Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Enchanted Questions: Halloween Edition

Happy Halloween! It's Enchanted, Inc. question time again!

Where did Owen get the magic-detecting necklace he gave Katie for Christmas? At one point James started to ask about it, but Gloria cut him off like she didn't want the subject brought up. It seemed like the necklace's origins might be rather interesting…

Sorry to disappoint you, but that bit was more about illustrating character than setting up a plot point. Owen bought the necklace and then put a spell on it. Owen gets his magical geekiness from James, even though they're not biologically related, so James was all eager to talk theory and technique about the exact spell Owen came up with. Gloria shut down the conversation before they went off into a rabbit hole that would bore everyone else. It was sort of a "don't even get him started on that subject or we'll never hear the end of it" situation.

I wondered about the crystal balls in the Enchanted, Inc. series. Are they only used inside the building of MSI or do they work like a network as the internet for the magic community?

They're sort of the magical Internet, though I have to admit that I haven't really done much with that concept. It's difficult to explore it in much depth when they don't work for the viewpoint character. The crystal balls are a remnant from my first envisioning of this magical world, when I was trying to depict what a magical office would be like and finding magical equivalents for ordinary things. In other words, it looked cool and was an instant sign that magic was afoot. I think I was trying too hard to be like the Harry Potter universe, where the magical world and the normal world are totally distinct and have entirely different technology. Since then, the development has gone in different directions, but I make sure to keep the crystal balls there so I don't just drop it entirely. In a way, it's very convenient that they don't work for Katie because I can stay vague about it and still keep them in the picture.

And then a question I've been getting a lot of lately:
I'm frightfully curious if you have any idea as to whether you'll be digitally publishing Book 7, or if it will be exclusive to the Japanese publisher?

I don't know for sure yet. I'm still writing the book, so I haven't made any decisions, and it will have to be something I discuss with my agent, since I'm doing the digital publishing through her platform. Books 5 and 6 have been fairly successful, but I don't know for sure what the return on investment has been, and I don't know what else might happen between now and when I'd even have the book ready for publication, so I'm not going to say anything definitive, though I would say that it looks likely, but I have no idea what the timetable would be. Vague enough for you?

I think that's all the questions I had that I haven't answered yet, though I've let my e-mail get way out of control, so I may have lost some.

In other news, speaking of book 7, I had a bit of a breakthrough yesterday, one of those things that seems kind of "duh" in retrospect, but that somehow didn't occur to me until now, and it will really change things for the better. It was so big that it took me a while to wrap my brain around it and figure out how the ripple effect will go.

So, my Halloween plans mostly involve writing. There's no choir, and I seldom get trick-or-treaters. There aren't a lot of kids in my part of the neighborhood, and my house faces a courtyard instead of a street, so the front door isn't visible from the street. There may be some goodies for me, and when I'm not writing, I've got a good ghost story to read.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What Doesn't Work

I made actual progress yesterday. Yay! Though I'm about to cut a huge chunk of book and replace it with entirely new material, so it will feel like I've lost ground. However, I realized that incorporating one of my literary bucket list items will do a lot for enhancing tension and bringing out conflict, so the new material should be tons of fun to write. Come to think of it, it involves two literary bucket list items, but one was already there.

I've worked my way through the library stash from the latest round of recommendations, and I'm afraid some of the fantasy recommendations weren't quite my cup of tea. Not that they were bad books -- in fact, if I were writing a review for a magazine or newspaper, it would be positive -- but they weren't really what I was looking for. With that in mind, I think it might be informative to discuss why they didn't work for me even though I liked a lot about them.

First, there was Hounded by Kevin Hearne. The book is about a 2,000 (or more) year-old Druid whose magic keeps him looking like a 21-year-old. He's living in modern Arizona and running a bookstore, hiding out from the enemy he took a magical sword from ages ago. What he didn't anticipate was his enemy learning to use the Internet to track him down. I loved the characters and the set-up, thought the writing was great and laughed out loud a lot, but I wasn't crazy about the story itself. It took me a while to read the book because of this, which is weird because when I like the characters this much, the plot usually doesn't matter all that much to me. I think my issue is that I'm not all that fond of "the gods are real!" plots. This was one of the topics that came up in that panel on faith in fantasy at Worldcon, where somehow the faith loses something if the god is a character who can show up and have tea with you or when the god is who you're fighting -- literally, not metaphorically. I don't know enough about Druidism to know if this is an element of that belief system, but outside of actual mythology, I prefer for gods to be something people believe in and ascribe things to, maybe even talk to, without the gods actually showing up and talking back. It's even more jarring in a modern setting. Weirdly, I like the clash of images when magic shows up in a modern setting, so I guess this is just one of my quirks. Based on the preview for the next book, he'll be going up against Thor, so that one likely won't be my cup of tea, either. And yet I think I'd happily read an entire book in which Atticus, his dog with the overactive imagination, his werewolf and vampire lawyers and his feisty Irish widow neighbor just hung out or irritated his nosy neighbor who's too eager to call the cops.

The other one that I didn't quite get into was The Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly. It's a really interesting take on the portal fantasy, in which the two worlds coming closer than usual means that a woman's dreams actually take her to the other world, which brings her to the attention of a wizard in the other world. Since his world is under attack, he goes to her in her world to get help hiding the infant prince, but when the enemies manage to follow him and he narrowly escapes with the baby back to his world, he ends up bringing the woman and the biker type who happened to be at the hideout with him. Then they realize they'll have to defeat the enemy before they can get home, or else they'll bring the enemy to their world. There were a lot of interesting things in this book, including some different approaches to portal fantasy -- like the "real" world characters don't seem to be Destined, Chosen Ones With Magical Specialness, just people who turn out to be useful at a bad time and who happen to meet the guy who does seem to be pivotal. I just didn't connect very well to the characters or to the story.

I think this one comes down to being a good explanation of what I see as the difference between intimate and epic fantasy. One thing that kept me from getting too involved with the book was that the scale was so grand. The enemy they're fighting is essentially a plague of locusts, only they're not insects and are more dangerous and scary. It's a faceless mass with what appears to be purely primal motivations (feeding), so it comes across as a Man vs. Nature conflict, which is pretty epic in scope, but it's so epic that I have a hard time relating to it. Then again, it's essentially Aliens (but written before that movie came out), and that's one of my favorite movies. The scope seems to be the difference for me. Aliens had a very defined and limited reach -- there were just a few characters, and they were all the people affected, as opposed to a few people with names who represent a larger mass of thousands affected. There was also a limited space to work in rather than the whole world, and there was a tightly defined timeline -- at first it was a countdown of how long they had to hold out before help could arrive, and then it became a ticking clock of having to escape before things blew up. Plus, in addition to the faceless mass with primal motivations, there was a human villain they could talk to who had more complex motivations. I guess that's what I mean by intimate vs. epic -- we're focused on a few people, the story and its effects are limited in scope to mostly affecting those people, there's a villain you can see and talk to, and there's a defined end in sight as opposed to endless years of misery, if they can even survive that long.

Not that every book must be that way. It's just why this book didn't quite grab me even though it was well-written and quite original. I might look for the sequel eventually because it did seem to be moving into more interesting territory for me toward the end, and what's being set up seemed more like my kind of story. I think I mostly came away from this book feeling oppressed and hopeless rather than like I'd had a great adventure, and it's possible that the end of the trilogy gives more of that sense of completion.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Still More Follow Up

This was Halloween party weekend, and wouldn't you know, I never even got out my camera to have someone take a picture of my costume. Nothing has even shown up on Facebook. I must have been functioning in stealth mode. Which would make a good costume, but I'd have to find a way to represent it in costume form. But then if it was too clever, there would be a lot of pictures taken of it, which would mean it, by definition, wasn't stealth mode.

This is kind of a week off for me because I don't have children's choir or choir rehearsal. I'm going to try for two dance classes, but I turned my ankle on Saturday, so we'll see how that goes. It never swelled up at all, and it seems to be entirely functional, just a bit stiff and not so much sore as feeling a bit "different," so we'll see if I'm up to dancing tomorrow if I continue resting it today. In the future, if my leg falls asleep while I'm sitting at my desk, I will wait until feeling returns completely before I try going down the stairs. Fortunately, it was only stepping off the last step onto the floor when I suddenly couldn't feel where the floor was and the foot wouldn't take my weight, so I didn't actually fall. I just stepped badly. Actually, in the future I should probably sit properly at my desk instead of twisting myself up into odd positions in my chair that lead to my legs falling asleep. Ergonomics are our friend.

I came up with a really cool new twist to throw into the current book that I think is totally in character (and not doing it wasn't in character). And I think I've found another issue that means I'll have to go back a few chapters to fix it. I sometimes feel it's two steps forward, three steps back. But I do know what needs to be done today, and I have nothing else to do other than rest my slightly sore ankle.

Revisiting my gripe about the premise of Easy A: I found a message board discussion about it, and a lot of the posters there seemed to have the same problem I had with the idea that anyone in a California high school in this day and age would care about a rumor that a "nobody" that no one even knew had had sex. But someone pointed out that the entire movie was her telling her side of the story, so she's not an entirely reliable narrator. I'll have to watch it again sometime to see if this works, but that poster said that the only people we actually see confronting her about it are members of that hyper-religious group. Otherwise, she just feels self-conscious, like she thinks everyone is looking at her and talking about her. That's when she puts on a bit of attitude, starts dressing a little different and walking with a bit of swagger, so people are more likely to notice her. The real rumors around the school only start after half the school is on the other side of the door when she's faking noisy sex during a party, and that would tend to give her a reputation, and it only escalated when she started agreeing to say that she'd done various things in order to enhance the reputations of all the school's losers. Now I can relax about that one issue that kept taking me out of the movie, though I'm still going to be irked that they were having the hyper-evangelical people coming from what appeared to be a mainline Protestant church.

While resting my ankle yesterday afternoon, I finally caught up with all of Elementary via OnDemand, and I really like that show. On the other hand, while I liked the pilot of Last Resort, I've only watched one episode since then. It seems to be something I have to be in the right mood to watch, and I have to actually watch it instead of using it as background noise, so I keep putting off watching it. In fact, I caught up on all of Elementary because I checked the episode expiration dates for Last Resort and found that I still have a few more weeks to get around to the first episode I still haven't watched. I've also found myself getting more and more into Chicago Fire, which isn't the sort of thing I normally like. It does make good background noise, and I like the characters enough to want to know what happens to them next.

And now for what I hope to be a productive writing day.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Follow-ups

I have a number of follow-ups to recent topics.

First, there was an interesting story in the news this week that tied into my reality concerns involving the premise of the movie Easy A. There was apparently a "fantasy slut league" at a California high school in which male students "drafted" female students and earned points for real-life sex with them, and many of the female students knew about it and participated willingly or because of peer pressure. I'd say that the fact that the peer pressure was to participate proves that it would be unlikely for a girl to become the subject of a rumor mill for supposedly having sex once -- unless she was something like the president of the purity club or something else that would make her out to be a huge hypocrite.

Second, the discussion about the portal books continues in writing and publishing circles. The Publishers Weekly "Genreville" blog about fantasy and science fiction recently had a post about this trend and a possible sense of "exhaustion" in the genre -- if we're living in the future, has our world become the "other" world so that we're no longer interested in other worlds? It does seem like a lot of the fantasy published today (including my books) takes place in our world rather than in the "other" world that's traditionally been the setting for fantasy. That's interesting to think about. I tend to go in cycles. I love the juxtaposition of the normal and the abnormal, that sense that maybe this time you'll round the corner and find that things are different. But then sometimes I just want to escape.

I also read that one of the issues with the portal fantasy is that not only is the idea that an ordinary person in our world becomes the Destined, Chosen One With Magical Specialness dangerously close to Mary Sue wish fulfillment, but if you look at it through politically correct goggles, it becomes a metaphor for colonialism, with the ignorant savages needing the more sophisticated outsider to come in and solve all their problems for them, and that makes a lot of editors uncomfortable. Never mind that all these other worlds seem to be very white and European-based.

But that got me started thinking: Why do most of these "other" worlds that people visit through portals seem to be quasi-medieval and European? I suspect to some extent it has to do with the fact that for a very long time, the standard fantasy setting was quasi-medieval and European -- swords, knights, castles and the like, with bonus wizards. Therefore, if you were going to travel from our world to a fantasy world, it had to be what a fantasy world was supposed to look like.

But then if you think about it, some of the earlier portal fantasies didn't involve medieval worlds. Alice's Wonderland was more or less Victorian, made different from the "real" world by whimsical touches like talking animals and playing cards. I'm not sure it really even mapped to a particular time period, aside from a few things like the tea party and the croquet game. Likewise with Neverland, which seemed to be an amalgamation of everything that seemed like a good fit for a place where you could have adventures -- pirates, Indians, mermaids, and the like. Even in the original illustrations, Hook looks vaguely early 18th century, but otherwise, it would be hard to time-stamp Neverland. It's been ages since I read The Wizard of Oz, but a quick skim of the description of the Emerald City doesn't strike me as the typical medieval fantasy world. It seems more like a city contemporary to the time of the writing, only better (there's specific mention of no horses, which would imply it's a lot cleaner). Actually, it would be really hard to map Oz to any particular time in earth's history. Oz is Oz.

And, really, why would a fantasy world have to follow earth's history so exactly that you could figure out what time period you're in? I remember the Internet outcry over the fact that there were hay bales mentioned in the Wheel of Time books because those wouldn't have existed in that time period. What time period? This is another world! Ditto with SCA complaints about fantasy, unless the story is specifically set in our history.

Now that fantasy has broadened beyond the medieval European setting, I wonder if there's room for portal worlds that are, say, Victorian or Regency (assuming there's room for portal worlds at all). Or get wild and crazy and pull an Oz, so that your portal world is itself and not anything you can map against earth. It might be full of seeming anachronisms because technology may have developed in different ways and at different rates. The clothes might be different not only because of technology but because societies with different religions and moral codes might not have the same taboos of what parts of the body can be shown. The existence of magic might stall the development of technology or lead into entirely new technologies. They might not have internal combustion engines, but they might have the equivalent of flying cars, because if magic allows you to fly, why bother building roads?

And now I think I've fed my subconscious a little too much, considering I have work to do, especially since I plan to plant myself on the couch tonight. It's nice and cool, so I can huddle under the blankets and watch Grimm and Haven's Halloween episodes.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Costume Decisions

Last night was the church's community Halloween carnival instead of children's choir, and I got to run one of the craft booths. At my booth, we made door hangers. There were these foam things that hang on the doorknob and then we had various Halloween stickers and other foam shapes to use to decorate them. We also had sheets of letters so they could put their names on them, though a lot just put stuff like "Boo" and one girl put "Keep Out or" and then put one of the tombstone stickers under it. I'm guessing she has younger siblings.

Disney princesses seem to be the big thing for girls, though I was having trouble recognizing some of them, in spite of my in-depth knowledge of all the fairy tale movies. Part of the problem seems to be that all the costumes are of the fancy dress the heroine wears for the last few seconds of the movie rather than the outfit she wears for most of the movie. The other thing is that they make the dress even fancier for the costume. The Aurora one for Sleeping Beauty really threw me because her dress is very simple, with no lace or ruffles, but the costume version is covered in ruffles and lace. There's something wrong when the actual Disney princess costume isn't fancy and girly enough for you. If the costumes didn't have little medallions showing who the princess was, I'd have never guessed the Aurora ones, and that's probably my favorite of the "classic" era movies. There were lots and lots of Snow Whites and Tinkerbells (she seems to have been elevated to princess-hood. I guess Wendy is no fun because she just wears a nightgown through the whole movie), a few Auroras, a couple I think were supposed to be Rapunzel but without the hair, and one Merida from Brave, complete with curly red wig. She was one of my choir kids, and I might not have recognized her if she hadn't been with her mom. Though the wig didn't get the curls right as well as the movie did. I was joking that if my hair were lighter, I'd just need the green dress for the costume. Unfortunately, auburn hair doesn't have quite the same effect, though I consider myself a stealth redhead. You think you're dealing with a mild-mannered brunette, but by the time you notice that there's a lot of red in there, it's too late for you. You're doomed.

For the boys, there were a lot of Star Wars-related costumes, but most of them were from the prequels (and possibly the Clone Wars cartoon series), so I couldn't think of the names of most of the characters. I felt like I'd fallen down on my job as a Star Wars fanatic. There was a dad who showed up in a Phantom of the Opera mask, which meant that singing "The Phantom of the Opera" became mandatory, though I skipped all the shrill vocalizing at the end. I'm mostly well, but I didn't want to try going above a high C in public just yet, and I did have choir practice afterward.

One interesting costume for me was a little girl in a blue-and-white cheerleader outfit that said Eagles on the front. Someone made a remark about how for the Eagles it should be green, and I said it was just like my high school, since we were blue and white and the Eagles. The mom told me about how when her daughter decided she wanted to be a cheerleader for Halloween, she went looking for costumes, but they were ridiculously expensive, and she ended up finding this one through a moms' group on Facebook that got her in touch with someone from East Texas who was selling one her daughter no longer wore. So it turned out that it really was for my high school -- there are always little girls dressed in replica cheerleader outfits at the football games. The mom got all excited that I actually knew she was dressed as a Lindale cheerleader. The daughter was less impressed.

I remember when what to be for Halloween was a huge decision that had to be pondered. I tended toward the princess thing, and I remember the year I decided to be a witch. It was a very serious decision, and I recall telling my parents that I thought I was finally mature enough for a scary costume and saying it with the kind of gravity that you'd expect to come with "I've decided to join the army instead of going to college." I'm impressed that my parents managed to keep a straight face and act like they considered this as important as I did. Of course, I was more of a pretty witch. No green skin or warts for me.

Now that costume parties for adults are a big thing, I'm back to having to contemplate a costume. I've had one in reserve for a while, but it requires certain weather to not be completely miserable, and the forecast for this weekend is perfect, so I think I'll finally get to use it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Revision: What to Look For

I had a reader ask questions about revision, and since that's the writing phase where I'm currently mired, I figure it's a good time to talk about it. Maybe I'll learn something!

First, a disclaimer: There is no one right way to deal with this. You have to find the way that works for you. I know very successful (as in bestselling) authors who revise as they go -- they edit the previous day's work at the start of a day's writing session, and if they come up with something that needs to be fixed earlier in the book, they go back and do it immediately, so that when they reach the end, it really is the end. That terrifies me because I'm never entirely sure what the book is really about, no matter how much plotting and planning I do, until I've written the first draft. So, if you've found your method and it's working, then ignore me. If you're still trying to find your method, then you might want to give my suggestions a try and see if they work for you.

The first thing I recommend is putting a book aside and letting it rest. It's difficult to change things when you're still emotionally connected to the work, when you remember why you wrote something a certain way. If you thought something was wrong in the first place, you wouldn't have written it that way. I think this is especially important with a first book because there's so much glee at finishing it that you don't want to change it. The idea is to get to the point where you can look at the book objectively, like you might look at something written by someone else and without a lot of the baggage about the book that's in your head but not on the page. I'm always running into jokes I wrote that I thought were funny in the first draft but that I don't get at all when I come back to them because I don't even know what I was thinking, which means readers would likely be scratching their heads, too. How long this takes varies. I prefer to work on something else between drafts, like write a first draft or revise another project to really clear the book from my mind, but whether that's feasible depends on deadlines. If it took you a long time to write the first draft, you might be able to go back to it fairly quickly because you may have forgotten the beginning.

The second pass should focus on the story. Until you've got the big-picture plot fixed and the scenes in the right place, there's no point in fine-tuning and wordsmithing, and if you are fine-tuning, you might not even see the big picture.

For new authors, I recommend doing a read and taking notes before you even try to fix something. Read the book like you're a reader, and if something bothers you or if you have a question about it, make a note but don't try to edit. Once you have all your notes, you can come up with a plan for your revisions, whether it requires reworking some of the main plot or just fixing some scenes.

How do you know what to fix? You can learn that over time. It may help to get critiques from someone more knowledgable and experienced than you are. Once you see what changes they suggest, you may be able to spot those things for yourself. I seem to channel my agent when I revise, so I can already tell what she'd criticize. You can find online and in-person critique groups, find critique partners through writing organizations, enter writing contests that offer feedback or even pay for a professional critique (though be very careful about checking credentials and determining exactly what you're paying for and what you'll get, because there are some scams out there). If you're paying for the service or entering a contest, I'd recommend getting the book to the point where you don't think you can make it any better before you submit. If you have an ongoing critique relationship with a group or partner, you might be comfortable with getting feedback on a first draft. I'm more likely to get it to the point I think it's perfect before I let anyone else see it. I may discuss problems while revising if I'm stuck, but I don't hand out the text itself until I reach a certain level of "done."

Here are some things to look for when evaluating a manuscript for revision:
* If you find your attention waning or distracted when you're reading your own work, that's a bad sign. Rule out things like hungry, tired, or a parade passing by your house, and then take a look at why your attention drifted. If your attention drifted, then a reader is likely to put the book down at that point and go do something else. Or that may be when an editor or agent gives up and rejects.
* Have you inadvertently established a pattern? Sometimes, patterns can be used for effect -- things happen a certain way often enough that you establish an expectation, and then you can create surprise by changing the pattern. But sometimes you do it without meaning to, and it makes for a boring book. When my agent gave me the feedback for the second book in my series, she noted that almost all the conversations between the characters happened when they were going to and from work together. Half the book seemed to involve them walking to the subway station while planning what to do next. I needed to cut a lot of the conversations because characters should be doing things more than they talk about things, and I needed to mix things up for the remaining conversations. You can also run into this when the plot becomes "nearly be caught by bad guys, escape, lather, rinse, repeat."
* Does everything that happens have some reason, especially some reason involving the main plot? Do you have scenes that are just cool rather than serving a purpose? You don't necessarily have to cut them. You can find a way for them to have a purpose. I came up with an entire story thread that ended up tying the whole plot together in the fifth book in my series just to justify a scene I really liked that was just there to be funny and suspenseful. If I'd cut the scene that was cool but had no purpose instead of finding a way to justify it, I'd have undermined my plot instead of strengthening it.
* Take a step back from the book and think about what these characters would really do. If the villain is mostly offstage and we're just seeing the results of his work, what is his plan, really, and how do events fit into that plan? What would the villain's response to the hero's actions really be? Would the hero really take that action? Or did you write it that way to nudge the story in the direction you wanted it to go? Do you understand the characters' actions, and is that clear on the page or just in your head?
* Are the plot turns too predictable? Can you come up with anything more interesting or surprising? I frequently hear the advice to make a list of things that can happen and then throw out the first ten you come up with because those are the things readers are most likely to expect, but whether that works depends on how your brain works. If you always think out of the box, the first thing you come up with may be something no one else would ever think of. But it's still worth thinking about. Have you relied too heavily on a tried-and-true trope with a predictable outcome? Can you come up with a fresher, more interesting way to do things, or can you subvert the trope in some way? Feedback can be helpful here. Give someone the setup and ask what they think will happen next. If they come up with what you've written, you might want to change it. Or you can use the fact that it's expected. In one of my books, I thought the identity of the villain would be a surprise, but it turned out to be way too obvious. Instead of changing the villain, I let the heroine notice the villain and came up with a reason no one but the heroine seemed to notice who the villain was, and then her frustration about that led to a lot of conflict and some suspense.

There have been whole books written about revision, and there are entire workshops on the subject, so this is just a starting point. It really is something you learn by doing. The more books you write and revise, the better you'll be, but you'll never stop learning or revising. Once you instinctively avoid writing the stuff you'd have had to revise, you'll start noticing less obvious things that need to be fixed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


After much hair tearing and pacing (yes, pacing! I was like a bad cliche of a writer in a movie) and still making no progress, I got the genius idea of going back a few scenes before the part I thought I needed to rework, back when everything was just right, and then I thought I might get some flow. I'd already gone back to the parts I'd already rewritten and was trying to move forward from there, and it wasn't working. So, I went back to the part that was working, one of my favorite scenes, and then realized it was wrong. I'd been so caught up in writing what needed to happen for the plot that I'd neglected to consider a few minor things. Such as, what time was it, and what would be going on in that place at that time? Or, how would this discovery really affect them, physically and emotionally? What would their next step really be? What are the bad guys doing at this time? Not to mention I realized that they have the same conversation about what to do next about three times (which was probably me trying to figure out what they should do next). I spent the rest of the day figuring out the answers to all these questions and replotting that section of the book. It was a real case of "kill your darlings" because on its own, the scene was absolutely swoon-worthy the way it was. It just didn't make sense in context.

I ended up watching a movie on TV last night because I find it helps to have some kind of background noise for doing that kind of thinking. If I'm staring at a piece of paper, the thoughts don't come, but if I'm watching something and the thinking is secondary, it happens. I'd planned to see Easy A at the theaters but never got around to it, and then thought I'd catch it on HBO, but I don't recall it ever showing up there. It was on one of the regular cable channels last night, so I finally watched it. This is a really clever teen flick that I'd rank among the John Hughes films from the 80s (and it contains a lot of fun tributes to those films). The basic plot is that Olive is kind of a nobody in school. She seems to be something of a brain, but she's definitely not the typical nerd. To avoid an awkward weekend family camping trip with her best friend, she invents a date, then when her friend demands details of the date at school on Monday, she inadvertently says the date lasted all weekend, which her friend interprets to mean that they had sex. When her friend actually believes her when she sarcastically acknowledges it, she starts embellishing and adding details. But it turns out that the school's hyper-religious, judgmental girl is also in the bathroom, hears this, and spreads it around the school. Suddenly, everyone knows who Olive is, and for a while she even enjoys the attention. But then a gay friend asks her to use her reputation to make it look like he's sleeping with her as a way to get the bullies off his back, and then he tells a few friends she can help them with their problems. Soon, she's cooperating in saying she's done all kinds of things with a variety of boys to give their reputations a boost, but while a boy having sex is a stud, a girl is a slut, and it spirals out of control to the point that she starts owning it and wearing sexy clothes with a scarlet A sewn on them (they're reading The Scarlet Letter in class). But while rumor has it that she's slept with half the school, no one's actually asking her on dates and even her friends have abandoned her.

The movie is both funny and touching, and it has some valid things to say about the gender double standard and the way reputation works. The dialogue is incredibly witty, the heroine has a wonderful relationship with her parents (unlike the absent or disapproving parents in a lot of teen movies), and Emma Stone is a gem. She's cute and funny and has a way of making the sometimes too-witty-to-be-true dialogue sound totally natural. Those who remember the 80s teen movies will enjoy the homages.

However, there were a couple of things that kept pulling me out of the movie, and the biggie was the premise. I just couldn't imagine it would work that way. I went to high school in the Dark Ages (the early 80s), in a small town in East Texas, in the buckle of the Bible Belt, where just about everyone in town went to church, and these things wouldn't have happened then. Yeah, when it got to the point where half the guys in school were saying they'd slept with her, she might have been looked at askance, but the initial rumor would have gone nowhere and would have been received with a huge yawn. You'd have had a hard time finding anyone who cared enough to pass on the rumor who had room to talk and who was catty enough to do so. We had a number of pregnant girls in the school, and they weren't even the "slutty trash" type. They were popular girls who were majorettes, in the bad, and good students. A lot of the popular girls were pretty open about the fact that they were having sex. They came up with inside joke code words so they could talk about it in front of teachers, and then they took out ads in the football program book and the yearbook using their inside joke code words, so they were literally advertising their sexual exploits. You were more likely to be teased and mocked for being a virgin. Meanwhile, although this was a really religious community (there were a lot of ministries based in the area, so there were a lot of kids in the school whose parents were missionaries, evangelists or gospel singers), I never got the sense of that kind of judging. Most of the really religious kids would have been embarrassed to overhear the conversation and would have pretended they hadn't heard it, and the rest (most of the girls who went to my church) would have been too self-absorbed and focused on their own cliques to even pay attention to what someone outside the clique was saying. Mostly, it came down to social status -- if you were popular, it didn't matter what your sexual status was. If you were in the middle, not popular but not an outcast, you were more likely to be dismissed as a nerd if you were a virgin, but if you were sleeping with someone, it depended on his status. You could move up in popularity if the guy was a hot shot or move down if he was a loser. At the bottom of the pile, you'd probably be sneered at regardless, so you'd be sneered at as a reject if you were a virgin or sneered at for being a slut if you were known for sleeping around. And if it was that way in a hyper-religious small Texas town in the 80s (the kind of place where the Baptist pastor really did try to ban school dances), I can't imagine anyone in 21st century California making a big deal of it. I'd think that these days they'd have been more shocked by her status as a virgin than they would by reports that she'd had sex once, and the religious girl would be the one more likely to be jeered at and ostracized.

Meanwhile, Hollywood, please get your religious stereotypes straight. If you're portraying hyper-religious people who are very judgmental, talk about saving people and who gather on the school grounds for Bible study and prayer meetings before school or at lunch, you're mostly dealing with Protestant evangelicals, probably non-denominational these days (the ones who go to those mega churches). Their pastors don't generally wear clerical collars. That's more often seen in mainline Protestantism, and they're not usually that intense. The kind of pastor you'd see for a group like that would be dressed in business casual and would probably try to "relate" to someone (even if in a tone-deaf way) before going all judgy. Plus, the kids wouldn't be singing old gospel songs like "Go Down Moses" in their lunchtime prayer circles. They'd be more likely to sing contemporary praise songs.

You kind of have to take the movie as a farce, but I think it could have been even more relevant with a few tweaks to make it actually realistic. Still, it's one of the better teen movies I've seen in ages and it made me both laugh and cry.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Drawing a Blank

I had all kinds of grand plans to get a ton of work done this weekend, but it just wouldn't come to me. I tried doing the "make a list of 20 things that could happen" exercise, and I couldn't come up with 20. So I switched gears and started reading a research book for the next project I want to work on, which is rewriting an old book where I've discovered that I still like the characters, situation and main plot, but the events and the writing are a problem. Just reading this research book gave me ideas for how to fix it. One of the problems mentioned in rejection letters was the fact that the world didn't seem real. I'd developed all kinds of history for it, but I hadn't fleshed it out into the story, and I didn't seem to have conveyed what it looked like. My characters were moving through blurry blank spaces. But I found a history book about something that parallels a situation in my story, and I now have all kinds of imagery I can use to build that world.

Then I came up with a few more ideas for the current book while watching TV. I think today I'm going to go back a few chapters and get a running start and maybe then I'll know what should happen next. I've already had my exercise and run my errands for the day by walking to the post office and the Indian market. They had okra on sale, and I got some shrimp yesterday, so it's shrimp Creole time. I may fry whatever okra I have left for tomorrow night's dinner. That's probably not what they have the okra in that store for, but I doubt they care how I cook it. It's amazing how much the produce for Indian food overlaps with Italian, Mexican and Creole. I probably should learn how to cook Indian since I can get the ingredients, but it seems awfully complicated, or else I haven't found the right cookbook. I could probably go to the Indian market and stand in the appropriate aisle, looking helpless, and then some other shopper will offer to help me or offer advice. That's worked when I was trying to decide on tea and rice (and I wasn't even trying deliberately then).

I'm supposed to do a writing post this week, and I'm drawing a complete blank for what to talk about. Any questions or suggestions for a topic? Is there still any interest in this? I've been doing it for about four years now, so it's probably time to reassess and reevaluate to make sure I'm filling a need.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Revision Ripple Efects

It turns out I'd have been okay if my car had started Tuesday night on the way to ballet but didn't after class because my ballet teacher has jumper cables. Good to know. I went to the Thursday class, which is now a true beginner class instead of the "beginnermediate" class we'd been doing, and wow, it was great for boosting my confidence levels. It was paced so that I got to be really, really good. Since I have so many classes to make up, I guess I'll be doing two classes a week for the rest of the semester. That's probably a good thing to do during the fall eating season now that I seem to be fully recovered, including my appetite.

Speaking of appetite, I baked some of my frozen chocolate chip cookies last night after class, and they turned out pretty much the same as when I make them the normal way. I baked them in the toaster oven, so it took a little longer, but otherwise I'm not sure I could have told the difference. This discovery means that dancing twice a week is a very good thing. I lost a lot of weight while I was sick, and I'd rather not put it back on.

After yesterday's portal fantasy discussion, wouldn't you know, an idea popped into my head, just as I was falling asleep last night, so there wasn't much rest for me and I'm groggy this morning. I don't actually have the fantasy/portal elements worked out, but I know all about my heroine and her life before she travels to the other world. I love it when a character comes to me fully-formed. I don't have to do much development on her because I just know her, and she's not my usual kind of heroine. Now I need a plot, an idea of what the fantasy world is like, what she'll do there and why she gets sucked through the portal.

But first, I've realized I'm pretty much going to have to rewrite the second half of Book 7. I seem to have been doing a lot of brainstorming on the page, so there are a lot of good ideas in there, but they're all jumbled up. It goes beyond what my mom calls "Bill and Tedding," after the movie where they took advantage of time travel to say things like "Remind me to go back in time and put a trash can there," and then a trash can would suddenly appear right where they needed it. When I'm writing a first draft and realize that I need something to be there, I'll make a note to go back and put it in place, then continue as though it was there all along and "Bill and Ted" it in revisions. In this case, it's more extensive. They're in a tense "We're trapped! Whatever shall we do?" situation, and the solution is "Oh, I forgot to tell you about this, but I did some exploring earlier, and I found a secret passage!" While there is some suspense to not knowing about the secret passage, it's more than overshadowed by the readers going "When was all this exploring taking place, and it's not like you not to tell this stuff." Only it's not just a single secret passage (not really a secret passage -- this is hypothetical to avoid spoilers). It's a major part of the world building, so it's more like "Oh, I forgot to tell you this thing I discovered about the way the world works." All this means I need to write the exploring/discovery scene earlier in the book, and then there's a ripple effect as this knowledge will change a lot of other things they do. Then there's the stuff I did set up in the first half that I never really used in the second half but that I think would really change things.

I spent much of yesterday re-plotting the second half, coming up with a new sequence of events. There are some scenes I may be able to keep, but they're going to have to be in different places.

So, while I'm working on this and then on the next book I want to work on, my subconscious will have to come up with a way and reason for a world-weary, very unromantic diner waitress hiding out from her past to end up in a fantasy world that isn't actually her personal fantasy. I may need to read as many of these books as I can find to make sure I'm avoiding the tried-and-true and doing something unique.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Sucked Through a Portal

Will I make it through a day without anything breaking or needing repair? I'm starting to wonder. After I got the car battery replaced yesterday, in the afternoon my water was cut off. When I got desperate for tea, I called the HOA manager to see what was up and if she had a timetable for the water being back on (and if it was just me). She didn't know anything about it, which had me worried. But it turned out they were doing some sprinkler system repairs and had cut off the water and neglected to notify anyone that they were doing so, I guess assuming that everyone was at work. Well, I was at work, but I was at work at home, and I needed tea. I was just about to start melting ice cubes in the microwave to get water for making tea when the water came back on. Still, with all the little things that have gone wrong around me lately, I'm starting to wonder if I have some kind of Trouble that makes devices in my presence fail. It's one of the more minor, inconvenient Troubles, as it doesn't seem to kill anyone. It's just going to end up isolating me as I sit around at home, waiting for repairmen to show up, and people will stop letting me in their homes when the handle comes off the kitchen faucet and the refrigerator goes on the blink after I've been there for a while. My only social interactions will be with repairmen, who do become rather fond of me. I'm already on a first-name basis with the greeter at Home Depot.

I didn't get much work done, and I can't really blame the tea craving when I had no water. I think it was another case of my unconscious getting my conscious mind out of the way so it could work. I found that the parts I thought I'd need to rewrite are actually exactly what they need to be. I was surprised that the parts where I thought I got back on track were actually the parts that need to be scrapped and done over, but I didn't know quite what to do. I figured it out right before I had to go face the kindergarteners. Now we'll see how much I get done today. Mom says the first half is probably the best book I've written so far. Now I need to make the last half that good.

In other news, when I was asking for book recommendations a few weeks ago, one of the things I was looking for was "portal" novels about someone from our world ending up in a fantasy world. I got some recommendations, but they were mostly from the 80s and 90s. And it turns out that there aren't a lot of these being published today, for some pretty odd reasons. I found a couple of blog posts on the issue. This one gives some of the editors'/agents' reasons why they aren't looking for these kinds of books. And this post also gets into some of the reasons.

Some of the reasons they don't want these books are kind of silly. For instance, they think that since the hero is in a fantasy world, what happens there doesn't matter. But then what about books taking place entirely in a fantasy world? Aren't we supposed to imagine that the fantasy world is a real world, and the distinction between "real" and "fantasy" is a matter of perspective? We only think of the "real" world as "real" because it's our world. All novels take place in fantasy worlds, to some extent, because the events of those books aren't actually happening. There's also the argument that these books all follow the same pattern -- hero goes to fantasy world, turns out to be just the hero needed to save the fantasy world, then comes home a changed person. Except I can think of several exceptions.

But what it seems to boil down to is an argument that sounds like Yogi Berra went to work in publishing: They don't want this kind of book because it's just too popular. Apparently, most fantasy submissions are some kind of portal novel, which indicates that it's a very popular genre. People generally write what they want to read. But most of them are really awful self-insertion Mary Sue stories. That makes editors recoil from the very idea of portal fantasy, since they've seen so many awful ones. When agents discover that editors aren't buying it, they stop considering those submissions. That probably creates a downward spiral. If the agents aren't looking at it because editors aren't buying it, then the only ones editors see are those that haven't gone through agents, so they're even worse, so they're even more opposed to the very idea. But that then means none are getting published, which means there's even more of a hunger for this kind of book among fans, and so when people with any inkling of desire to write can't find what they want to read, they write it, and that means there are that many more submissions of that kind of book, most of which are bad (because, in general, most submissions of anything are bad), so editors are even more violently opposed to anything even resembling a portal.

I can see where they'd get overwhelmed by those kinds of stories. I think it's a safe guess that the first effort of at least half of all would-be fantasy writers is a portal story. If you're a fantasy fan, then the longing to have adventures in Middle Earth or Narnia is going to hit, and a portal story is like writing real-person fanfic about yourself entering that other world. I didn't actually write this sort of thing when I was just starting to write, but I certainly had a lot of daydreams of that kind of story. When I was first getting into the Narnia books, we lived in Germany on the edge of the Odenwald (as in it was on the other side of the fence from our yard), which is the perfect fantasy land setting. I couldn't take a walk without imagining that if I stepped just the right way between two particular trees, I'd find myself in Narnia. Then while I was still working my way through the series we moved to a different place, where there was a ruined castle on the hill behind our neighborhood. We walked up to that castle almost every weekend, and I kept imagining that if we found the right path, when we got there, the castle wouldn't be ruined but would be the way it was at the height of its glory, full of knights and ladies.

Not to mention that the portal story is the ultimate literal expression of the hero entering the "special world" of the story in a hero's journey sense, and that story is pretty much hard-wired into the human psyche. We can't help but tell ourselves these stories. All that adds up to probably tons of immature Mary Sue portal adventures that choke out the good ones. One of those essays I linked to also suggests the attitude that this sort of story is childish -- about the only ones being published these days are children's books. But do we ever really outgrow the desire to escape? When all my modern stuff is breaking down on me, the idea of escaping to another world is really appealing.

This may be one of those areas where self publishing can help fulfill the need -- if there's a hunger for something that publishers won't touch, readers will find it that way. But then readers will be put in the position of editors, seeing so many awful ones that they recoil from the idea and may not discover the good ones.

I've written a YA portal story that didn't sell (surprise) but that I also think needs extensive work before I could even self publish it. Now I suspect my brain is going to get to work on a good adult portal story, just to be contrary. I do have a slight advantage in the self-publishing game in that I have an established reputation, and readers will know they're less likely to get a bad Mary Sue from me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One Thing After Another

My string of things breaking around me continues. I was all dressed for ballet class last night, got in my car, and then got that sadly familiar sound of a dead battery when I tried to start it. There was some whining of the "why does this always seem to happen when I need to go somewhere?" variety, and then I realized that of course it happens when I need to go somewhere because otherwise I wouldn't be in the car. Though what I meant was why does it seem to happen when I'm going to some scheduled event at night rather than during the day when I just want to get to Kroger or Target and can get something done about it then so the car will be there for me when I need to get to a scheduled event. But then I realized that I was fortunate that it died in my garage and didn't give me one more start so that I got to ballet class, but then it didn't start again when I needed to get home at 9 at night.

But this morning I called the roadside assistance that comes with my car insurance, got a jump start, drove up the hill to Wal-Mart and got a new battery. I did have to argue with those guys a bit because they didn't believe I needed a new battery with such low mileage, but I pointed out that most of my driving is short trips around my neighborhood, which is bad on batteries, and I'd rather not take the chance of trying to recharge it. With my last car, I tended to go through batteries at about the same rate as this. There are a few downsides to not commuting and to living in a very convenient place where everything I need is within a few miles of my house, and one of them is that it's really rough on car batteries. As a nice little silver lining for the day, while I was killing time waiting for them to put in the battery, I found that they had exactly the kind of light bulb I need for the fixture over my bathtub and that I haven't been able to find anywhere else. Most places only have the compact fluorescent, and that doesn't work well in this application. It takes forever to warm up and turn on fully, and that's a light that gets turned off and on often, usually getting turned off before it's on fully. So now I have a new car battery and decent light in my bathroom, and it didn't disrupt my schedule for the day too badly. Plus, I discovered after getting out of my dance clothes that my tights had shredded a bit in places. They're only four years old and delicate, so I don't know why they aren't in better shape now. I guess I'll add ballet tights to my shopping list. Sigh, one more thing breaking down on me now.

Although I'm happily single, it's times like these when a husband would be nice to have. Not so much because I need a man to take care of me or because I can't deal with things myself. It just gets tiring dealing with everything by myself all the time. It would be nice to occasionally be able to offload something. I have people in my life who are willing and able to help if there's a real crisis, but for something like this, it would have taken them longer to get to me than it took for me to deal with it, so there was no point in playing damsel in distress.

But there is some other good news. The print edition of No Quest for the Wicked is now available at CreateSpace. This is a direct link to CreateSpace. You can also get it through Amazon. It may take a few days for the paperback to show up on the Kindle page, and vice versa, so you have to search specifically for the paperback (or use that direct link).

And now for some Enchanted Inc. series questions:

In Much Ado, I wonder where Ari is?

She's still in custody. In an earlier draft, I did have a few scenes of her being questioned and using the opportunity to get under Katie's skin, but then in revisions I realized they didn't advance the plot, so they got cut. I don't really have any further plans for her at this time. I figure she got caught and is paying for her crimes.

In Don't Hex, what happened to the wizards that Rod signed up after the battle in the park?

They're learning to be proper wizards through a more authorized training program. There's a slight reference to the fact that this program exists in No Quest. I suppose it's something that I might use in the future, but for now, they're just students. They might be a good subject if I want to do a spinoff series.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Longing for Unicorns

I must be getting back to normal, finally. Yesterday, I walked to the bank (exercise!), did some laundry, dusted and trimmed the vines around the patio. Plus I revised five chapters. Now I'm at the part I most wanted to re-write, so my progress may slow a bit. It feels quite good to be back in something resembling my normal routine. There's still some coughing, but it's at regular fall allergies levels, not bronchitis levels.

Meanwhile, I've got a kitchen experiment in progress. I didn't have quite enough of The World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies left over from Saturday's gathering for the neighborhood gathering on Sunday, but I didn't need a full second batch, and I didn't have time to bake the entire batch, so I made up the dough and did one cookie sheet full of cookies, which turned out to be just enough. The rest of the dough, I put in the refrigerator. One of my cookbooks said that any cookie dough can be refrigerated or frozen, so I put spoonfuls of dough on a plate to freeze separately, then put them in freezer bags. Theoretically, this means I can have fresh-baked World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies whenever I want them. We'll see how well it works. And before you ask for my recipe, it's just the one in the Betty Crocker cookbook. But these cookies seem to be my superpower because they don't seem to be as magically good when someone else uses the same recipe. I really don't know what it is that I do that would be any different. I suppose if you have to have a signature dish, this isn't a bad one.

I'm still working my way through the reading list of recommendations, and I finished The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle, last night. I can't believe I hadn't read that classic, but I have now rectified that situation. It took me a long time to read for such a short book, probably because the language is as important as the story. It isn't a book you tear through to see what happens. I found myself wanting to take notes of particularly good turns of phrase. The funny thing is, he really talks like that in real life. I once moderated a panel with Peter on it, and for a long time, he was really quiet. I figured he was the one most of the audience members were there to hear, so I kept trying to bring him into the conversation. When I finally found the right question to get him talking, he spoke just as elegantly and poetically as he writes, and I think everyone in the room was mesmerized.

I'll need to read this one again because toward the end I did start reading quickly to see what happens, so I'm sure I missed a lot. This is one I probably need to own a copy of because I think it would go on my list of books to cheer me up. I also need to find more of his books. I read A Fine and Private Place ages ago and loved it, but it looks like there are more I need to look into because I could probably learn a lot as a writer from reading his work. I'm really not a wordsmith on that level and it wouldn't hurt me to get better at that aspect of my craft.

There was something about the writing that wove a spell, and then there was something about the spell that makes it difficult to talk about the story itself. I noticed that the copy I had from the library didn't have any kind of back-cover blurb. There was just artwork and no description, so it's like the publisher also couldn't talk about the story. It's basically about a unicorn that hears someone say the unicorns are all gone, so she sets out to find out what happened to all the others, and then she encounters human helpers along the way. There's a self-awareness about how fairy tales and legends work and both playing into and subverting the tropes, but it's mostly a book about longing.

And now off to go fix my current project. I haven't done a lot of rewriting yet, just making a lot of notes about threads I seem to have started at the beginning and forgotten by the time I got to the end. Now, though, I'm at the part where I know it was getting sketchy and I was impatient, so I'm going to force myself to take my time on it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dying from Cute

I had a pretty good weekend, the first in more than a month that I've been moderately well, enough so to actually do much of anything. The fact that I feel so much improved when I'm still not 100 percent may say something about just how sick I was. I got together with friends on Saturday, then my children's choir sang Sunday morning. It was my kindergarteners combined with the preschoolers, and I was in charge (eep!). They reached off-the-charts levels of cute. It's a shame that the kid whose mom usually videos the performances and posts them on YouTube wasn't there because I would have loved to have a recording of this. Part of the cute was that this year's preschoolers are really tiny, so they were swimming in even the smallest choir robes and doing that cute thing where they flap their arms inside the robes so the sleeves swish around. Part of the cute was that the song had a nice swingy beat and some of the kids were bopping and swaying around. Some of that may have been influenced by their director a wee bit. In the chorus, there's a bit that repeats, with one part different each time, and they tend to get that mixed up. So before the pianist was there, I was singing that part for them to get it in their heads, and because they remember things better if you make it fun, I was doing my best Ella Fitzgerald and singing this song like I was the vocalist with a big band. And they sort of picked up on it, so we had a nice jazz choir effect going on, which was just adorable when they were swaying in those robes (and they remembered the words, so it worked). Plus, we had a lot of, "Hey, there's my mom!" stuff going on where they'd get sidetracked in the middle of the song when they saw their parents and then they'd wave. I was seriously dying from the cute.

Then I managed to sing with the adult choir in the service for the first time in ages. I got through an entire song without a coughing fit, and I even managed to walk and sing at the same time for the processional and recessional. I will have to have a word with the second-row sopranos, though, because my kindergarten girls were scandalized by the amount of stuff they found on the floor under their seats in the choir room. I barely kept a straight face as they were earnestly telling me that I needed to do something about that. Then in the afternoon, there was a neighborhood block party at the pool, and it was one of those perfect Texas October days, the ideal comfortable outdoor temperature and clear skies. It was nice sitting out on the deck, having hot dogs and all sorts of other goodies, and chatting with my neighbors. I finally got to know one of my next-door neighbors that I've never really talked to. However, it now appears that it may be added to the HOA bylaws that I'm required to bring chocolate chip cookies to all neighborhood gatherings.

One big topic of conversation was the chimney sweeping that was done last week. I must say, they totally shattered all my illusions. No top hat and tails, just shorts and t-shirts. They inspected the chimney from inside the fireplace and didn't even get on my roof, so there was absolutely no dancing around the chimney pots (though my roof is so steeply slanted that dancing would be difficult). My chimney was fine, but my dryer vent was a mess that had to be cleaned. The laundry room isn't on an exterior wall, so the vent goes through the living room ceiling, and it takes special equipment to clean it. All the neighbors were talking about how much gunk came out of those vents. I had a bird nest about six feet into mine. I'm going to have to find a way to block off access to that vent.

Is it a sign that you're a boring adult when you hang out with your neighbors, talking about home repairs? I'll make up for it today by spending the day revising my book. That's not normal boring adult stuff.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chimney Sweeps and Baby-faced Firemen

The sty hasn't been totally purified, but my living room is reasonably decent, mostly because I have to have my chimney inspected today, and I wanted the front room to not be scary in case they have to come inside and view things from the fireplace end. I have figured out that one big reason for my do-it-yourself efforts isn't so much my stubborn independence or my extreme frugality. It's that I really hate waiting around for repairmen or service people to show up. When I do it myself, the time I spend researching it, making multiple trips to Home Depot and then doing the job generally doesn't come to the amount of time I spend feeling like I'm on hold, waiting for someone to show up in that "sometime between ten and four" window. True, that shouldn't stop my usual activities, but it's hard to let myself really focus on anything when I know it could be interrupted at any moment. If I'm doing the job, I can get it done and over with and then go on with my life. Unfortunately, the insurance requires a certified chimney inspection, and going out and getting that certification so that I can do it myself would be overkill, even for me. But it might be more profitable than writing novels is, these days (curse you, pirates!).

Just thinking of this has made that "Chim Chim Cheree" song from Mary Poppins stick in my head. And I want to write a chimney sweep character in a Victorian-type setting. He'd be the perfect spy. Now I'm going to annoy this poor guy when he comes by watching him intently to see how it works and asking him questions like "Can you hear conversations from the room below through the chimney?"

In TV news, if you were left wanting a little more closure to Amy and Rory's story on Doctor Who, or if you thought the episode should have ended with someone receiving a letter, as happened the first time we saw the angels in "Blink" (keeping it vague for spoilers), it turns out that such a scene was actually written, but wasn't filmed. Now the scene has been put together into a video using storyboards, the script, and a voiceover from Arthur Darvill, and you can see it here. Tissue warning. Even in this stripped-down form, it made me weepy. If we'd seen it actually acted out, I think I'd have been a sobbing mess. It also makes me feel shortchanged, since it seems like there's a lot we didn't get to see or learn about Rory's dad or Rory's relationship with his dad. Why introduce this great character so close to the end of that storyline?

Other TV news: I've fallen way behind even on shows I like. I was doing some OnDemand catch-up last night, but we started having these weird power blips that were just enough to turn off the TV and re-set the cable box. So I switched to watching something I'd taped, and there were still enough tiny outages to make it frustrating. I did catch the pilot of Chicago Fire, which I think will fall into my category of "comfort food" television. It's not at all challenging or thought-provoking, and I doubt I'll be doing any online discussion of it, but it is mildly entertaining. We've got attractive people doing exciting things, and in this case, fire is the enemy. Until the inevitable sweeps arsonist episode or arc, there aren't any villains or bad guys to creep me out. I mostly checked this one out because I liked Jesse Spencer in House and thought he was criminally underused, so I wanted to see what he could do in a part that allowed him to do more than react to the crazy things other people were doing. He was good, but bless his heart, he still looks younger than a lot of the people playing teenagers on Glee. I don't know what it is about him, but he can have a week's worth of scruff and still somehow look like he's not old enough to shave, and that makes it hard to believe him as one of the leaders of the fire crew. It's like watching Bambi fight fires, which I suppose has its own entertainment value. This may be background noise while doing crossword puzzles on Sunday afternoon viewing. That category is really stacking up for me. They'll need to make the puzzles harder because I can get through the regular Sunday puzzle and the New York Times Sunday puzzle in less than an hour.

Although I said I wasn't going to get too worked up about any of the new Amazon ranking stuff, I had a nightmare last night in which one of my books got a "mature content" advisory put on its Amazon page because of what one reader said in a review, but I didn't want to try to get that review removed because all the other reviews for that book were in response to that review, and I'd lose all the reviews if I had that one removed. I figured all the other reviews were pointing out how insane that was. I just wished I could get rid of this huge content advisory box on the book's page (which doesn't really exist on Amazon). I suppose I have some deep insecurities at work there. I have had e-mails chastising me for my books not being clean enough to share with an eight-year-old. Um, they're adult books. They're not meant to be children's books. And if you're horrified by the "adult" content in my books, how do you function in today's society? Everything must offend you.

Now to go find something to do that won't have me so engrossed that I scream and jump three feet when the chimney guy rings my doorbell.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Books and the Blues

I finished my first draft yesterday. I'm still not crazy about the big, climactic scene, but then I remembered that my first draft version of the big, climactic scene has never ended up in the finished book. It always gets extensively rewritten -- sometimes even moved to a different location and given different outcomes. I do like the final scene, though. I may start revisions today, but my priority is going to be on getting the sty straightened up. I can't deal with it anymore, and I really let things slide while I was sick.

I've figured out that my kindergarten choir is so crazy because they're adapting to "real" school. These are the same kids I had last year, and they're worse in spite of being older. I'm thinking it must be that they're having to sit still in school all day (kindergarten has really changed since I was that age), and they get to me when they're bursting with energy and things they want to talk about. Even after choir during dinner, they're running around like maniacs. I think the fact that they're familiar with me and I was the "good cop" teacher last year doesn't help. There's so much they're dying to tell me about what happened at school or over the weekend that they can't stop talking and listen. So I've decided to go with the flow and not fight it. Instead of doing stuff where they have to sit down and listen, we're doing a lot of activities and songs where they act stuff out, like being airplanes, trains or animals. Sometimes I'm just putting on music and letting them dance. I may try to create a few activity games that sneakily teach music theory. We're singing in church Sunday, and then after next week we have two weeks off, since one week there will be a Halloween carnival and the next week is Halloween (and they're not trying to compete with that), so I think this week will be fun week with lots of games and dancing.

Amazon has introduced a new feature, and as I said on Facebook, it must mean they don't want current authors to ever write another book. Not only do they rank books, but now they're ranking authors, and you can find out where you rank overall, in e-books, and in various categories, updated hourly. That gives authors something new to obsess over instead of writing. As with the book rankings, it's pretty much meaningless unless you're in the top 100 where it shows up to readers. I looked once, found it mildly interesting and will now try to stay away from it. I did find it weird that I'm ranked in "Mystery" and in "Teen," even though I have written neither a mystery nor a teen book. My books are safe for teens and seem to have some appeal there, and I suppose you could sort of read them as mysteries, but they aren't categorized that way anywhere, so I wonder how that came about. Does it have something to do with reader tags on the books?

Speaking of Amazon, I've noticed that as I go about the Internet, when there's an Amazon ad that shows specific books, I've been seeing my books in those ads. I'm sure it's based on browsing history and the fact that I do check my books' rankings to see if sales are up or down, but I'm curious if this is showing up for other people. Does it recommend my books based on browsing history of related items? Has anyone else seen my books popping up in Amazon ads elsewhere on the Internet?

Finally, while I'm talking about books, some friends have been posting this list of science fiction/fantasy books to cheer you up around Facebook. It's an interesting list, and I've read a lot of those books, but I'm not sure I'd read a lot of them as a pick-me-up. For instance, The Lord of the Rings isn't something I'd go to if I needed to be jolted out of a bad mood. For one thing, it's so very long that by the time I finished reading the whole thing and got to the satisfying ending, any mood would have passed. I also wouldn't read Dune to make me feel better. Terry Pratchett is one of my sure-fire cures for a bad mood, but I'm not sure Night Watch would be one I'd pick for that purpose. I'd go more for Guards! Guards!, any of the Granny Weatherwax books or Going Postal.

I've been trying to think of some of my other tried-and-true blues busters. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis is a good one, as is Bellwether. I also like some of her other books that she co-wrote with Cynthia Felice that are pretty much science fiction romances. While I do agree with the suggestion of A Wrinkle in Time, the other Madeleine L'Engle book I often go to is A Ring of Endless Light, which isn't cheerful, but it does allow a cathartic, cleansing cry that leaves me feeling at peace with the world. Many of the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold work, though probably more the earlier ones than the later ones. I think my books would work if I hadn't written them, but since I did write them, they aren't relaxing reading because I either remember the stress of writing them, the stress of publication or I want to edit them.

But, yeah, these days, Pratchett is my go-to cure for a bad day. I think I have one of his books in just about every room in my house, in case of emergencies. My mom and I have been known to call each other to read out lines, since no matter how many times we've read these books, there will still be a line that suddenly jumps out as hysterical that we somehow didn't notice before.

What are your favorite book cures for the blues?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Character Dimensions: Faith

I'm still struggling with that ending. I discovered that the most logical ending isn't all that satisfying. I figured out a fix for that and then realized there was a problem. But I think I figured it out on the way to ballet class last night. Now we'll see if I can write it.

In my writing posts, I've been talking about dimensions of characterization that are generally forgotten about unless they're central to the plot but that can really flesh out a character and help you know how the character would act in various plot circumstances. This series was inspired by a panel at WorldCon on using faith in fiction and how it needs to be part of worldbuilding and characterization but seldom is. I've talked about some other dimensions, like finance and relationships, but now I'll get around to the inspiration for the topic and discuss faith.

Faith is a touchy subject, and that may be why in fiction it's usually either relegated to the "inspirational" category or ignored unless it's somehow central to the plot. But faith or spirituality is still a big part of American culture and even not having a faith is a worldview. One of the audience members asked the panel how faith could be incorporated into a book if the plot wasn't about faith -- in fantasy that tends to be the evil bishop trying to take over the kingdom -- and we got a good start on that, but I think it goes even further.

To begin with, think about what your character's belief system is, and how that came about. Did she grow up in a religious household that observed their faith, was it a nominally religious household that observed major holidays but mostly ignored faith the rest of the year, was it a non-religious household where it wasn't even an issue, or was it an anti-religious household, where the lack of religion was almost its own kind of religion? What was the character's attitude toward this upbringing? Was she actively involved in the religious youth organizations, actively rebelling against her parents' religion or going with the flow without really having a strong opinion or personal belief system?

What about now? Has the character continued with the belief system she was brought up in? Was that out of inertia or guilt or has she really made a conscious decision that this is what she believes? Has she changed belief systems while still maintaining one (changing denominations, converting to another religion)? Why? If the character was brought up in a religious home but now has no religion, was this a conscious decision or drifting away? If it was a conscious decision, when and why did it come about? Is the character neutral or hostile to religion? How does the character practice her faith -- regular activity, major holidays, it's something she thinks about and hasn't actively rejected but not something she really does a lot about?

Some ways that faith may affect a character's daily life (drawing some from the panel answers):
Prayer and/or scripture study as part of a daily habit (the phone call comes while the person is reading the Bible, for instance)
Instinctive quick prayer for help in crisis or thanks after a crisis
Observing dietary restrictions -- fasting at certain times, avoiding certain foods (though this varies by individual. I have had Jewish friends who were fairly active in their temples who still ate bacon, and I've had Jewish friends who aren't observant at all who wouldn't dream of touching pork)
Observing certain holidays or rituals
Observing a Sabbath
Scheduling around religious activities (Wednesday is choir night, it'll have to be Sunday afternoon because there's church in the morning, can't do anything after sundown on Friday)
Charity or volunteer work (or guilt about not doing something)
Sexual behavior -- saving oneself for marriage or having to make rationalizations to justify not doing so in order to avoid guilt ("we're married in our hearts, but we just haven't had the ceremony yet")

Some of these things can be pretty deeply instilled, so someone who was brought up in a faith may still unconsciously (or even consciously) fall into some of these behaviors even after leaving the faith, especially if it was more of a drifting away than a conscious rejection. If you haven't developed a new belief system to replace the old one, you'll likely fall into the old one in times of crisis or you may find yourself feeling surprisingly guilty about doing things your old belief system was opposed to.

A lot of the effect of a personal belief system shows up in little ways that come from having that kind of worldview, though again that will vary by individual and how and why the character believes such things. This can be positive or negative. Religion can make people judgmental or compassionate or sometimes even both at the same time. It's a really complex issue, which may be why a lot of authors don't even try to address it, especially if they come to the topic as an outsider. If you've never had a faith, it's difficult to see how it might permeate someone's daily life, and so you might either ignore it or paint it in really broad strokes. If you want to research it, look for memoirs by people of faith who talk about how their beliefs affected them. That's a good way to get inside their heads and see the world through their eyes. There are also memoirs and books of essays by people who've rejected religion that would be good research for people of faith who need to write characters who have a different perspective. Really, I recommend reading memoirs and autobiographies in general because they're a great way to get into people's heads, and that helps you write better characters.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Almost There

I finally figured out what the outcome of the book will be, and it took me all day. I'd try to work, have a "squirrel!" moment and get sidetracked with something else. That went on throughout the day. Then finally, I sat down to force myself to puzzle it out, and it all just came to me. I guess the subconscious needed time with me out of the way to get the job done. Now I just need to figure out how to get to that outcome from where I am now and what it will look like when I get there. I have about 2,000 words until I reach my target first draft word count, but I suspect I have a lot more than that to get to the end of the story. That may or may not happen today. I have errands to run and laundry to do and dance tonight, which somewhat limits my available writing time.

And then I think I'll go straight into revisions, since the beginning is so long ago that I can take a fresh look at it. I don't think I'm going to need to do a lot of plot rewriting, but I think I'll need to do a lot of scene crafting. I know I need to amp up the emotions because there's a lot of stuff that should be very emotional, but at the moment it's really bare-bones. This is a really complex plot, so I needed to get the framework down to see how it would work. Now I can play with it. I think the second draft is going to be a lot of fun.

It looks like the launch of book 6 was a success, as it sold rather well in its first week. It's not setting the world on fire or doing the kind of numbers you see from repurposed Twilight fan fiction with bonus sexytimes, but it's on a par with the performance of the traditionally published books in this series. If you have read it, you can help by posting reviews to the bookseller sites, Goodreads, etc., blogging and so forth. I'm still open to doing interviews or guest blogs, especially now that I'm just about well and am close to the end of a draft.

I have strong motivation to finish this book because my to-do list of things to do after the book is done is getting rather long, including getting my house back into shape after my housework routines fell apart during the bronchitis, doing a few household repairs, repainting the bathroom (following the AC installation mishap), and then there's something else I want to write that has been nagging at my brain. Not to mention enjoying fall. It's my favorite season and I want to revel in it.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Weekend Reading

I have to give a big thanks to the recommendation of Hester Browne. Fluffy British chick lit was exactly what I needed for this weekend, and this fit the bill perfectly. I had my semi-annual change-of-seasons migraine all weekend, and oddly enough, after the first hour of staying totally still with my eyes closed, I couldn't deal with the sound and lights/motion of TV, but I could read, and reading made me forget about the headache, which made me less tense, which eased the headache, and this was just the thing for that kind of reading. I'd seen The Little Lady Agency but for some reason thought it was something like The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, more of a mystery thing, and while that's a good book, it's not what you reach for when you're in the mood for fluffy British chick lit.

Saturday's reading was The Little Lady Agency, which is not about a detective agency. It's about a young woman who's lost yet another job -- she's the sort who's really good at organizing things in an office in a way that makes everyone else look really efficient, which means she's often the first one considered expendable when they cut back. When a male friend who has no interest in having a significant other is dreading a family wedding and she agrees to go as his girlfriend and help spruce him up a bit to avoid maternal criticism, she gets the idea for a business she can go into: being a sort of hired wife or girlfriend for men who don't have or don't want a relationship. She can help organize them, pick out clothes, help them get gifts for family members or employees, plan parties, send cards, etc., and she can also go along with them to business or family functions when they need dates. To keep her real personal life separate and to prevent scandal from affecting her prominent family if she's seen around with a lot of men, she wears a wig and creates a more confident persona for her business interactions. But then things get tricky when she starts to fall for one of her clients and knows that if he's falling for her, he's really falling for her alter ego. I read this in just about one sitting. It's a rare chick lit novel in which the heroine has a ton of common sense, doesn't constantly get drunk, doesn't jump into bed with men and generally acts like a reasonable human being, though she does have a few naive moments. However, I really hated the ending. I'd read along, devouring the book, then nearly threw it across the room at the outcome. A quick skim of the Amazon listings for the rest of the series tells me the story isn't over yet, so I'll let it slide for now, but I think if I'd read this before the sequels were published, I might not have read the rest.

Sunday's reading was outside that series, a standalone called The Finishing Touches. Our Heroine has a rather dramatic backstory: she was left as an infant in a box at the door of a prestigious London finishing school and was adopted by the aristocratic couple who ran the school. Now she's an adult, and after her adoptive mother's death, her adoptive father asks her to look into the school, which is losing money and having problems. She realizes that a big part of the problem is that they're still using a 1950s curriculum, and today's super-wealthy parents are more likely to be rock stars, athletes or other celebrities than the aristocrats the school used to serve. So, she comes up with ideas to teach what today's young woman needs to know -- more about eating sushi politely than knowing all the different kinds of oyster forks. And along the way, she realizes that the school itself may hold the key to learning who her birth parents were and why she was abandoned. I liked this one a bit better than The Little Lady Agency because it was a nice mix of elements. There's the fun of coming up with what today's young lady needs to know, there's a romance (and I liked the ending this time) and there's the mystery thread of her tracking down her parentage.

Next time I get in a chick lit mood, I know where to turn because there are a lot more books by her in the library.

But for now, I think I may finish my first draft today. I'm still figuring out whether the resolution should defeat the villain entirely or just foil this evil scheme and whether it's even likely that they can defeat him entirely or if this evil scheme being defeated will ruin him for good. I'm either at the scene where they're going to foil the scheme and save the day or where they think they've foiled the evil scheme and saved the day -- until the villain plays his last card and complicates matters. Have they really destroyed the Terminator, or are the last pieces of the metal chassis still coming after them? So to speak. There are no Terminators in this book.

Friday, October 05, 2012

I'm Not Really Left-Handed

I am very, very close to the end of the first draft of Book 7. However, this is going to be the tricky part because the closer I get to the end, the less I know what will happen. The first part of the proposal synopsis tends to be really detailed, but by the end, there's a bit of handwaving, so it reads along the lines of "and then they defeat the bad guys, save the day and live happily ever after." I figure that by the time I get there, I'll have worked it out or I'll come up with an idea. Yesterday, I got there and still didn't have an idea, so I went with something that popped into my head and that veered things off into a crazy direction that is either stark-raving insane or utterly brilliant. It might possibly involve disco as the ultimate weapon for defeating the forces of darkness. I'm almost afraid to look at what I wrote last night, for fear that it really might be crazy and now I'll have to rethink my plans for having the Bee Gees save the world.

My writing got disrupted yesterday by my attempt to buy a new dishwasher. I say "attempt" because I was thwarted. I went to my neighborhood Home Depot, where I must go pretty often because the greeter guy at the front door recognized me. I usually get pretty good service in that store. All I have to do is stare at a shelf for a moment and I get swarmed with help. But that's in areas where I can help myself and just need to take something off a shelf. I went into the appliance section, where you can't just pick up what you want and take it to the cash register, and found something different entirely. For one thing, they don't have much on display these days. I guess you're just supposed to buy online. For another, the one person working in that department was with a customer. I browsed the few things they had in stock and waited for him to acknowledge me enough to let me know he'd be with me in a minute or to call for someone else to help me, but nothing happened. I wandered off to look at the garbage disposals and decided that I definitely need someone to install it because it was a bit too heavy for me to be able to lift and maneuver, especially since in working with it under the sink I'd have to rely entirely on upper-body strength, which I don't have. I wandered back into the appliance section, and it had been totally abandoned. So, I went and picked up a few other things I needed while I was there, then returned to appliances. Nobody was there. By that time, I'd spent about half an hour in the store, so I gave up, bought the things I needed, and left. When I got home, I sent an e-mail via the web site feedback form, and to their credit, the manager of my neighborhood store called me within about fifteen minutes of me sending the e-mail. It might have helped that my slightly snarky e-mail was still polite and kind of funny. If you get a customer-feedback e-mail that uses terms like "lone survivor of an apocalypse" and "invisibility cloak," you're probably going to be curious about that customer.

The guy who called me was able to answer all the questions I wanted to ask the appliance person, and it turns out that there's no advantage in buying the garbage disposal and dishwasher together because they're installed by different people, and I suspect their disposal installation is more expensive than if I just called a local plumber, who can get contractor rates on the parts. The dishwasher installation is free. So I figure I'll call a local plumber and get the disposal taken care of, and then I can get the dishwasher some other time. They had a model of the one I was looking at online at Best Buy, but when you factor in delivery and installation, it's cheaper through Home Depot, and I can just order it online and not have to deal with the store.

In entirely unrelated news, the flurry of posts and articles on the subject has reminded me that this year is the 25th anniversary of the release of The Princess Bride (the film -- the book is older). That makes me feel very old because I was in college when it came out and I remember going to see it with a group of friends. I always hedge when asked my favorite movie of all time, but I think this one may have to be it. Lines from it have become a regular part of my vocabulary, and among the people I hang out with, you don't even have to explain using a Princess Bride reference in conversation. I can watch and enjoy it no matter what mood I'm in. If I stumble across it on TV, I can't seem to stop myself from watching at least a little of it. It doesn't get old for me, and I think it's aged very well. What I love about it is that it's a spoof of fairy tales, adventure stories and fantasy stories while still within itself being a brilliant fairy tale/adventure story/fantasy story. The one weakness is that the romance part of the plot is pretty lame, but I think that's deliberate. The book even hints that this isn't a relationship likely to last, and that's part of the fairy tale spoof, since in all the fairy tales, there really isn't much foundation to the relationship. Sure, the guy went through all kinds of hell to win the girl, but after that, what do they really have between them? That slight undercurrent of edge keeps all the declarations of love from being too saccharine.

I'm rather surprised that Cary Elwes didn't have the kind of career you'd have expected after that role. He seemed destined to be a romantic/heroic leading man, but instead he's either spoofed that image in things like Men in Tights and Hot Shots or he's played creepy bad guys. I rather liked his turn as the shady boss toward the end of The X-Files (when the show was actually pretty good if you didn't think of it as The X-Files), and he's been fun when popping up in guest roles on cable dramas lately, particularly when he played the WWII codebreaker hallucination on Perception. He's one of my mental candidates to play the Doctor on Doctor Who if they want to veer away from the absurdly young after Matt Smith leaves. He has the range for cold and scary, dashing and romantic and wildly funny, all with some of the most supremely snarky line delivery in the industry. Few can do snide superiority better, whether in American or British accent.

I may have to add a Princess Bride viewing to my weekend plans, in addition to reading, baking and visiting the library. Today, though, is all about the writing, and then my Friday TV double feature.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Mood Reading

There's yet another bookseller online. No Quest is now up and available for Kobo. Plus, it looks like we're getting close to having the print version ready to go (as usual, there was an Amazon oopsie to work out first).

Thanks for all the book recommendations. I now have several on hold at the library to be sent to my branch for me to pick up, and there are a few more that are already on my shelves that I need to take another look at. Saturday is supposed to be cool and rainy, and if I keep up my usual writing pace I should finish my rough draft on Friday, so I think Saturday is going to be a reading binge day. I'm so close to being well that a good, restful day may be just what the doctor ordered. I even made it through choir rehearsal last night. I wasn't up to my usual standards, but I was there and I did sing.

Much of the time, I can read just about anything I'm inclined to like, and there are some books I can read and enjoy at any time. There are other times I'm more prone to one kind of thing over another, and there are books I'm more likely to enjoy in particular circumstances. And then there are times when only certain things will do, or books I can only read in certain situations. Sometimes, it's circumstances -- there's a difference between what I want to read on a bright summer day and what I want to read on a cold, gray winter day, or there are books that I have to immerse myself in that don't work when my life is limiting me to a chapter or two before I go to bed at night. Sometimes it's a mood, and that's a lot harder to figure out.

I can generally tell if I'm not getting into a book and it's more about the circumstances than about the book itself. A book may strike me as something I need to come back to on a rainy day or on a quiet weekend when I have time to read it mostly in one sitting. Knowing that I'm just in the wrong mood is a lot more difficult because I often don't even know what the mood is. I know I'm in a weird, particular reading mood when I find myself staring at my bookshelves, at the library shelves or at the pages of my "books I need to read" notebook, and nothing's really striking my fancy. It helps if I read something, it turns out to be just what I wanted, and then I know I want to find more like that, but then often that turns out to be hard to find.

For instance, trying to find traditional but not epic fantasy. There's no category for that on Amazon. There's epic fantasy and historical fantasy. You can check through stuff like magic and wizards, but these days that tends to be more full of urban fantasy (though, hey, Much Ado About Magic comes pretty high on that list, even though it doesn't show up with that category as a bestseller on the book's page). If I look through historical fantasy, there's little that strikes me as "traditional," though I've been writing down titles for when I'm in the mood for fantasy that's not of the quasi-medieval variety. Most of the things that seem to fit are things I've already read. But now I am starting to get a yen to read Stardust again (that would be a good example of the kind of thing I'm looking for).

I'll have to see how Goodreads works for getting something that specific, but then I've found some of their categorizing to be questionable. For instance, when I was going through their suggestions and marking books I'd read to get more suggestions, the first time my own books were suggested to me was in the "mystery" category. But I generally find that the best source for book recommendations is my readers. If people like my books, there's a chance that I might like other books they like.

Now I just have to figure out which of the books I'm getting from the library or have on my shelves I want to read first.