Thursday, January 31, 2013

Naptime Pending

That training session turned out to not be worth the worry I put into it. The "interview" was a questionnaire sheet we had to fill out there, mostly to prove we were at the session. I sat next to the children's music director, and she said for long-term volunteers like me, there were enough people in the church who could vouch for me that they didn't need to worry about references. The whole thing was over in half an hour, and I stayed a little longer to finish my coffee cake and chat.

That means I have time for a nap this afternoon. To keep from being groggy this morning, I didn't take cold medicine last night. That meant it took me forever to get to sleep, and then I woke up because my throat was scratchy and couldn't get back to sleep for a few hours. So, I ended up being groggy this morning. But I found some throat soother tea at the grocery store this morning, and we'll see if that helps. I imagine that going through a choir sectional rehearsal and a full choir rehearsal last night didn't help. I kept saying I was just going to listen, but then I'd find myself singing.

Fortunately, the kids were relatively sedate last night, and I had a small group. One of them was really hyper and had to be settled down a few times, but the rest would have been happy with a 45-minute naptime, I think. The hyper one was being really random. At one point she blurted out, "Halloween was awesome!" At first, we weren't sure why that came up, but then she started talking about how she was Merida from Brave, and I think my hair triggered it. I'd taken a shower that afternoon, so my hair was loose and really curly, and I think that was where the free association came in. One kid bouncing off walls and the others lying on the floor made for a bit of a teaching challenge. The one kid wanted to dance around and the rest wanted to sit still and do quiet things. The teacher wanted to join the napping.

Some fun things are afoot that aren't ready for public discussion (and this is not an invitation for my friends to call or e-mail me to find out what it is), but I hope to have an announcement in the next week or so.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Back to the Grind

I think I'm mostly back to normal. There's still some coughing, but only minor, and I've spent this whole morning in a room without a tissue box in it, which is different. I haven't tried singing, so I don't know if choir will happen tonight, but I should be able to teach children's choir. Finding a sub and doing enough planning to coordinate for a sub would take more effort than just showing up. Even if I can sing, I may run out of steam after dealing with the kids. I think I'm going to try sleeping without the Nyquil tonight. Last night, I had strange dreams about having to go back to the place I used to work and then getting stuck in the visitors' parking lot because I couldn't find my parking ticket to have it validated. Strangely, the anxiety in the dream wasn't about having to go back to work there (going back to an office job has become almost as common an anxiety nightmare for me as finding out I have an exam in a class I've been forgetting to attend) but about not working there and clearing out the last of my stuff from my office. Mind you, I left that job about 18 years ago, though I did stop freelancing for them about this time last year, which could be what the dream was about.

Today's going to be rather busy now that I'm more coherent. I'm in the process of moving hosts for my web site as my old provider decided to stop offering the service. I got all that set up last week, but then haven't managed to actually upload stuff to the new server because that's not something you want to do while on cold medicine. There may be some down time associated with my web site and web site e-mail address until all the DNS pointers are straightened out. Those who have my personal e-mail shouldn't have any problems.

I also have to get ready for tomorrow morning's sexual abuse awareness training session for people who volunteer with children at church. It's supposed to be about avoiding doing anything that might make anyone suspicious while also learning how to recognize danger signs in other adults. Part of this also involves one-on-one interviews and paperwork for background checks. I don't know why that part makes me nervous because I know I have zero record or suspicion of anything untoward and just about everyone who knows me thinks I'm good with kids. My friends trust me with their children. I just get nervous about having to give references. I always feel like it's an imposition on the people I list as references, and then I worry what they'd say. I think I'll just ask the people I work with in choir to be my references tonight. I have no idea what the interview is supposed to be like, but I wonder if they'll consider the fact that I'm not married and have no kids of my own any kind of danger sign. Will I have to explain why I'm not married? I think I'll have to ask some of the other volunteers who've already been through this what they get asked so I won't have more anxiety nightmares.

Now I have to look up contact info for potential references and for the pastors at my former church.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book Report: What I Read While Sick

The cold seems to be either winding down or moving into a new phase. If it's like the typical cold that fits the pattern, I'll either be almost totally well by tomorrow or I'll move into the bronchitis phase. I'm taking medication and resting and drinking plenty of fluids to try to prevent the bronchitis phase. I guess I'll have yet another dance class to make up because I don't see any way that I'll be dancing tonight.

But this has given me plenty of time to read, and before the cold medicine really kicks in and makes me less than coherent (or maybe less coherent than my current state of not being entirely coherent), here's a bit of a rundown:

Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst -- Sarah's a member of the Curly Mafia, and I've enjoyed her earlier children's/middle grade books. This one is more YA, but adult-safe YA in that while the characters are young it doesn't have the more annoying current YA tropes. The world-building in this book is excellent in that it permeates everything. It feels like a real culture that has its own myths and legends, and this book is another legend about these people. Certain young people are designated as vessels for the gods, so that the gods will inhabit their bodies and live among the people to help them with their magic. But something goes wrong and the gods don't show up. The would-be vessels go on a search for gods that have been misdirected into some other place, and they learn that the legends leave out a few key points about what's really going on. I liked the characters, and I liked how balanced it was in that we saw that an opponent might not actually be bad but instead might have a valid point of view that should be heard. That's something that seems to have been forgotten in the real world. I don't normally like the "having tea with the gods" kind of book, but that's not what's going on here, especially since that's the way this culture works.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce -- Although my library has a fantasy sticker on the spine and I read about this in some fantasy blogs, I wouldn't categorize this as a "fantasy" novel. It's more of a mainstream literary novel that uses fantasy elements. It's a fairy abduction story that's not so much about the abduction itself, but about the aftermath. Twenty years ago, 16-year-old Tara went for a walk in the woods and never came back. Now she's knocking on her parents' door on Christmas day, looking barely older. After some vague talk about having been "traveling," she tells her brother that she met a strange man in the woods, agreed to go home with him out of curiosity, then found herself in a strange place where she had to spend six months before it was possible for her to return home, and when she returned home after those six months, she found that twenty years had passed. Of course, her family can't possibly believe that, so they send her to a psychiatrist and have a bunch of tests done. The book goes between accounts of the present day from the viewpoint of her parents, brother, brother's family, and former boyfriend, the case notes from the psychiatrist, and her first-person account of what happened to her. I think to literary readers it was all meant to be ambiguous and probably a metaphor for something, but to fantasy readers it was kind of "well, duh, obviously she was abducted by the fairies." I think it was a good novel and an interesting take on the fairy abduction story, as it showed a realistic view of what would probably happen in the aftermath of that sort of thing, but I don't think it was a very good fantasy novel, if that makes sense. There wasn't really any attempt at worldbuilding for the depiction of the fairy world, and those parts are the weakest of the book (Worst. Fairyland. Ever.), and the weakness of that worldbuilding makes the psychiatrist's analysis of it make sense (which may be the point). It's worth reading, but I won't be nominating it for a fantasy award.

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers -- Tim's a friend, but I've been sadly remiss in not reading his work. After this book, I have to rectify that. It's not subject matter I would usually enjoy, but he wrote it in a way that I did enjoy. This is sort of a Victorian ghost/vampire story centered around the Rossetti family (mostly poet Christina and poet/artist Dante Gabriel). It's almost impossible to describe the plot of the book in a way that makes sense (especially in my current condition), but the Rossettis are plagued/helped by the vampiric ghost of their uncle, John Polidori (who in reality is believed to be the creator of the genre of vampire fiction). This is what gives them the incredible inspiration behind their work, and they're willing to pay the price until they learn that the price extends beyond their family to others they come in contact with and that Polidori is teaming with another vampiric ghost to try to take corporeal form to destroy London. The Rossettis team with a veterinarian, a former fallen woman, some London street urchins and their leader to try to vanquish these spirits for good. I found myself unable to stop turning pages because I cared about these people. I once got into a convention discussion with Tim about the trend toward darkness in fiction, and I could see elements of his viewpoints here in that although the subject matter is pretty dark, it was handled in a "light" way without wallowing in the darkness and with all the main characters fighting against the darkness. There's a sense of optimism throughout, and in most cases the better part of human nature comes through (when it doesn't, it's shown as tragedy, not just the way the world works). This book sent me scurrying to Wikipedia to look up the various real-life characters. I was somewhat familiar with the Rossettis, but not their full circle.

There was an odd little personal link between these last two books. Some Kind of Fairy Tale first pinged my radar because I've been working on a book about a fairy abduction that I've been calling A Fairy Tale, though mine is about the rescue effort rather than the aftermath and there's no doubt that it's a real abduction. I've called mine a blend of the Tam Lin legend and "The Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti. It follows some of the beats of the Tam Lin story, but like "The Goblin Market" it's about sisters rather than lovers. Because of this, I'd done some further reading on Christina Rossetti. So, although these two books have nothing really in common, to me they're linked because they both relate to something I've been working on.

And now I think I've exhausted my ability to be moderately coherent for the day.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sick Day

It's a good thing I didn't have plans this weekend because I came down with a cold. It followed my usual pattern of starting with a scratchy throat Friday afternoon, turning into a sore throat by Saturday morning, with sneezing and sniffling by Saturday night, then waking up Sunday morning with the stuffy head and a cough, but still with the sniffling and sneezing. By Sunday afternoon, I pretty much had the symptoms list on the Nyquil bottle. I didn't get much rest last night because of the sneezing and stuffiness. So I think I'll give myself a sick day today. I can't really concentrate anyway.

I did a lot of reading over the weekend, but I don't think I'm quite coherent enough to discuss it right now. I'm at "Lifetime movies OnDemand" levels of critical thought. Did you know that they sometimes have romantic comedies that aren't about Christmas? I was surprised. I stumbled upon one yesterday called A Perfect Romance. Generally, anything on Lifetime labeled "perfect" is so, so very much not, so I figured A Perfect Romance would be about the guy who seemed perfect, until it turned out he was a crazed stalker who kept the last few women he'd dated chained up in his basement. But it turned out to be a cute romantic comedy about online dating. And, I think, possibly an infomercial for an online dating service I've never heard of but that got "promotional consideration" in the credits.

And now I'm realizing just how much trouble I'm having typing and having the words come out right, so I'm going to quit while I'm ahead and go back to bed.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Justified Goof-Off Day

I finished the revisions yesterday. I'll still need to do another read-through, but I think it's close to done. Now I'll need to revise book 7 whenever I get those notes from my agent, and after that I'll do my read-through on this book. And then I'll start a new one!

For now, though, since I'll have to deal with an urgent project the moment I get it back, which needs to be soon, I can't really start anything new. That means reading time! We'll see how many books I can read this weekend. Even better, my water is currently off because they're having to do some pipe repairs nearby, which means I can't really do housework. I took a make-up ballet class last night (since I'm still making up for all the time I missed last fall), and my knees are very angry today, so that means no walking or exercise and limits the housework. I think what did it is that for the beginner class she's doing a center barre, which means doing the usual barre exercises without the support of the bar. That requires you to do everything very slowly, with a lot of precision, and all while having to work on balance. It's a good way to force people to focus on technique and develop balance, but it can put a lot of strain on your knees to support yourself all that time on one leg while working the other leg. It may also have something to do with the front that came through during class, and changes in atmospheric pressure tend to make my joints hurt.

At any rate, I will not be doing a lot of walking today. Fortunately, I have a huge pile of books, and there's tea in the thermos. I don't know what I'll do if the water isn't back on before I run out of tea. I may be scavenging from pitchers and water bottles, or melting any ice cubes I find in the freezer. I wonder what they'd do if I brought my teakettle out to the pipe they're working on and ask if they can fill it for me.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some very important goofing off to do.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Benefits of Sloth

I got a reprieve on the early Saturday choir rehearsal, which means I suddenly have a free weekend. I guess none of us yet knew the music well enough for a combined choir rehearsal to be worthwhile, so it was moved to February. Note to my friends: this does not mean that I am now looking for something to do. I plan to dive into that pile of books I got from the library and maybe do some baking. Besides, the following weekend, which was going to my my "free" weekend, has now filled up. And that means February has now filled up.

I now have maybe ten more pages to go in the revisions. I think most of this will be tweaking and cutting because I believe I've handled the major issues. It turned out that the solution to one of my major problems was to go back to an earlier draft. There was an event that in the most recent draft I'd abruptly switched to have happen to a different character, but now I've realized that was the wrong thing to do. I'm still wavering a bit about where this event should go, since I just came up with a new idea for moving it, but that means tweaking some points of view around. I must ponder this.

Fortunately, I've already taken care of my errands for the day, so I have the whole afternoon for theoretically uninterrupted work. It's possible that I could even finish today. I'll still need to give it a good read-through, but I'll be ready for the next set of revision notes on another project I should be getting from my agent very soon. And then I've got another book I need to start working on. There are also a few other things I've back-burnered that I need to deal with.

In other news, I have a new favorite animal. We were talking about fast and slow tempos in children's choir last night, and there's a piece of music to use that goes back and forth between slow tempos and fast tempos. I turned it into a game of pretending you're a slow animal in the slow parts and a fast animal in the fast parts. My teen helper came up with the brilliant idea of being a sloth, and then all the kids wanted to be sloths, so they just sat there, quietly, for quite some time. We may play the sloth game more often. If I tell them to sit still and be quiet, they'll never do it, but if I tell them that they're sloths, it just might work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Thickening Your Skin

I'm down to about 20 more pages to revise, but this is the part where I pretty much have to throw out what I have and come up with something new, so it's not going to be a quick and easy revision. I think I know what I need to do, but I suspect I'll find out when I get there.

After taking a bit of a holiday break, the writing posts are back. I had a reader question about what comes next after self-publishing a book. I'm publishing through my agent's platform, so I haven't really dealt with the logistics of submitting books to sales venues, etc., but one thing that comes to mind after a lot of Internet observation that I think self-published authors need to do is grow a thick skin.

This is important for traditionally published authors, as well, but the process of becoming published -- submitting work to agents and publishers, going through the editorial revision and copy edit phases -- tends to thicken one's skin a bit. By the time a book is published, you've probably already heard most of the criticism you're likely to get, so any reviews will only echo rejections or editorial suggestions. With a traditionally published work that's available in bookstores, your audience isn't limited to those who are active online. And most professional book review venues are still closed to self-published work, so a self-published book is more likely to be reviewed by amateur reviewers, for better or worse. It's far too easy for a self-published author to sabotage her own career by reacting the wrong way to a review and having a meltdown that goes viral.

Get used to the fact that not everyone will love your book. No matter how careful you are about editing, there will be some flaw that people will point out and pounce upon -- and they may or may not be correct about that flaw. Some people will miss the point entirely. Some people will blame your book for not being what they wanted it to be. Some people will give you a negative review based on the price or format. And you have to be very, very careful about responding to any of this. If you know you're going to have a strong emotional reaction to every review, don't set up a Google alert, go searching for reviews or read Amazon reviews. If you need a few good review quotes for promotion, get someone else to do the search for you. If there's something you absolutely must correct, like inaccurate information, do so in an e-mail to the reviewer, not in a public blog comment, and put what you write aside for a day to review before sending.

From what I've read in online discussions, it seems like most readers and reviewers would prefer that authors stay out of discussions in reviews of their books, even to say good things. Participation in other discussions is fine, as is responding to non-review discussions relating to your books. But it seems to totally stifle the discussion around a review the moment the author shows up and inserts herself into the conversation, and you really, really want people actively discussing your book. A negative or angry response will trigger a flame war and vows to never buy any of your books, ever, but even a "thank you for the review" tends to shut down the conversation entirely. There's not really any point in arguing with a review unless it contains a factual error like release date or available formats. You're not going to change anyone's mind. You're just going to make them mad.

Don't get your friends or family to gang up on negative reviewers, either, and don't create a fake identity for yourself so that you can disagree with reviews in stealth mode. It's painfully obvious when this is going on, you'll get busted, and then you'll look even worse. This is business, not junior high.

This is why I generally recommend that people at least try the traditional publishing route before publishing for themselves. That tends to thicken the skin and give you a more realistic impression of your place in the publishing sphere. Without that professional feedback, it's too easy to maintain the fantasy that your work is too brilliant for the old-school publishers to recognize, and then the moment someone bursts your bubble you have a meltdown. It is possible that your book is too different to be published traditionally but is still brilliant, but it's dangerous to buy into your own hype so deeply that hearing opposing viewpoints enrages you.

Having a good book, good editing, good cover art, good distribution and good publicity won't help if you have a public hissy fit that makes the core e-book audience shun you and warn others away.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Report: Dragons and Jerks

As I suspected, the changes I needed to make in the scene I'd been procrastinating on for days turned out to be minor. It was the next scene that I hadn't even been thinking about that was the critical one. But I think I've figured that out by just picking up on the end of the previous scene and asking myself what the character really would do next. And, you know, it was totally different from what she did in the existing draft. Some of that was because of the minor changes I'd made earlier, but some of it was the writer trying to force events instead of letting the characters be themselves. Bad writer! No cookies!

I've started making a good dent in the giant stash of books I got from the library. I have another book that would have made it to the "books of the year" list if I'd read it last year and that I may nominate for the Andre Norton award (the children's/YA award) with SFWA: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. This is what I'd call "adult-safe" YA in that I believe twenty or even ten years ago, before the YA boom, it likely would have been published as regular fantasy rather than young adult. The heroine is 16, but in her society that makes her essentially an adult. She lives on her own and has a job with some responsibility. She never really acts like a teenager.

Seraphina lives a dangerous existence trapped between two "worlds," where either  side would consider her an abomination if they knew what she was. To keep her secret, she isolates herself, doing her job as the assistant music mistress at court but not forming close ties to anyone. In this Renaissance-like world, the humans and dragons have formed a truce. Dragons have learned to take human form and live among humans, but there's still a lot of prejudice and bigotry on both sides, and there are factions on both sides that would love to end the truce and get the conflict going again. When the heir to the throne is killed in a way that looks very dragon-like, Seraphina finds herself drawn into the investigation. Her teacher was a dragon and her father is the legal expert on the treaty with the dragons, so she knows more about dragons than most people and has a different perspective on them. The prince who heads the royal guard finds her insight useful. They have to solve the case to stop a potential war, but solving the case may bring her secret into the open. This is an intriguing murder mystery with magic and dragons and Renaissance music, with a really nice slow-build romance. It looks like there will be a sequel, and I'm looking forward to it.

And then I finally finished the Little Lady Agency trilogy by Hester Browne. I was starting to think that she'd be another one like Sophie Kinsella for me, where I love the standalone books but can't read the series she's best known for. I loved the first book but hated the ending. Then when I was in the mood for that sort of thing, I read the second book and pretty much disliked it entirely, especially the ending. It was very frustrating reading an entire book about an obviously, painfully unhealthy relationship. But the online reviews reassured me that the story wasn't over, so I picked up the third book because as much as I disliked the second, I didn't want to leave it that way, and I was certainly rewarded. This series is about a young woman who finds a business niche in being "the little lady" and doing for unmarried men the kinds of things a wife would do -- wardrobe consulting, reminding about or sending flowers or gifts to friends and family members, polishing off the rough edges, sometimes even posing as a fake girlfriend to fend off matchmaking attempts from friends and family members. In the first book, she ended up getting together with one of her clients, and the problem with the second book for me was that it took her away from the business that was a lot of the fun as she spends most of the book on vacation in New York, where her boyfriend has moved for business. And then there are all the issues with the boyfriend who manages to be both neglectful and controlling at the same time. He keeps putting her off and brushing her aside for his business while complaining if she tries to do any work at all. In the third book, she's making wedding plans (well, making plans to make plans) when her grandmother asks a huge favor on behalf of an old friend/former lover, a displaced European prince. They need someone to rehab the prince's playboy grandson so they can get their old realm back (having the royal family in the old castle would be good for tourism). That project brings up all kinds of issues with her fiance, her own business goals and her male best friend from childhood. And we finally get a satisfying ending that didn't make me want to hurl the book across the room. I guess this is a reason why romances are seldom written in series with the same main couple unless there's a lot more stuff going on because it does get frustrating when the wrong parts are dragged out to delay the inevitable.

The third book is as much fun as the first, with all of our heroine's crazy family members and with her finally really finding herself. I would almost say to skip the second book in this series because the ending just re-sets, but if you do read the second book, have the third handy to begin immediately or you'll just end up annoyed if you leave things that way for any length of time.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Real-World Monday

Ah, Monday, and for once I'm actually okay with it being Monday (you'd think that staying home and writing would take the Monday out of Mondays, but it's still part of the same mindset that makes me look forward to Fridays). It was a busy weekend, so now I have a day of quiet and solitude, and I'm ready to do some serious writing. I also got a bit of a recharge from lots of baby snuggles with a friend's little one on Saturday and then a lot of hugs from my choir kids when I led the singing in Sunday school. One little girl who's a real hugger ran in and hugged me, but then that meant the rest had to do so as they got competitive about it. Some people have pets. I have other people's kids. Less mess and expense.

I had a calendar whimper moment when I realized that it will be a couple of weeks before I have a weekend with no obligations. This coming Saturday, I have an 8 a.m. rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem about 40 minutes from home. There's obviously an early-bird sadist behind that. About the only way I'll manage that is if I sleep in my clothes, make a Thermos of tea the night before and have a bagel or other roll handy. Then if I roll out of bed, put the tea in a travel mug and bring the roll with me, I might be on time, though likely not fully conscious until after arrival.

I think I finally figured out the sticky problem with the book. I worked it out in a sort of flow chart. We'll see how it goes when I actually start writing. Watch it end up requiring about three sentences being changed. That's what always seems to happen when I'm up against something where I can't see the solution and I spend days brainstorming. I come up with the solution, then when it comes to implementing it, it turns out to be rather subtle.

But I also have business stuff to do today, like dealing with my web hosting and getting a Worldcon hotel reservation. I hate it when the real world infringes on my writing days.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Killing Darlings

So, looks like I'm going to need another Haven marathon before next fall because there were still more of those big revelations that change your entire perspective on everything that happened before. What's fun is that I can already think of a few clues that were planted in season one for what we learned in the season three finale. But my rewatch will have to wait for next fall, or maybe summer. I have other things to focus on now.

When I watched the pilot, I thought of it as a kind of "Northern Exposure meets The X-Files" thing because we had the outsider coming to the quirky, remote town, and then investigating crazy cases. But then it turned out to be almost as much Twin Peaks as Northern Exposure, with a darkness under the quirks. Then they threw in a bit of Buffy, where there's something about the town itself that causes it to have increased supernatural activity, and then we have a snarky blonde who's specially equipped to deal with it all. Not to mention a lot of Enchanted, Inc., what with the immunity to "magic" and the snarky chick and the shy guy working together. There's even a hint or two of Star Wars. Now they've thrown in elements of The Terminator and Doctor Who, which kind of makes it the Best Show Ever. We just need a little The Princess Bride for it to be perfect (though I'm not sure how they'll fit that in -- unless it involves someone being "mostly dead," which has already happened once and may be happening again). I understand there's also a lot of Stephen King mixed in, and not just the elements from the King novel that's the basis for the series, but I'm too big a weenie for most of King's work. Even the non-horror stuff can keep you awake at night. There's nothing horror in The Colorado Kid, the basis for this series, but it can still keep me awake if I start thinking about it because I keep trying to solve the unsolvable mystery. Strangely, they haven't (yet) actually used the really puzzling elements of the book in the series, even though the series is based on the case in the book.

Now, though, I have to get to work on my own writing. I still haven't thought of what needs to happen in this next scene. I know where I'm going with it, I know what the character arc is. I just can't tell exactly what the first step should be. I may be back to baking as brainstorming because I have to make something for a party tomorrow. I'm still experimenting with a recipe. It's good the way it is, but it isn't perfect yet. Or maybe some Mozart will help. Mozart is supposed to make you smarter, right? So maybe doing some Requiem work will stir up something in my head. I think part of my problem is that the original way makes total sense to me, even though I can see why it might not work for readers. I can think of ways to change it, but they all mean changing something that I love. I suppose this is what they mean by "kill your darlings." If it's in the way of the big picture being right, it needs to go, no matter how much you love it. It's not worth sacrificing the entire book for the sake of a single really good line.

Or so I keep telling myself. This may be one of those times when I need to quit revising and just start with a blank page, writing a new scene, so I don't see the stuff I love. I can then mix and match old and new.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Buried Under Books

I now have a ton of reading to get through in the next few weeks. I stocked up at the library yesterday on books eligible for the Hugo and Nebula, so maybe I can make some nominations. But this means I'm going to have to devote a lot of my leisure time to reading. Less Internet and TV and more books is probably good for me.

Tonight, though, is a TV night. We finally get the last two episodes of Haven, which got postponed due to an eerie coincidence in subject matter relating to real-world events on the day one of the episodes was to air. A lot of my friends make Facebook posts before some big TV event, saying not to call unless you, personally, are on fire. To which I have to say: If you're on fire, call 911. Why would you call me? What do you expect me to do about it? I would say that unless there's a crisis that only I can deal with, and I must do something about it at that very moment, then don't call at that time, but I can't think of anything that would fit into that category, unless maybe one of my next-door neighbors needed a ride to the hospital, or something similar. That I would interrupt TV for (and have done so).

I took advantage of the lag in airings to marathon the entire series to-date, and I think one of the reasons I like this series is that it rewards repeat viewing. There are so many revelations that change how you see earlier episodes once you learn what's really going on or what happened in the past to set up those events. There's an event in the first season whose meaning has changed at least three times for me, each time we learn more. We still don't know exactly what's going on there, but there are now multiple possibilities in something that initially seemed pretty straightforward. And now they've introduced some time looping to complicate things further. I love this kind of writing and aspire to pulling it off someday. It's a lot like Connie Willis's Blackout/All Clear, where it's an entirely different book the second time through once you know the information revealed toward the end. So, anyway, I will not be answering the phone tonight. I would say that this should all free up some brain space devoted to speculation after being left with a cliffhanger, but I'm sure they'll just leave us with another big cliffhanger that won't be resolved for nearly eight months.

In other news, I tried out those Aveda curly hair samples yesterday, and it seemed to work pretty well when I air-dried my hair in the afternoon. I'll next test the way I'm more likely to do my hair -- wash at night, air dry a little while, then put in a bun to sleep and take it down in the morning to finish drying. However, I'm not sure it's significantly better than anything I've bought at Target, and at nearly $30 a bottle per product, and with at least two products required, it would have to be darn near magical, creating perfect ringlets with zero frizz. Still, I remain focused on the quest for the ideal curly hair care.

Now I have to get to work on figuring out this bit of plot I need to fix. I know where I need to end up, but I'm not quite sure how to get there. I may need to try some different brainstorming techniques, like interviewing the character or drawing a storyboard. I wonder if there's a way to brainstorm by cooking. I need to do some experimenting on my exploding cookies recipe.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Roaring Flower

I put off the library trip until today because yesterday was cold and wet. Today is sunny and a bit warmer, and I need the walk. I didn't need exercise yesterday because I had dance class last night. It was a really good class, too. Only a few of us braved the cold, so we had lots of space, and I seemed to be dancing better than normal. I will have to do some experimenting to see if I'm right about the reason. My theory is that I'm such a delicate flower that my tights are messing me up. Almost all dance tights these days are "convertible," which means they have a hole on the sole that allows you to wear them in the normal way, covering the foot, or to roll them up so you can be barefoot. That's also so that you can pull back the tights to do whatever adjustments need to be done for wearing pointe shoes. But that hole seems to mess me up. Last night, since it was cold I wore leggings instead of tights and then wore socks. Without that funny thing on the bottom of my foot, my balance was better and my turns were better. Next week, I'll roll my tights up to the ankle and wear socks and see if it was a fluke. And if I'm right, then I'll have to either search for full-foot tights or just buy footless tights and wear socks. Next, I'll see how well I sleep if I put a pea under my mattress. The funny thing is, my ballet teacher didn't think it was weird at all. She totally believed it could make a difference.

I've reached the part in the book I'm revising where I need to start rewriting. It's been little tweaks up to this point, but the ending was a problem. I have a big-picture idea of what I need to do, but now I need to figure out the details. Cue whimpering. That's why taking a walk today will be part of my process. It'll help me figure things out. I hope.

I think next week I'll go back to doing my regular writing posts, but I don't know what to write about. Does anyone have any burning questions about the craft or business of writing that you'd like me to answer? I need to start a new list of questions to address to give me subject matter.

And I also need a lesson plan for the kids for tonight. I think my co-teacher is bringing a craft project, so that'll eat up some time. We'll probably talk about high and low notes as part of learning our new song. I may play the "sound" and "silence" game we did last week. It's leading into learning the difference between notes and rests, but it uses animal pictures. If the animal's mouth is open, it's making a sound, but if its mouth is closed, it's silent. We read the chart like it's a piece of music, making the right animal sound if the mouth is open and being quiet when the mouth is closed. They really like getting to make animal sounds. I impressed the kids with my lion roar (something I generally use to scare off unrestrained small, yappy dogs who are rushing at me). One of the kids said, "That was amazing!" and then another said, in a very "well, duh" tone of voice, "Well, she is in the choir." Yes, because roaring like a lion is something we often do in choir. At any rate, I get several minutes of awe from the kids when I roar at them, so I need to find ways to work that into the sessions as often as possible.

Hmm, a delicate flower with a fierce roar. That's pretty much me in a nutshell.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Time Travel and Reading Recommendations

I got another latish start after thunderstorms repeatedly woke me during the night. Then I woke to find snow on the ground. So, apparently thundersnow is a thing.

It turns out I have until March 10 for Hugo nominations and February 15 for Nebula nominations, so I still have time to read books published last year. SFWA has a list of books recommended by members, and I've already put a few titles there on hold at the library, but those are the ones people obviously know about and that are likely to be nominated. If you know of a science fiction or fantasy book published in 2012 that you didn't write (I don't want to get into the thing of authors recommending their own books because that turns into just self-promo) that you think is award-worthy, let me know. Nebula has a separate category for children's/young adult, but they're all lumped together for the Hugo. I'm not making any promises about reading all recommendations, but I am trying to broaden my horizons enough that I might be able to make a contribution to the nominations. Plus, if the books I read now get nominated, then that will decrease my frantic reading for the final ballot. I have to run some errands this afternoon, so I'll have to swing by the library.

I watched the new series Continuum on SyFy last night, and I'm definitely intrigued. It scratches my Terminator itch, with all sorts of lovely time travel tropes. I have this weird fondness for time travel stories -- not the romance version where person from the present travels back in time and falls in love with a knight, but more the kind where wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff happens that complicates matters. Time loops are really cool. This series starts in the future, which seems to be run by some kind of corporate dictatorship, and there's a group of terrorists opposed to this. The group of imprisoned terrorists stages a big jailbreak, accidentally (or not) taking a cop with them. They don't actually leave the prison. They just go back in time 60 years. Their plan is to start the war back then and keep things from happening the way they did. The cop, now stuck in the past away from her husband and son, just wants to get home, but she also wants to catch these dangerous fugitives. She ends up working with a "local" cop and with the teenage hacker she hears on her earpiece. It turns out that he's the one who invented the technology, and he's managed to get onto her signal with his prototype. There's a bit of fish out of water, which I love, and there's the finding the past origins of "current" things, plus some philosophy of time travel -- can you really change the future by changing the past, or did it always happen that way? Plus, Cancer Man is back! William B. Davis is one of the most charming men I've ever met, and it's fun to see him on the screen again. He may even be a good guy, or is he?

It looks like I'll add this one to my schedule. It's about the only real "science fiction" show around right now. Everything else falls more into the fantasy/paranormal/supernatural vein.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Award Candidates

I got a late start this morning due to a late night last night. I was up very late reading because I was enjoying a book, I was near the end, and I wanted to see how it ended, so I just kept going. And then the last few pages of the book changed everything, undoing the good that had been done in the previous 50 or so pages. I was furious. And that made it hard to get to sleep because I was stewing over it and then trying to mentally rewrite it. For once, the Amazon reviews mostly agreed with me, but they did say to go on and read the next book because it fixes everything.

Speaking of books, etc., it's time for nominations for the Hugo and Nebula awards, and I'm rather stuck on what to nominate. My favorite books of the year either weren't science fiction or fantasy or weren't published in the right time frame (some were finalists last year). Of the genre books that were published at the right time, I didn't really think they were award-worthy. I'm picky about that sort of thing. While I think my books are good, I'm not sure I'd nominate them for awards like this. Maybe Much Ado About Magic because I think I got some nice emotional depth in there, but I'm not sure it's eligible, since it's self-published (I guess I need to check the rules. Not that I'm planning to nominate myself.).

I'm also mostly stuck with movies because I didn't see too many this year. I think The Hobbit was rather bloated. Last year, the entire season of A Game of Thrones was nominated in long form for the Hugo, since it tells one story and is based on one book, but I thought the second season was weaker and veered from the book in nonsensical ways that made the characters look like idiots. Some individual episodes might fit the short form category, but I don't think the whole season was worthy. I'll probably nominate Brave because I thought it was a fun twist on the fairy tale movie.

Short form (usually the TV series category) is easier. With Doctor Who, there doesn't seem to be any one "big" episode that's an obvious nominee, but I think my vote would go to "A Town Called Mercy," the Western one. It has some interesting science fiction themes and moral/ethical dilemmas. Continuing the theme of episodes involving former Farscape/SG-1 cast members, I think my Haven nominee might be "Magic Hour," the one with Claudia Black. The "guest" part of the story (minus the series plot arc elements) could have been a good Twilight Zone episode, dealing with some interesting what ifs -- what if you had the power to bring someone back to life with a touch, as long as you touch them before sunset the day they died? What would you do with that power? What if you could only save one person a day? What if two people you cared about died? How would you choose, how would you deal with the choice, and how would the person you chose deal with it? Claudia Black knocked it out of the park in a role that was so against type for her that she was entirely unrecognizable, and she made me cry. I also kind of liked "Sarah" for all the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey and the lovely 1950s production design, but I don't know how well it stands if you're not already a fan of the series. I'll have to look at air dates to decide on a Grimm episode. I'm leaning toward "Leave it to Beavers," the one in which Nick has to encourage the beaver creatures to stand up to the trolls. For one thing, it has fun moving fairy tale tropes into the present (the bridge trolls are now the building inspectors who have to be bribed for a project to move forward). For another, it delves into the cop vs. Grimm dilemma for Nick.

There's a new SyFy series starting tonight, Continuum, which seems to be a time travel cop show. I'm intrigued enough to try watching it.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Shanna's Day Out

I took the morning off for a day out. I spend money about like someone who lived through the Depression in the Dust Bowl region (which is to say only on absolute essentials, because you never know when hard times will hit), but I got some money for Christmas, and I was determined to actually buy gift-type stuff with it instead of just putting it into the general fund and paying bills, like I usually do. I ended up with something kind of like a spa day. The makeup I use is sold in a store near me, but you just buy stuff off the shelf there. They don't give you advice. I needed new eyeshadows, so I went across town (two towns, actually) to a mall where this company has a shop and had a full makeover done. I must say, it's a little unnerving having your makeup done by a lady with Tourette's or some other kind of palsy. She didn't curse at me randomly, but she did have this occasional full-body twitch. She did a good job and never jabbed a brush into my eye (though she was perhaps a bit heavy-handed with the mascara). I spent quite a lot of money and also scored some free samples.

Then as I was walking through the mall, I noticed a giant poster in the Aveda window for their curly hair products and stopped in to see what that was about. The woman in the store got all excited and insisted on demonstrating on a section of my hair. I still wasn't sure, and their stuff is too expensive to buy a huge container unless it works miracles, so she loaded me up with samples, and when I liked the tea they have in the store, she gave me samples of that, too (I couldn't bring myself to spend $17 for 20 tea bags -- I bet I can find something similar but more reasonably priced at Sprouts). I got more tea when I passed a tea shop that was having a tasting, but I wasn't wildly crazy about most of it. As I explained to the very enthusiastic tea fan/goth boy in the store, I like tea-flavored tea without all the fancy flavorings, and I like it to be tea, not other stuff. He shuddered at the idea of drinking plain black tea with milk.

A makeover, getting part of my hair played with and having tea kind of works as a spa day. Maybe tonight while I watch TV I'll put on hand cream under cotton gloves for a hand treatment and get the whole deal.

I also wandered through the H&M store, but it's not nearly as cool now that they have them in malls all over the place. It was a far bigger deal when I had to go to New York to shop there. I didn't really like anything in there. Maybe I'm just too old for it now. Clothes or shoe shopping to spend more of the Christmas money will have to wait for another day. I had my fill of mall and had to get out of there. I guess I'm just no longer at a point in my life where wandering around a mall is my idea of fun. It was a rare treat when I was in high school, and it was my escape in college (on Saturdays, I'd take the bus to the mall and just spend the day wandering, mostly to avoid my roommate). Now I have to be in a particular mood. Otherwise, I just want to get in, get what I need and get out of any store.

But I look lovely for my afternoon with the computer. We'll see if it affects my revising ability.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hiding from the Romance Mafia

Well, the romance mafia hasn't come after me yet for yesterday's anti-romance manifesto, though it felt good to get it off my chest. I guess after about twenty years being around the romance community, I've still got that sense of defensiveness drilled into me. There's that attitude that you can't criticize romance -- or even, really, an individual book -- that has led to review sites like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. But then there's also the view that if you criticize the genre as a whole or the key elements of the genre, then it means you're anti-woman, don't know what you're talking about, have never really left your ivory tower to actually read a romance novel or you wouldn't be able to say such things, you're against sex and love and have bought into the idea that these matters are trivial, etc. It's also important to note that these books are about relationships and emotions, not about the sex. They're not porn for women or smutty sex books.

Though if they're not about the sex, then just try selling a romance novel with no sex scenes or without overt, rather graphically described sexual tension to a non-religious romance publisher. When I gave up on Harlequin back in the 90s because I thought the way they wanted "sexual tension" described was over the top, I was working on a book for the "sweet" line. "Sweet" meant they spent a lot of time mentally undressing each other and imagining what they wanted to do to each other rather than actually doing any of it, which strikes me as hair-splitting. If you're going to go that far and get that graphic, there's no difference between whether or not it actually happens.

The reason I had been talking about the romance issue with my agent a couple of years ago was that we were having trouble selling a fantasy book that had some romantic elements to it, and she was pretty sure that if I amped up the romance, she could sell it as a romance. There would be a lot of benefits to that, since romance gets better distribution (it still shows up in grocery stores, Target, Wal Mart, etc., while only the bestsellers in fantasy make it there) and has a huge readership that's easy to promote to. And I seriously considered it. I even went out and read a bunch of the paranormal romance series that seemed closest in structure to mine, where the relationship develops over the course of a trilogy rather than being totally resolved in book one and where the series follows a single couple rather than a different couple in each book. But I came to the conclusion that I couldn't find a way for these characters to have sex until the end of the series, given the world I'd built and their characterizations. The whole point of the situation was that these two people, who were perfect for each other and got along well, couldn't be together in that society. To be together, they'd have to be outcasts, which he couldn't do without bailing on other responsibilities, or they'd have to change the world. The series is about them trying to change the world (though not for that reason -- it's already a goal before they meet, but it does add some motivation). In their culture, it wouldn't be honorable to not do things properly, and he'd kind of look like a jerk who was repeating a mistake previous generations had made. I just couldn't think of a way to make it happen without changing the story to the point it no longer worked for me.

Then with the book I'm revising now, I realized that it might work as a romance duology, since there are two main couples. One couple is going to take some time to get together because of plot obstacles, but I could have beefed up the part of the second couple in the first book, as their story follows a more typical romance path. There was even one part of the book where I might have fit a sex scene, but then I realized that if they had sex in those circumstances, they'd look too stupid to live. A little kissing, maybe, but it wasn't a situation where they could really let their guard down. They're waiting and hoping for someone to show up so they can ambush them, and going all-out would be awfully silly. Once I imagined how that could work out, I got a bad case of the giggles picturing them being caught by the bad guys with their pants literally down, so I knew I could never write that scene and take it seriously.

I think this is a lot of why I miss chick lit so much and like romantic fantasy, mystery and science fiction. There are no "rules," so you can do what works for the characters and the situation, with no "this is a romance, so I must do it this way." I just have this bad tendency to keep my characters in enough peril that it's very bad timing for them to lose focus on their immediate situation, or if I come up with a reason to keep two people apart, it's so big that there aren't any loopholes until the situation is resolved for good at the end of the book.

In other news, I never had to use the Talking Sword with the choir because the class veered in a different direction, and I went with it. It might still have been useful in the discussion that came up, but at that point I was too focused on what was going on to interrupt things and grab it (and I was somewhat pinned down by a little girl who was in the process of braiding my hair). Getting into theology with five-year-olds is very interesting. The next song we're supposed to sing in church is rather dull, so I may get really crazy to spice it up. Instruments wouldn't really fit, but I may try a little liturgical dance type stuff with scarves to wave. My class is almost all girls, and they're all into ballet, so I think they'd go for it. I'll see if my ballet teacher has any suggestions. She does liturgical dance for her church and teaches ballet to kids this age. Meanwhile, I've learned that the adult choir will be teaming up with our former choir director's new choir to do Mozart's Requiem this spring. It looks really difficult, which my close friends will know means is a very good thing for me. I like learning challenging things. I brought my score home with me and will have to find a good performance online so I can get it into my head. Then I may have to try playing the soprano part on the flute.

It's only January, and it seems like my schedule for the year is already getting full.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

My Romance Issue

Tonight, children's choir starts up again. I guess that means I need to come up with a lesson plan. For the first time back after the holidays, I probably need to schedule in "sharing time" to talk about what we got for Christmas, how we played in the snow and what we did during the holidays. It's going to happen anyway, so I may as well plan for it. That may help avoid seventeen instances of "Miss Shanna! Miss Shanna! Guess what! It snowed on Christmas!" Maybe I should introduce the concept of the Talking Stick for a circle time. Should I use the foam sword or the mini lightsaber?

Now, to follow up on yesterday's post. I was talking about some of the books I read over the holidays. I also re-read Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, and when I ran out of books to read while at my parents' house, I dug into my mom's romance stash. That was when I had a bit of a revelation.

I like romance in a book. I love the subtle romances developing in the background in Blackout/All Clear (and even wish they were a little more developed), and those endings gave me that swoony sigh feeling. Swept Off Her Feet had me frantically turning pages, longing to be in the heroine's shoes, contemplating Scottish dancing, and sighing at the end. The impact of love on the life of the hero of Dodger gave me hope for humanity and belief in the power of love. One of the things I liked most about Captain Vorpatril's Alliance was the fact that it was essentially a Regency romance in a futuristic space setting, and watching that marriage of convenience relationship develop practically had me cutting little hearts out of construction paper. And yet I hated the romance novels. To be fair, the ones I read were out of my mom's "if you want to read any of these, take them now because I'm going to donate them to the library sale" stash, but the things I disliked about them (other than the bad case of "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means" in one of them that should lose a copyeditor her job) were things you'll generally find even in the better novels.

So, if I like romance so much, why don't I like romance novels? I've had this conversation a few times with my agent as we've tried to figure out what to do with my career. I started out in romance. The romantic elements of my fantasy books seem to be what most of the readers I hear from get most excited about, and most of the criticism I hear from people is that there's not enough romance, that the romance isn't developed enough, or that there's no sex in the romance, to which I have to restrain my snarky response of "You do know these aren't romance novels, don't you?" I've had fantasy novels rejected by fantasy publishers on the grounds that they're "too romancey," with suggestions that I try a romance publisher. You'd think romance would be a perfect fit for me, and it's been hard for me to explain why it isn't.

I think, after comparing and contrasting these romantic non-romances with romances, that the romance genre -- the books shelved as "romance" and published by romance publishers or by romance imprints -- has too rigid a formula for what a romance story should entail, this formula is actually growing stricter, with no wiggle room, and that formula has moved away from the things I enjoy in a love story. I'm okay with the basic "girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl wins boy in the end" formula, but they've added so much to it. For instance, there has to be something keeping the couple apart, or you've got no story, but it's reached a point where that something has to be between the two of them. It can't be something outside them, and it has to be a conflict between the two of them, not an inner conflict within one or both that gives them trouble with relationships, in general. The result is a lot of bickering and fighting until they give in and start with the other "F" that's essential to a romance novel today. I'd rather read about people who belong together but who have to struggle against a world that's trying to keep them apart or who have to work on themselves before they can find real intimacy with another person.

Another thing that seems to have spiraled out of control is the requirement for sexual tension. That was one of the reasons I gave up writing for Harlequin. I'd get notes from an editor saying I needed to add certain things to the hero's reaction to seeing the heroine for the first time, and my response would be, "What is he, twelve?" There's been some talk lately on some of the romance forums about the "rape culture" in romance novels, mostly in terms of the "slut shaming" that goes on (the virginal heroine is good, but the bitchy rival is bad because she's slept with men), but my view is that the real "rape culture" going on in romances means we need some "rapist shaming." The way the heroes of these books view women gives me the creeps, but it's meant to be hot and to show how much they desire the woman.

For instance, in one of the books I read, there's a man who's had to rush off to deal with a family crisis, but along the way there's an accident, he's hurt and stranded and takes shelter from a storm in the nearest available place. That's the same place a woman has gone after she's escaped a harrowing situation. This injured man with a family crisis he still hasn't managed to deal with sees this terrified, soaking wet, dirty, somewhat injured woman, and what does he think? Essentially, it's "Boobies! I must touch them!" When she shies away from his attempted grope, it actually goes through his mind that it would be wrong to rape her, but she owes him at least a kiss, so he tackles her, pins her to the ground and sticks his tongue down her throat. I'm thinking that at any moment the real hero will show up and rescue her from this jerk, but it turns out that he's the hero, and this is all just to show just how attracted he is to her. There's never an apology or remorse for this behavior. In another book, the heroine despises the hero, but her entire attitude toward him changes when he sticks his hand up her skirt, over her (initial) protests. Basically, the formula has been expanded to "Girl meets boy and both fall instantly in lust and immediately start imagining each other naked. Girl and boy hate each other but are still drawn together by the lust. After they have sex, they love each other, but the reason they hated each other will come up one more time, nearly driving them apart. But sex conquers all, and they get married and have lots of babies." It would be nearly impossible to sell a novel to a romance publisher or imprint that varies too far from this formula -- if they actually like each other, if their physical attraction develops gradually, if they don't have sex, if they don't have sex until they're really in love.

It's not that I'm opposed to sex in books. I just want there to be more to it than that, and the emphasis on sex in romance has often led to sex being used as a shortcut, kind of like the way today's romantic movies show the couple falling in love by showing them writhing in the sheets, which ends up being less sexy than the highly charged conversations that were in Production Code era films. If the sex is hot enough, you don't have to worry about developing anything else in the relationship. Sex is also a fairly individual taste -- one person's "Oh!" is another person's "Ew!" I have a pretty vivid imagination, and if it's left up to me, I can imagine it in a way that works for me. When it's so very graphic and in vivid detail, the odds increase of coming across something that's an "Ew!" for me that ruins the scene or even the entire relationship.

To some extent, all those other books I read had the benefit of big main plots, so that there was plenty of conflict even if the romance was low on conflict. You can get away with a couple that likes each other and gradually falls in love without a lot of conflict or angst if there's a lot of other stuff going on along the way to keep them apart. But the main plot for Swept Off Her Feet could easily have been a category romance novel -- Our Heroine is an antiques appraiser with a rosily romantic view of the past. She loves antiques not because of their value or even their craftsmanship, but because of the stories she can imagine behind them. Our Hero is a practical businessman whose father has just inherited a Scottish castle. He sees the place as a money pit and has no interest in being the heir to such a thing. He thinks his parents would be better off if they just sold the place. She's come to the castle to appraise all the stuff stashed away in attics to see if they can come up with enough money to help them save the castle and keep it in the family. Instant clash with opposing goals. Only it doesn't play out at all like a category romance. They do have some discussions, but they don't really bicker. He doesn't try to get in her way. He listens to her, she listens to him. Neither of them have romance on their mind, at least not initially, so there's no worry about keeping them apart. The book is mostly about the part of a relationship that happens between initial meeting and the decision to pursue a romance, and that really captures that heady time of meeting and figuring out someone while figuring out yourself and thinking about where that other person might fit in. There's very little overt "sexual tension" the way it's written in romance novels, but I got the same result in reading it because the emotional tension was strong enough to create that kind of breathless subtext. I generally believe that if you're doing it right, the emotional tension will create the sense of sexual tension. You don't have to layer it on with a shovel.

And that would be my romance problem. I like romances, but I don't think I could write them in a way that would allow them to be shelved as romance novels and still like them. I'd be happy writing things that fit the basic formula, but I don't think I could write something that falls within the current genre guidelines. This gives me some possible issues, such as that I no longer actually meet the membership requirements for Romance Writers of America, since they've clarified them to specify that a romance must be something published as romance and considered by the publisher to be romance. Writing boy meets girl/boy wins girl stories doesn't count unless you add the other stuff.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Book Report: Holiday Reading

As I mentioned in my reading round-up, I spent much of the Christmas holiday reading, and my reading material gave me some insights into some of my reading and writing choices.

First, the new-to-me books to discuss:
As recommended by a reader, I read Swept off Her Feet by Hester Browne (though it turns out to be set at February, not Christmas, but still there was snow and atmosphere, which made it perfect for reading on a snowy day after Christmas). This is a sort of chick-litty novel about an antiques appraiser who goes to a Scottish castle to help the new owners evaluate their belongings just as the community is planning their big winter ball -- and soon the self-proclaimed klutz is having to learn Scottish reels. This was such a delight to read, since I'm a fan of both castles and dancing. It struck me as a very romantic book, even though it doesn't follow any of the usual romance genre rules. I wasn't sure if the heroine would end up with a guy, which guy she might end up with, or how it would go, and the romantic happy ending isn't the standard "'til death do us part" kind of thing." And there's zero sex. But still, there were so many wonderful moments and I closed the book with a sigh. I also want to learn that kind of Scottish dancing, though I suspect I will be sorely disappointed by the lack of handsome, single Scotsmen (especially based on the photos posted on the web site for a local group that does this kind of dancing). Still, I may give it a shot, just for the fun/exercise side of things, even if it's not a great place to meet hot men.

I also read Terry Pratchett's latest, Dodger, which is a departure for him, as it's not a fantasy at all, but rather a historical novel. It follows the adventures of a London boy who makes his living scavenging the sewers and how his life changes when he makes the impulsive decision to come to the aid of a girl who seems to be escaping kidnappers. Soon, he's caught up in a web of espionage and intrigue, foiling crimes, and working with Charles Dickens to find a way to save the girl on a more permanent basis. It's a very Horatio Alger-like story of a boy with pluck and a good heart finding a way to move up in the world. It still hits a lot of the points the Discworld series does about the life of the poor, only it's more pointed since it's in our world, and it has the Pratchett humor. It's published as YA, but I think adults may be even more likely to enjoy it, especially if you're familiar enough with Dickens to catch all the inside jokes and references.

And then there was the latest book by Lois McMaster Bujold, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. Finally, we get a whole book about "that idiot Ivan," as the cousin of our usual hero takes the spotlight, and we learn that Ivan isn't nearly as dumb as he seems. You can tell that Lois is a big fan of Georgette Heyer, as in structure this is essentially a Regency romance set in the distant future, with spaceships and hovercars. It's essentially a marriage-of-convenience plot, with a bit of the "rake who's not as big a rake as he lets people believe" plot in there, as well. Plus a big dose of adventure and intrigue. Ivan ends up getting more than he bargained for when he agrees to help his spy friend check in on a young woman who may be in danger. Actually, she's in huge danger, and there's only one way he can think of to get her away safely. This one was a lot of fun. I've always been fond of Ivan, so it's interesting to get a better look inside his head. He's not clever in the way Miles is, but he has his own ways of getting things to work out without looking like he's doing anything to make them work out, and he does a lot of that by reading people very well. Since we're in a different viewpoint, we also get some different perspectives on a lot of the familiar cast of characters. I hope that this focus on Ivan isn't just a one-off because I'd like to read more about him. I also find myself wanting to go back and re-read some of the other books in the series.

Since this is already getting epic, tomorrow I'll discuss what these books and some others taught me.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Les Miserables

I got a good start on my "do stuff I enjoy" resolution yesterday when I resisted the call of the sofa and went out for a walk in the woods. I got over one of my bits of stubborn that has me refusing to drive to go walking, especially when the walking venue is in walking distance, but I timed the walk to the park with the woods, and it's at least 20 minutes via the least pleasant route. If I drive to the parking lot near the trailhead, a drive that takes less than five minutes, then I have that much more time for fun walking, or I can go walking in the place I like without it being an excursion that takes a couple of hours and leaves me aching. So, I got about half an hour of pleasant romping around in the woods in crisp, cool air.

I realized I haven't yet given any of my impressions of Les Miserables, after all my talk about it ahead of time. I ended up not seeing it with my parents right after Christmas because of the snow and ice, so I finally saw it the weekend after Christmas. Overall, I loved it. It was a little weird to see a movie for the first time when I already had almost every line memorized, but very soon I got caught up in the story and stopped anticipating things based on knowing the musical so well. As I expected, I liked the way they used the things theater can't do -- intimacy and scope. Really seeing the streets of the slums, the countryside, the barricade, etc. instead of just the suggestions on stage made the story come alive in new ways. Also, really seeing the characters' faces up close gave me a new perspective on things. Because of that, I'm in favor of the live, on-set recording method. I don't think it harmed the performances that much (I got the highlights soundtrack when it was a $5 download from Amazon, and the singing is mostly still decent enough to listen to without the visuals), and it avoided the silliness you get in some film musicals when someone is singing at the top of their lungs in a moment when you wouldn't expect them to be able to get much sound out. It made it all seem very immediate and real.

As for the performances themselves, I'm going to go against just about every review I've seen and say that Hugh Jackman was the weak link for me. I'm not a fan of his vocal style in general. He has a nasal, honking, braying style that bugs me. For much of the movie, he kept it in check, but in the big songs, he seemed to forget about that intimacy thing and was singing like he was trying to reach the back of the upper balcony, which brought on the full bray. It was the worst in "Bring Him Home," which was probably too high for his range, where he honked and brayed his way through. That was the one part of the movie in which the singing was physically painful for me.

My other unpopular opinion was that I liked Russell Crowe and his singing. It's a different style than I'm used to with Javert, but it worked for me. His big songs are prayers to a God he's kind of afraid of, since he has a very legalistic belief and can't imagine or understand grace, so it makes sense to have a bit of vulnerability in those songs. These are his private moments between him and God, where he's not keeping up appearances to the world, so when you think about it, it makes more sense for him to go soft and husky rather than shouting to the rafters. On the soundtrack, I find myself listening to his tracks most often, and I find his rendition of "Stars" very moving. In general, he took what can be a cartoony villain and made him very human, and I found that I couldn't take my eyes off him when he was onscreen (and I'm not generally a Crowe fan -- he probably falls into the same category as Jude Law, where I don't think of him as an actor I like, but I find myself liking him when I see him in movies).

The other one I really liked was Eddie Redmayne as Marius. I knew he was a compelling actor after seeing him in last year's "Birdsong" on Masterpiece Theatre, in which his character seldom had lines and was so shut down as to almost convey no emotion, and yet you could see everything that was going through his head on his face and in his eyes. His singing style is also different from the usual Broadway style in that he's very much an English choirboy tenor. He has that crystal-clear tone that you can imagine ringing through a cathedral. He also gave the character a lot more inner life than you usually see on stage, which is helped by the screenplay actually bringing in more of his backstory from the book that's left out of the musical.

Of course, Anne Hathaway's Fantine was wonderful, and the sniffles throughout the theater in her parts of the movie were audible. This was also one of the better Eponines I've seen.

There were some things that were rearranged from the stage version, and I like the changes, for the most part. The way they did "Do You Hear the People Sing?" was particularly awesome (I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it), and I'm irked that this was left off the soundtrack.

In short, when I have time I hope to see it at the theater at least one more time, and I'll definitely be buying the Blu-Ray when it comes out.

Friday, January 04, 2013

2012 Reading and Writing

I was up to two hours of work yesterday, so I'm getting back in the swing of things. Unfortunately, I hit the hard part where I need to start really rewriting scenes. There are parallel plot lines, and one of the plot lines is lacking. I need to find a different way for it to play out but still end up in the same place. There will be lots of brainstorming today.

Now, in my final "year in review" post, I'll look at my reading for the year. I read 101 books, which is about average. My biggest reading month was January, with 15 books. That had a lot to do with me focusing that month on researching mysteries, so a lot of my "work" time that month was reading related non-fiction books either on the genre or on stuff like police procedure, and my leisure reading was paranormal mysteries, which tend to be short. My low month was August, with four books, probably because of the combination of the really fat books I was reading and a busy schedule, with a book in progress, a book being released, the church music camp and the upcoming WorldCon.

As usual, my biggest chunk of reading came in fantasy, with 39 books. Young adult (which had some overlap with fantasy) and non-fiction tied at 18 books. Two relatively unusual trends for me were mystery and World War II-related books (fiction and non-fiction), both at 14 books. I don't normally track things down to that specific a level, but when one particular subject jumps out that way, I take note. I do like mysteries, but I read an unusual number in the early part of this year because I thought I might want to write one. The World War II stuff was also somewhat work-related, as there are some situations and themes that are relevant to stories I'm either working on or planning, but then once I started reading the reference stuff, it made me inclined to fiction stuff.

I had a remarkably low Terry Pratchett count this year, only re-reading one book and then reading the new one (more on that next week). If you don't count re-reads, the author I read the most this year was George R.R. Martin, since I plowed through the Song of Ice and Fire series to-date. Counting re-reads, it would be Rachel Aaron, since I read The Spirit War, realized I was foggy on some of the details of past books and re-read the previous three before re-reading The Spirit War and then reading the final book in the series.

My "books of the year," the ones that really stuck with me and that I'm likely to re-read, were all young adult. There was Chime by Franny Billingsley, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and Dodger by Terry Pratchett. In fantasy, in particular, there's some interesting stuff going on in YA, once you get past all the generic supernatural love triangle books. I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of genre boundaries. There aren't really genre distinctions in YA at the publisher level, just YA, so you don't run into that "this is too romancey for fantasy" sort of thing, and any romances can play out without it necessarily having to be the love of a lifetime. And without the focus on hotter and hotter sex (again, more on that next week).

As for writing, I did substantial revisions on two books and wrote another book (which may still need substantial revisions). Plus, I went through copy edits on two books and got them ready for publication. I had one book released in Japan (book 6), one in Germany (book 4) and two in the US. For this year, I need to wrap up book 7, both for the Japanese publisher and for US publication. I have the book I'm currently revising. Then I plan to complete my steampunk fantasy trilogy, whether it's for traditional publication (the first book is on submission) or to self-publish it. After that, I don't really know. It will depend on what happens with everything else that's going on, whether I need to write sequels or start something new. I do still want to do something with that mystery idea, but since it requires so much development it's on the back burner. I have another steampunky fantasy story that's eating a hole in my brain that I will probably have to tackle soon, even if it's just to get it out of my head. There's also a more traditional fantasy novel I wrote ages ago that I'm planning to rewrite at some point. The priorities may shift, depending on what comes up and where things are going.

There are a lot of other things I'd love to write, now that finding a publishing niche isn't so much of an issue -- fun books that fall in the gaps between romance and fantasy. I guess that means I have to get to work to get it all written.

And I just got news of something potentially really awesome that might happen, so crossed fingers, good wishes, prayers, positive vibes, etc., would be greatly appreciated. I can't say anything more than that now.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Resolved: I'll Do Things I Enjoy

I didn't quite get back into the full swing of work yesterday, but I did about an hour and a half of editing/revising, and I hope to get more than that done today.

My New Year's resolutions tend to be the same just about every year and involve exercise, organizing and writing. This year, I'm going to mix it up, with possibly the same result (though maybe actually achieving it instead of just aiming for it). I resolve to make a point of doing the things I enjoy and doing the things that are necessary to do or have the things I enjoy. I was looking at a list of things I love to do that I made a few years ago and realized how many of them aren't that difficult to do but that I never end up doing. For instance, I love to take long walks. I live surrounded by parks that are great for walking. But I so seldom actually get out and do it. I love to dance, and I am taking ballet classes, but there's other dancing to be done -- ballroom, folk dancing, etc. I have a number of local groups bookmarked but have never actually gone out to do it. I may not enjoy the cleaning and organizing process, but I really do want to live in a clean, organized home. Writing may be difficult and draining, but I really do enjoy doing it, and since it's the way I earn my living, I need to do it to be able to afford other things I like to do, like travel. So, if I focus on doing the things I love to do, everything else should fall into place.

That means I need to cut out the things that I seem to spend a lot of time on without much in the way of reward, where I do enjoy them but spend time to the point of diminishing returns. That means that I'm going to have to let people be wrong on the Internet. I love a good discussion of books, movies or TV shows, and the Internet has been wonderful for being able to discuss things I enjoy with others. But I've learned that there are some people you just can't "discuss" things with. Many of them ride into a discussion on a personal hobby horse, and they can't deviate from that view, even if reality is in opposition. You can't discuss with that person because being logical and reasonable doesn't work. They see the world through blinders and can't admit anything that might threaten their viewpoint. And then there's the entitlement mentality, where if it doesn't go the way they want it to go, that means it's wrong and bad. They're incapable of acknowledging that something can still be good even if it's not the way they would have chosen for it to go (I'm of the view that if it goes the way I'd have written it, then there's no point because I could have just done it myself), and they're incapable of acknowledging that other people might have different views. It's not what they wanted, so obviously everyone agrees with them that it's bad and wrong. Once you realize that you're dealing with one of these people, there's no point in citing examples or references or really saying anything. You just have to roll your eyes and move on, focusing instead on the people you can discuss things with.

I think learning to let go and back away from being the voice of reason in all Internet discussions will also help with what I call The Internet Doom Loop. That's when I start the day checking e-mail, checking Facebook, and checking my usual group of blogs, sites and message boards, responding or commenting as appropriate. And that's fine. It's how I warm up my brain in the morning. But it's what comes after that's the problem. I then have to go back and re-check everything to see if anyone has responded or posted anything new, then I respond, and then I have to cycle back to see if anyone responds to that. Checking e-mail every so often is necessary, since that's where the business stuff comes in, but I need to limit everything else to once a day, maybe a few times a day for something fast-moving like Facebook. Not getting involved in pointless arguments will stop a lot of the need for endless checking. I don't even enjoy the reading at this point. I just feel like I can't break out of the loop. It should be easier to break out if there's nothing to check back on and if I remind myself of things I could be doing that I enjoy more.

So now for just one more check of my e-mail ...

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

2012 In Review: Out of the Comfort Zone

Welcome to the new year! I normally would have done some "year in review" posts between Christmas and the new year, but I spent most of that time at my parents' house, and then there was the weekend, and then it was New Year's Eve. But I can still review last year.

I had a wonderfully relaxing holiday that it may be difficult to come back from, as I seem to have grown accustomed to spending my days wrapped in a blanket and reading a book. That began on Christmas, when it started snowing about an hour after we finished Christmas dinner. I had my second-ever white Christmas. The first was when I was seven and living in Oklahoma and it snowed all day on Christmas Eve, with the snow remaining for Christmas. Ever since then, even when we lived in Germany, we might have had snow on the ground since Thanksgiving, but it would melt a day or two before Christmas and then wouldn't snow again until a few days later. But this year, it started snowing on Christmas afternoon (fortunately, after I'd traveled) and snowed into the night, so that before sunset we had a nice covering of snow on the ground. When you're out in the country, there's not much to do on a snowy day other than read, so that's what we did. It was lovely. The snow melted and the roads cleared in time for me to get home, and I rang in the new year with my friends.

As for my year in review, I didn't think of it this way at the time, but this was kind of a year for pushing my boundaries and getting out of my comfort zone. The biggie was entering the world of self publishing. Because I started out in very much the traditional mode and had been involved in a number of writing organizations, I had internalized the mindset that self-publishing was what you did when you couldn't get published. It brought to mind images of those people at library book festivals, sitting at their tables and trying to interest people in their memoirs or books of poems about their cats. The world has changed significantly since then, and it's now more something people do when they want to take control over their careers than something that indicates failure. Yes, there's still some poorly written and edited stuff being self-published, but I read a book last week that came from one of the big publishers that was so badly edited it was painful to read. We're talking barely literate teenage Internet post bad. But I finally got hit with the clue stick and realized that this was the only way I was going to get the rest of my series published in the US, and those books weren't doing anyone any good sitting on my hard drive. I haven't made publishing history, but I've made enough money so far that I broke even for the year, with as much money in the bank at the end of the year as at the start of the year, in spite of losing my major freelance contract (though I did get a fair amount of income in advances from the Japanese publisher). I think my ideal would be to maintain a mix of kinds of publishing, so as not to have all my eggs in one basket. If I can sell a book traditionally, that's great, but if not, I have other options, and I think the gulf between self and traditional distribution is shrinking as bookstores are closing. My city lost its two Barnes & Nobles at the end of the year, so we now no longer have a bookstore. If you're stuck shopping online anyway, how much does it matter if the books are in stores?

The other thing I did this year that I would have said you were crazy if you'd told me I'd be doing it was chaperone the youth choir trip. The thought of being a responsible adult in charge of a bunch of teenagers, sleeping in bunks or on the floor for a week and whitewater rafting in a boat full of kids would have been terrifying, but it ended up being a great experience. I formed a lot of great relationships and even had a couple of the teen girls wanting to sit next to me for the Christmas Eve church service.

In general, I feel very blessed. I saw a few of the Facebook whine posts from people who are single and far from their families, and that made me realize how full my life is in spite of not being in a romantic relationship or having a big extended family around me. In fact, I have so many people in my life that I occasionally have to shut down completely to get the amount of quiet time I need. I have a big group of crazy, fun friends and a few closer friends. I have my "family" in the choir, who all seem to have adopted me. I have small children who think I'm some kind of Disney princess superhero and teenagers who think I'm pretty cool for an adult. I have my ballet class support group/exercise buddies/girls' night out bunch. I have my neighbors and their dogs. Plus, I get to make a living, even if it's not an extravagant one, doing what I love and without answering to anyone or having co-workers. It's not a bad life.

Things have been tough in recent years, but they started turning around near the end of the year and there are some potential really good things on the horizon, so here's to 2013! But first, I really need to wash dishes.