Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

 I can't believe it's actually Christmas Eve! I've spent a rather lazy morning, but now I need to get my act together to be ready for tomorrow. I have two services to sing for tonight, and then I need to be ready to get up and on the road first thing in the morning because there's a winter storm coming in. According to our local TV weatherman, the one who's a real weather geek, there won't be any frozen precipitation in the morning (I asked him directly on Facebook), just showers and maybe some storms, but those are more likely farther east. The car is gassed up, and I had the oil changed and all the other stuff checked last week, so I should be good to go. And, yes, Mom, I'll be sure to have a blanket, a Thermos of tea and a bottle of water in the car.

I've had a really good Christmas season so far, getting together with old friends I don't see often, as well as my current friends. I've gone to parties and looked at lights. I've watched way too many sappy romantic holiday movies. Last night was my annual viewing of The Holiday. Tonight I may watch last year's Christmas episode of Haven between church services (I don't have time for a full movie).

I leave you with a couple of views of one of the places I visited this year. Grapevine, a smallish (well, not any more, but the core of it is still "small Texas town") does the historic downtown up well, and here are some pictures I took. I think this will be the town that's attacked in my Christmas romantic comedy disaster movie.

Now to go do laundry, pack and wrap presents. I have to sing the Hallelujah Chorus twice tonight, so I need to save my voice (the soprano part can be kind of brutal). A very merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Apocalypse that Almost Wasn't

Well, it looks like we're still here and the Mayan apocalypse has been a bust. Not that I've been too worried. My understanding from what I've heard from actual scholars on the subject is that the doomsday stuff was based on a wild misinterpretation and possibly some drug-fueled pseudo mysticism. Though some of my friends are claiming that the Doctor saved the planet (again) without any of us noticing it.

I had my first experience of a Brazilian steak house last night -- one of those places where the guys walk around the room with huge chunks of grilled meats on skewers, and they slice bits off onto your plate. I may not eat red meat again for a week, but it was so very good. I had probably far too much filet mignon. And a little of everything else. I was having dinner with a former co-worker who'd moved away and was in town on business. I love having the kind of friend you can go more than a decade without seeing, and then you pick up as though no time has passed.

So, after half a cow and a very long chat last night, I suspect I may not be very productive today. This may be a day to get the house more or less in order so that I don't have chore-type stuff to do over the weekend and on Christmas Eve. There may also be reading because I'm way behind on my reading goal for the year. For some bizarre reason, I decided I had to re-read the Connie Willis time travel books, perhaps mostly because The Doomsday Book takes place at Christmas and there are Christmas scenes in Blackout/All Clear, but also because I hadn't re-read The Doomsday Book recently before the first time I read the WWII books, so I thought I'd read them all at once. I'm almost done with The Doomsday Book. I've realized that I'm picturing Connie's husband as Mr. Dunworthy, but the weird thing is that my mental image of the character hasn't at all changed, in spite of the fact that I just met him this summer. I get the feeling the character is largely based on her husband, but there's never any physical description of him that would have caused me to picture someone like her husband when I read the books. I guess it's like the way when I was in Oxford, whenever I got lost I kept ending up in the same place, and it's the same place the main character in To Say Nothing of the Dog keeps ending up when he's time-lagged and not thinking clearly. I suppose there are worse people to share a mental link with than Connie Willis. Now, if only I could link to some of her talent while I'm at it.

Oh no! What's that in the sky, coming right at us? AAAAHHHH! We're doomed!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tis the Season for Christmas Movies

While I'm looking forward to the big movie coming out next week, I'm enjoying a lot of little movies. This is my favorite time of year, the season of the cheesy Christmas TV movies. I think I've figured out why these are my big guilty pleasure. So many of them are paranormal romantic comedies, and that's something the world is sorely lacking. Actually, these days romantic comedies are rare, and those that exist tend to be in the gross-out or overgrown man-child tamed by shrewish harpy vein. Most of these Lifetime/ION/ABC Family movies are actually real romantic comedies, with no bathroom humor and with adult men. Then they're set at Christmas, which adds to the atmosphere. And so many of them have fantasy or paranormal plots.

Of course, there are all the variations on the ever-popular A Christmas Carol theme, with a Scrooge being reformed (and finding love). Then there are the It's a Wonderful Life stories, with someone getting a glimpse at a world that might have been -- generally not the never-born world, but the what ifs of job, family and relationships in which they learn to be careful what they wish for. The Groundhog Day story, with someone living the same day over until they get it right, is becoming popular, with one Family movie last year like that and one ION one this year. And then there are all the movies where Santa plays matchmaker, is looking for a Mrs. Claus or has a son or daughter whose status as a Claus offspring causes problems. Oh, and ghosts, and not just the Christmas Past type, either. Plus magical mailboxes and Christmas ornaments that cause things to happen.

As I've been analyzing these movies (which counts as work, since I plan to one day write one), I've noticed that mostly the formula seems to be to take a popular movie and give it a Christmas twist. I mentioned the Groundhog Day ones, but there's also been a Working Girl variation (but without the fraud) in which the assistant to the credit-stealing boss and the boss's boyfriend fall for each other while working on a project together. There was a Meet the Parents meets Miracle on 34th Street film, in which a non-believing scientist and her non-believing son meet her new fiance's parents and discovers that they're Santa and Mrs. Claus. There was a Mannequin/It's a Wonderful Life twist, where the woman who wished her life were more perfect gets her wish when the store mannequin she identifies as her perfect man comes to life. There was a Sliding Doors, Christmas edition, where there are two realities, one in which the woman catches the plane to the exciting new job assignment and one in which she misses the plane, and her life goes in a different direction. So, to write one of these films, I need to find a favorite romantic comedy and give it a Christmas twist.

The other fun of watching these movies is playing the science fiction version of "Hey, it's that guy!" Perhaps because most of these are Canadian productions and so many of the SyFy Channel series film in Canada, there's a lot of crossover between SyFy series and these movies in casting. But it goes beyond that because there are even people from regular network genre series that don't film in Canada who show up. Most of these are playing very against type, and I play little games in my head in which I try to make these movies fit into the actors' usual roles. There was one in which the bad-girl Blutbad from Grimm ended up with Dr. Daniel Jackson from SG-1. The Mannequin one had the evil witch from Grimm, being disturbingly cute and bubbly, hooking up with Chuck's Captain Awesome. And then if you really want to have your head explode from the disconnect, we had our stoic, extremely reserved police chief from Haven playing Santa Claus's son, a very enthusiastic kindergarten teacher (and Santa and Mrs. Claus were Norm and Diane from Cheers).

In short, even when these movies are bad, they're awesome because the snark from the awfulness balances out the "aww" factor that manages to creep in. And since I finally have a weekend with no plans, guess what I'll be doing. I did have a moment of madness yesterday when I considered starting to work on a script for one right now (or else writing the story as a novel), but then I remembered how much else I have on my plate at the moment.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Countdown to Les Mis

The big thing I'm looking forward to next week isn't just Christmas. It's the release of the Les Miserables movie. I first learned about the musical my senior year in college. My roommate was a theater major and had the soundtrack. One night when she was out, I listened to it and fell madly in love. I first saw the show the summer after I graduated from college when there was a touring production in Dallas. My brother and I drove over for an afternoon matinee, and I was totally blown away. Since then, I've lost count of how many times I've seen it on stage. There have been a number of touring productions, and I've seen it on Broadway. I have the original London cast and the 10th anniversary concert on CD. In fact, the London cast recording was the reason I bought a CD player in the first place because the cassette was missing the first part of the show, and there was more on the CD. If someone in the cast keeled over, I could probably jump onto the stage and pick it up without missing a beat.

So, I'm excited about the movie but also a little nervous because it's easy to screw up. Now that they've released more teasers from it, I'm feeling a little better about it, but I suspect that after being so used to the theater recordings it will take some getting used to. One thing is that they're taking a very different approach to making a movie musical. As they explain in this extended first look, they're not trying to do it like a regular musical, where the focus is on getting the perfect sound. The singing is recorded live, not in a studio, and the emphasis is on the acting. This takes advantage of some of the things film can do that you can't do on stage. One is providing the scope and setting the scene. The other is intimacy. On stage, you have to play to the top of the upper balcony. On film, things can go very small and up-close. With this, they're not trying for the full theatrical voices. They seem to be going for singing the way they'd act the role when talking -- if someone is only a few inches away, they aren't aiming for the upper balcony, they're whispering; if in that moment their voice would shake or break, they let it. I suspect that I won't want the movie soundtrack on CD because it won't stand on its own to listen to, but just watching the clips in context brought tears to my eyes, and I think once I get used to the differences from my cast recordings, I'll love the movie and will buy it on Blu-Ray.

Here are a few clips from the movie. I'm putting them in the order I know of from the show, but I understand they've also gone back to the original novel in writing the screenplay, so some things may be different or moved around.

Here's the scene where Javert releases Valjean from prison. Russell Crowe is no Terrence Mann, but I think he's working out okay. He couldn't pull this off on stage, but he's got the character, and I think his voice is nice enough. I'd worried about Hugh Jackman because he can get nasal, but it seems like he's making an effort to channel Colm Wilkinson.

Then there's the "Who Am I?" scene, which shows that emphasis on acting over "performing." This is fabulous on stage, but I don't think doing it stage-style would have worked on film because this is such an emotional scene.

The "At the End of the Day" scene seems pretty close to what we've seen in the show, with a little more emotion. I can see why people are already engraving Anne Hathaway's name on the Oscar.

I'm seeing some criticism of Amanda Seyfried as Cossette, but at least in the "A Heart Full of Love" clip, I think her warble fits the character and the situation. This is a sheltered young girl who's run into her crush. I'd expect her voice to tremble. I'll reserve judgment beyond that.

I wasn't too worried about Eponine, since the actress has played the role on stage. Here's a bit of "On My Own".

Of course, when making a movie musical, there has to be a new song to have a song eligible for an Oscar. But it sounds like they also got a chance to do a scene that wouldn't have worked on stage. Here's a little feature on the new song.

This bit isn't from the movie itself, but it does reflect one of my favorite scenes and makes me feel better about what might be in the movie. Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe, just goofing off on stage at an event, do the Confrontation scene. I saw Hugh Jackman on one of the talk shows this week, and he joked that this is how Australian men argue.

Now for that other thing you can do in movies that you can't do on stage, here's a piece on the production design. There are some other features on the site, like this one on the costume/makeup/hair that gives a few other scenes from the movie.

In short, I'll be seeing this a week from now (if the weather cooperates and we don't get the possible winter storm). And then probably a few more times at the theater. Someone has suggested that some theater have a singalong event, and I'd be on board with that. I might have to gag myself to keep from singing along, though it looks like I could get caught up in the story and be weeping too hard to sing. I went through a whole tissue just watching the TV ads they have on YouTube.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Intimate vs. Epic Fantasy

I can't believe it's only a week until Christmas. I have my shopping mostly done, though there's still one gift I need another part for. I kind of have a sense of what I need, but nothing is jumping out at me as being the right thing. It might be easier if I actually went to a store, though. It's kind of hard to conjure gifts out of the ether. And this isn't something where shopping online can help. It's something I need to see in person. Otherwise, the necessary baking is all done. Anything else that comes up will be just for fun or because I need something to eat. I've almost given up on getting work done, other than research reading. My focuser isn't working very well right now, and it's hard to do revisions and editing when your brain is all "Reindeer!" (the Christmas version of "Squirrel!").

I've been talking for some time about what I call intimate vs. epic fantasy, and that subject came up again for me recently when I was reading a book in a fantasy series that I've been liking, and it just wasn't working for me, even though I really love the characters. I realized that it was an intimate fantasy that had gone epic, going from plots that were mostly about what mattered to these individuals to a "save the world" plot.

And then while I was thinking about that, Jo Walton had a post at about saving-the-world plots in fantasy. It's essentially another angle on my intimate vs. epic distinction. I can see how this happens because as writers, we're always told to keep upping the stakes. Something vital has to be on the line to motivate our characters, and we have to feel like something bad will happen if they fail. High stakes generally mean high tension, and that keeps the pages turning. The longer a series runs, the more likely it is that you're eventually going to get to a save-the-world story. Book one may be about the apprentice wanting to escape from his cruel master and stealing some household object to help fund his new life -- only to find out that his cruel master is an evil wizard and the object the apprentice stole is the source of his power. So his goal is to escape with his life. Book two is probably going to be about stopping the evil wizard from controlling the king, with the goal of saving the kingdom. By the end of the series, our former apprentice who's learned to use the source of power will have to stop the evil wizard from having the whole of creation sucked into the Pit of Despair for all eternity.

I never have figured out why these villains are so keen on destroying the world. The world is where the people are. It's hard to have ultimate power if everything's been destroyed. Even if you survive, you're left with no one to do anything for you. I guess they're suicidal and want to take everyone else out with them.

But in thinking of this, I've realized that you reach a point of diminishing returns on the stakes=tension equation. If the world won't literally come to an end if the heroes fail to achieve their story goal, then there's some doubt that they might achieve it, and that keeps the tension high. I have read books in which the heroes fail, in which the bad guys prevail, even if it's just temporarily (most often seen in series). The Empire Strikes Back is generally considered the best Star Wars movie, and the heroes' only real success is surviving to regroup and fight again. But if all of creation will be destroyed if the heroes fail, there's not much doubt that they'll succeed. I don't think I've ever read a book that wasn't a satire in which the heroes fail and the world is destroyed, the end. How they go about saving the world may be interesting, but there's not as much tension there because you know they're going to succeed.

I think there's also a case of some stories being too big for the world/characters. This is hard for me to articulate, but I think some characters are best on a smaller scale. It's okay to stick with surviving, maybe saving the town or the kingdom, finding the object, rescuing the dragon from the princess because it's hard to believe that these people could really save the world. Then there are the worlds where turning things global changes the world. I was thinking about this in regards to what happened in Buffy and Angel, where it got to the point they were having annual apocalypses (and you know you're in trouble when you have to worry about what the plural of "apocalypse" is). On Buffy, it just got silly, and they made a joke out of having to save the world again. On Angel, I think it ruined the world when they got too big. The fun of both those series for me was the sense that this was our world, and all these things were going on behind the scenes or underground. That worked with Angel, particularly, because they were out of the small town and into Los Angeles, and there were all the fun jokes about what the evil law firm was really into, which celebrities and world leaders were their clients, etc. But then they got on the apocalypse train, with things happening that everyone in Los Angeles noticed, that were on the news -- the sky going dark for days, rains of fire, everyone falling under the sway of a hell goddess. When they did that, it was no longer about the stuff that's secretly happening in our world. It became another reality, and that ruined the premise.

That's something I'm conscious of in my series because I want to maintain the illusion that this is our world and there's stuff going on that most of us don't notice. Katie may quip about saving the world, but they're really just saving one corner of the world. If they fail, there may be a big ripple effect, but the secret still wouldn't be out. So far, I think they're making this work on Grimm, where they're not trying to save the world, just deal with these individual cases. It may go up the chain with the royals being involved, but I hope we don't get into the global apocalypse sort of thing. With Haven, another "secret" world, they're keeping things mostly within this one town and covering everything up, with the newspaper editors and the police chief being in on the secret so that the national news hasn't yet had a whiff of what's going on in the town, and they just need to save the town, not the world.

Speaking of Haven, they've finally announced when they'll be showing the skipped episode. It and the finale (originally scheduled for this Friday) will be shown on Thursday, Jan. 17. See the SyFy web site for details.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Intro to Fantasy

I had yet another busy weekend. I met up with some friends at a nearby diner for breakfast on Saturday, then we went to see an early show of The Hobbit. I had to behave myself during the movie because I had a former student, one of the kindergarteners from my first year doing children's choir, sitting directly behind me.

I thought the movie looked nice, the casting was wonderful, and there were parts of it I loved, but I'm not sure that spreading it into three movies and adding so much padding was such a great idea. When you're padding Tolkien, you've got problems. It's such a relatively simple, straightforward story that you don't need to add all that impending doom stuff to it to make it work. They did extended editions of the Lord of the Rings movies, but with this one, I would kind of like the reduced edition, where they just edit together the parts that are actually in the book. There are some things in the movie I'd like to revisit, and I was surprised by some of the casting of actors I'm familiar with but didn't recognize, so I wouldn't mind seeing some of it again to see if I can spot them now, but I don't think I could sit through that movie again.

The Hobbit was one of the things that got me into fantasy. The cartoon TV movie version came out when I was in fourth grade, right at the time I'd gotten into Star Wars and science fiction. Today's corporate placement in schools seems to be about food, but then we seemed to get a lot that involved entertainment, if they could spin it as in any way educational. I remember a number of supplemental lessons or materials related to movies or TV movies, that I then felt compelled to watch because if they talked about it at school, then it was homework in my mind.

With The Hobbit, I'm not sure if it was some kind of corporate-provided lesson material or just the fact that my teacher was into that sort of thing, but I do remember hearing about it at school and then telling my parents I had to watch the movie because it was assigned (even though it probably wasn't). Every day after recess, my teacher would read a chapter of a book to us, and I think I can probably thank/blame her for me getting into fantasy because she read stuff like Roald Dahl's books, and she read The Hobbit. I would get frustrated with the chapter a day pace and get the book out of the library and read it straight through. I don't remember if I read the book The Hobbit before or after watching the TV movie, but I did read it around that time.

Come to think of it, that teacher may have been the first one to encourage me in writing. I recall having an assignment to write something about a picture in a book. Most of the kids were writing a descriptive paragraph, but something in the picture sparked a story idea, and when the teacher realized that I had pages written when it was time to turn it in, she let me take it home to finish the story I was writing, with no penalty for being late. I suspect my usual short story problem reared its ugly head even then, since I got pages and pages into it with no ending in sight and then just ended it abruptly rather than letting it turn into a novel.

I doubt this teacher is even still alive because I recall her being fairly old (then again, I also remember my second-grade teacher as being old, and when I found my diary from those years, I mentioned that we'd celebrated her 27th birthday), but if you're out there, Mrs. Johnson, thanks for nurturing that little spark and for introducing me to fantasy.

Back to Saturday, after the movie I went with a friend to a nearby town that goes crazy at Christmas, with the old Main Street like something out of one of those Lifetime movies. I think I've come up with my main plot for my disaster romantic comedy Christmas movie. The elves are out to get us.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fun Holiday Links

It's a lovely gray day, and maybe I'll finally get some writing done. I've been so distracted all week. But first, there's a batch of cookies I need to make (well, okay, want, but I need some gingerbread to go with my Gluhwein). I even found part of my final Christmas gift in a very unexpected place. I still need one more thing and will go on a quest for it next week, if I don't stumble upon it elsewhere before then.

This weekend isn't going to be quite as busy as the last one because my Sunday is free, but I've got a group outing to see The Hobbit tomorrow and then plans with a friend tomorrow night. After that, I have the choir Christmas party Tuesday, which I'll pop into on my way to ballet class, and then we're having a ballet class "party" after class. Then my only remaining pre-Christmas social event will be a friend's birthday dinner. Unless someone comes up with something else. Which I may have to decline on account of already having plans, even if they are with myself. I'm way behind on reading this month.

My brain has kind of melted, so I'm going to share links instead.

First, I have a friend who does a really elaborate animated light display at his house. This year, he used a song that I thought was really good. It sounded like something from a modern rock-opera version of A Christmas Carol. But it turns out that it's a parody of a Britney Spears song (which explains why I didn't recognize it). So, I present "Ebenezer."

And then, for your Christmas shopping needs, I present The Hater's Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog. Caution: language alert. Don't click if four-letter words offend you. After reading this, I want to propose a "more money than sense" tax on all purchases made from this catalog. It could help balance the federal budget. But I bet I could sell my meringue mushrooms to these people for about $50 a batch.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ballerina Power

After looking at yesterday's post and my calendar, I think I've figured out one big reason why introverts tend to have just a few close friends. If you've got several close friends who aren't also close friends with each other or else don't necessarily have the same interests or schedule as each other, then your calendar fills up quickly even if you only get together with each friend a couple of times a month. If you had a lot of friends, you'd never have free time. Between activities for all the groups I'm in and the few close friends I have that I do things with outside groups, I'm generally booked solid most weekends.

Today is going to mostly be a quiet day at home (I do have to make a post office trip) because I might have overdone it yesterday. I spent the morning with my brother, spent the afternoon geocaching, then had choir rehearsal at night.

I discovered while geocaching that ballet really pays off. I hadn't done this degree of tromping around in the woods, going down steep hills and generally climbing up, over, down or through things in years, and it was so much easier this time, in spite of me being quite a bit older, because my legs are so strong now. There were a few times when I was inching sideways across the steep slope of a river channel purely by the power of my thigh muscles, and the balance I've gained from dance helped keep me in place so I didn't fall into the river. My inner thighs are a bit sore this morning, but I'm not in the kind of pain I'd expect to be in from that amount of exertion. The book I'm currently working on has a ballerina heroine, and I make use of the physical abilities being a top-level dancer gives her -- she's strong, flexible and fast -- and now I can tell that I'm pretty much on-target with that, since I can see the difference it makes for me even at my level. Seriously, you don't want to mess with a ballerina. She may look delicate, but she's probably stronger than a lot of pro athletes.

This geocaching thing is a blast. For me, it's mostly an excuse to go tromping through the woods, getting way off the beaten path. Finding the caches is secondary, though it is fun to find something like this:

That was the first clue in a multi-stage treasure hunt that led to me doing all that crazy climbing around on the steep sides of a river channel (which turned out to be entirely unnecessary, but it was still fun). There were a lot of thorny vines in the woods, so my hands are all scratched up (note to self: gloves!) and look even worse because I put that liquid bandage stuff on the scratches, so I now look slightly leprous.

To recover from my exertions, I will spend the day working on my book with the kick-ass ballerina.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

You May Be an Introvert If ...

I just thought I'd reached the quiet part of my holiday season. Things keep springing up. For instance, I'm about to go meet up with my brother for coffee (or some coffee alternative for me) while he's in town on business and between customer meetings. Mind you, I'm not complaining about people wanting to spend time with me, but I tend to freak out when my calendar fills up. I enjoy these things when I'm doing them, but at the same time I need some space.

While I'm going through my busy-season freak-out, it's funny that there seem to be so many articles about introversion coming out. It's mostly due to some very good publicity for the book The Introvert's Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World by Sophia Dembling, who used to write for our local newspaper and who was on my media contact list when I was doing PR for the medical school. The latest article was on how to tell if you're an introvert.

Let's see how accurate it is:
#1 -- The more isn't the merrier -- that's mostly true for me. Unless I can find a small group within a big mass of people, I just freeze or I turn invisible. When I'm on my own at a big convention, I can quietly drift through a crowd without being noticed at all.

#2 -- Doing nothing is doing something -- YES! I consider plans I make with myself -- even if the plan is to stay home and watch TV or read -- to be just as valid as plans I make with someone else. I'm willing to break those plans if something better comes along, unlike anything I've committed to with others, but I also don't feel at all guilty for declining invitations because I've made plans with myself. It's my pet peeve when I decline something with "I have plans" and someone asks what those plans are. For one thing, it's none of their damn business and it's rude to ask, but for another, I know if I say what those plans are that they won't consider those plans to be "real" plans that are a valid reason for declining an invitation. This is part of why this time of year is so difficult for me. One of my favorite things to do during the holiday season is to sit at home and enjoy my decorations while reading, listening to Christmas music or snarking at Lifetime Christmas movies. I feel really freaked out if my schedule of going out starts to fill up and I don't have time for this sort of thing. That's one reason staying home until Christmas morning turned out to be such a great idea last year. Nobody's really around the few days before Christmas, so I get enough quiet time at home before I go spend time with my family.

#3 -- You feel like your head will explode -- I found this interesting because it's true, but I hadn't associated it with introversion, though it makes sense, and it fits with the Jung I've read. Since introverts are so internal, their brains are busy, and that's why sometimes external stimuli are just too much to add to the mix. I spend most of my days in total silence, not even playing background music.

#4 -- You hide in the bathroom -- I actually don't do this. I'd feel guilty hogging the bathroom at a party. I'm more likely to find a quiet corner of the room and just sit there and zone out for a while.

#5 -- You leave parties soon after arriving -- I don't do this, either, unless I don't manage to find a small group. I do another thing the author mentioned in this section, though, which is stay in one place and let the party come to me. I don't go out mingling but will mingle with others as they pass. See #4 about finding a quiet corner and staying there.

#6 -- You don't answer a ringing phone -- I generally do answer the phone, though I am often irked when it's someone who just wants to chat and I'm not up for it -- I'm getting better about not answering the phone when I really don't want to chat. However, I never place phone calls unless it's for a specific purpose -- making an appointment, planning something, conveying important news. Calling someone just to chat is utterly foreign to me. I've ended up ditching men I was dating because they didn't get the combo of this and #2. When I had a day job, I usually didn't go out on Friday nights because I needed the quiet time at home after being around people all week. If I declined a Friday night date invitation and the guy pushed to know why, it was strike one. If I explained and then he called on Friday night either because he was making sure I was home instead of giving him the brush-off to go out with someone else or because he knew I'd be home, then I figured he just didn't get me and there was no point in pursuing the relationship further. The first option was a red flag danger sign. The second, assuming that I'd want to talk on the phone when I needed a night to decompress, was the kind of cluelessness it's difficult to train out of people because if you even try, they take offense.

#7 -- You prefer one close friend over a lot of acquaintances -- yes and no for me, but that's probably because of the group I hang with. I have a large group of friends that's an actual organization (more or less a social club), and I often do things with the whole group, but I have a few close friends within that group that I socialize with beyond group activities. I don't know that I really have "acquaintances," other than people like neighbors or people I see at church but don't see away from church.

#8 -- You don't know what people find to talk about -- I have no problem with conversation, probably because most of the people I interact with socially are like-minded. I am, however, utterly baffled by the people who live on their cell phones all day long, who never seem to not be in a conversation, and who break out in a cold sweat if they have to go five minutes without texting. I don't know what they find to talk about. Even I would run out of things to say after that long. See also #6 about hating the phone

#9 -- You avoid audience participation events -- I don't really mind in performing arts situations, but I hate audience participation writing workshops where you share what you're working on. For one thing, I don't write on command. I need to think things through, not take five minutes to write a paragraph that will be shared with the class. For another, I don't like talking about ideas much until I've written them, and I certainly don't want to tell a room full of strangers what I'm working on, and yet it's a waste of time to go through the exercises with a hypothetical story I don't plan to write. Just tell me what the exercises are, and then I'll go home and work through them on my own. I don't need to show off by reading my work to the group.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Disasters

My primary achievement yesterday was getting my Christmas tree up and the lights on. Still no ornaments, but it's a work in progress. I'm really shaking things up this year with my decor. Not only did I re-do the front-door wreath and change out the ribbon on the stair-rail garland, but I put the Christmas tree in a different place. It's always gone at the back of the living room, in the middle of the rear window, mostly because that's a fairly open space with easy access to a light socket, where it's visible from the dining room and living room. But this summer I moved my small stereo to the table that usually sits in that spot. I put it on a turntable so it can face either the living room or the kitchen/dining room, and I can hook my computer up to it to use it as speakers for iTunes. I couldn't figure out where I could move the stereo so I could still access it from the dining room and where I could also hook up the computer to it. So I got the grand idea of moving the end table next to the sofa and putting the tree in the corner between the sofa and the side window. It's minimal disruption of my usual layout, though putting the lights on when 3/4 of the tree is hard to access was a bit of a pain. If I do this again next year, I'll put on the lights and then move the tree into place.

I was doing all this rearranging and setting up while getting in the holiday spirit by watching my recording of Saturday night's SyFy Christmas disaster flick. The Lifetime holiday movies are cheesy fun. The SyFy holiday movies are awesomely awful, and this one, The 12 Disasters of Christmas, was epically awful.

Keep in mind that I am not making any of this up. It turns out that the Mayans were right about 12-21-12. Disasters will strike that could destroy the earth, and it happened before. The Mayans left information about this so it would be passed on throughout history and we'd be ready for it the next time. How did they do this? In the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas." There's a pseudoscience/magic explanation about geomatic -- or maybe geomagic, but I was pouring a cup of tea during this scene -- energy building up in the earth, and every 1,000 years it needs to be vented or terrible things will happen. For reasons that are never explained, the focus of all this is on a small town in what looks to be the Pacific Northwest, and the chosen one who can save us all is a whiny teenage girl (and what's the deal with these whiny teenage girls we're expected to believe will save us all? That's working so well on Revolution). The town comes under attack by terrible CGI, with the most awesome involving perfectly aimed ice missiles that impale and deflate all the inflatable lawn ornaments. Oddly, unless someone is being gored by an ice missile, all the disasters seem to kill by turning people to dust and disintegrating them, whether they're overcome by cold, fake lava, electricity or geysers. Our teenage heroine and her dad have to find the five gold rings before the world comes to an end -- and before the guy who wants to bring a Wal-Mart-type store to town (so you know he's evil) catches her and tries to sacrifice her because he saw one page in the Mayan 12 Days of Christmas book and leapt to that conclusion. I never did figure out how the 12 Days of Christmas mapped to the disasters. The only one they explained was that the twelve drummers drumming related to the twelve mountain peaks surrounding the town that were twelve (formerly) dormant volcanoes that were about to erupt with bad CGI lava.

Of course, the chosen one's name is J.C., and her parents are named Mary and Joseph, and the mayor who sells them out to the villain is named Jude, because subtlety is for weenies. The characters are too stupid to live at way too many points in the story. For instance, they're down to walkie-talkies as a form of communication, and everyone in town has them. So what do they do when on the run and checking in with the rest of the family? They give their location or destination over an open channel. It's just a "still alive" check-in, not a plan to meet up, so there's no reason to give their location other than idiot plotting (because otherwise, the bad guys might have had trouble finding them). Heck, even if they did need to give a location, if the odds are that the people who want to sacrifice your daughter are listening, you give it in a kind of private code, like "that place where we went that time." Unless, of course, they actually wanted to get rid of an entitled teenager. The smartest character in the entire movie was the family dog, who ran into the woods at the first hint of disaster and stayed there until the happy ending.

In summary, it was amazing. I'm not sure which was best, the inflatables being speared or the bad guy who got strangled with strands of Christmas lights that came flying off the eaves of a house. But I have decided that I could combine two of my career bucket list items and write a romantic comedy SyFy Christmas movie. The SyFy Christmas movies are too family-focused, with a nuclear family battling the disaster together. What we need are single people being thrown together by disaster and learning the "real" meaning of Christmas while falling in love in the midst of the disaster. One of them could be a Scrooge-like Christmas-hater who realizes during this crisis how precious life is and how important it is to buy gifts and put up decorations. Then the happy ending can be them kissing in front of the smoldering remains of their town in the aftermath as snow starts to fall and the surviving townspeople spontaneously burst into "Silent Night."

I must start writing this immediately.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Peace at Last

I made it through my crazy weekend, although on Sunday afternoon when I was lying with the covers pulled over my head, trying desperately but unsuccessfully to nap, I had a moment when I was tempted just to stay there instead of going back out for one last thing. I'm glad I did emerge from the cocoon, though, because the Sunday night concert was a lot of fun, and after that and a bit of Christmas light viewing, I'm finally starting to be kind of in the mood. I may even get my Christmas tree up tonight.

The kindergarteners did a great job Sunday morning with their tambouracas. Here's their performance (as recorded and posted by a mom). Warning: There may be unbearably high levels of extreme cute.

I'm the one in the bottom corner, sort of directing. No small children were harmed in the making of this video, though some might have been psychologically traumatized. One of them seemed to be trying to test me and got to two strikes in the warning about getting her tambouraca taken away, but then she seemed to have decided that I was serious and it wasn't worth the risk to test me to see if I'd really do it. Fortunately, she didn't have enough time to come up with a plan to get another kid to test me. For the record, I totally would have taken it away if she'd disobeyed or gone against directions one more time.

I also found a way to make them be quiet about anything. I tell them we're sneaking up on people. We made it from the choir room into the sanctuary, while carrying noisemakers, without the slightest sound. I wonder how many times that will work. I also wonder if I should be worried that telling them to be quiet out of courtesy doesn't work, but telling them they need to be quiet so they can sneak up on people is highly effective.

Those who are musically inclined may notice that there were a few music theory lessons fit in there -- finding the rhythm by measure and then by beat, even though the melody was syncopated, and then (mostly) hitting a beat when there was a vocal rest. At least one parent caught that and was impressed. She was also impressed that enough of them were actually more or less on the beat. Now I just have to come up with something to do next semester.

Today, I don't have to go anywhere or do anything, and it's a good thing because I put on the Comfy Socks and therefore am unable to leave the house. I hope to get some work done and then do some reading and relaxing.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Crazy Christmas Weekend

I didn't quite get the Christmas decorations up yesterday. I got the stuff out of the garage, and I remade my wreath with the new things I got yesterday (it was starting to look a little ratty, so I spiffed it up a bit). But then I ended up making a library trip and then making some meringue mushrooms, and next thing I knew, the day was gone. Today I hope to get everything up, and I also have a lot of baking to do for the church cookie sale this weekend and to have things to bring to various events.

This will be my crazy weekend of the holiday season. Tomorrow afternoon, I have a meeting (it's of a social group, so it's more like a party), then there's a big party tomorrow night. My children's choir sings in the early service Sunday morning, and I sing in the late service with the chancel choir. That evening is the church/community Christmas concert. I may manage nine waking hours at home the entire weekend (less if I sneak in a nap on Sunday). Monday will be a day of collapse. It's supposed to be nice and cold, so that may be my curl up with a good book day. Then the rest of the holiday season until Christmas Eve will be relatively easy, and all the events and activities will be optional. Although I may be whimpering much of the weekend, I kind of like getting it out of the way like this. Then I can enjoy the rest of the season in something resembling peace.

I concluded my latest "portal book" binge this week with a re-read of Magic Kingdom for Sale -- Sold!. I must have read it in college because I have a paperback copy, and the publication date falls in that range. I didn't remember much of the book at all, so it was like reading a new book all over again. I'm not sure why I didn't pick up the rest of the series. It was probably the college thing. I didn't do a lot of leisure reading during those years. I suspect I also was less interested in a hero who was a 39-year-old widower than I am now. I could probably relate to him and his decisions better now than I could then. My library system appears to have the rest of the series, so I shall have to continue this time.

The initial set up may have been even more amusing for me now and at this time of year because the ad for a magical fantasy kingdom in a ritzy holiday catalog sounds a lot like something you'd see as the big item of the year in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, something I wasn't aware existed the first time I read the book. Now I get all the local news stories every year about the outrageous things for sale to those who have the cash. I'm actually kind of surprised they haven't offered a kingdom yet.

What I like about this book is that the hero isn't any destined, chosen one. In fact, he's selected in part because they don't think he'll be successful. But he finds his inner strength and uses his skills, knowledge and experience to make something of what was supposed to be a disaster. It's the kind of person he is that matters, not any accident of birth or grand destiny.

Now for part one of the day's cookie frenzy.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Meet Scary Miss Shanna

I survived the last children's choir session of the year. Now we just have to get through singing in church Sunday morning. They did a great job practicing in the sanctuary, so I think they'll be fine. There's just one thing that worries me: they discovered the microphone.

When the children sing, they stand on the front steps with a microphone on a stand in front of them. It looks kind of like what you see in old-timey radio shows with the actors or singers grouped around the microphone, only without the call letters. The kids have pretty much ignored it before, but last night, they discovered that their voices really sounded loud if they got close to the microphone or talked or sang directly into it.

The reason this worries me is something that happened my first year of going to this church, before I was directing a choir. The preschool choir was singing, and one of the little boys discovered the microphone. He started singing more directly into it, so his voice rang out over the others. And then since everyone could hear him, he apparently decided it would be fun to say his favorite word really loud. Since this was a four-year-old boy, the word "Poop!" rang out loudly throughout the sanctuary. As a member of the audience, I found it hilarious. If I'd been the choir director, there might have been a dead child. I could imagine the mother crawling down the aisle on her elbows to get to him and yank him down.

So my kids got to meet Scary Miss Shanna last night. I usually try to keep a fun, friendly tone even when I'm scolding them, since this choir is mostly about getting kids to think of music as fun, but I let the serious edge come through when I let them know in no uncertain terms what I would do if anyone decided to have fun with that microphone (I didn't give details because I didn't want to give them ideas). I think I scared them a bit because once they saw that glimpse of my scary side (that can make grown men nervous), all I had to do after that was give them The Look and they backed off of whatever they were doing. Unfortunately, my biggest behavior problem wasn't there last night, so she won't have met Scary Miss Shanna. However, she also wasn't there for the discovery of the microphone, and she's one of the bigger kids, so I'll put her in the back row.

I did start instilling a little jazz appreciation by playing the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack while we were passing out goodies and stickers at the end of class. I figure that's a good jazz gateway drug, since some of it may be familiar from TV (though there's a lot more to the soundtrack than you hear on TV).

Today I have baking to do and I think I may start my Christmas decorating. I got the supplies to re-do my wreath for the front door, and I'm going to make some changes to the garland on the balcony and stair railing. They played the Ella Fitzgerald version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the craft store (singing along was mandatory) and that's started to get me in the mood. Plus, they had Gluhwein at Kroger. That's a spiced German wine you serve warm at Christmas. I usually have to find it at specialty stores, so I was surprised to find it in the neighborhood grocery store. I was very happy. I imagine I'll be even happier later tonight when I kick back with a mug of it while admiring my Christmas decor.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Productivity and Procrastination

Tonight is my last children's choir class until the new year, and while I love the kids dearly, this comes with great relief. I don't even have to do serious lesson plans for tonight because we're mostly rehearsing for our song on Sunday morning, and then since one of the preschool choir teachers is going to be out, we're combining classes and will just do a Christmas carol singalong. I figure the kids are going to be wired and hyper anyway, and since it will be nearly a month before we meet again, there's no point in starting something new or really teaching anything. Spending the last half of class just singing should be the best option.

I've talked myself out of today's errands because I think I have enough going on that I don't need to stress myself out further. I didn't get much accomplished yesterday, aside from some housework and bookkeeping. I don't even know where the day went.

And that meant I read with great interest a couple of articles from Lifehacker on productivity that started going around my friends on Facebook. I'm always looking for new ways to make myself more productive, even if I know that number one on the list would be getting off the Internet and working. My most productive day ever was the day my ISP had a national outage. I guess what I need is tips and tricks for making myself get off the Internet and work.

So, first, I was rather reassured by the article about how many of the productivity "givens" turn out to be untrue. I particularly like the one about how getting up early doesn't necessarily make you any more productive, unless you're a morning person. There's a weird societal pressure about mornings that I don't get even if I find myself acting according to it. Some of my most productive writing ever comes when I do late-night marathons -- make a pot of tea and sit down to write starting around 8 or 9 and then write until past midnight. There are no distractions then -- nothing on TV, nothing new being posted to any Internet discussions I have going on -- and I can lose myself in a book. I used to do that on Friday nights back when I had a regular job and was writing in my spare time. I caught myself thinking the other day that I ought to do that in January, since Haven will be over for the season and Grimm won't be back until February or March, so my Fridays will be open for a while. And then I had the forehead-slapping "duh!" moment of realizing that the reason I had to do that on Fridays back then was that on weekdays I had to get up and go to work in the morning. Now, the writing is my work. There's generally no reason why I can't do late-night marathons almost any night. And yet I feel guilty for sleeping until ten on a weekday, even if I was up until past one writing eight thousand words. Getting that one productivity myth out of my head would probably improve my productivity dramatically because it would allow me to work in the way that best suits me. I accomplish more of the work that matters to me by working late and sleeping late, so I shouldn't feel guilty. A mix of schedule is probably best, since on days when I have business-type work to do, I get more done if I get an early start on the day.

Which brings up the next interesting article, on creating your own productivity style by mixing items from various methods. I think I've tried all of the methods they list, with varying degrees of success. Some things stuck. Some didn't. I tried the 43 folders thing, but it seems I don't have enough going on to require that much of a futures file, so it never became a habit. Maybe I should re-do it to only have the monthly folders and then maybe an early-month and mid-month folder. I tried the break it down into lists and keep it all in a notebook thing, and that was moderately successful. The problem with applying it to my work is that my to-do list often involves something like "write a novel." Breaking it down may mean "write a chapter," but it's hard to even plan that much because it depends on how the work goes. That led to my current stopwatch routine because I can track how much time I actually spend writing. I set up some incentives when I reached certain milestones, except I never actually carry through on the incentives, so I'm not sure how effective that is.

Really, procrastination is my biggest problem. I'll even put off the things I want to do (like all my incentives for working a certain amount of time). Once I get started, I'm fine. It can just take me hours to get started. That may be why the late-night marathons work for me -- all the excuses are gone and there's nothing left to do but write, and once I've started, I can keep going.

This is one thing I'll have to get better at. When I was writing for a publisher that wanted one book a year, there was no point in killing myself. If I end up going more the independent route, you get success there with volume and frequency, plus you have to juggle the business side of things and my usual all-or-nothing habit when I'm writing won't work. I'm still working on developing the perfect productivity system for myself. Letting people be wrong on the Internet without pointing out the error of their ways might be a good start.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Elixir of Life

I think I've solved the main problems I need to fix in revising the current project. Now I just need to see about implementation. Mindless busy work seems to be the key. I spent some time yesterday afternoon listening to this book's "soundtrack" while washing dishes and sorting through the mail pile, and that seems to have unlocked something. I may uncover the secrets of the universe by just cleaning my whole house.

Or I could just drink tea. There was an article in the newspaper this morning (that I found online) about the health benefits of tea. One of the benefits is that it "improves cognitive function" by improving blood flow to the brain. So there's a good reason for me to brew a pot of tea for my writing sessions. It really is the elixir of life.

I've developed a minor new TV addiction that's rather out of character for me. I saw a post online somewhere about a new show on TBS called Wedding Band, about a band that plays for weddings and special events, and the post mentioned some unusual arrangements of songs. I'm a sucker for odd remixes of familiar things, so I checked it out OnDemand, and have found it rather hilarious, even if it's raunchier than I tend to like. What I do like is the music. This band adapts itself to the theme of the wedding or event, so they may do stuff like play a Renaissance-sounding version of "YMCA" at a fantasy-themed wedding held at a science fiction convention. Or they did a rather good version of "Don't You Forget About Me" at a funeral. The plots do tend to center on the arrested development overgrown manchild theme, since all these adults are still trying to live their rock star dreams, with only one of them being married with kids and a "real" career, but there is a rather endearing sweetness underlying it all with the joy of being in a band and with their friendships with each other. There are a number of geeky in jokes, and for more geekiness, you get to see what might happen if Derek Reese from the Terminator TV series, Walt's dad from Lost and the freakishly tall psychologist from NCIS: Los Angeles had a band. Supposedly, the actors are all actually playing the instruments and singing (I looked it up, and in the behind-the-scenes material they talk about their musical backgrounds and how they actually do rehearse together as a band) and I haven't detected any obvious signs of AutoTuning (they sound like real people singing, not robots, unlike much of the cast of Glee).  So, if you like playing "name that tune" or seeing what might happen at a redneck-themed wedding held at a country club, it's surprisingly addicting. It's becoming what I pull up OnDemand when I need a good laugh.

And now, I have business stuff to attend to, like bookkeeping and nagging people for information, before I can get to work on revisions.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Having a Plan B

I had planned to put up my Christmas decorations today, but it was 83 degrees yesterday, and today is looking to be about the same, and I'm just not in the mood, in spite of watching my first bad Christmas TV movie of the year last night. I may do the pre-Christmas house cleaning, and then maybe I'll take a stab at decorating on Friday. I'm kind of in a work mood today.

I had a meeting with my agent on Saturday (over margaritas on an outdoor balcony, which is a great way to discuss business), and now I have my plan for the next few months. While I do prefer to just hand a book over to a publisher, as long as the publishers are being weird, it's nice to have a Plan B option. Once upon a time, it was a waste of time to write a sequel for a book that hadn't sold yet. Now, though, not selling (particularly when the rejections are all along the lines of "I love this book, but I don't know how we'd publish it) isn't the end of the line. When the rejections aren't about the book but are about their perceptions of the market, and when what I hear from actual readers is that there is a market for this book, then if they don't want it, I can still get it out there, and in that case, I may as well start on the sequel. If the first one sells, then I'll have a sequel ready. If it doesn't, then I'll have the series ready to e-publish.

This month, I'll be revising a book we discussed (and I think I solved the big problem while I was driving home), but it's not a huge rush because there's no need to get it back to my agent before the holidays. Then I'll do final tweaks on Book 7 after my agent looks at it. And then I'll get to write book two in my planned fantasy steampunk trilogy.

There are some other things possibly in the works involving the Enchanted, Inc. series, including getting book 7 out in the US, working on digital English-language releases of the first four books outside North America, and maybe even an audiobook, but those are mostly still in discussing stages.

But while I'm not feeling very Christmassy this week, I think I'll buckle down and work, and then when the spirit strikes me, I can relax and enjoy myself.