ended up with an interesting sunburn from that day. I'd worn capri pants, so I didn't get burned on the tops of my thighs, and I had on a long-sleeved shirt, so my arms didn't burn, but the backs of my hands burned. I'd put on sunblock that was supposedly waterproof, but I guess it wasn't whitewater-proof, and all the pounding from the water washed it off. There wasn't really a chance to reapply while paddling down a river, and I didn't have a way to carry extra. The burn fits the way I was holding my paddle when we weren't actively rowing. On one hand, it's just the back of my hand, from knuckles to wristbone. On the other, where I was holding the t-bar at the end of the paddle, it's my thumb and that side of my hand. Because of the sharp cut-off where my shirt ended, it looks like I'm wearing red gloves.

After we got into dry clothes (and I threw away my ratty wet shoes -- see, it was a plan to wear shoes I could toss after rafting), we then drove to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where we spent the night on the floor in a church gym. We served as the choir for that church's service Sunday morning, and then we drove back home. Those two 8-hour driving days are probably why I still feel like I'm in a moving bus.

I must say that I absolutely loved the area around Chattanooga. I once did one of those Internet quizzes that was supposed to help you find the ideal place for you to live, based on the kind of house you want, what you like to do, what weather you like, etc., and my result was that my ideal place to live would be Chattanooga. I didn't get to see much of the city because the freeway doesn't tend to go through the nicer areas, but I did like the nearby terrain, and I could totally get into that whitewater stuff, plus my guide said there was good hiking. I'm not going to pull up my stakes and head there, but I may have to go back without the 35 teenagers. There's a science fiction convention held there, and maybe I can get onto programming next year and possibly convince some friends to come along and make it a road trip so I'll have someone to hike with.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Traveler Returns

I have survived my week of traveling with the teenagers. I may have to break this travelogue up into multiple posts, so look forward to a week of tales from the trip (however, I do need a Wednesday writing post, so I need questions to answer, as my brain is not currently capable of coming up with something by itself).

To set the stage, we had a motor coach type tour bus with a charmingly surly driver. There were 35 kids, ranging from just completed sixth grade to just graduated high school, with the exception of three college kids who were sort of "camp counselors" who helped with supervision and making things work but who weren't officially chaperones. And there there five adults: the youth director, the choir director, two moms with kids on the trip, and me, the single, childless person who was still the third-oldest person on the trip, after the bus driver and one of the moms. Twenty of the kids were girls, and most of them seemed to be in the high school freshman range. The thing I was most worried about, my extreme need for solitude, turned out to not be as big a problem in a large group as it is in smaller groups. When I travel with one or two other people, I tend to freak out from the constant togetherness, but in a group this size, I can be alone within the group because the others aren't entirely dependent on me for company. On the bus, the adults had seats to themselves instead of a seatmate, and the college students sat in the back with the kids, with the adults at the front providing a buffer zone for the driver. That meant I was mostly alone during the long bus rides. I also turned into an early riser during this trip, so I would get up, make a cup of tea (or, as I called it, Homicide Prevention Juice) and sit quietly for a while in the morning. So, while I am now thoroughly enjoying the quiet in my house, I never reached a freakout point where I couldn't deal with people anymore. Physically, I mostly just have an interesting sunburn (story to come), a few broken nails and a collection of aches and bruises.

Day one involved a bus ride from just northwest of Dallas, Texas, to Memphis. We left right after church on Sunday and arrived in Memphis at about 9 that night. The bus had Wi-Fi, so that kept the kids glued to their iPhones. It also had a DVD player, and I now know why I get along so well with our new choir director. He chose the "in-flight" movies, and we watched Finding Nemo, Monsters vs. Aliens and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 1 -- part 2 came the next day). I didn't realize it until after the movie ended, but I was snacking on goldfish crackers while watching Finding Nemo, which is pretty warped. We slept on the floor in a church gym that night, and that was when I realized that I was way outclassed. When they said to bring a sleeping bag and air mattress, I brought the sleeping bag and air mattress I had from a camping trip my family took in junior high. Air mattress technology has improved since then. A lot of these kids brought Aerobeds -- the kind that are nearly the height of a normal bed, and some of them were even double bed-sized. There was one guy who had a pool float, but that turned out to be a tradition. Apparently, when he first went on one of these trips, his mom said she got an air mattress for him, and he didn't realize until the morning they were leaving that what she had bought was a pool float, with the packaging calling it a pool float/air mattress. Since then, he's always brought that one as a kind of joke and out of sheer stubbornness. If I do this sort of thing again, I may have to invest in a better air mattress because sleeping was my one problem. My best sleeping position is rather sprawled out, and you can't do that in a sleeping bag on a narrow air mattress. That sprawling turns out to be what keeps my hips from hurting, as I guess I'm stretching my hip flexor muscles in my sleep. Without doing that, I'm in serious pain. Sleeping in my own bed last night was sheer bliss, and I already hurt a lot less.

Anyway, we got up the next morning and headed to downtown Memphis to tour the Gibson guitar factory. That was really interesting, seeing all the steps that go into making a guitar. There's some automation, but most of it is done by hand, and a lot of that is freehand. After a walk down Beale Street and some lunch, we headed to Graceland. There, I started to feel old. These kids were actually interested and thought Elvis was pretty cool, but they considered all of it to be ancient history. I was pretty young when Elvis died, but I do remember his death, and I remember some of the events in the later part of his life. Graceland itself is interesting in that by today's standards, it really isn't what you expect of the home of one of the biggest rock stars in the world. The home isn't that big, probably smaller than a lot of the suburban McMansions around here (and probably smaller than where some of these kids live). The decor is extremely tacky, but the current decor is from the early 70s, so it was relatively tasteful for that era. It just looks tacky now. It's not what I'd consider all that self-indulgent, especially not compared to the way a lot of today's stars live. I loved the house itself and the grounds, but I was itching to redecorate it. The true tackiness, however, didn't come from anything Elvis himself did. It's the way the place has been turned into a kind of overcommercialized Disneyland/shrine. Once we finally got all the kids out of the shopping mall of gift shops and on the bus, we headed to Nashville.

Then we had the one part of the trip where I fully felt the weight of the "responsible adult" role. We ran into some nasty weather -- a really obvious wall cloud heading for us -- and started to get nervous about being in a bus full of kids after having seen the 18-wheelers tossed around by a tornado a couple of months ago. The driver was fighting the wheel against crosswinds. The moms had the radar up on their iPads to track the storm, and we made the kids put on their seatbelts. After a brief conference among the adults and the driver, we pulled up at the next truck stop we found -- which amounted to a small metal building with a diner inside and a few gas pumps outside. We waited out the worst of it with the bus parked with its tail into the wind, and we were ready to get the kids off the bus and into the building if we needed to. When the obvious line of the storm had passed and the wind settled down a bit, we got back on the road and watched more Harry Potter, with a few strategically timed lightning strikes to enhance the movie's special effects.

I got a nice moment of solitude when we stopped for dinner at a strip of restaurants near Vanderbilt University, and I headed off to a Panera to eat in peace, until the Crazies showed up, though at least they didn't try to join me. I should explain the Crazies, as the rest of us dubbed them (I got credit for it, but I don't recall being the one to coin the term). This was a group of girls, most of them going into their freshman or sophomore years, who are all best buddies. It's the kind of group that made (or possibly bought) tie-dyed shirts to wear on the trip so they'd all match, and they even planned their outfits so they'd all wear the same colors every day. And they never shut up, ever, until near the end of the trip (full story later). They giggled and jabbered non-stop, and they were extremely boy crazy. Oddly, they didn't seem to be interested in any of our boys, which made chaperoning easier. I think they're mostly at the stage where they love the idea of boys, so they have celebrity crushes and swoon over boys they can't expect to have relationships with, like boys from the church group from another state, minor league ballplayers or river rafting guides, but in spite of all their talk about wanting boyfriends, they don't actually want to deal with a real boy right now. They arrived as I was finishing my dinner (I have no idea where they were before), then I took a walk around the Vanderbilt campus before we got back on the bus.

For the rest of the week, until Friday, we stayed at a church in Nashville where they had a kind of bunkhouse their scout troops use. It had bunk beds and showers, and the girls stayed there. The boys slept on the floor in the youth Sunday school rooms. There were three rooms in the bunkhouse, with two smaller rooms and one large common room the other rooms opened from. The adults stayed in the outer room and we were able to lock the Crazies in their own room. Even so, with the door shut and with my ear plugs in, I could hear their conversations. There were a lot of "y'all shut up and sleep!" moments, and we eventually got them down to a dull roar, but I still don't think they really shut up and slept the whole week.

The next day, we got down to the work part of the trip. I think I'll address that tomorrow, as I still feel like I'm riding in a bus and am barely keeping my eyes open. I have a lot of work to get done this week, but it's work best done in full consciousness, so I should probably take today off to recover. I've walked to the Indian market for tea and some fresh vegetables (after a week of eating food that appeals to teens, I'm craving green stuff) and now it's time for a nap.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Countdown to Adventure! (or insanity)

Although I still have a long list of stuff to get done, this morning I had a crucial errand. It was the annual Friends of the Library book sale, and while I resisted last year, I couldn't stop myself from going this year. It is a good source for reference books. I was pretty restrained, mostly because there wasn't adequate parking and I wasn't entirely certain just how legal the parking space I found was, so I just did a quick skim. I found a good batch of folklore and mythology books, one fantasy paperback and a couple of chick lit books (since I feel a chick lit binge coming on later this summer, and used book sales are about the only way to find it these days). My big score was a keeper copy of a book I've been checking out of the library repeatedly -- and knowing my library, the copy I bought may have been the one I've been checking out, so I'd have lost "my" copy if I hadn't bought it. It sort of diminishes my ability to use the library as my book warehouse to save my own shelf space if they persist in selling off the books they're keeping for me.

And now I have to settle down to the serious work of preparing for next week's adventure. I've put a lot of work into developing an irrigation system for my plants. I suppose I could have just taken them over to my green-thumbed neighbor who's already watching my house for me and asked if she'd mind watering them while I'm gone, but I do have that stubbornly independent streak. Why do something as simple as ask for help when I can research and rig an elaborate system? I'm going with the simplest for now, which involves using strips of cloth to wick water from a reservoir into the soil, but I've seen some slightly more elaborate options that I may have to try someday. I will have to decide whether to leave the outside plants outside. Normally, they don't dry out as quickly when they're inside, but there's a chance of rain in the forecast, which would provide natural irrigation. I guess I'll see how the seven-day forecast looks on Saturday evening.

The other thing I'm worried about with this trip is my capacity for being around people. I'm rather solitary by nature, an extreme introvert in the sense of needing alone time to recharge the batteries. I've lived alone for more than twenty years (and even in college I had mostly absentee roommates), and I've worked at home for about twelve years, since even before I lost my last "real" job I was telecommuting. I spend maybe four hours a week around other people unless there's some extra social occasion. Even spending an afternoon with friends will leave me so drained that I have to go to bed early. And now I'm going to be spending an entire week with almost zero alone time, not even at night, since we have dorm-style accommodations. There may be some scraps of go-to-separate-corners quiet time, but the point of the trip is togetherness, and my reason for being there is to provide adult supervision, so I likely won't have too many chances to shut myself off in a room by myself and recharge. High-energy people and extroverts (who get energy from being around other people) are particularly draining, and I'll be dealing with teenagers. I'm honestly not sure how I'll react to it. I can only sustain my perky public mode for so long. By the end of the week, they may need to bring in a Grimm to deal with me when the beast within me comes out, or we'll find out I'm Troubled when the power of my brain demolishes things in a way that creates a private room for me. When being trapped in a cave-in sounds good because it means you're alone and no one else can reach you, you may have problems.

So, blogging silence for the next week while I have a Tennessee adventure. I hope I live to tell the tale.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Remembering Ray Bradbury

I've had a terribly unproductive week so far. I have a lot of stuff to get done, but I had a crippling case of the don't wannas. I made up for it today, though. I just did a massive Target excursion to get everything I'll need for next week's trip, and I've already taken care of some business stuff. Now I just need to catch up on housework, do a lot of laundry, do some baking and pack.

Of course, wouldn't you know it, right before I leave town for a week, I get word on a few projects so that I now have work stuff to do. I got copy edits back on book 5, and it's looking like I'll have to write a book based on a proposal I did earlier this year (more details later on that when it becomes official). The copy edits will wait until I'm home, and I can spend transit time next week (since there will be a lot of bus time) doing some brainstorming and outlining so I can have the book ready to go in my head once I get home. June and July will be writing time for me.

Yesterday's sad news was the death of Ray Bradbury. His work was a big part of my high school years. One of my main activities in school was the speech club, and the speech teacher insisted that I do prose interpretation -- where you read short stories or novel excerpts out loud. At the time, I planned to be either a lawyer (freshman year) or a serious journalist (sophomore year and later) and I wanted to do debate or extemporaneous speaking (where they give you a current events topic and you have a short amount of time to come up with a speech on it). But the teacher was probably right because when I finally got my way and he let me enter in extemporaneous speaking, I didn't like it and didn't do well, while I was rather successful in prose interpretation. To do the prose event, you had to find short stories to read, and that's where I discovered Ray Bradbury, since he wrote brilliant short stories that lent themselves to dramatic interpretation and that usually had a huge emotional impact, so the stories themselves were enough to leave an audience floored if you read them even somewhat competently (without stumbling over the words and without a monotone).

My signature piece that won me a lot of medals and ribbons was "All Summer in a Day," which is about a colony on Venus, where the sun only comes out for one day every seven years. Most of the kids in the colony have no idea what the sun is because they don't remember seeing it, but one girl has moved there recently and knows what she's missing. The other kids lock her in a closet on the summer day, and then only after they see the sun for themselves do they realize what a cruel prank it was. I still have the opening memorized: "It had been raining for seven years." (and I can go on a bit from there). All the kids gave me a chance to do different voices for the characters, and the ending is goosebump inducing. I loved reading that story because I could feel the audience in the palm of my hand.

I didn't realize it at the time, but that activity is probably the one thing I did in high school that has helped prepare me for my current career, since I think all those prose interpretation contests are why I do a better-than-average job of doing author readings.

I also successfully campaigned for us to read Fahrenheit 451 as our novel for American literature in my junior year, thus saving my class from The Scarlet Letter. I loved it, but I don't know if my classmates appreciated the favor I'd done them.

Now I want to find those old short story books and re-read some favorites. I haven't even thought of those stories in years.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Coming up with Titles

I stayed up way too late last night watching the end of the Transit of Venus on NASA TV online. By the end, the scientists were getting a bit punchy, and they sounded like a gathering of my friends. The Star Wars and Star Trek references were flying furiously. And then I learned that being in an astronomical mindset and not having my glasses on can be dangerous. I was leaving my office, glanced out the office window and thought the moon looked particularly bright and close, almost like I could touch it. And then I realized what I was looking at was the streetlamp on the corner behind my house. Not close enough to touch, but definitely not as far away as the moon. Without my glasses, it was hard to tell.

I skipped the writing post last week because I was in transit that day, and this should get me on a schedule that keeps me from having to skip again due to travel until maybe the end of the summer.

I had a reader question about how to come up with titles. That's a difficult subject for a how-to piece because titles ultimately aren't something the author controls. Odds are, the publisher will change the title of your book for publication. They may want something more marketable that has key words their marketing department says will sell better. They may have another book with a similar title on the schedule, or they may know of another book from another publisher with a similar title. On the other hand, having a good title on your manuscript can really help in the submission process if it makes agents or editors eager to read your book. Then again, if the title is brilliant, expectations for the manuscript will be really high and editors or agents are more likely to be disappointed, while they may be pleasantly surprised by the book if the title is so-so, and they're not going to reject on the basis of a lame title because they know how easily it can be changed.

See why this is tricky?

Here are a few title tips I've gleaned from my time in the business:
Short and pithy is good -- it's easier to remember and they can put it in larger print on the cover

Song titles are great foundations for titles -- A title isn't protected by copyright, so it's fair game to use. I learned this from an editor, who said she kept a book of the Billboard top 100 list going back to the beginning on her desk to use for coming up with book titles. This publisher had learned from their sales reps talking to booksellers that when a book had a title from a popular song or based on a popular song title, but with a twist, customers were likely to be humming the song to themselves as they bought the book. They found their sales went up when they started using song titles on their books. People would see the book, it would trigger a memory of the song, the song would stick in their heads, and next time they saw the book, it would stand out and they'd be more likely to pick it up and buy it. Movie titles and famous quotations also work, but they don't have the earworm power of music.

The danger of using popular song titles is that most of the good ones have been used. It's a good idea to run all your title ideas through the Amazon search engine to see how many books come up with that same title or very similar titles. Your title doesn't have to be totally unique. One or two books more than a couple of years ago is no problem, unless one of those books was a massive bestseller that's still in the spotlight. For instance, before about 2007, Twilight was a very popular book title. It popped up on a variety of books, from thrillers to romances. It's both evocative and generic. Now, though, even if it fits your book perfectly, it's a bad idea for a title because you'll probably end up on about page five of the search results, behind all the various editions of the Twilight Saga books, the books about the series, the books about the stars of the series, the books about the movies, etc. You want your book to stand out so that people don't think they've read it already since the title's familiar, and you want your book to come up on the first page of Amazon searches for that title.

I find that my best titles often come to me while I'm writing the book. Something will just suddenly hit me. When I'm stuck for a title, I'll make a list of key words I associate with the story. Then I may do a quotation search, a search of song titles and a search of movie titles for those key words. I may also look for rhymes for those key words and search for those and see if I can replace the rhymes with my key words to make a fun twist on a familiar phrase. For instance, I started with the common phrase "damsel in distress" and found that it kind of sounded like "damsel under stress" when I said it out loud, and that fit my book, so that became the title of the third book in my series.

Alliteration (a lot of the words starting with the same letter or sound) and rhymes are good for titles because they make the title memorable. But you still want it to be pronounceable so people can talk about your book. If they can't say it without it being a tongue-twister, it's hard to get word of mouth or for editors to discuss the book in meetings. Just imagine the acquisition meeting where the editor can't talk about the book she wants to acquire without stumbling over the words or spraying her colleagues while trying to pronounce some of the more challenging consonants. Say your title out loud, maybe three times fast, and see how it feels in your mouth.

Look at your book for ideas. A character may have a line that seems to sum up the story or the main conflict. A good example is A Game of Thrones, where that's something one of the characters talks about, playing the game of thrones.

Make sure your title fits the style and mood of your book. You probably don't want to use a title inspired by a bouncy pop song on a dark and gritty medieval fantasy novel. And you might not want to use words like "blood" and "doom" in the title of a romantic comedy.

I keep a notebook of title ideas that come to me. Sometimes they inspire a story, and sometimes one will fit an idea I'm working on. Otherwise, when I need a book title, I take a lot of showers. That's where all my best ideas seem to hit me.