Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Short and Bleak

It's fun living in the future. I was talking to the guy who's going to fix that hole in the bathroom wall, and instead of him having to come out to look at it to determine the scope of the job, he just had me snap a photo with my cell phone and send it to him. Now we just need to set up a time for him to fix it. And then I need to decide on what color to repaint that room. I never did like the color I used when I did it about eleven years ago. The blue that looked perfect on a small sample was too intense and bright for an entire wall. I'm learning that with paint, it's going to be darker than you think, so go a shade or two lighter than you think you want. The last time I was at Home Depot, I picked up some sample chips of colors that I thought would work, and then one paint company had a brochure with tiny swatches of every color they do. I'd thought I was picking out the light blues, but it turned out that they were on the slightly darker end and I need to go a few shades lighter. The "light" blue items in my bedroom that I was trying to match are darker than I realized. I grew up in houses with white walls (military quarters), so color was a big switch for me and I've only done it in that one room. I think it needs color, just a different one than I have. The painting will have to come after I finish the book, though. It will be a good between-drafts break.

Over the last week or so, I've read my way through all the Hugo nominees for short story, novella and novelette, and now I think I want to slit my wrists. Most of those stories were so very depressing. I can see why fantasy is eclipsing science fiction in the publishing world because most of these finalists were science fiction, and they were incredibly bleak. I suppose it's also possible that the idea that dark=good and "serious" is what merits awards kicked in, so maybe the whole field of short science fiction isn't quite that depressing, but I think the Hugos are pretty much a popularity contest. The same familiar names seem to end up on the ballot every year, and while some of them definitely have merit, with some of them I had to wonder if this really was the best of the best for the year or merely the most familiar names. The number of nominations for these categories was low enough that it wouldn't take much for someone with a good fan base to rally enough people to get them on the ballot. There were a few stories that were really engrossing and moving and that are haunting me, and those will get my votes. There were a few that I stopped reading midway through because I knew I wouldn't vote for them and I didn't want any more of that in my head. Even some of the ones with hopeful endings still took place in a really bleak world. Apparently, there's not a lot of optimism about the future.

Then again, fantasy isn't all that different. I would think that having magical powers would be cool, but it seems to mostly land people in the gritty underbelly of life. I shouldn't be surprised that the future is more bleak dystopia than adventures on spaceships. I'm so glad the FenCon theme this year is "The Future's So Bright" as an attempt to fend off the dystopia depression.

I keep saying I need to try to write short stories, since that seems to be the route to credibility in the fantasy/science fiction field, but I'm not sure how well the kinds of things I might write would be accepted. And then there's that problem that everything I write turns into a novel.

But for now, novels it is. I didn't quite pull a marathon yesterday because I had to adjust some things in the previous chapters before I could move forward. I surpassed my word count goal, but not by as much as I would have liked. Today, though, I get to dive into the fun part of the story, the part I've been looking forward to writing since I first came up with this idea. It's a little weird and experimental, so we'll see if I can pull it off, but I think it'll be a blast to write. Stay tuned to see if I still think that way after starting it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Weary Weekend

I'd planned a big writing marathon on Saturday, but was unaccountably weary, and I've found that when I can't keep my eyes open it generally means my subconscious needs more time. So, I figured it was a sign I needed to rest and catch up on some romantic comedies (which actually counts as research). When I woke up with a cough on Sunday and remembered that I'd been coughing in all my dreams (which likely means I was coughing in my sleep), I figured out why I'd been so tired. A suitable application of allergy medicine and cough syrup and a weekend of rest seems to have done the trick.

I rewatched You've Got Mail, and I think I've finally crystallized my problems with that movie. The concept is cute, the supporting cast is fun, the settings are delightful, but unfortunately the core of it is about two unpleasant people being unpleasant to each other. There were times in this rewatch when I wanted to turn it off or mute the sound. Part of the problem is that it hits two of my pet peeves in romantic comedies: the hero and heroine are living with other people through much of the movie, and the other people are so wrong for them that they only exist to serve as temporary roadblocks -- and worse, they don't really even serve as roadblocks.

Having Mr./Miss Wrong around can serve to show why Mr./Miss Right is right, but it's something that has to be handled very delicately if you don't want to ruin the hero and heroine. Mr. (or Miss, but let's stick to one gender for the moment for simplicity's sake) Wrong is generally the person the heroine thinks she should like, the person who's the right fit for the person she thinks she is or the person she's trying to be. He usually represents unfulfilling safety and security. She wouldn't have a bad life with him, but it's not the life she has the potential to live. He's the right person for the false front she shows the world (and maybe even herself) to protect her inner vulnerabilities. Mr. Right is the person who sees the real person under her exterior, but being with him will require her to take the risk and shed that false front. She must choose between taking the risk to have a truly amazing love and life and staying in her comfort zone but remaining unfulfilled. If Mr. Wrong is just plain wrong, like you can't even imagine why she's with that person, then she looks like an idiot for being with him in the first place. For it to work, you need to at least get a glimpse or two of why she's with Mr. Wrong, some connection even if he's only connecting to the fake part of herself. In this movie, both of them are with other people, and there's hardly any sense of connection with those people. They even seem to see their significant others with a bit of contempt, or forget entirely that they exist. The fact that they exist doesn't even really have any bearing on the plot, since it doesn't slow down the hero and heroine's relationship. They even agree to their first face-to-face meeting, before which he talks about how this is likely a woman he'd want to marry, while they're still living with their significant others.

And then there's the living with issue. On film, living together looks exactly like being married, and that puts things into a different headspace. It makes me feel like it's wrong if the characters are behaving in ways that would be wrong for married people, and I feel like it would take something on the level of what would break up a marriage for them to end it. Meeting someone you like better doesn't do it. If they're growing apart, they should work on it. I'd even like the hero or heroine to be the victim if there's cruelty or infidelity because I want the main characters to be people I can pull for. In this film, when it opens they look like two married couples as they get up in the morning and get ready for work, have breakfast, etc. In fact, the first time I saw this movie, until the subsequent scenes in which there are dialogue cues that they aren't married, I thought they were married, which made it even creepier when they jumped online as soon as their significant others were out the door and then read the flowery, romantic e-mails they sent to each other, and then headed to work with their heads in the clouds and had to be reminded of their significant others by their colleagues. That got the main characters off on the wrong foot with me because they were acting like they were having an affair.

I'm not sure why they even gave them significant others, unless they were trying not to go with the stereotype of meeting on the Internet being something for pathetically lonely singles or if they needed an excuse for them not to meet. The real conflict was between them, anyway, with the chain store vs. independent fight that brought on all that nastiness, and it rather boggles me that once he figured out she was his pen pal, he wooed her by being even nastier to her and denigrating her pen pal. This ended up being a lot like Four Weddings and a Funeral, where I loved the scenes of the main characters and their friends but wanted to fast forward past the scenes of the hero and heroine together because they were so unpleasant.

I wonder if the pen pals who don't realize they know each other in real life thing is a common enough trope to be able to steal it and do it right. It might be fun to do a Stealth Geeks in Love story, where hero and heroine work at some uptight, buttoned-down place where anything that might be considered less than serious or professional would be frowned upon, so they can't reveal their true personalities, but then away from work they're both on the same Doctor Who message board and spend hours chatting, and they have no idea it's their co-worker they're chatting with.

I also watched What's Your Number? on HBO, and that was a real Jekyll and Hyde of a movie. On the one hand, it's extremely raunchy and coarse -- something I'd be embarrassed to see on a date -- and the comedy is so broad that at times I thought I was watching a Scary Movie-style spoof because some of the situations, behaviors and characters were too over-the-top to represent anything even semi-realistic. On the other hand, in the midst of all that raunch, the core relationship was surprisingly sweet and romantic.

The gist of the story is that a young woman reads a magazine article about how women who've had more than twenty sexual partners are less likely to end up happily married. When she hits twenty, she panics because she fears that if she ever sleeps with anyone else, she'll never be happily married. Then when she runs into an ex who has improved significantly since they broke up, she realizes that she won't add to her number if she gets back together with an ex. With the help of her hound-dog neighbor who hides out in her apartment when he's trying to escape from the latest woman he's brought home, she sets out to track down all the men she's ever been with to see if there's a chance, but she starts to see that she was the real problem because she was never really being herself with any of them. If you've ever seen a movie before, you know where this is going, but it was still fun to watch it happen. I liked the hero and heroine when they were together. They really seemed to connect, and I could imagine it being a lasting relationship. The fact that they got along so well was part of the conflict, so they skipped the usual romantic comedy bickering, and because she wasn't letting herself sleep with anyone new, that forced the relationship to develop in a way that was about more than just lust.

However, once I started putting any thought into it, some of the messages of the film disturbed me and I had more doubts about their potential future happiness (and I know I'm giving this movie way more thought than it deserves). They were so hung up on that number that they barely touched on the reasons behind her number, which involved her apparently having such low self esteem that she'd practically twist herself in knots to get a man to want to sleep with her, even if she wasn't all that into him. When you're faking an accent through an entire relationship so that you'll be what you think the man will want, you have the kind of problems that probably can't be resolved with a simple "I need to be myself" epiphany. And they never even dealt with his behavior and the problems it implied.

There is the standard "rom com dash" at the end, though I will give this one points for being utterly hilarious (this was one of the elements that seemed to come from a spoof rather than from a real movie) and for acknowledging the silliness of it (at one point, she wonders why she didn't just wait for him at his place). Still, though, it had the common element that bugs me about those things, which is that the other person is supposed to put whatever he's doing on hold to deal with you, just because you're suddenly made a decision. Plus, I guess the mad dash reflects a recurring nightmare I have about rushing to get somewhere, with obstacles popping up along the way, so it's doubly disturbing to me.

I wouldn't say I recommend the movie, but if you've got HBO and some spare time, it might be worth watching, though probably not in mixed company or with your parents. I'd love to watch it with a psychologist and get a professional opinion on the pathology.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cake Update

I tried baking the Magical Microwave Cake in a pot-pie tin at 350 degrees in the toaster oven for about 12-15 minutes, and it worked. I liked the texture better than the microwave version (I'm not crazy about baked goods made in the microwave). It was much closer to real cake. I wouldn't serve it to guests -- if I were having guests, I could make a real cake, anyway -- but when nothing but cake will do, this is a good option. It does mean you can't make a cake during a commercial break, but you can mix up the cake and put it in the oven during one commercial break and then get it out of the oven during the next commercial break -- unless, of course, you're watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, in which case you put it in the oven during one commercial break and it bakes during two segments of programming and two commercial breaks.

I decided that I only need a heaping half teaspoon of cocoa powder per cake when I'm baking it. Since the microwave version doesn't brown and stays really moist, it seems to need the extra to get a little oomph and color to it. Actually baking seems to intensify the flavors.

Now I think I need to find some mini baking pans. I need something about the size of the pans used for the Easy-Bake oven. I have some mini loaf pans, but those may be too deep.

There was a suggestion in the comments for a cookbook called Small Batch Baking, and it turns out my library has a copy (currently checked out). I shall have to investigate and then if it pans out (no pun intended), I may buy a keeper copy. There's also an edition for chocolate lovers. I've gotten pretty good at reducing most recipes, and you can freeze cookie dough and bake only what you need, but cakes are tricky, so that's where I need recipes.

Reasons when CAKE is essential:
1) I've had a rejection on a book
2) I've had good news on a book
3) I've had a frustrating day/week
4) I've had a particularly good day/week
5) Something really good is on TV and it deserves an appropriate snack to celebrate the occasion
6) I've made a good meal and it needs a good dessert
7) It's a rainy day
8) It's my birthday, or some other special occasion
9) It's cake or prison after a long, sordid murder trial
10) I've been really good all week, eating properly, and I just can't take it anymore

This sounds like I'm an emotional eater, but I'm really not. This sort of thing hits only a few times a year, unless icky stuff has been happening to me. I've also learned that when a need like this hits, if I indulge it immediately, I'm fine and don't eat that much. If I don't indulge it, it builds and things get ugly. Just knowing I have this cake mix in the house and can have cake whenever I want will actually probably reduce the amount of cake I eat. I had to force myself to make it last night in order to continue my experimentation (it was a dirty job, but I just had to do it as a service to my blog readers).

Friday, July 27, 2012

Magical Microwave Cake

After another NetGalley session with my agent's digital publishing expert, I have to add another tip: If you want to be taken seriously as a reviewer, learn to write. I don't mean that you have to have perfectly polished prose or that blog reviews need to be as formal as a newspaper review, but for heaven's sake, show some understanding of the basic rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. For instance, you don't form a plural by using an apostrophe. Once or twice, and it may be a typo, but when every single review on your site reads like "This book had lot's of interesting character's. I like book's like that. Their problem's were realistic," then my inner grammar nazi has a hissy fit and I'm going to reject your galley request. I don't see how anyone can read a lot and consider themselves a reviewer and still make that mistake. I know I as a reader wouldn't be able to trust someone who writes like that to know a good book when it smacks her in the face, so I doubt that reviewer would be much of an influencer.

Just looking at the above paragraph is making me itch to edit it, even though I did that on purpose for effect. But all those apostrophes are so very, very wrong.

Anyway, in addition to dealing with more business stuff, I got about 4,000 more words written. I'm remembering how tired and hungry intense writing makes me. I was in bed with the lights out by 9:30 last night, and I spent much of the past two days feeling like I could eat a small farm. There was also an intense need for cake, to the point that it can only be referred to as CAKE. When I get that CAKE need, nothing else will do, and cake is more difficult to keep around than candy or even cookies. It's hard to make in really small quantities, and sometimes in a severe CAKE mood I could easily eat half a cake, which is bad, but if I don't eat it all at once, it doesn't keep well, and even freezing it isn't entirely satisfactory. I can get individual slices of cake or single cupcakes at the grocery store or at the coffee shop next to the library, but that requires knowing my CAKE needs in advance, which doesn't always happen.

But then I read something in the newspaper that is so brilliant and that may fulfill most of my future CAKE needs. They call it "3-2-1" cake, but I'm already thinking of it as Magical Microwave Cake. I don't know who came up with this -- the article was from a wire service and uncredited -- but that person deserves a Nobel Prize. You take a box of angel food cake mix and a box of any flavor of regular cake mix and combine them in some sealable container (like a gallon-size Ziploc freezer bag or a Tupperware dish). When CAKE comes calling, you combine three tablespoons of this mix with two tablespoons of water in a microwave-safe mug and microwave on high for a minute. The result is a cupcake-sized bit of cake. I tried this last night, and it really does work. You can make a cake during a TV commercial break. It's a miracle!

It's not entirely perfect, though. The angel food mix is what makes this work, probably because it contains all the egg whites, but adding the box of angel food means that whatever regular mix you use is severely diluted. I used devil's food, and the result was too sweet and not nearly chocolatey enough to satisfy the CAKE need. I tried adding about a teaspoon of dark chocolate unsweetened cocoa powder to the mix in the mug, and that was much better. It also had the texture you get from "baked" goods cooked in the microwave, so it's foamier and more moist than usual, without any kind of outer crust. I may experiment with baking in a foil pot pie dish in the toaster oven. That will take longer, but I can deal with an extra five minutes or so if the result is more cake-like. I suspect that the microwaved cake is too delicate to really frost it, unless you use a pastry bag or other squirtable frosting. I may experiment with sprinkling chocolate chips on top of the batter before microwaving and see if they melt into something frosting-like, or you could use a dollop of hot-fudge sauce on top.

And, hey, even if it's not perfect cake, it is nice to have something on hand for when the CAKE urges hit. Generally, nothing else hits the spot, and that means I tend to eat a bunch of other stuff, only to eventually give in and bake a cake, and then I eat too much of it. If I can have a single cupcake when CAKE strikes, then I'm happy with that cupcake. Supposedly, a single batch of this mix will make about 48 cupcakes, and the mix keeps for months if you seal it well.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Changing World -- and Winning at NetGalley

I got a good start yesterday, more than 5,000 words. Of course, I realized at nearly the 4,000 word mark that I'd skipped some things and was doing scenes out of order. I tried to convince myself that the new way was better than the synopsis, then realized it really wasn't. So then I went back and started filling in the missing stuff. As a result, I have chapter one done and the back end of chapter two. I still need to write most of chapter two leading up to the part that's already written, which may or may not actually end up being part of chapter three. To tell how critical that book soundtrack concept can be, I ran some errands this morning, but I hadn't yet burned the soundtrack onto CD, so I still had the soundtrack for the last book playing in my car -- and it really bothered me. At the next red light, I had to remove that CD and replace it with a generic "driving around" CD. I'll have to burn the new CD before the next time I drive.

While going through the process of getting book 5 published, I'm seeing how much and how rapidly the publishing world is changing. Granted, some of that may be the difference between doing it myself and going through a publisher, as I'm involved in a lot of things that were previously kept hidden from me, but even so, a lot has happened in this business since the last time I had a book published in the US, four years ago. A big one is NetGalley.

Back in the Ye Olden Days of 2008, the way publishers put books out for review was to mail a physical copy of the book. For long-lead publications (where they need the book months in advance to review it around the release date), they'd print up review copies that weren't the final proof and that didn't have the real cover. These were more expensive than the real book because they were printed in smaller quantities. Then they might do a second mailing of the actual book to places like blogs or web sites that had a faster turnaround time. Because of the cost of the physical book and the postage, they were pretty selective about where they sent review copies. At the same time, though, bloggers started being a lot more influential in spreading word of mouth while newspapers and magazines were decreasing their book coverage. That meant the publisher mailings were focusing on the places least likely to actually cover the book.

Now there's NetGalley, where publishers can offer electronic copies to reviewers. A lot of the time, the reviewers find the books instead of the publishers having to push them. The trick is that anyone can sign up as a reviewer on NetGalley, and then the publicist has to decide which of the "reviewers" requesting a book actually gets one. I spent about an hour going through review requests on Tuesday and will probably spend another hour today. In case you are on NetGalley, I thought I'd share what I'm looking for when I decide whether to grant a review request.

The main thing is to beef up your profile. I want to know what venues your reviews appear in and what your reach is -- how many subscribers, followers, etc., you've got. I need a link to your blog or site so I can get a sense of how professional you are, what your target audience is and how well my books would fit in. Without that information, you just look like you're trying to get a free book (if the only thing on your profile is "I love to read," you're not going to get a lot of review copies). I'm generally evaluating the profiles on the basis of how well it will get the word out -- is this person an expert, connector or influencer, in the terms of word-of-mouth marketing. An expert is the person you know has done the research already, so you can rely on their suggestions -- that friend you know follows the latest in tech gear, reads the reviews and magazines, so when you're ready to buy, you can ask him what to get. Or, in books, the person you know follows the industry and reads everything. A connector is the person with a network who can either reach a lot of people or who can reach the key people you need to reach. That could be someone with 50,000 Twitter followers or the hermit whose only friend is Oprah, but who is one of Oprah's most trusted friends (or is Oprah that influential anymore?). An influencer is someone people either trust or want to follow, whether or not they're an expert. This is why companies like putting things in the hands of celebrities. If people see a celebrity with something, they want it, whether or not they think the celebrity knows anything about it. You've hit the jackpot if you find an expert who has influence and who has a huge network, and that's generally what I'm looking for in evaluating review requests.

So, does it look like the blog or site has any readers other than the blogger's mom and sister? Do the readers interact or comment? Is there a friends list that shows a following? Are the other books reviewed on the site the kinds of things that readers of my books are likely to be into, and vice versa? I'm probably going to decide you're not a great fit if all the other books you review are things like erotica about threesomes or books on gardening. Is there some degree of professionalism involved? Are the reviews reasonably well written and avoiding major spoilers? I'm not looking for entirely positive reviews, but how predominant are the negative reviews and how nasty are they? Unless there's an audience so massive that any exposure is good exposure, I'm probably not going to grant a review copy to someone who seems to try to make herself look smart by gleefully trashing every book she reads.

What I've found interesting is that in the first batch of requests, none of them have been blogs I'm familiar with. That means I'm reaching places I wouldn't have known to target. I can go after the sites I know, but it's harder to target places I don't know about. However, the big question is whether this will add up to sales.

Now, since I spent the morning running errands, I'm off to get some writing done.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Goes on the Cover

I think I'm actually going to write the first words of book 7 today. I also proved that the time I put into making my book soundtrack isn't at all wasted. I thought I had the first scene planned, but then a song popped up on iTunes that suddenly gave me an entirely different image of what the opening scene could be, and I realized my plans were all wrong. Adjusting that changed the flow of the first third of the book in a way that I think will make it a hundred times better. That's what I call good procrastination, when it forces you to take time to think and consider. If I had just started writing yesterday based on my initial idea instead of spending much of the day listening to music, the book would have been wrong.

For my writing post this week, I'm addressing a reader question (and if you have questions, let me know!). This gets into some behind-the-scenes stuff about what goes on in publishing, but it may also be helpful to you as you submit books to editors or agents or if you decide to publish on your own. The question was about the stuff that goes on the book cover -- the information about the book and the quotes from reviewers and other authors.

How this works varies by publisher and also varies within the publisher based on the editor's working style, the editor's relationship with the author, the author's clout at the publisher and possibly even the phases of the moon. I once worked with a publisher where I found out what the text on the book cover would be when I got a copy of the printed cover flat -- the actual cover that would be bound around the book (and then I had to change the spelling of the heroine's name in the manuscript to match that text). And I've worked with a publisher that let me entirely rewrite their text.

They generally refer to that text on the cover that describes the book as the "cover copy." in a paperback book where it's printed on the back cover it may be called "back cover copy." In a hardcover book where it's on the inside flap of the paper jacket that's wrapped around the book they may call it "flap copy" or "jacket copy." Usually, the editor writes this, or the editor may take a stab at it before turning it over to someone in the marketing department. I also know of former editors who now work freelance writing cover/jacket copy, so it does sometimes get outsourced. The author may or may not get to see, approve, edit, make suggestions or rewrite this copy. My latest publisher was pretty good about giving me input, since they knew that in real life I'm a professional marketing communications writer, so this is an area of expertise. Often, this copy is written before the book is complete. It may be written based on the synopsis used to sell the book, and that's why the book that seems to be described on the cover sometimes doesn't seem to match what's inside. In those cases, the final book may have veered from the synopsis. That's also why I had to change the spelling of the character's name. Between the time I sent out the initial synopsis and the time they bought the book (and I'd already finished a draft), I'd changed my mind about the character's name, but the cover was based on the synopsis.

Even if you're dealing with a publisher that gives you no input, it's good for an author to learn to write this kind of copy. I find it useful during the creative process to force me to narrow in on what the book's about. If I can't describe the story in a way that makes it sound interesting in a couple of short paragraphs, then I need to work on drilling down into the story to find the core of it and what makes it compelling. You'll also need this kind of text for a pitch paragraph in a query letter -- and if your pitch paragraph is good enough, an editor may use it in writing the cover copy. If you self-publish, you'll have to do this for yourself, unless you hire a marketing writer to help you. This is a learn-by-doing skill. Try to write cover copy for your favorite books -- without looking at what's on the cover. Then compare it to what's on the cover. Browse a bookstore or Amazon and see what kind of copy catches your eye. It may take a lot of drafts to distill your book into a couple of punchy paragraphs, since writing shorter is a lot harder than writing long.

Those short statements on the cover from other authors or reviewers are generally referred to as "blurbs" or "cover quotes." Generally, the publisher sends out advance copies to other authors who write in the same general area and asks if those authors are willing to provide blurbs. Sometimes the author and agent may get involved, depending on their contacts and network. There will generally be some brainstorming among author, editor and agent about who to approach. This is really nervewracking for authors because you never know what you'll get, and putting your book in front of one of your literary heroes can be terrifying. Sometimes they don't respond at all. Sometimes you get something nice. Usually if they hate the book, they don't say anything or they give the "I was too busy to get around to reading it, sorry" excuse. If you're lucky, you may get unsolicited feedback. That's how I got a quote from MaryJo Putney on one of my books. She wrote for the same publisher, happened to read the previous book and e-mailed her editor about how much she loved it. That got forwarded to my editor, who then asked her if she'd like to read the next book for a blurb.

I've heard of unpublished authors soliciting blurbs before submission -- if they have published friends who've read the manuscript, they may be willing to provide a quote that the author can then use in the submission. I would say that if you can do that, it can't hurt, but be sure you have explicit permission to do so. I've heard of cases where published authors judged a contest entry and signed their judging forms, and the aspiring author then used the judges' comments as endorsement blurbs when they submitted the book. The judges were irate because there's a big difference between the kind of encouraging remarks you might make on a contest entry -- probably taken out of context among a lot of critical comments -- and endorsing a book. That sort of thing does get back to authors because editors and agents are savvy enough not to take an endorsement like that at face value and will check back with the authors via their networks (because just about everyone in publishing is only a degree or two of separation away from just about everyone else) to verify. Then it will backfire if the author says, "Yeah, I said the story was a lot of fun, but that was the only nice thing I could think of to say to ease the blow before I went into what a mess it was." So, contest judging remarks or critique group or beta reader feedback doesn't count as an endorsement. You can say you won the contest, but don't quote your judges.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Obvious Villains

I started really digging into book 7 yesterday. When I write a synopsis, it's generally all about plot. Now I have to figure out what's going on with the characters, what the emotional arcs are, etc. That's where creating my book "soundtrack" really seems to help, even if it does look a lot like procrastination. I'd say it's the good kind of procrastination because it buys time for the subconscious to be ready. I guess you could consider it an audio collage. Jennifer Crusie writes a lot about the elaborate (and sometimes 3-D) collages she makes to get her thoughts straight on a book. I do it with music. I set iTunes on shuffle and see what comes up, then think about how it might apply to the story or characters. Sometimes that gives me ideas for scenes or even plot twists I hadn't considered or planned. Sometimes it reminds me of an emotion that needs to be present. After making a list of songs and how I think they apply to the story, I put them in more or less chronological order in a playlist, and then I'll burn an MP3 CD to keep in my car while I'm working on the book. That way, I can keep my head in the book even while running errands.

I think there are some new people around, and I've started posting some of my book commentary on Goodreads, where it looks like I give only four or five stars, so I thought it might be a good time to reiterate my "review" policy. I don't consider myself a book reviewer. I'm more of a book recommender, so I only talk publicly about books that I want to recommend. I'm not giving four or five stars to everything. I'm just ignoring anything I'd give a lower rating than that to. I'm not playing "nicey-nice" and giving high ratings to everything, regardless of what I really thought -- that's actually one of the many reasons I dropped out of those blog tour groups. While I liked and would recommend a number of books from those groups, being in the group and having that reciprocal arrangement meant endorsing some things I really wouldn't want to recommend. With my discussion of books, I consider it kind of like doing a bookstore browse with a friend, where you go through the store pointing out things you liked, telling enough about it that your friend can decide if it sounds interesting, and then telling a little about why you liked it. You're not going to bother talking about the books you hated, unless maybe your friend picks up a book that you want to warn her about. I read so many books that I wouldn't have the time to write reviews for all of them, and besides, I don't want to give the publicity to the books I hated. I'm more willing to go negative on movies because I see so few that I'd almost never get to talk about movies if I didn't include the ones I hated.

I'll admit that there is a bit of a political element here because, let's be honest, I have to work with a lot of these people. I may end up with an author on a convention panel, or my editor or agent may ask an author for a blurb on one of my books, or one of my projects may be submitted to an editor who edited a book, and that can get really awkward if I've savaged a book they were involved with. It's awkward enough when I hated the author's book and haven't said anything (there's a lot of mental cringing going on). Until someone gets to be a mega bestseller where they're either bombarded with results or have people who deal with that sort of thing, most authors have Google alerts set for their names and book titles, so they'll know if you've been nasty. Since I have additional reasons for not going negative, it seems a lot fairer and easier to just stick to that policy rather than picking and choosing when to go negative based on whether I know the author or editor, how likely I am to ever have to deal with either, whether it's close enough to my work for it to look like I'm tearing down the competition, etc.

Some of the critics of positive-only review policies say you need to know what a reviewer dislikes and why in order to know if you trust that reviewer. Again, I would say I'm more of a recommender, and I figure that if you read my books, you probably know something about what I like and you might like the same things (or maybe if you read my reviews and like the same things, you might decide to read my books). But there's another problem with mentioning negatives in reviews: Sometimes it's really hard to do that without spoiling the book. If I hate a book because I hate the ending, it can be difficult to get into why without giving away the ending. It's easier to say positive things without spoiling the book.

For instance, I read a book this weekend that I was loving. I thought the premise was brilliant -- one of those "why didn't I think of that?" situations -- and the author gleefully busted a number of tropes and cliches. I was mentally composing my rave recommendation. And then I got to the last couple of chapters and would have hurled the book across the room if it hadn't been a library book. There's no way I could have written about why I hated the book without spoiling the ending.

But it brought up a potentially valuable writing lesson, so I'm going to discuss it in vague terms without getting into specifics about the plot, characters, title or author. It's all about how to handle a villain and/or the "mystery" element of a plot, because you can get into a lot of trouble if your readers are more intelligent than your hero -- especially if your hero is characterized as being brilliant and able to see things from a unique perspective.

In this book, the villain (though the heroine didn't know yet that he was the villain) is shown being a jerk to the heroine in the opening scene. In the next scene, he's a threatening jerk even hinting at rape, but she stands her ground, calls his bluff and more or less intimidates him into leaving her alone. Soon afterward, she finds herself in a very dangerous situation that she only escapes because of her presence of mind and that of another person involved, and the villain was the person responsible for making sure that kind of situation didn't occur. That event is what kicks off the story, sending the heroine into a new situation (crossing Joseph Campbell's Threshold), where she finds herself dealing with a person in need of help -- the victim, more or less. The villain works for the victim, and that means she has to spend time with him. She gets to know him and learns that he has motive for the wrong done to the victim -- he pretty much spells out exactly what his resentments are and why and how he's benefitted from what happened to the victim -- and there's evidence as to how he might have the means. His position means he has opportunity. There's nobody else around to suspect of being the villain. And yet when the villain shows up to foil things by waving a weapon and monologuing after the heroine and the victim share their plans with him, the heroine is utterly shocked that the villain is the villain. At which point I say, "Duh, lady, I've been there since the first scene," and remind myself that this is a library book, so I'm not allowed to damage it. To make matters worse, there are some serious consequences to them not realizing who the villain was in time that make the "happy" ending not very satisfying for me. Though I'm not sure any ending would have been happy at that point because this supposedly brilliant heroine had proved to be Too Stupid To Live. I thought the villain was so painfully obvious that I kept waiting for a huge twist to show how wrong I was, so I was incredibly disappointed to find out that I was right.

And it's so easy to avoid that "Well, duh, I've been there since the first scene" situation. You either have to have enough solid red-herring suspects that there's some doubt as to who the villain really is, with the villain being good at hiding his true nature -- the "seemingly good guy who turns out to be bad/seemingly bad guy who turns out to be good" scenario -- or you have to let the heroine figure it out but be up against opposition. In this case, there were good reasons for the victim not to be able/willing to see the villain as a threat, but the heroine with her outside perspective should have been able to see it. That would have complicated her relationship with the victim because she couldn't have relied on him to help with the investigation, and he wouldn't have believed the villain was a villain unless he heard him give his evil scheme monologue while waving a weapon. Then you've got all kinds of tension as she has to play nice with the villain while being aware he's the villain and has to hide what she's up to from her ally, all while finding either evidence or a way to trick the villain into revealing himself.

It was so frustrating because I was on the verge of finding myself a keeper copy of that book, and I was planning to buy the one book in that series that my library doesn't have. Now I may see if I can find a copy of the missing book at a used bookstore because I have enjoyed the other books, but now I'm leery of trusting that author. Even more frustrating is the fact that the situation was unique enough that I can't steal it and do it right without it being obvious -- though I've already written something involving an obvious villain where the heroine spots it but the victim refuses to see it. Maybe that's why I was so annoyed, since I've dealt with that.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Change of Plans

My weekend really didn't go as planned. First, the shrimp creole didn't happen because that's pretty labor-intensive and I wanted to finish proofreading, and I had some country-style boneless ribs that were sounding pretty good. So I marinated those in a little liquid smoke seasoning, cooked them on the George Foreman grill (I can't use a real grill where I live), then added the sauce and broiled briefly in the toaster oven. They were almost as good as if I'd really grilled them. I'll have to do the shrimp creole tonight, though.

Saturday ended up being really busy and turned into Support the Second Sopranos Day. It takes a certain personality to sing second soprano. These are generally people who could sing first soprano (or sometimes they're altos with a higher range), and they're also people who can read music and find offbeat notes in strange chords, but they're content not to play the diva. They find more pleasure in finding those odd harmonies than in getting the big glory notes. And they have to really pull together to help each other work out those odd parts. As a result, our section is really tight-knit. The funeral the choir sang for on Saturday was for the husband of one of the second sopranos. It was a very sudden and shocking loss, so we'll have to continue being close and supportive. I did find that when social skills fail, listening and hugging work pretty well. I'm not a big hugger. It never occurs to me to initiate a hug, and I'm not overly keen on receiving them (I'm not a touchy-feely person). My personal space bubble is about the size of my house. But there are times when the thing to do is let myself be hugged (while fighting not to go stiff and rigid) and remember to hug back, and that's all the person really needs at that time.

On a happier note, one of the other second sopranos and her husband were celebrating their anniversary that weekend, and at the funeral they invited me to join them that evening for a gathering at a place in the next town over. That turned out to be a fun night at a place I'll have to go back to. It's in an old building on the very quaint town square. At lunchtime, it's a sandwich/salad deli kind of place. On Friday and Saturday nights, it becomes a wine and tapas bar with live jazz. It was nice to spend the evening hanging out with choir friends, drinking a glass of wine and listening to a really good jazz band. Now I know a nearby place I can go when I get the rare inclination to just go out. It's not even a really late night because it closes at ten.

Sunday turned into my resting/relaxing day. I mostly just watched TV, read and worked crossword puzzles, then went to bed pretty early.

Today brings two things I've been looking forward to. For one thing, the new season of Warehouse 13 starts tonight. For another, I'm starting to do the prep work for book 7. It's been a while since I wrote that proposal, so I need to get back in that mindset. I'm doing something fun and kind of experimental with that plot, so we'll see if I can pull it off. The idea seemed great in a synopsis, but writing it may turn out to be tricky. I'm developing my soundtrack for helping keep my head in the story today, as well as reviewing all my notes and plans. Tomorrow I may start actually writing, unless something happens today that triggers a good first line. Plus, I'm going to finally send my agent that other project I've been working on for ages.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Listening to the Spidey Sense

Yesterday also turned out to be pretty good. I guess I'm on a roll. I did get a little bad news, but it was balanced by some additional not-bad news that included some really nice and encouraging comments about my work. I'm still loving the book I'm proofreading. I'm reading a book I'm really enjoying. My house is cool. Life is good.

I'm also starting to really look forward to WorldCon next month. I bought my plane ticket this week when my Spidey Sense suddenly told me to go check airfares, and they were more than a hundred dollars cheaper than the last time I checked (my Spidey Sense has been right about both the AC and the airfares, so I think I'd better continue listening to it). Normally as I get closer to a trip like this, I start wondering if I really want to go and have a bad case of "don't want to leave the house" kick in. Now not only am I excited about going to Chicago, but I'm catching myself mentally planning other trips. Depending on how money stuff works out (if I sell the book currently on submission, if book 5 sells well enough that I make decent money on it), I may even take a real vacation this fall, or at least a work-related trip that has some fun or down-time built into it. I haven't been to New York in a few years, and if I sell the book, then I'll want to go meet the new editor, and I'll have some research to do.

In the meantime, this will likely be a reasonably quiet weekend, which will be nice after last weekend being so busy. I don't have a movie for tonight, but I've got plenty on the shelves if I decide to watch something instead of read, and there's a new Phineas and Ferb episode tonight. I think I'm going to attempt to make shrimp creole. I have some shrimp in the freezer that I need to use, and I've got the other ingredients on hand. I'll just have to see if I can mentally recreate the recipe after watching my mom do it so many times. Saturday I have to sing for a funeral, so I imagine I'll need a fairly quiet evening afterward. Funerals are draining, whether or not I knew the person. In this case, it's the husband of a friend. I didn't know him, but I know her very well (she's sort of my adopted choir mom), so it's rather heartbreaking, and my social skills really aren't up to dealing with this sort of thing. I just kind of freeze and mumble.

But first, I have to finish proofreading, finish my PR plan and make a quick Home Depot run because the bulb in one of my oddball light fixtures burned out, and the Home Depot is the only place that carries that kind (have I mentioned how much I love the person who designed my house?). I may peruse paint colors, but there's no point in getting any or making a decision because the AC company still hasn't fixed my wall or called me about scheduling a time to fix it. I may have to start nagging. I'll give them until Monday. That will be a full week, enough time for them to at least have updated me on the status. I have a feeling it fell between the cracks (no pun intended) (Spidey Sense activated).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Revisiting The Boyfriend School

I had a pretty good day yesterday. I'm enjoying my nice, cool house. I did a couple of rounds of grocery shopping, so I'm well-supplied with food (I'd been running painfully low), and it's mostly good, nutritious food. One thing I like about summer is all the summer fruit, and I've got cherries, strawberries, peaches and grapes, which should take care of my sweet tooth for a while. I've been working on my PR plans and have a few good leads. I started proofreading the latest book, doing my usual reading aloud thing, and instead of reading a chapter and then taking a break I ended up plowing through a lot of it without stopping because I couldn't put it down. There's something about this book that sings to me, which really shows up when I read it out loud. I don't consider myself much of a wordsmith. I write for story, not for beautiful prose, but there are some bits I think are unintentionally brilliant. I didn't do any crafting to shape the words intentionally, but somehow the words I used to convey the story came out really well, if that makes sense, and that popped out to me when I was reading out loud because the words rolled off my tongue. It's so cool when something like that happens. My subconscious must have been firing on all cylinders. I just hope I'm not the only person who reacts to this book this way. And on top of that, I got a couple of pieces of sort of good news. Really, it's more a case of not-bad news, but in a situation where that's actually really good. It involved learning that a couple of doors are definitely still open, which is better than learning that a door has been closed.

Maybe that explains why I was pretty functional this morning and even had some energy, even though I forgot to drink my breakfast tea. I went downstairs to get my mid-morning cup and found my breakfast teacup still sitting beside the teapot. I somehow didn't notice that I never brought it to the table. No wonder breakfast went more quickly than normal.

I was in a bit of a mood earlier this week, and I was between library trips, so I found myself reaching for an old favorite book, The Boyfriend School by Sarah Bird. If it had been published ten years later than it was, it might have been lumped into the chick lit genre, but as it was, when I read it in the early 90s while I was struggling to make myself write romance novels, I had that "this is what I want to read and write" tingle. I got it from the library then, and it was totally out of print at that time. I did a happy dance in the aisles of Half-Price Books when I finally found a copy. While chick lit was going strong, they reissued it in trade paperback with a slightly chick-litty cover, and I bought it at a booksigning for the new book she had coming out. My editor at that time was friends with her, so she'd been warned about me before the signing, which was good because I had one of those trembling violently moments in which I could barely speak. I hadn't yet read that copy, and it's been a while since I re-read that book, so I gave it a whirl.

The story is about a photographer for a shoestring Austin weekly newspaper during the bust years of the 80s who gets assigned to cover a romance writers' convention. She goes in with the smugly superior attitude that's pretty common to reporters writing about the romance genre -- those silly books for silly women -- but gets schooled pretty quickly when the first writer who speaks to her is a jaded ex-journalist. The ex-journalist and her friend, a medievalist whose bestselling historical romances allowed her to escape the confines of academic life, take our heroine under their wings and teach her about the genre, making her actually read some of the books before she writes about them. Then after the conference they support her when she decides to try writing one. She just has one quibble: She doesn't believe any real woman would fall for a romance hero. Real women want nice men with integrity who treat them well. They point out that she rejected the nice guy with integrity they set her up with. As she plunges into writing, she feels like something's holding her back. And then she meets a mysterious stranger who seems to have stepped right out of the pages of a romance novel, and it changes her life.

It's hard for me to be objective about this book because it almost seems like this book was written just for me. I was living in Austin during the period in which the book is set, and I worked for a weekly newspaper one summer. I lived on the edge of the neighborhood where the heroine lives, and so I knew all the places she went. Her post office was my post office, her library branch was my library branch. Plus, I've been to those romance conferences and I know those people (in fact, it turns out that my guess for the inspiration for one of the characters was correct, based on the bonus material in the back of this edition. The speech patterns brought to mind someone totally different from the character who was described, and now I know why). I'm not at all like the heroine and probably would have made different choices than she made, but her life is enough like some things I've been through that I could identify with her. With all that, I can't help but love this book, but I do still think it's a great book beyond that. It has a twist to it that means it becomes a totally different book the next time you read it because reading it with the knowledge of what's really happening changes the story. I love books that do that (something to add to my literary bucket list). It has some fairly profound things to say about love and attraction, fantasy and reality. And it probably explains why it was such a struggle for me to write romances. I've had a lot of crushes, some pretty deep and intense enough that they were easy to mistake for love, but I don't think I've ever been truly in love -- not even in a "real world" way, let alone that earthshattering romance novel way. I'm not sure it's possible to write about that experience with the depth and intensity you need in a romance novel if you haven't experienced it. I can only write about what I wish would happen, and I'm not sure that carries the same weight.

One thing that was interesting from the perspective of reading it now was the way the romance genre has changed. There's something the writers warn the heroine that she shouldn't do in a romance that's now practically required. Sex has become much more important, and not even the flowery, euphemistic kind. The money factor is also very different. In the 80s, a category romance writer could have easily been driving a Mercedes. Now, I'm not sure you could do that just on categories. They don't have nearly the reach they once did. I suspect Amazon had a lot to do with killing that genre. The appeal was the convenience -- you subscribed to a line and every month got a shipment of books that were along the lines of what you liked, so you didn't have to go through the hassle of going to a bookstore. Now you can go online and pick and choose exactly the books you want and have them delivered -- or if you have an e-reader, you can just have them downloaded instantly. The subscriber numbers were dropping drastically when I quit writing for Silhouette more than a decade ago. I wonder what's happened recently -- or have e-books given the category romance new life? I know they've got a longer life now. They used to be on the shelves for only one month, but they stay forever in e-bookstores. Even my old ones are available again.

I would recommend this book to those who like the "smarter" chick lit (that's about something more than dropping designer label names) or for those who have a love/hate relationship with romance novels -- where you like the idea but often find them frustrating. It's also really, really funny.

There was a movie version of this book, with the title changed to Don't Tell Her it's Me (though on the DVD they're apparently calling it The Boyfriend School) that was pretty awful, though I'm not sure if my perspective was skewed because it wasn't exactly like the book I love. Sarah Bird wrote the screenplay, but I still thought it lost whatever charm the book had. For one thing, the setting was changed, for no apparent reason, and I thought that Austin was practically a character in the book. For another, the casting was all wrong and they needlessly changed a lot of critical details about the characters. And it included the "rom com dash" in which the heroine has to make the mad dash across town and publicly humiliate herself, which is definitely not in the book. The movie also mostly takes the guy's point of view when the book is from the woman's perspective. Even the description of the movie spoils the big twist in the book, so if you have plans to read the book, stay away from the IMDB listing or the DVD's Amazon listing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Doing the PR Push

My house is now more or less back to normal -- aside from the hole in the bathroom wall that still needs to be patched. I was sitting on the arm of my sofa, watching them expand the fresh-air intake in the living room wall yesterday, and I somehow became the source for tools. I was expecting a conference call in about fifteen minutes, so I wanted them done and out of there. One guy would start to send the other guy back out to the truck for something, and if I had it, I'd just grab it and hand it to them. They ended up using my hammer, since my tool box was already out. When they needed a flashlight, I reached over to the coffee table and handed them one. And then I found myself wondering why on earth I have a flashlight on my coffee table. I have one in the kitchen and one in the bathroom because my cabinets and closets aren't really lit and it makes it easier to find stuff, but I'm not entirely sure why I keep one in the living room. I think maybe it ended up there during the spring storms, when it was part of my emergency supplies. I had a battery-operated radio and a flashlight at hand, and they're still there. You never know when the power might go out and you'll end up fumbling in the darkness, so I keep a flashlight near most of the places I'm likely to be after dark. Still, it was pretty weird to just reach over and grab a flashlight in my living room because who does that? (My friends: "We do!" Which is why they're my friends.)

The conference call was with my agent and publicist to discuss the launch of book 5, and now I'm feeling slightly overwhelmed. This week I need to put together a PR plan and timeline, and then I'll have to carry it out. I love public relations strategy and planning but I really hate actually doing it. I was made for senior management at an agency, but getting there requires going through the actually doing it phase, which was why I didn't try to get another PR job when I got laid off. I'd been thinking that all I'd really need to do is get the word out to my fans, but my agent is treating this release like a Big Deal. Now I'm getting a taste of what it's like to have a lead title, and it means doing a big publicity push. Meanwhile, I need to do one last proofreading pass of the latest project to get to my agent so it will be off my plate. And then there's some formatting/proofing I may need to do on other stuff. While all this book stuff is going on, I'm also at the busy phase of my FenCon PR job, so I need to write a press kit and do a lot of media outreach. In August I'm also helping with the music and art day camp at church and then there's WorldCon. Somewhere in all this, I need to write book 7. And then the PR starts again with the release of book 6, with FenCon coming right before that.

While I'm talking PR, it's time for another reader survey: Do you follow any blogs or web sites that give you info on books? Where do you go to learn about what books are coming out? Are there any blogs that cover books that you frequently see tweets or Facebook posts about or that otherwise seem to be pretty influential or that have a big following? I'm trying to put together a list of places to try to promote to, though the situation is a little tricky. A lot of sites won't cover self-published books. This book was published by a royalty-paying publisher -- in Japanese. It's the English edition that's self-published, and it's the continuation of a series that was traditionally published in the US. Will sites that covered the first four books refuse to consider the next books because of the publishing method? I guess I'll find out. Meanwhile, I've started a Facebook page for the series, where I'll post all the news and info. You can find it at http://www.facebook.com/EnchantedIncSeries.

I'm also going to throw out an offer: I'm thinking of doing a reader blog tour (in addition to whatever else gets set up with genre blogs or sites). So, if you want to do a short e-mail interview with me or have me do a guest post on your blog (please specify the topic because I'm not sure my brain can handle coming up with ideas to write about right now), let me know. I'd like these to run around the August 15 release date, but the sooner you get questions or post topic suggestions to me, the better because I'm going to be a wee bit swamped.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


My house is now delightfully cool. I hadn't realized how bad it was until the new system was in and I felt the difference. I have the thermostat set the same, but the house seems a lot cooler -- to the point I went and adjusted the thermostat because I was too cold. The other nice thing is that the new system is so quiet, I can barely tell when it turns on. The outside unit is just outside the living room window, right next to where I sit to watch TV, so when the AC kicked on it was so loud I had to turn up the volume. With this one, I can mostly tell that the AC has come on because the thermostat makes a little click. It's still a little noisy in my bedroom where the inside unit is, but that's mostly the sound of air moving through the ductwork, not the blower itself, and that's probably going to change today.

Because, of course, there have to be complications. They needed to move the fresh air intake in my bedroom because some genius had put it six inches from a vent, which meant the hot/cold air was being sucked right back in instead of circulating. They had a plan for where to move it that looked ideal, but once they started cutting through the sheetrock they discovered that it was a load-bearing wall with a truss that supports the second floor. Not that this was obvious before they started cutting because that part of the wall doesn't have anything above it. Apparently the truss starts farther out than the second floor itself (there is some spectacularly bizarre architecture in this house). The plan is that today they'll expand the size of the main fresh air intake in the living room (which was my original suggestion when we were trying to solve this problem). Then we'll see how that works. I may just need to keep the bedroom door open, or we could end up putting a transom type vent over the bedroom door. And then they'll have to get someone to repair the sheetrock in the bathroom, and then I guess I'll get to repaint that room. I was planning to do that eventually because I didn't get quite the color I really wanted when I took out the wallpaper and painted that room eleven years ago. It shouldn't be that big a job. I think when I did it the last time, I spent most of the time ripping off three layers of wallpaper. This time, it'll just involve taping off everything, then probably a coat of primer (since the color I want is lighter than the color that's there) and then a coat of paint, and as I recall, it only took a couple of hours, at most, for each coat of paint because it's a small space and only certain walls are painted. But yeah, a little more complicated than I planned on, though probably worth it to be cool with bonus quiet. It was lovely being able to watch the series finale of Eureka last night without my finger on the remote's volume button.

Because of the complications, they had to call in supervisors to consult, so I had men coming and going from my house all day. Fortunately, they were all in uniform, so it shouldn't have looked to my neighbors like I'd gone into some less-than-savory business all of a sudden. I was hiding upstairs in my office to stay out of the way, but I kept having to run down and open the door when someone new showed up. I think that may have been the most people I've had in my house at any one time since I hosted the dessert portion of a progressive dinner party soon after I moved here. I got a minor jolt when I opened the door one time because the guy who was there was pretty much a double of Duke on Haven -- probably not as tall or as built, but very similar facial structure and facial hair. I found myself looking around for his silver box full of strange weapons. He used to do house painting before he went into the AC business, and he admired my bathroom paint job and was discussing colors with me. I did a glaze finish last time, but I don't know if I'll do that again. It looks cool, but I don't know if that's now out of style.

By the end of the day when they all left, I actually did the thing you see in movies and TV where I shut the door and then leaned wearily against it. It was a little freaky having people in my house all day long. Having my solitude back was sheer bliss. However, it was a very productive day while I was stuck in my office. I actually got everything on my to-do list done.

And now they're downstairs cutting holes in my living room wall. I hope this one works. That wall would be a pain to repaint.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Romantic Comedy: I'm With Lucy

My old AC is now being dismantled, a little behind schedule. They'd told me "first thing" Monday morning because they like to do as much as possible before it gets hot. So I was out of bed around 6:30 to make sure I was up and dressed before anyone showed up, which was painful, as I'd actually been sleeping well and it was pleasantly cool and comfortable. They didn't get here until after 9 because they had trouble finding my place and called the wrong number to get directions. I guess the installation guys aren't quite the geeks the sales guys were.

My romantic comedy for this weekend was I'm With Lucy, and I was curious what I'd think about it upon rewatching. I first saw it on some cable channel, and I watched it over the phone with a friend. Not long after that, she was diagnosed with cancer, and she died by the end of the year, so that marathon phone call with us watching a movie together was probably one of the last "good" times before I had to call her in the hospital and she was loopy from pain meds. And that tends to shape my memories of the movie. But I found that I did still like it, and there was a lot I missed from having been chatting on the phone while watching. I don't know why this one didn't get a wider release or make a bigger splash. I'd been aware it was being made, but then the first I heard of the finished product was when it came on some cable channel on a Saturday afternoon.

The gist of it is that in a framing story, Lucy (Monica Potter) is trying to persuade a friend to accept a blind date setup by telling her that she may not know what her type really is if she only dates men she chooses that she thinks are her type. By taking blind dates, you get a broader variety and may discover that your type isn't what you thought it was, so you'd never meet the right person without blind dates. And it worked for her. After a really nasty breakup, her sister made her go on a lot of blind dates, and now she's about to marry one of those men. Then we see all her blind dates from that time, but instead of seeing them in sequence, we see them in parallel -- we compare the first meetings of all of them, and then skip around to see various moments of the ups and downs instead of seeing an entire date from start to finish before moving on to the next one. That structure lends a bit of suspense to the usual romantic comedy format. We know one of them worked out, but we don't know which one, and because there are ups and downs with all the first dates, you can't judge by how the first date went, and all the men were at around the same level of fame at that time, so you can't even go with the idea that the most famous one will win. There's John Hannah as a recently divorced scientist, Gael Garcia Bernal as a sexy playwright, Anthony LaPaglia as a macho ex-pro baseball player, Henry Thomas as an uptight businessman who's had a really bad day, and David Boreanaz as a wealthy surgeon. It isn't until near the end of the movie that we start to see what happened after the first dates for some of these relationships and get closer to figuring out which one she's marrying -- and which one she wants to set her friend up with.

And I did like this movie a lot, even removing my personal emotional context from it. As someone who has been on a lot of blind dates, it's fun seeing just how bad they can be, and how what starts badly can end well, and how what starts well can go downhill. Even a bad date with someone who was totally wrong could have its merits and teach something about relationships and people. I enjoyed the sense of suspense that had me truly wondering almost to the end how it would turn out, but with the reassurance that it did work out, so I didn't have to worry about someone trying to upend the genre by having things go wrong entirely.

I wonder why Monica Potter didn't become a bigger star. She was really likable in a few extremely obscure romantic comedies and I think has done a few TV roles (wasn't she in The Practice for a while?), and she's got a nice mix of girl-next-door and snark. I also wonder why we don't see more of Henry Thomas. He makes a great romantic comedy leading man in both this (although the "leading man" is shared among five people) and in I Capture the Castle, but although he works steadily he doesn't seem too worried about stardom. I guess he doesn't need to, since as a kid he had the lead role in one of the biggest movies of all time, and it seems like he mostly stays in Texas and works when he feels like it, which probably means a happier life and which means he's a rare case of a child star who hasn't imploded. I admit to feeling a little creepy about finding myself admiring the little kid from ET, even though it turns out he's not that much younger than I am.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The E-Book Scoop

It looks like I'll be getting a new air conditioner on Monday. They had to come out again yesterday to take another look because apparently I'm really special and my house was designed by a drunk moron, but one of the guys had a genius idea for how to approach the unique situation that should improve things significantly. In fact, it almost seems like the house was designed to do it that way in the first place, but for whatever reason (possibly the same reason that made them think faux leather wallpaper in the bathroom was a good idea) they didn't do it that way when the house was built. It's not even costing me as much as I feared (though still, please buy books). The really geeky guy wasn't there this time, but the new guy and I did spend some time explaining the concept of steampunk to the main sales guy, and the main sales guy was really intrigued by the Terry Pratchett book I had lying on the bar in the living room, which led to a discussion of other book recommendations, and he ended up taking one of my bookmarks because he thought his daughters would love my books. I hope the guys who install the unit are as cool because they'll likely be in my house all day. It is possible that I may not be able to do my regular blogging on Monday, depending on what power needs to be turned off. Or I might wilt and leave them to work and head to the library. We'll see. I just need to make it through the weekend with the limping AC that can't cool below 80 degrees (which is where I usually set my thermostat anyway, but I think it's actually a bit above that during the day now).

I had a talk this morning with the person who works with my agent to do the digital publishing, so here's some of the scoop, mostly about book 5, but a lot of this will also apply to book 6. Our target release date is August 15. That's when the book will be uploaded to the booksellers. When they make it available is up to them. It's pretty much the same as with paper books -- some stores shelve right away on release day while others leave books sitting in boxes in the back room for a while until they get around to putting them on the shelf. According to the expert, the All Romance e-book store gets things up almost instantly. Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble get them up in 12-24 hours. Google takes a couple of days and Sony and Kobo can take up to a week. The books will also be available via Ingram and Overdrive, but Ingram sells through other accounts and Overdrive sells mostly to libraries. That does mean that you can request it through your library.

We'll be putting it up for pre-order with Apple and possibly with Amazon, aiming at having that ready around the beginning of August, but Amazon keeps changing the way they do pre-orders, so that may or may not happen. For those who want a printed paper book, there will be a print-on-demand option eventually, but possibly not right at release date. We're aiming to have that ready in time for Christmas (getting it all formatted is totally different from doing the e-book and is rather complicated). That will be available through Amazon and via Ingram, so you should be able to order a copy through a bookstore. It would be a trade paperback like the initial books and would probably be in the same price range as the paper copies of the first four books. For those who don't have e-readers (like me), you can get free apps for computers and smartphones that will allow you to read the e-book. It may not be the ideal reading experience, but it's there if you want to read the book and can't wait for the hard copy. If you're a bookseller, librarian or reviewer who wants a review copy, that will be available via NetGalley, probably around the beginning of August, but that's a different conversation I'll be having with the publicist next week.

I'll be updating the web site when I have specifics, and when the books go live at the various sellers I'll post sales links here and to my web site, and probably also Facebook and Goodreads. Any other questions? I'm starting to get really excited about all the possibilities with this. I was reviewing the EPUB version of the file on my phone last night, so it's a real book now. I now need to get the Kindle app to check that format for any funkiness. And now that I've admitted having that book on my phone, I'll have to guard it carefully.

As a fun exercise that will also help us in setting things up to maximize the exposure to the right kind of readers, I have a couple of questions. First, which genre categories would you be most likely to look for my books in? (Either specifically looking for books in the series or just looking for something kind of like that.) Second, if you were searching for something like this to read, what search terms would you use? (Pretend for a moment that you haven't read the other books in the series and aren't searching for my name or any titles, just books kind of like that.)

I managed to get the DVD of I'm With Lucy from the library, so I don't have to dig up the VHS tape from recording a TV broadcast, so I think it's going to be a romantic comedy movie night with ice cream in front of a fan. I miss having good science fiction/supernatural Friday nights, but I'm really anticipating Haven this fall because the guest casting is raising the awesome levels. They're going to have Claudia Black (Farscape and Stargate SG-1) and Iain Glenn (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey) in guest roles. That's a real notch above last season's "celebrity" guest stars. I hope both get to use their real accents and aren't forced into faking American.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

To Wed or Not to Wed

The latest book is off with Mom for a sanity check, so now I have to get back to focusing on preparing for the release of books 5 and 6. I've got a conference call with the person handling the digital release tomorrow, so next week I should have all sorts of crucial details to report.

The guys came out yesterday to look at my AC/heater and figure out what they can do for me, and it turns out that it's going to be a challenge. They were very, very creative with their use of space when they built this house, and there are some quirks to the house. Like, the indoor part of the AC/heating unit is in the bathroom ceiling. They had to write down model numbers, take photos and then go back and do research to figure out what might be available to fit in that space. So I still don't know how many books I'm going to need to sell. They did confirm that the current unit is probably dying. They got out a thermometer and measured the difference in temperature between the air going in and the air coming out, and it's not chilling the way it's supposed to, in spite of the new freon. Whatever new thing they can do, even with my limited options, should be better than what I have now. It will be quieter and more efficient, and they showed why it's so noisy in my bedroom -- the ductwork. There's a fresh-air intake vent in my bedroom that's the wrong size for the unit, so the noise is too much air being sucked into it. Not to mention the fact that the intake vent is literally six inches from the output vent, so the cool/warm air is being sucked right back in instead of being circulated. They said they'd close off that intake vent and enlarge the one in the living room.

What was fun was that they noticed my DVD collection before they even looked at my AC, so they seemed to figure out that I'm a geek and reasonably intelligent, and they gave me the technical explanations without patronizing me. Plus, we had some fun conversations about Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, the Alien movies, etc. And they gave me some suggestions about improving airflow with the existing system -- which fans to turn on, which direction to turn them and when, which doors to open/close -- that made a big difference in the comfort level of the house. I'd always heard that you turned the ceiling fans one way for winter and the other for summer, and the summer way didn't actually seem cooler to me. But they said it's different depending on whether you're using the AC or using the fans to cool, and in the case of the upstairs, whether I'm in that room or not. It feels cooler in that room with the fan going one way, but if I'm not in that room, then I need to reverse the fan and open the doors, and that makes the whole house cooler. They said a fan on the loft would be even better, but that ceiling slopes so much and is so low that I'm afraid anyone taller than I am would be decapitated.

Last night I found a decent romantic comedy movie of all places on the Lifetime Movie Network (their OnDemand channel, so it's probably a few years old). It was called I Me Wed, and it's about a single woman who's perfectly happy being single -- not opposed to marriage, but okay with her life the way it is and therefore not at all desperate to get married. Her friends and family refuse to believe she's happy the way she is and think she's being too picky when she rejects men, and she's getting really fed up with that. When she tells a friend that she's okay being with herself and her friend snarks back, "Why don't you marry yourself, then?" she gets an idea. She announces that she's going to marry herself to get the point across that she's perfectly okay and her commitment to herself means she's not going to settle just so she won't be alone. Of course, she meets the perfect guy soon after that, and just as she's falling in love with him, her marrying herself idea hits the media. She becomes an inspiration to a lot of fed-up single women, and her idea of a simple ceremony to make a point to her family and friends spirals out of control as companies start donating things so she can have the perfect wedding to herself. Then she's stuck in a no-win situation: if she cancels the wedding to herself because she has a boyfriend, then it looks like she was only doing the wedding thing because she was alone and she'll disappoint all those women looking up to her, but if she goes through with a huge wedding to herself while she's got a boyfriend, it looks like she's just being self-centered (not to mention, it's easy to be a Bridezilla when the wedding really is all about you). She has to figure out what a wedding really means and when it really is important to worry about what other people think.

It had Lifetime movie production values -- supposedly set in Boston but filmed in Ottawa, and taking place in April/May but all the stock footage establishing shots of Boston used between scenes showed trees with fall colors, plus a completely no-name probably Canadian cast without even the usual inclusion of one "name" in a cameo role. And there were a few things that irked me, like an extremely stereotypical gay best friend character (all gay men just looooove to plan weddings) and the first kiss leading straight to sex thing that's one of my pet peeves. But otherwise, it was reasonably thought-provoking, I liked both the guy and the girl (he was really cute and exactly my type), I wanted them to get together, there was no bickering at all, they were actually perfect for each other and not doing the usual total opposites thing, the conflict came from the circumstances, they behaved mostly like reasonable adults and reacted in a believable way, and no one was totally right or wrong -- both of them had to do the public affirmation/apology and they had to work it out between them rather than one having to do the mad dash across town and then make a fool of him/herself while groveling.

I guess I particularly related as a never-married person who's been to way too many weddings. They did make a point that she wasn't doing this as a way to get presents. Even at the beginning of the film, she was shocking her friends by buying expensive kitchenware for herself instead of waiting to put it on a wedding registry. As she said at one point, "If I want a waffle iron, I'll buy a waffle iron." But I say it's totally about the presents. If I added up all the money I've spent on wedding presents over the years, I could have really equipped my own kitchen, and since I haven't been married, there's been no occasion for any of those gifts to be reciprocated. But even if I did decide to marry myself and register for gifts, I'd have to hire PIs to track down all the people I've given gifts to. Out of all the weddings I've been to in the past 22 or so years, I'm still in regular real-life contact with one couple and am Facebook friends with a few more. Some of those people did move away, which made staying in touch more difficult, but for the most part, I think it came down to the fact that I was close enough to be invited to the wedding (and to give a gift) but not close enough to remain within their circle of friends when they were no longer part of the same general group with me. We were friends when they were in the church singles group, but they no longer associated with me when they left that group. I did establish a personal policy about ten years ago that if I haven't heard from you in the previous six months and I receive a wedding invitation from you, then I'm going to politely decline and I don't feel obligated to send a gift. If I'm not important enough to be a part of your life otherwise, then I figure you can live without me at your wedding.

I am lucky, though, that I've never felt pressured to be married. The people closest to me know that it's not because I didn't want to be married but rather that I didn't find the right person and am okay enough on my own not to settle. There's no "man that got away" that I rejected for a trivial reason but that I have second thoughts about now and wish I hadn't let him go. I can't imagine living with anyone I've dated or been asked out by. The only ones where I thought it might have worked ended up rejecting me, which is kind of a deal-breaker. I don't really get the "what's wrong with you that you aren't married?" attitude from anyone. I'm more likely to get "what's wrong with men that no one's snatched you up?" But still, it was nice to hear the heroine in this movie saying the things I say about my life and to realize that I still agree with her, in spite of me never having found the perfect guy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Life Skills for Writers

I have about 50 more pages to review/revise, and then I think I'll send it off to Mom and maybe a friend or two. I'm making a lot fewer changes than I expected. I don't know if that's been because of distraction brain (there are a couple of things I may go back and tinker with that I don't think registered when I read them) or if because it really is ready. Then I'll get back to stuff like updating the web site again.

I skipped the writing post last week for the holiday. Today I think I'll talk about something not strictly writing-related. We know the kinds of skills you need to be a writer: writing (duh), research, knowing something about the business. But I've found that there are some non-writing life skills that are helpful -- if not critical -- to a writing career.

1) The ability to read aloud.
If you get a book published, at some point you will likely be asked to read from your work. This can be a great promotional tool or it can sink you like a rock. Authors are asked to do readings at booksignings and conventions, and I even had a newspaper ask me to read an excerpt on the phone for them to put on the newspaper web site as a bonus feature for their article about me. If you can do a good job with these readings, you'll get the audience excited and interested even if your book isn't a topic they might otherwise notice. If you drone in a monotone, no matter how exciting the book itself may be, the audience will assume that your book is boring.

I also find that reading aloud is helpful in the creative process. It's a good way to proofread and make sure that you read every word and not just skim over it. It's a great way to check your dialogue and make sure it sounds like something someone would actually say and to make sure your characters have distinct voices. If you find yourself going into the character voices while reading, that's a good sign. But doing that in a way that proves to be helpful requires being able to read well.

Reading aloud well takes practice. Listen to books on tape to see how the pros do it. Go to readings by other authors and take note of what works and what doesn't. Take a speech or drama course at a community college. Record yourself reading your work or someone else's and then critique your own performance. If you do get scheduled for a reading, rehearse it. Don't just show up, then thumb through your book to find a part you think might work and read it cold. I usually find my excerpt in the manuscript and edit it for reading. You don't need dialogue tags if you're doing character voices, and there may be continuity bits you need to fix to make an excerpt make sense out of context. I print it in large print and mark up the page to remind me of what I need to do when I read. Then I practice and time it.

2) Non-fiction writing
Your focus may be on fiction, but being able to write articles and essays is really helpful for promoting your work. Blogging is essentially writing an essay, and the better you do it, the more effective it is as a promotional tool (I've been approached by magazines to turn blog posts into articles for them). You may also be asked to contribute articles or opinion pieces to writing magazines, writing organization magazines and newsletters or non-fiction books. Not only does that get your name out in more places, but it can be a nice way to make a little extra money.

3) Money management
If you live paycheck-to-paycheck and figure that if you still have money in your account, you're free to spend it, you'll probably have some trouble surviving as a full-time writer or even getting to the point of making the leap to full-time writing. You don't get a monthly paycheck with your taxes and insurance costs already deducted. Advances get paid in lump sums, and it's easy to get giddy and go nuts when you get a single check that big, but that check may have to last you a couple of years before the next bit of money comes in. Royalties (once you earn out the advance, which can take a few years) are generally paid twice a year by the big publishers. The e-bookstores pay monthly if you're self-publishing, but you don't know how big that check may or may not be each month. You'll need to put aside money to pay income taxes, and you'll have to pay business expenses. For instance, most promotion these days comes out of the writer's pocket, not the publisher's. Managing my money before I took the leap into full-time writing so that I had a big financial cushion was one of the best things I did for my career. You can find books on money management, and that's also something they usually have classes and seminars on at community colleges.

4) Networking and other interpersonal business skills
Networking can be very helpful in building a career, but if you do it wrong it can also be detrimental. It's a good idea to learn what's professional and acceptable -- how to approach people without being annoying or creepy, how to draw upon your network without being presumptuous or coming across like a user. There's also a lot of business etiquette that I've found helpful in my writing career. Even simple things like writing thank-you notes can make a big impression. I learned most of this stuff in my old day-job career and from the professional organizations I joined in college, but you can find books on these subjects. There may also be panels and workshops on networking and business etiquette at writing conferences and conventions.

Is there something you'd like to know about the craft or career of writing? Let me know and I'll address it in future posts.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Spy Book Hangover

I'm having a book hangover kind of morning, since I stayed up way too late for my current sleeping patterns to finish reading a book and then that book triggered a lot of very intense dreams -- a whole chain of them that had me waking up and realizing it was just a dream, then going back to sleep and falling into a similar dream, over and over again. And then I woke at my usual early summer time, but I did try to let myself get back to sleep again. So I may be foggy today.

The book in question was Code Name: Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and it's a YA WWII spy story. Sort of. The story is told in a kind of manifesto written by one of the main characters, a British agent captured by the Gestapo in France who has broken under torture and agreed to tell them everything. So, this is what she writes, going back to the beginning to tell how she and her best friend both got involved in the war effort and all the events that led to where she is now. That's a really interesting story of a friendship between two girls who might never have met if it weren't for the war -- the titled lady who grew up in a Scottish castle and went to boarding school in Switzerland and the Jewish girl who works as a mechanic in her grandfather's motorcycle shop -- and how they meet when they're radio operators at an RAF base during the Battle of Britain.

But then what you have to keep in mind is that the narrator knows the Gestapo will be reading everything she writes, and that means you don't know exactly how true it is. It isn't until the second part of the book when we get things from the other girl's perspective that we start to see what's really been going on all along. Once I got to that part -- around my bedtime last night -- I couldn't put the book down. I may even have missed some things in my haste to find out what happens. It's the kind of book that you need to re-read once you know the whole story so you can spot the clues along the way, but it is pretty intense and I'm not sure I could bear to re-read the whole story right now.

This was published as YA, but I would definitely say it's adult-friendly because it's not very teenagery at all. The main characters are likely in their late teens at the beginning of the story-within-a-story, but they're in the middle of a war, so there are none of the stereotypical teen fiction tropes. There's no love triangle. There's not even really a hint of romance, unless you're inclined to read really hard between the lines and kind of imagine that two of the characters might end up together in the future. There's zero romantic angst, at any rate (and no vampires). This book is being cited as an example of what they're now calling "new adult" fiction -- for older teens to early 20s. Younger readers generally "read up," preferring to read about characters who are a bit older than they are and maybe in the next stage of life, so the main audience for books about high school is actually middle schoolers. Readers in their late teens are looking for books about the early 20s -- college and first job. Publishers seem to have figured out that since YA is the big moneymaker these days it's kind of silly to push those readers over to adult books where it's hard to narrow down which books are in the range they'd want, so they're publishing those early adult books within YA. I suspect that's how this book ended up in YA even though it could easily fit in adult fiction. I know as a teen I would have eaten this book up with a spoon and likely would have become scarily obsessed with it, reading it over and over again and then trying to write my own spy stories. It kind of is along the lines of some of the stuff I mentally wrote as a pre-teen/teen, except it's actually good and well-researched, unlike mine.

Plus, the author's history is in YA, which may influence the shelving. The book jacket doesn't mention this at all, but I thought her name sounded familiar, so I looked it up, and she is the same Elizabeth Wein that I had a really fun conversation about Star Wars with at the Nebula Awards. She wrote YA fantasy novels, and I guess they're hiding the fantasy past in relaunching her with a non-fantasy World War II book.

In other news, I think I'm going to make a leap of faith and replace my antique AC system. I'm not sure why I've put it off as long as I have. I've got the money, though my worry has been that I'll need that money for stuff like food in the coming years, since I don't know when more money will be coming in (I hope people buy these next two books! Tell all your friends!). Given interest rates, I'll save a lot more in electric costs than I'd earn in interest on that money. I think a lot of it is sheer stubbornness, but I think by now I've proved that the guy who told me ten years ago that this system wouldn't make it through the summer was wrong. It's currently working, but I get the sense it's having to work harder, and my Spidey sense is telling me it's time to do something soon. There's no point in doing major repairs on a 28-year-old air conditioner. And anything I get would have to be quieter than the current system, which would be a plus. Now I just have to deal with figuring out the right company to work with, figuring out what I need/want, figuring out if they're being honest with me, and then dealing with getting the work actually done. Ugh. I probably should have done this in the spring, but the Spidey sense hadn't kicked in yet then. It was yesterday while I was trying to work that all my instincts suddenly fired full-blast with "must replace air conditioner" impulses.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Creative Overload

It was a weird weekend for me because I had this sudden need for silence. I didn't even want to watch movies. I spent Friday night and much of Saturday lying on the sofa and reading a book about France during the Nazi occupation. Then because contrast is fun, I spent much of Sunday lying on the sofa and reading a really ditzy chick lit book. When I did watch movies, they were very strange choices (for me). Saturday afternoon I got the most bizarre inclination to watch the second X-Men movie on one of the HBO channels. I thought I'd seen it, but I didn't remember much in the way of events, so maybe it was imagery from the first and third (which I did watch on HBO when they were first on). The beginning of this one seemed most familiar, so it's possible I started trying to watch it and turned it off. Mostly, this was on as background noise while I read so I could hear Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen talk. I didn't much care what they said as long as I could listen to their accents/voices.

My biggest impression out of this was: Why isn't James Marsden a bigger star? Not that he had a big role in this (they kept him off-stage through most of the movie), but it reminded me of other movies he's been in. He's gorgeous, can sing and is capable of being really, really funny. He just about stole both Hairspray and Enchanted, and was so hilariously dorky and charming as the "Mr. Wrong" in Enchanted that I was actually a little disappointed to see her end up with "Mr. Right" instead of getting to know her prince and falling in love with him for real. This is a guy made for romantic comedies, and he was as good in 27 Dresses as that horrid script would allow anyone to be. I don't know if he considers that a fate worse than death (some actors do) and takes just about anything else that comes along, but he doesn't even seem to be making it as an action/horror star, either. (I have a growing list of actors I'd like to see in good romantic comedies, but then I suppose that requires that someone write good romantic comedy scripts and that studios know a good romantic comedy script when it bites them on the nose and are willing to fund and produce such scripts.)

Sunday I watched Girl With a Pearl Earring on one of the HBO channels because I'd read the book and Colin Firth was in it. I'm not sure what I thought of it, to be honest. It seemed to be fairly faithful to what I remembered of the book, and it seemed to capture that world pretty well. It's very minimalist, focusing a lot more on imagery than character/plot/dialogue. Colin Firth is rather charming, but has hideous hair. I did get a giggle fit when I realized that the whole movie is essentially the Colin Firth Love Actually plot, only he's a painter instead of a writer and at least he and the maid speak the same language, though she doesn't speak much at all. After that, it was hard to take it too seriously because I was adding Love Actually dialogue. (And now you know why seeing movies with me can be a fun/irritating/surreal experience.)

My real issue all weekend was that my brain seemed to kick into creative overdrive, generating ideas at an alarming pace. Everything seemed to send me spiraling off into some tangent. I think that may have been why I needed to reduce sensory input. But it wasn't the kind of creativity I could act on immediately. I'm not an artist, so I couldn't just rush to the canvas. I got a few ideas I might be able to play with in the current project, but mostly I was furiously spinning out ideas for a future project that with any luck (if the book on submission sells and I have to write the rest of the trilogy) I won't be able to write for a couple of years. I got out my notebook and wrote down those ideas as they hit me, and they came from the weirdest places -- from books I was reading to things I saw on TV. When I finally get around to writing this book, it should be awesome. At least, it is in my head. It always loses something in the transition to paper.

But for now I need to work on a publicity plan for the new releases and then get back to revising the current project and maybe implementing those new ideas.