Friday, November 30, 2012

The Curse of the Comfy Socks

I made a major tactical error this morning. When I was at Target yesterday, they had the fuzzy comfy socks that kind of work like slippers on clearance. I couldn't resist. And then I put a pair on this morning. I have a few errands I really should run, and these aren't really the kind of socks you can wear with shoes, but I don't want to take them off and put on "real" socks, so I may not be able to leave the house today. Fortunately, I have work involving reading and writing that is even more important than any errands, so I don't feel too guilty. Seriously, these socks are dangerous. And I got two pairs for $2.50! About the only thing that may lure me out of the house is a trip to Target to get more of them. And then I wouldn't leave the house all winter.

I'm still in love with this book of mine I'm re-reading. I generally think of myself as more of a storyteller than a writer. I don't worry that much about the individual words, as long as they convey the story I'm trying to tell. When my agent and I started discussing whether this book would have a better chance as women's fiction or fantasy, I said I didn't think the writing was at the level it would need to be for women's fiction, but now that I'm re-reading it, I think I may have been selling myself short. But I don't think it's the same kind of writing you tend to get with those quasi-literary book club-bait books. I don't use a lot of metaphor and imagery. My writing is generally pretty concise, and with this book it's really punchy -- like I said, it has that screwball comedy rhythm. I'm proud of this writing, but I still don't think this book is good book club bait.

I would say that maybe my best bet for success is to write the whole series, then self-publish so that a book a month comes out, with a low enough price point for the first book that it can get a lot of buzz. Then that may bring me to the attention of the conventional publishers. But I have to say that I'm not that crazy about the self-publishing process. It's a lot of work, even when I've got a lot of people working with me to handle it. I'm not as big a control freak as I thought I was because I'm much happier handing a book over to a publisher and letting them do their thing, with me then just having to say yay or nay on a few decisions. Just hiding in my cave (in my comfy socks) and writing is pretty much my ideal career plan. But that's not the way the world works these days. The books I've self published have been reasonably successful, but they're later books in a series where a publisher controls the first four, so I don't think it has quite the same impact as starting a series that way.

From my observations of the market, it seems like a lot of the success comes either in the super-sexy books (many of which are repurposed fan fiction) or in the kinds of books traditional publishers are ignoring these days, which includes chick lit and some of the sweeter romances. That may be the only way to get traction with my not really any particular genre books, though I think we'll still try hitting the publishers before going to plan B, since I'd prefer for other people to do the work, get books in stores, etc.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Between the Niches

I experienced a Christmas miracle last night. My choir kids were quiet and relatively peaceful! I had a couple of kids who were out the last time and didn't get a chance to make their tambouracas, so I had some I'd put together and gave them to those kids to color. Then the others wanted to do more work on theirs, so I passed them out. For fifteen whole minutes, they were almost utterly silent as they worked. Since those kids being quiet -- and where I could see them, so I knew they weren't building atomic bombs or tying each other to railroad tracks -- is such a rare and wonderful thing, I just let it go until they started getting restless. They also picked up the rhythms and how to play for the song we're doing. I now have high hopes for next semester. I may be able to get into more music theory and actual teaching if I don't have to do so much lion taming.

I'm re-reading a book prior to discussing it with my agent, and I've fallen in love with it all over again. I admit that there are some plot things that need to be fixed, but I really love the writing, and I seldom can say that about my own work. I usually always want to tinker with it. This book just gives me a silly grin. That makes me want to do whatever it takes to get it into the shape it deserves to be in. While my agent has said she loves it, too, she's already concerned about it being difficult to sell because it doesn't really fit into any of the niches. The romantic elements are too light (and with no sex) for it to be paranormal romance. It's not really "literary" or emotional enough to be fantasy women's fiction, and the fantasy elements are too overt (the women's fiction stuff tends to lead toward magical realism). It's not dark and heavy enough for fantasy. It's sort of a fantasy screwball comedy -- something you could imagine Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant and Irene Dunne or Barbara Stanwyck starring in.

Someday I'll have to try writing something that clearly and obviously fits within the established -- and currently popular -- parameters of a particular genre, so that it will be painfully obvious exactly where to market it and the editors won't be saying stuff like "but we don't know how to position this" or "we've never published anything like this before." But where's the fun in that?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Revision: The Details

We had a substitute teacher in dance last night who's a former professional ballerina. Class was a wee bit more challenging, not so much physically as mentally because it was so different. I also had more proof that I'm very much a verbal learner. She demonstrated what to do without talking through it, and without the words I had a hard time figuring it out and retaining the information. Then by the end of the class, I was so tired I went into total klutz mode where I couldn't get my arms and legs to cooperate. It was like they were being controlled by someone else entirely. Now I know what it's like to be a marionette. One with an incompetent handler.

This is going to be my last writing post of the year. I'm taking a little time off from this because of a killer combination of writing work and holiday crazies, but I'll be back in the new year.

I'm wrapping up the discussion of revisions. Once you've got the big-picture story worked out and the scenes flowing, it's time to mess with the words. This may take more than one pass -- one for wordsmithing and one for proofreading. Once you get good at this, you might be able to do both at once, but for a first book, I'd recommend doing it separately because you need to proofread your wordsmithing.

It helps at this stage to change the way you see the book. Change the font or print it out. That way, you're more likely to see what's really there instead of what you're used to seeing after so many drafts. It needs to look like a different book to you. I also like to read it out loud in this phase. Not only does that force you to read every word, so you can spot more errors, but that tells you if the language is flowing or if it's awkward. You'll also get a sense of whether the dialogue sounds like real people talking and if the dialogue fits the characters' voices.

Some things to look for:
Do you have pet words that you use a lot? If you're paying attention, this will become painfully obvious. If it's a less obtrusive workhorse kind of word, you might be able to get away with it several times on each page, but if it's a more obvious word, you'll want to limit it to a few times per book. I remember one book where I described way too many things as "ornate." That had to be changed. This is where you can make your writing more precise. That pet word may be a stand-in that comes up when you don't know how else to describe something. Try to come up with a mental image of what you're talking about in the story and describe it to yourself, then see if that gives you an idea of a more precise word to convey that image.

Are you using the strongest possible verbs? If you find yourself adding adverbs to make the picture clearer, you might need to search for the right verb. "Ambled" or "trudged" instead of "walked slowly," for example.

Do you have a lot of wasteful words? This often comes up in verb construction, where it's easy to get into "was" forms, as well as "tried to" or "started to." In some instances, those are accurate and should be used. In others, you can cut them and just go with the standalone verb form. Try cutting the helper words and see if it changes the meaning. For instance, if your sentence is something like, "When he saw her enter, he started to stand, but she waved him back to his seat," then you need the "started" because he doesn't complete the motion. But if it's more like, "I was starting to feel hungry," you might be able to just say, "I was hungry," depending on the circumstances. Other wasteful words are what one of my journalism professors called "weasel words," which are words you use to avoid committing to an absolute -- like "sort of," "kind of" or "almost." Again, does it change the meaning to remove them? If not, cut them. There's more leeway in dialogue because the weasel words might be a character trait, but you still don't want to overdo it.

Is there variety in your sentence pattern? A lot of standard subject/verb sentences can have a machine gun effect, which is useful for action sequences or building tension but which gets boring and repetitive in slower passages. Mix things up a little, if you can. This is where reading aloud really helps because it showcases any sing-songy patterns that come up. You should also find yourself speeding up for more intense action scenes and slowing down for more contemplative passages. If you don't, you'll need to fix your sentence structure and length to provide the right pacing. Make sure the dialogue sounds like something human beings would say so that it doesn't come across as stilted. Sentences in dialogue should be short enough for you to say them in one breath. Most people generally don't talk in paragraphs, so break up blocks of dialogue.

And always be looking for opportunities to be more precise, more concise and more fluid -- but all while retaining your own voice. You don't want to edit the life out of your work and not make it sound like yourself.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holidays for Introverts

I finished proofreading Book 7 and sent it off to my agent yesterday. I took a bit of a break the rest of the day, but now I've got to get back to work. I've got to proof the layout for one more sales venue for book 5, and then I've got revision notes on another project to review before I chat with my agent about it later this week. And meanwhile, I'm continuing research for an upcoming project.

I'm having one of those days when I really don't want to leave the house, and yet I kind of need to get milk. The last time the only thing I needed to get was milk, I ended up being seduced by a shop near the grocery store, where I found a killer dress I wore to the wedding last weekend. But even that thought wasn't enough to entice me today (I don't really need another killer dress). I think I can get by for one more day, and if I get really desperate, I can always stop by the store on the way home from dance tonight. It's just such a perfect working day, cool and cloudy, and I don't want to waste it.

Thanks for the book recommendations. I now have enough options that I think I'm set for my holiday reading time, assuming I let myself have that time. My evenings are pretty solidly booked already. I've got dance on Tuesdays and Thursdays and choir on Wednesdays. I've got two Saturday nights booked and one Sunday night. There's going to be one weekend that's absolutely insane, so Friday may be veg night that weekend. And I think the weekend before Christmas will be pretty quiet for me. That'll probably be my big "take a moment" time because all the crazy stuff will be done, other than the two Christmas Eve services and the trip to my parents' house.

This may be one of those "you know you're an adult when …" things. You know you're an adult when the holiday season hasn't even started and you're kind of looking forward to it winding down so you can relax. Or maybe that's just introverted adults and others actually enjoy being so busy. I do enjoy all the stuff that happens, but it is tiring for a raging introvert. The local paper had an article this morning about survival tips for introverts (I don't know if that link is behind a paywall -- they do have all kinds of sharing options for the article, so maybe not). But most of those are about finding those moments to recharge while around people. With me, it's not so much alone time (though that's important, too) but home time. I get twitchy without enough home days. My idea of a great day is one in which I don't have to get in the car. Which is why I now need to get to work, so I can earn enough money writing to not have to get a job that requires going to an office every day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Seeking Holiday Books

I'm actually kind of glad to be back to work after a very busy Thanksgiving week. I had a lot of fun and saw a lot of people, but it's good to be back to normal. I'll probably take a walk today, but I don't anticipate leaving the house otherwise.

My mom's birthday was last week, so I went to my parents' house early to celebrate. "Celebrate" meant food, a short shopping trip, and just hanging out. My brother and sister-in-law joined us for Thanksgiving. More food and hanging out, and I worked off dinner by letting my brother's little dog chase me around the back yard (though he didn't like it when the horse in the pasture behind my parents' yard stuck his head over the fence for a nose scratch). Then it was back home for the wedding of two of my friends, which meant it was essentially a gathering of all my good friends. I took a long walk yesterday before getting down to work.

Now I have the holiday season ahead of me, and as usual, I'm not mentally ready for it. It doesn't help that it's so warm that it feels more like spring (the flowers are even still blooming). Thanksgiving was early this year, though, and I prefer not to go into Christmas mode until December. But everyone else seems to be in full gear, and Lifetime is showing all their holiday movies when I'm not yet ready for them. I think I may get out my decorations next weekend and then I'll start my holiday season with the beginning of Advent.

As I do every year, I've been trying to track down books to read in the appropriate atmosphere once I have the house decorated. That's one of my traditions, a way to force myself to take a quiet moment or two amid all the usual craziness that comes around this time of year. It started purely by accident when I just happened to have a book to read and sat down amid my lights, with some holiday music on and a cup of cocoa, and it turned out that the book was set during the Christmas season, which made it really special. The trick is finding the right book.

I'm not crazy about the obvious "Christmas" books -- you know, the romances with titles like "Her Secret Santa" or anything in which someone learns the true meaning of Christmas, which is never actually the true meaning of Christmas but rather just generic "spend time with loved ones" greeting card stuff. I'm looking more for fun books that happen to be set during the holiday season without actually being about the holiday season, and that makes them much harder to find. It looks like Amazon has removed their tagging feature, so I can't search that way. I'm down to looking at "people who bought this also bought" and then reading the description and some of the reader reviews for clues.

I lean toward chick lit-type books because they're like movie romantic comedies. Nothing dramatic or "heartwarming" about finding adorable moppets a home for the holidays. Definitely no stuff like getting over bereavement. Basically, I'd love something like the movie The Holiday in book form, where the holiday season provided the setting and the situation, but the plot wasn't really about the holidays, and the lessons the characters learned could have come at any time of year. Or like a lot of the Lifetime romantic comedies, where they stick some Christmas-related title on any movie that happens to have a Christmas tree in the background of a scene and some snow. The ones I've found in the past were A Promising Man by Elizabeth Young, which just happened to be set during the Christmas season and included scenes of shopping and a dinner with the family, and The Rose Revived by Katie Fforde, which involved one of the characters having to pull together a family Christmas celebration at her new boyfriend's ancient farm house.

So, any suggestions of books you've happened to stumble across that might fit? I'm probably going to do an Amazon order later today for some other things, and may as well throw one more book in, if I find something.

Monday, November 19, 2012

By the River and Through the Woods

I can't believe it's Thanksgiving week already. This will be my only real "work" day of the week, as I'm adjusting my usual holiday schedule. Some friends are getting married this weekend, so I'm coming home from my parents' house earlier, and so I'm going to my parents' house earlier. Tomorrow is my mom's birthday, which makes it a holiday anyway, right?

I've already got my laundry done. Now I just have to pack, wrap some presents, proofread half a book and do a little baking. Oh, and there's a choir rehearsal tonight. Eep.

As I mentioned, I went to see Skyfall on Friday. My verdict is that they remembered to make a Bond movie while making a good action film (something I think has been lacking in the Daniel Craig Bond films). There were lots of fun callbacks to the entire series even while shaking things up. I love the new Q and his dynamic with Bond. And we have further proof that no matter what role she's playing in any film or television series, Judi Dench is going to be the biggest badass in the show, period. I love that about her, that she's this tiny lady who's so incredibly imposing. This is the first time in ages I've left a Bond film actually eager to see the next one.

My other weekend viewing was part one of The Dust Bowl. I just read the book The Worst Hard Time, upon which this seems to be largely based (the author is one of the major talking heads, and most of the same stories come up). It's interesting to get all the visuals to go with what I'd read, and we get to actually see some of the people whose stories were told in the book. I've heard of the Dust Bowl my whole life, but I had no concept of what it was really about until I started reading about it recently. That must have been absolutely terrifying to live through. I've been through some nasty West Texas dust storms, and those were nothing compared to the black blizzards of the Dust Bowl.

My other weekend fun was my first foray into geocaching. The friend I went to the movie with had found that there were a number of caches near my neighborhood, so we set out to find some. For those who haven't heard of this, it's like an orienteering scavenger hunt, where there are GPS coordinates and clues to finding hidden containers that may contain little prizes and a log book to show who's found them. They're all over the park where I like to go walking by the river. Though I think using GPS makes it almost too easy because it just points you there. More thinking and clue-solving should be involved, but that's just me liking to do things the hard way. If you're going on a treasure hunt, it should be stuff like "take ten paces from the first phase," and you have to figure out that the starting point is a rock that's kind of shaped like the first phase of the moon. Just looking at a map on a smart phone seems like cheating. Though I think there are caches like that (considering that the GPS coordinates for one are in my yard, those coordinates aren't always where the cache actually is). We were just going after the obvious ones to see what was there.

I was going to say that I didn't need another hobby, but this is just a layer onto an existing hobby. I like going walking and hiking. This might give me more to do on my walks and hikes.

If I don't manage to post the rest of the week, have a Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrate it, and a good week for everyone else.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Getting with the Program

I've had my new heater all checked out, so I'm ready for cold weather. I also finally programmed my programmable thermostat. My life doesn't really fit the programmable options, so with the AC it was easier just to set it manually, but I figured out how to make it work for me with the heater. The thermostat I have only allows you to set programs for weekdays and the weekend, which I think proves that whoever designed this probably doesn't go to church or have kids with weekend activities because whose Saturday and Sunday schedules are exactly the same? I imagine I'll be using the manual override frequently and occasionally reprogramming when I have a schedule change (It would be lovely if they let you save an override schedule for that one day that's going to go differently, rather than having to reprogram the entire weekend or weekday schedule and then put it back the way it was).

So, here's the at-home freelancer's programmable thermostat schedule:
Sleep -- overnight, low enough that the heat probably won't come on but high enough that the pipes won't freeze if it gets really cold. That means quiet and being able to snuggle under blankets, which is my favorite way to sleep.
Wake -- let the house start warming up around the time I usually wake up, so I can make/eat breakfast and get dressed in a warmer environment. Also, getting warm will force me out from under the covers. The cold house makes it harder to get out of bed.
Leave -- This is supposed to be the setting for when you're away at work all day. For me, it's a good setting for when I'm upstairs under a skylight, next to a portable radiator or wrapped up in a blanket while reading, writing or watching TV. If I'm staying mostly in one place and not moving around much, why heat the whole house?
Return -- I set this slightly warmer at around the time of night when I'm taking a shower and getting ready for bed. It's also around the time when I'm getting home from dance or choir.

I haven't really figured out the weekend settings, other than sleep and wake, since my weekend schedules are so different on Saturday vs. Sunday and vary each week.

And now I'm off to see Skyfall and maybe do some neighborhood exploring before trying to get a little work done in the late afternoon so I can enjoy my night of TV. Tonight's episodes of both Grimm and Haven look particularly intriguing.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Introducing the Tambouraca

I invented a new musical instrument yesterday, one I have decided to call the "tambouraca." It's sort of a cross between a tambourine and a maraca. It's a shaker and makes a similar sound to a maraca, but you can also play it like a tambourine and hit it as well as shake it. This is the kind of musical craft project a very non-crafty person like me might come up with.

Basically, it was a bit of desperation in trying to come up with something that would be easy enough to pull together. The song my kindergarteners are doing for Christmas has a sort of Latin/Caribbean feel to it, so I thought some kind of rhythm instrument might be fun, but all the instructions I found for making various shakers were either too complicated or didn't allow enough room for the kids to be creative (where's the creativity in pouring rice into plastic bottles?). The tambouraca involves two dessert-sized sturdy paper plates put together with duct tape around the edges and dried beans inside. The Target store brand plates are white and aren't coated on the bottom, so the kids could decorate them with crayons and markers or stickers. I found white duct tape that's sturdy enough to hold them together, and I had a bag of beans in my cupboard that had a hole in it, so I scavenged the beans that had spilled all over the shelf.

I was surprised by what a huge hit this was. They loved this project. They enjoyed making them (they mostly did the coloring and the adults/teen put them together) and then they danced around playing them. Now I just have to come up with how we'll play them to go with the song and try to get them to follow instructions and play them together. I sat with the pastor at dinner last night and mentioned the idea of having these instruments in church, and he didn't seem alarmed. I suppose they're less easily weaponized than rhythm sticks, and he was impressed with our bravery in letting preschoolers use those in church last semester. Then again, our pastor isn't the type who expects kids to be absolutely silent in church. As he's said, if the kids are making sounds, then he knows someone in the congregation is awake.

I had made one as a proof of concept, with just enough coloring to test both crayons and markers, and when I showed it to the kids to let them know what we were doing, one little girl looked at it with wide eyes and sighed, "Oh, it's beautiful!" This is why I put myself through this. It's good for my ego.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tackling the Chair of Doom

I would normally be answering Enchanted, Inc. questions today, but I don't seem to have any that I haven't answered, though it's entirely possible that there are some buried in my in-box that I've forgotten. It's been one of those weeks. It's just hit me how much I need to get done between today and next week. Really, how much I need to get done between today and tomorrow.

Tonight I have children's choir, and I need to pick up some supplies for that because we're making some instruments to play with. I also have the furnace guys coming out tomorrow morning to check the new heater before I use it for the first time, which means I need to clean/straighten up the bedroom and bathroom to clear a path for them and get my stuff out of the way. The Chair of Doom is piled rather high with clothes, since the rapidly changing weather means that I sometimes need two or three changes of clothes a day -- start the day in warm clothes, switch to short sleeves in the afternoon, then add a sweater in the evening or change into something nicer to leave the house. That means a lot of things that I wear only for a couple of hours and put aside to wear again for another couple of hours. I also need to buy a couple of wedding presents and some Christmas presents for people I'll see at Thanksgiving but probably not at Christmas.

Meanwhile, I really need to start proofreading that book and brainstorming titles. Yesterday, I just did research reading for the next project and had a few goosebump moments. This project is something I came up with when I was in college. I did all the plotting and world building in my early twenties. In my reading yesterday, I found a real-life historical parallel to the situation I developed, right down to the supernatural explanation that was given at that time, which maps beautifully to what I'd plotted. And yet this was a period of history and an aspect of that time frame I hadn't heard of until I read it yesterday. It wasn't a period I ever studied formally in school or even read a lot about before the last ten or so years. It's rather freaky that I had something happen in my fantasy world that actually did happen in the real world (or, at least, that's what people at the time believed happened) that I had no way of knowing had happened. This event was just a side note to the subject I was reading about, so I have a whole new line of research to do. I will try not to cackle with glee (I love research).

But now to go put clothes away and otherwise shovel out what happened to my house while I was sick and then working on a book. I had been so good, but I really let things slide. But hey, now I have an incentive for getting the house in shape for the holidays.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Filing Off the Serial Numbers

All my grand plans of what I wanted to accomplish yesterday went nowhere. Late morning, I got a bit of a headache, and since I could feel exactly which muscles in my scalp were tensing up, I figured that if I lay down for a while and relaxed, the headache would ease. It turned out that I was right, except for the "for a while" part. I slept most of the afternoon (without ever realizing that I was really asleep and not just lying there -- I thought I'd been just lying down for a few minutes, until I looked at the clock and saw that hours had passed), and because the lying down happened before lunch, I woke up shaky and groggy. So there went my day. I figure my body must have needed the rest. But I'm making up for it today. I've already done a load of laundry and cleaned the bathroom. Now I really, really must obtain the tea because I don't have enough for tomorrow morning. This could be a crisis.

The depressing publishing news of last week was that yet another book that started as alternate-universe Twilight fan fiction got a huge book deal. My beef isn't with Twilight, although I have to admit that the appeal of that story went right over my head. What I don't get is the publishers jumping all over themselves to buy books that they know are just rewrites of another book. This is going to sound like "back in my day, if you wanted to publish a book, you had to walk two miles in the snow, uphill both ways," but there was a time when you hid any fan fiction origins to a novel and would only disclose that after it was a success. A publisher wouldn't touch something they knew originated in fan fiction. There's even language in most book contracts that amounts to the author swearing that the book is all the author's work and that the characters and situations are the author's own creation. Now they're seeking it out and publicizing the fan fiction origins. I suppose it comes down to money -- that's a huge audience, and the book is a guaranteed success, so why not? The original characters are thin enough that it's not hard to file off the serial numbers, stick them in a different setting and make them have lots of sex instead of just gazing at each other with longing.

But still, ethics and originality should mean something, shouldn't they? It's very depressing to be someone who's desperately trying to write something original and then see publishers throwing huge wads of money at people who are openly rewriting a recent book. Maybe the key to success is to find a way to map my original books onto something popular, post it as fan fiction, gain a following, and then change the character names and identifying details (back to the original book) and get a book deal. Except I suspect that what makes this fan fiction so popular is the inclusion of lots of sex, and I don't write good sex scenes, so this clever scheme won't work. I have written fan fiction in the past (for TV shows, not books), but my trademark then was really capturing the characters, to the point that it felt like a lost episode. If you're doing that, and if the characters in the universe you're playing with are at all three-dimensional, then it's impossible to change the names and file off the serial numbers and have something that even remotely looks original. The fact that these books can be published without lawsuits from the Twilight publisher means that they're bad fan fic (as in, not really adhering to the original, just co-opting the names) of a generic story. And the fact that this is what publishers want right now says something really sad about the industry. The fact that the reason publishers want it is that readers want it makes me kind of sad about these readers. There's so much good, original stuff out there, so why limit yourself to retellings of the same story?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Disaster Survival Strategies

I talked to my agent, who said she wouldn't be able to look at the book until after Thanksgiving, so I don't have to worry about crunching the final proofread. I can take my time with it and take some time to get my life in order this week. I need to do a massive house cleaning in preparation for the holidays and buy some wedding and Christmas presents. And there are a few books I want to finish reading. I'm mostly enjoying the feeling of being able to breathe again. There's a sense of discovery with a first draft. With revisions, although it can be fun, there's also a sense of obligation, especially when a deadline is looming. Finishing a book feels very much like back when I was in school and leaving the classroom after the last final exam. There's this amazing feeling of a weight being lifted.

Today, I really must get tea (I keep procrastinating on that errand, even though it only involves walking a couple of blocks). Then I think I'm going to put on some music and sing my heart out while cleaning the house. I think I really and truly am finally fully healed, and my voice is back. It needs some limbering up. We had a choir workshop this weekend, and I learned a few new drills and exercises to practice. I need to get in shape for the Christmas singing season.

It's just occurred to me that I may need to get extra cheery this holiday season to balance out my research reading. The next book I want to work on is set in the aftermath of a disaster, when the world hasn't really entirely recovered, with all the physical, sociological and psychological implications of that. Which means my research reading is on cheerful stuff like the Dust Bowl and the Black Death, and probably post-WWII Europe. This isn't dystopia, just more of a situation in which people are feeling burned (it was a mostly man-made disaster) and leery of taking any chances with what burned them, even if it may be necessary to really save the day for good. And in a bit of perfect timing, there's a PBS documentary miniseries on the Dust Bowl next weekend.

I do love the fact that reading about history counts as work. There's other stuff I'll need to research that's a lot less depressing, and there are some good "triumph of the human spirit" stories even in all the depressing stuff. The kind of scary thing is that I find myself concocting survival strategies for these situations -- what I might have done if I'd been there. Though, of course, if I'd been there, I wouldn't know what I know now to concoct those survival strategies. I do think I'd probably be safer than most from the plague, seeing as how I'm kind of a hermit. If I were working on a book, I'd emerge from my cave at the end of a draft and wonder where everyone went. I ran into my next-door neighbor on Saturday, and she thought I'd been out of town for a month.

Friday, November 09, 2012


I finished the big round of revisions/rewrites last night. Today's task will be re-reading the second half of the book to send to Mom (since I kind of left her hanging). Saturday during the day I'll be busy, with a choir workshop in the morning and a meeting/gathering in the afternoon, but that night I think I'll start the major proofreading by reading out loud to myself. Then I should be able to get it to my agent on Monday, so I'm on target for the deadline.

And then I will promptly collapse. Actually, I'll need to do some shopping, do some house cleaning and generally get my life back in order, maybe even repaint the bathroom after that sheetrock repair from this summer. I have research to do for the next project, and I'll probably soon have revision notes on another project, but none of that will be urgent. It will feel good not to have this weight on my shoulders. I really love the ending of this book and I think the final result will be one of my favorite things I've written. It was just a challenge to write, and not entirely due to anything in the book itself. The bronchitis came at a bad time and brought me to a screeching halt that it was difficult to recover from.

Now I just need to come up with a title.

But I will allow myself a fun Friday freaky TV night. Both Grimm and Haven are getting really intense, and Haven has done a really interesting cliffhanger in which the ultimate outcome isn't in much doubt, but we can already see that getting there will be very difficult. And both of these have reminded me of one weakness in first-person narration: You don't get to build suspense in quite the same way.

There's a quote attributed to Alfred Hitchcock about the difference between suspense and surprise. If you show a group of people sitting at a picnic table and a bomb planted under the table goes off, that's surprise. If you show the audience the bomb under the table, but the people sitting at the table don't know about it, that's suspense, as the audience knows more than the characters and waits for that bomb to go off while urging the characters to get away from the table. All you can really pull off in first-person narration is surprise, since nothing can happen without the narrating character knowing about it. You can't do any of those "No! Don't trust him! We just saw what he's really up to!" moments because the audience doesn't get to see stuff that's going on behind the narrator's back.

To get suspense, you need multiple viewpoints so you can see what's going on elsewhere in the world that the hero doesn't yet know about. With first person narration, you can have a character who knows she's in possible danger and doesn't know what might happen to her, so there's tension, and you can use surprise. I love writing in first person and seem to write better that way, but there are times when it's limited. Like with the current situations on both Grimm and Haven, if I were writing those shows in narrative, I couldn't use first-person, even though both are built around a central main character. A lot of the time, things would work from only Audrey's perspective on Haven, since she's so central, but the current situation wouldn't work at all because the audience needs to know what happened when she wasn't there, and us knowing something major that she doesn't know has had me gnawing my fingernails all week long.

I guess I'll throw this in the hopper of my literary bucket list. The project I'm about to get revision notes on is in third person, and I did use that audience-superior thing a couple of times, where the character is about to go into a situation that we already know is bad even though she doesn't know it, but I don't know if I really milked it for suspense, to the point that readers will be screaming, "No! It's a trap!"

And now, off to buy more tea/take a short walk, then down to work so I can get this book over with and move on to the next thing I'm dying to write.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Book That Ate My Brain

Those of you who've bought paper copies of No Quest for the Wicked may have noticed some odd little printing quirks where it looked like HTML was inserted at random. It turns out that there was a conversion error when CreateSpace took our (very clean) file and put it into the format. That error has now been corrected, so any copies ordered after this week will be correct (until I discover something else they messed up -- we're on round four for this book). We're working to see if there's some way those who got the bad copies can get something done, if having a perfect copy is important to you, but I don't have the answer on that yet. It's more weird than disruptive, and hey, you now have a collector's item. For future books, I may be doing the interior formatting myself. I have the templates and specs and will be working on that to see if I can do it. I would certainly be faster, and I'm probably more obsessive.

I'm so very, very close to being done with this round of revisions on the current book. There are about twenty more pages in the book, and I think I can keep most of them. I will likely be adding more pages because there's stuff I forgot to incorporate. Now I just need to figure out how to incorporate that stuff. This is the part of the book where, in the first draft, I was just flinging things in. In the synopsis, it was something like "and then the good guys win," and I thought I'd figure it out by the time I got there. But I didn't. And now I really have to.

That means I may not be going to dance class tonight. I'm a bit sore still from Tuesday, and if I'm close to being done with the book I may not want to break the momentum. I may be making up my September classes well into the next semester, but I think my teacher is pretty understanding. I'm seeing that it's not just the expense that keeps me from taking two classes a week. It really is a time crunch.

We had children's choir for the first time in weeks last night, and they were as crazy as always. The attention span was down to about thirty seconds. I tried a new game that may have been too advanced for them, so I may see about modifying it for them. Next week, I'll have a craft project for them (we'll be making some instruments). I just have three more sessions until the Christmas break, but that also means three sessions to learn a new song to sing in church. Eep.

And I still don't have a title for this book. I may have to call it The Book That Ate My Brain. But I say that about every book I write.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Revision: Scenes

In my last writing post, I talked about some things to look for when you're revising a book. Those were big-picture things that mostly have to do with fixing the overall structure and plot of a book. You'll probably need at least two more rounds of revising and editing, especially if you're a beginner. An experienced author may be able to combine phases, but until you get a really good sense of how a book comes together, I recommend doing one pass that covers the structure of the book and the plot, another that drills down into scene structure and then another that deals with the words.

Once you think the plot as a whole works, it's time to make sure you've got the right scenes to tell your story. You may have corrected a lot of problems in that big-picture pass by eliminating the scenes that don't contribute to the plot, making sure the scenes aren't repetitive, or combining scenes to tighten things up. For the scenes that remain, here are some things to look for:

*Is there conflict in each scene? That doesn't mean fighting or bickering, just some sense of tension or struggle, either external or internal. In each scene, some character should be trying to get or accomplish something, and that shouldn't be easy.

* Have you set the stage? I'm really bad about forgetting physical details, so this is something I usually have to add in revisions. Where is the scene taking place? How does this place look, smell, sound, feel? How does that affect what happens? For instance, if the scene takes place in public and the characters are talking about something that should be a secret, that should affect the way they behave -- furtive glances to see if anyone's eavesdropping, keeping voices low, reacting if the other person speaks too loudly, etc. Are there any environmental conditions affecting the characters? Are they hot, cold, wet, smelling something nasty, bombarded by noise? That will affect the way they behave -- acting grumpy because of discomfort, rushing through things because they're eager to get away.

* Do the characters have emotional reactions to what's happening? This is another thing I usually have to add in revisions. Unless your character is a robot, there's probably going to be some emotional response to everything that happens. The level of response will depend on the magnitude of the event. Quite frequently, the emotion will trigger a physical response -- heart rate speeds up, hands shake, that sick feeling in the stomach forms. There can also be an emotional response to a setting -- is it a comfort zone or something that makes someone edgy, like a claustrophobic person in an elevator. Think of the traits and background you've given your characters and make sure they're responding in appropriate and consistent ways. Doing this can add tension and conflict to a scene.

* Are you using subtext? This is really tricky but can be incredibly effective. People don't always say what they really mean in conversation, and the more emotional or important the subject is, the less likely they are to address it directly. For instance, a lot of fights in relationships are over seemingly petty things, but the fights really aren't over who took out the trash last. They're about underlying issues. There may be a contrast between the dialogue and all the nonverbal communication like body language, tone of voice and positioning, and then the emotional response may also tell the story. You get a more interesting scene when the characters aren't directly saying exactly what they mean and convey their real meaning some other way. The point-of-view character may or may not pick up on the subject, but it should be there for the reader.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Revising the Revisions

I've done my civic duty and voted today. With the increasing popularity of early voting, you start to feel like some kind of procrastinating slacker if you wait to vote on election day. But in my case, voting on election day is actually more convenient. The polling place is closer to my house (about two blocks away), and since there are just two precincts in the polling place, there are likely to be fewer people there. With early voting, you can vote anywhere in the county, and there are only two sites in the city. I went to the library (the early voting location) during early voting, and the line went all the way through the library and out the door. They were saying it was nearly an hour wait. Today, it took me maybe 20 minutes, including walking to and from the polling place. They had a constant, steady flow of people, but the only waiting was to wait for them to deal with the person ahead of me. I discovered that I am the very last "S" entry in my precinct's voting register.

My polling place is an elementary school, and as I drew near, I thought there must be some election-day slaughter going on. There were all these horrendous, high-pitched screams. Then I got close enough to see that it was recess. Apparently, you can't have fun without screaming at the top of your lungs. I don't remember screaming like that when I played.

I continue to inch my way through the revisions. One of the difficulties of revising a book is divorcing myself from what I've already written. It's so tempting to want to just fix the words when what I really need to do is scrap a scene entirely. It usually takes at least three passes. First, I fix the words. Then I admit to myself that I need to change things, so I try to change things within what's already written, keeping some bits and scrapping others. Then I finally admit that it actually needs to go in a totally different direction, which means throwing it all out and starting over. I'm down to about a hundred pages to rewrite/revise, but I don't know how much of that will be starting from scratch and how much I can just edit and modify.

There was some minor distraction yesterday in that I felt compelled to clean my kitchen thoroughly. You see, I saw an ant. There was a picture going around Facebook a while ago that showed a house fully engulfed in flames. The caption said, "There was a spider. I panicked. I think it's gone now." This was like that, only with bleach-based cleaning products instead of fire. It's not that I'm afraid of ants. I just don't want them in my kitchen. It seems that this may have been a lone wanderer because I haven't seen more, and they definitely aren't in any of the obvious places for ant infestation, like the sugar bowl. On the up side, my kitchen is now mostly disinfected and scrubbed, and that makes it less likely that other ants will wander by.

I'm getting house cleaning urges, and some cleaning is necessary, but I must get this book done.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Hooray for Monday!

You know you love your job when you actually like Mondays. To me, Mondays are quiet, restful days, especially after a weekend like this one. I had two parties, one on Friday night and one on Saturday. Neither ran all that late, but they still made for long days. There was a surprise impromptu Doctor Who discussion late in the Friday party. That wasn't a geek gathering, which was why the initial reference was a surprise (I don't think the person who made it expected anyone else to get it), and then there was the usual sort of moment of connection you get when you find that someone else has the same geeky interest that you weren't expecting to find in that sort of group. A lot of the people were talking about favorite wines, and then suddenly Doctor Who comes up.

Am I being a shameless namedropper if I say that the Saturday party was at Rachel Caine's house? I've known her forever, so occasionally I forget that one of my friends is a famous bestselling author.

After singing for two services Sunday, I just came home and collapsed. Now, thanks to the time change, I was up and going earlier than normal (in spite of staying up way too late), and I'm hoping that will make for a productive day, since I have a lot of work to do. I got a scene revised on Friday, then realized that I did it wrong. I'd planned how to revise it, then didn't follow the plan, and upon further reflection I decided the plan was right. What happened was that I wasn't willing to stray that far from what was already written. That's why this seems to be a two steps forward, three steps back process. I often find several scenes later that a much earlier scene that I've already revised was still wrong, so I have to backtrack.

I think I say this with every book, but this book may be the death of me. I knew the story would be challenging when I came up with it. I just didn't realize how challenging. I'm pretty sure I'll come out of this a better writer.

Now I just have to step away from the Internet for the afternoon, turn off the phone (strangely, I'm not getting political calls, but I am getting at least one "we're a remodeling company doing some work on one of your neighbors' homes, and while we're in your area, we can stop by and give you a free estimate" calls a day -- I guess the high-tech version of the guy in a truck who rings your doorbell and tells you he just did some work on a neighbor's house and has some material left over, so he can give you a reduced price for doing work on your house) and get some work done.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Creative Circuits Firing

Since I have something like a month's worth of dance classes to make up, I took the beginner class last night. In my regular intermediate class, I feel like a total klutz. In the beginner class, I feel like Anna Pavlova. It's not so much the contrast in skill level with the other students as it is my mastery of the material. In the beginner class, they really focus on form, slowing it down to really learn it the right way. Since I already know these things pretty well, that allows me to focus on making it pretty. The intermediate class moves more quickly and does more advanced work, so while I'm getting it done, it doesn't look so nice. I'm definitely more of an adagio dancer than an allegro dancer. Slow and graceful and making use of balance and strength are what I do well. Quick and bouncy don't work so well for me. I'll be taking two classes a week for the rest of the semester, so it'll be interesting to see if my dancing improves overall. I'm hoping the refresher from the beginning class starts making the intermediate class easier for me.

I've got a busy weekend ahead, with a wine tasting party tonight and a meeting/party tomorrow. Sunday's supposed to be rainy, and I've got a good book waiting for me, so that will be quality time with the sofa day. Meanwhile, I'm really close to finishing the revisions on this book. I've reached my target word count, though I imagine some of those words are about to be cut and then replaced, and I have most of the rest outlined. It would have been nice if I could have figured out this part of the book before I wrote it, but I think I had to kind of play around with the circumstances before I could know what was possible.

But I'm at the really difficult and dangerous phase of the creative process in which the creative circuits are firing full-blast and it's difficult to focus on this project because there are all these other things out there that I want to work on.

After I get this book off my plate, my agent will probably have revision notes on the insanely quirky contemporary fantasy I've written that she says she loves but has some suggestions on. But what I'm thinking the most about is a story idea I came up with while I was in college that I actually wrote (and even won a contest with) in my 20s that didn't sell. I took another look at it and found that I still like the situation, story and characters, but the actual events in the plot need work. What I hadn't considered is that the voice is very young adult and the characters are very young. So I think I'll tackle it as a young adult traditional fantasy -- yeah, one of those quasi-medieval things. I'm starting to do the world-building research for this one.

There's another book that's been lurking at the back of my mind for a couple of years, gradually taking shape. It's going to take a lot of research, and I've been doing bits and pieces of that research, so every so often it pops up to be played with. Either this one is going to be absolutely brilliant or it will drive me mad and I'll be terribly disappointed in myself once I start writing it and the words don't match the brilliance that was in my head. Now there's also that wacky portal fantasy idea that popped into my head last week, and I'm still toying with ideas for a paranormal mystery series. There are also a few other things lurking or in the works, and some of them pop up at the strangest times.

I suppose that means I should spend more time writing. But the more I write, the more ideas I get.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

When Darth Met Mickey ...

I had a pretty good Halloween. I got a fair amount of writing done, watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" and had enchiladas. I had other treats planned, but I wasn't hungry for them, so I just ate a couple of pieces of my "just in case" candy that I didn't have to hand out to trick-or-treaters. I wouldn't let my kids trick-or-treat at my house unless I knew the people who lived there because it isn't really directly on the street, and no one who lives around me has kids, so I don't generally get trick-or-treaters.  Besides, in this neighborhood full of big, nice houses, it would be inefficient trick-or-treating to focus on the smaller townhouses tucked away in a corner where all the residents are single and/or retired (I'm the baby of our little corner). You go to the nicer houses that are decorated and where the people likely have kids in order to get the best candy haul.

The big geek news of the week is that George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney. That's resulted in some fun photos that have been going around Facebook, like the Death Star with mouse ears, or the Death Star hanging overhead with the "When you wish upon a star" logo below.

But I think my favorite Star Wars/Disney mash-up is an official one. This is what Disney Parks put together, and though I don't normally embed videos, this one is totally worth it. So, Darth Vader, Disney just bought Lucasfilm. What are you going to do next?

Listen very carefully to the music. On the surface, it sounds like the kind of tinkly music they play in all those Disneyland ads, but it's actually a rather familiar theme in a way you've never heard it before. That alone makes this a work of art, and if this is the kind of thing that comes out of this merger, I'm totally on board with it. I have to admire the kind of minds that would come up with this sort of thing.

They've said they'll be putting out new Star Wars movies, but in my wildest dreams, what I'd love them to do is reboot the prequels. Those stories need to be told, but they did it wrong. Now they need to claim that those movies were badly produced Imperial propaganda and set the Disney-Pixar writing team to work on telling the real story. They know character and story and know to focus on that, no matter how many pretty bells and whistles they're throwing at the screen. I think they'd realize that they have to totally scrap the idea of Anakin being the "hero" of the prequels because that puts them in the uncomfortable position of making the Young Hitler Adventures. The hero should be Obi Wan, who's struggling with this kid he loves like a brother but who's going down the wrong path. I'm sure they could get Ewan McGregor back (try to keep him away), and he hasn't aged that much, plus he was actually way too young before to have turned into Alec Guinness in only 20 years after the end of Episode 3. They could scrap everything that wasn't already directly referenced in the original trilogy, which would get rid of Jar Jar, make Luke and Leia's mother less useless, allow Anakin to be a darker, less whiny figure (when out of Lucas's grasp, he'd have to be less of a Mary Sue), scrap that awful immaculate conception pseudo-scientific "midichlorian" nonsense, and just tell the tragic story of a young Jedi who was so full of himself that he was easily seduced by the dark side.

Not that I expect that to happen, but in my geeky mental happy place I'm picturing Pixar writing allowed to go into more complex, adult places, with better acting coming out of a better script and better directing. I am curious about where they might go with the new movies. I've lost track of that expanded universe and haven't even finished the last two Zahn books (his are the only ones I've really liked), but I think I'll always be a Star Wars geek at heart, since that was my gateway drug into science fiction and fantasy.