Thursday, February 28, 2013

Snake Wrestling and Child Wrangling

It's a good thing I decided to practice with the circular knitting needles. The nylon cable connecting the needles kept trying to spring back into the shape it had been forced into by the packaging, so it was like trying to knit while wrestling a snake. Knit one, BOINNNNNGGGG, retrieve the stitch that flew off the needle, forcibly hold the needles steady in order to knit the next stitch, BOINNNNGGGG, you get the idea. The tension got really crazy from wrestling the needles into submission, so the stitches were very uneven, and then I'd lose my place in the pattern. I imagine the needles will actually be more under control with the full 151 stitches on them, but it will also help to let the cable relax a little out of the package.

I do rather like the idea of these needles because they're so easily weaponized. They're the perfect combination of pointy things plus a garrote. When I become an unlikely elderly superspy, this will be my weapon of choice. I'll only look like a harmless knitting granny.

But I'm on deadline, so I won't start my blanket until maybe the weekend.

On the kindergarten front, my schemes seem to be working. They actually requested Beethoven. Well, technically, they requested "the thunderstorm music," which is the tempest movement from the Pastoral symphony, but hey, they can call it what they like as long as they're getting some appreciation for classical music. We were busy pretending to be birds flying through a storm when the organist walked by the open door of the room. And yes, I was being a bird, too. Fortunately, she has small children, so she understood. We also started learning about Palm Sunday, and then one girl insisted on reading the sheet music for that song over my shoulder, with me pointing out where we were on the song. I wanted to encourage her interest, but I also had a room full of other kids I needed to deal with while the other teacher was out dealing with a kid who'd gone to the bathroom and fallen in and needed dry clothes.

I will not be giving up my writing career to become a full-time kindergarten teacher anytime soon.

On the up side, one of the kids baked cookies with her mom that day, and they brought me some. Then I sat with several of my girls at dinner, which was highly entertaining because they're just so strange. There's a lot I get about them, but then there's just some stuff that must come from some alien place in their psyche.

Kindergarten teacher may be out, but child psychology could be fun.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Stirrings of Spring

I had a productive morning in which I got most of the errands I've been procrastinating about done in one fell swoop. Yay! That included getting the knitting supplies, so now I can practice a bit on the right kind of needles. I've never used circular needles before. This project doesn't require knitting in a circle, just using the extra length to hold a wide project. Still, I suspect there will be logistical things to get used to, so I'll practice a bit before I actually start the blanket.

They had tulips in the "manager's special" section of the grocery store flower shop, so I now have fresh flowers in my living room. Although I do enjoy cold weather, I'm starting to get the first stirrings of spring fever. That means we'll probably get snow next week.

I'm very close to being able to make my big announcement, but I have to coordinate it with some other people. Let's just say it's something I'm very excited about.

Meanwhile, I think I've decided what my next new project will be. It's actually a rewrite, but one of those rewrites that really is a rewrite, not a revision. I had this idea for a book late in my college years. A few years after I graduated, I wrote the first chapter and a synopsis for a writing competition being held in conjunction with a conference I was attending. And I won. Then I finished writing the book and submitted it a few places. It was rejected. But I could never really forget about the characters and the story. I reread it recently and found that I loved the voice and the characters and situation, but the plot didn't quite work. It was very episodic instead of driving toward something. And, in general, I wasn't a good enough writer at the time to do the story justice. But the characters and situation are perfect for what I need right now, and I've improved drastically as a writer since I wrote the first version. So, I'm going to start from scratch, writing it as though it's a brand-new book.

But there are a few other things to get off my plate first, which means my subconscious will have plenty of time to play with it.

Now I need to go figure out something for the kids to do tonight. We have a new song to start learning, which means I need to learn it. Otherwise, I may bring some ballet music and just let them dance (while indoctrinating them with classical music).

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Switching Projects

I think I've given up on crochet, for the time being. I got some yarn for my blanket project and the appropriate hook, but it turned out that this yarn didn't work so well to crochet with (the pattern said any yarn would work, but apparently that depends on your skill level). I got frustrated, and the more frustrated I got, the worse the results and the more I had the death grip going, so my hand started hurting. Then I found myself thinking that this yarn would knit beautifully. It's so very soft that I wanted to knit something just so I could snuggle up in it. So I got out my knitting needles and started playing. And I was right, it's lovely to knit with. I've now found a pattern for a lacy knitted throw, and I've been practicing the fancy stitchwork involved. I think I can do this. But I will have to get a set of circular needles to hold a big project. I'll also need more yarn because I just got one skein to test with before I really went nuts. Fortunately, this yarn is on sale this week, and the craft store is next to the grocery store I must visit today (if I want to eat the rest of the week). I may buy a bunch because I really love the way this yarn feels, and the color goes perfectly in my bedroom.

And now all the knitters out there are nodding and saying, "Yes, that's how the yarn stash begins."

There's definitely less hand cramping with the knitting. I was doing a lot of it yesterday because I was using that as a mental break while editing (edit a chapter, knit a row, etc.) and my hand isn't at all sore this morning. I think it also goes faster and is a little less tedious, though with this pattern I'll have to be careful to stay focused and not lose my place. I haven't ever knitted anything from a pattern before. I've just made up my own things. This, though, involves fiddly stuff like slipped stitches, knitting two together and yarn over (which turns out to be more like yarn under, the way I was thinking of it, so I was doing it wrong for a while until I looked it up). When/if I get it all done, I'll have to post a picture.

I'm doing the final round of edits on Enchanted Inc. book 7, which I'm currently calling Kiss and Spell. It goes off to the Japanese publisher at the end of this week. Then I suppose we'll set things in motion to get it ready for US publication, though I haven't yet talked to my agent about that. A lot of it will depend on the queue of other projects for both me and the agency. I would guess that a summer release date is likely.

I'm finding that yet again I have weird parallels with the TV series Haven, with stuff I noticed on this round of edits that turned out to be similar to things that happened on the series after I wrote the first draft. That seems to be a habit, where I write something, and then something similar appears on the series, but before it's been published anywhere. There was already the premise of the woman immune to "magic" (which I got to way before they did, but apparently they were already working on ideas for the series before the first book in my series was published). Then those who've read book 5 may have noticed a certain similarity to a revelation in the first season finale and a scene that came after that. I'd already written that book and turned it in to the Japanese publisher earlier that year, before that episode aired in the subsequent autumn. It seems like we get the same ideas around the same time. We must be tapping into the same things in the collective unconscious.

Maybe I can figure out how that impossible season cliffhanger will resolve based on what I write this spring. I don't know if that will work, though, as I'll most likely be revising something, not coming up with new ideas. And nothing spinning around in my head at the moment involves disappearing barns or meteor storms.

After this book is done, I have final edits to do on another book so it can be submitted to publishers and maybe find a home (but I've already decided to self-publish if it doesn't). Once that's done, I'll get back to organizing my office and do a big spring cleaning of the house while I let some ideas percolate and see which one bobs up first.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Celebrity Moments

I had a busy but good weekend, and now I'm tired, but I have work to do and a very busy week. Saturday morning was the first combined choir rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem. This is a benefit concert being performed in April involving choirs from at least four churches and two colleges. They're anticipating about 250 singers at the concert. We had probably more than 100 at the rehearsal, filling the chapel at the church where we rehearsed. I love singing in big groups like that, especially music like that.

The rehearsal was good for my ego, too. I had a minor celebrity moment. During a break, the people around me in the soprano section were introducing ourselves, which got into the kinds of conversations you have when making introductions, talking about unusual spellings of our names and what people seem to think our names are. I mentioned that people were always trying to call me "Shannon," but it was actually "Shanna." One of the ladies I was talking with said, "There's an author who has that name, Shanna Swendson." I don't know if she believed me at first when I said that was me, but then all the other ladies were impressed that someone had heard of me, so I must be famous. I didn't have to sign any autographs, though.

And then I was really flattered when the lady sitting next to me turned out to be the director of one of the participating choirs, and she passed me a note during the rehearsal, asking if I could sing at her church for Good Friday. I told her I needed to sing at my church. Then on Sunday morning I told my choir director that he'd better treat me right because other directors were trying to poach me. I don't know if she just wanted to fill out a choir (and I have a pretty big voice, so I can be a second soprano section on my own, as I had to be on Sunday) or if she thought I was a soloist.

Then Sunday morning my kindergarteners sang. We had a moment of panic when the other director forgot to bring the scarves (fortunately, she lives nearby and was able to get them in time), but the kids mostly needed to practice singing because they keep forgetting the words. Or else they get bored halfway through the song because the same words repeat and they just stop singing them midway through. There's not a lot of unison in the movement because they are five. I think there was also some "left" and "right" confusion. I had worked out how to do the movements for them in mirror image, so they could just look at me and copy me, but there were a few who insisted on doing exactly what I was doing, with the same hand I was using, so they're opposite from everyone else. If you can tolerate high levels of cute, here's the clip:

Now I need to come up with something to do for the Palm Sunday song. I hadn't thought you could make hosannas boring, but apparently you can.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lateness and Waiting

I did not get an auspicious start to the day. I have a lot to do, so I planned to get started at a reasonable hour. I woke at a reasonable hour, and then I thought I'd take a moment to gather my thoughts for the day. I lay there and mentally ran through my to-do list, planning how I'd fit in the things I needed to do. There were a few mental rabbit trails as thinking of one thing would lead to a train of thought. Then I glanced at the clock and saw that it was an hour and a half later. It really did feel like just five minutes, so I must have fallen asleep again without realizing it. Then I started thinking about how I'd have to readjust my day, and then the phone rang. As soon as I answered, a recorded voice said "please continue holding," which irked me because, hello, you called me. If you weren't ready to talk to me, you shouldn't have called. I actually stayed on the line to tell them this, and it turned out that the call was for the person who last lived in this house. That was really weird because I brought my phone number with me and had it for five years before I moved here -- nearly 15 years ago. I never met this woman, though I did get mail addressed to her for a while. She was a renter, and I bought the house from her landlord. I get the impression she has some bad debt issues and that they're doing a reverse directory thing, looking up the phone number that goes with her past addresses. Every few years, I get a phone call for her. But you'd think after fifteen years, they'd know she's probably not at this address anymore. At least that made me finally get out of bed -- 30 minutes after the last time I looked at the clock.

But that's not the only thing I'm behind on. I know last week I said I'd have something to announce this week, but it turned out things were moving even more slowly than I expected, and the delay is not due to me. It's due to other people getting stuff done. It was supposed to be done last Friday afternoon, but then there was an issue, and it couldn't be resolved until after the Monday holiday, and then apparently that took longer to resolve than they expected and is going through some bureaucracy. I'm paranoid enough not to put anything on the Internet where it's searchable and will remain forever until everything is finalized and I have something in writing. So, you will have to wait. Trust me, I'm more impatient than you are. This is probably why I was suddenly compelled to take up crochet. I needed a way to work off the nervous energy and anticipation.

Oh, and so far, all guesses of what it's about have been wrong.

Now to try to catch up on my day. It will be a busy weekend, with a choir rehearsal across town tomorrow morning and then my kindergarten choir singing in the early service on Sunday. I also have to lead singing for preschool Sunday school and sing in the late service. There may be hibernation on Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Finding Calm Among the Squirrels

In crochet news, I found that wrapping some duct tape around the hook's handle helped ease the grip (plus, I'm now ready for emergencies), and I found a pattern for a "summer weight" granny square that's all airy and lacy and that can be put together in a blanket. It took me a lot of tries to get it kind of right, but I think I can do it, and it will likely go better if I get the right kind of yarn. I'm using some old knitting yarn to learn and practice, and it tends to stick to itself and get caught in the hook. I need to work on keeping a consistent tension. That seems to be what makes the square get skewed. A trip to the craft store is in order.

But the next week will be focused on making edits to book 7, now that I have my agent's notes. That will even put the office organizing on hold. I got the furniture rearranged and a lot of decluttering done, and I set up the business file system (while also doing a bit of a purge). Now I have to purge and set up the personal/reference/fun files. And then put everything away. At the moment, the loft is a mess. Taking a lot of books to the library will help.

I had crazy kids last night. The final rehearsal before we sing in church on Sunday didn't go too well. The kids had a "squirrel!" moment and completely forgot the song when we rehearsed in the sanctuary (after having done it just a few minutes earlier in the classroom). But they were probably on overload because we'd also had a show-and-tell about stringed instruments, and they got to try playing harps, a hammered dulcimer, a violin, an autoharp and a bowed psaltry. The little girls loved the Celtic harp because it looked like something Merida from Brave would have (she's the current favorite princess, and apparently there's now a book about her and a harp). I'm hoping that they focus a little better Sunday morning when we can just run through the song without a lot of distractions. And if all else fails, they're ridiculously cute, so I don't think anyone will care if they get sidetracked. And then I have to start teaching them the Palm Sunday song and figure out how I can stop them from swatting each other with palm branches.

Then I had what was supposed to be a women's sectional rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem, except only one other person showed up, and she was an alto. It was a little intimidating singing that soprano part by myself. It gets really high, and I hadn't warmed up other than singing along with the kids (and that doesn't go above the staff). We rehearse with the other choir this Saturday morning, so I may need to get my score and sing along with the recording when I'm taking writing breaks.

Now, to work!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Editing Yourself

One of the panel topics at the convention I attended last weekend was self-editing, and since that's also a phase I'm currently in, I thought I'd talk about it here.

Conventional wisdom is that you really need a second set of eyes to look at your writing, and to some extent that's true, but it depends on your skill and experience level. I went to journalism school and have worked as an editor, so I'm probably a bit ahead of the pack, but this is a skill anyone can learn. You can find books on editing and grammar to learn all the rules (and when you can break them), and reading good work also helps you internalize the way language should work. When you have other people review your work, you can learn from what they point out. I pay attention to my copy edits so that I won't repeat those same mistakes. Even if you do get someone else to read your work, you should make it as perfect as you can before you send it to them, so you need to learn to edit yourself.

For this phase of editing, I'm not talking about working at the story level -- fixing plot holes and the like. This is more like doing your own pass at what a copy editor would do for your book if you sold it. I like to do this kind of editing in a couple of passes because they require different kinds of reading. First, there's what I think of as the continuity pass. This is a fast read, where I try to read as much as possible of the book in one sitting, the way a reader might. That helps me spot any variations between what's said at the beginning of a book and at the end -- does anyone's eye color suddenly change, does the house move down the block, etc. It's also a good way to spot jokes or descriptions that may get repeated. When months have passed between writing chapter one and writing the end, I may forget what I've written, and a joke or a description that seems really apt may come up early in the book and then be used again later in the book. Oops. A fast read will also reveal any obvious pet words. You may use a word only once a day or even a week when you're writing, but that can still be too many times when you read the book all at once.

And then it's time to proofread, to make sure all the words are right. Some people like to print out the manuscript at this point. I'm used to editing on the screen from my old job when I was editing the work of people around the country, so I do that, but I change the font so that the book looks different to me. It puts words and sentences at difference places on the page, and you'd be amazed at the difference that can make. Then I read the whole thing out loud, word-for-word. That keeps my eyes from just skimming over the screen and forces me to notice if there's a word left out or a word that's wrong. Your brain is really good at filing in blanks and reading what should be there rather than what is, and reading out loud forces you to see what's there.

Ideally, you should try to take a break between passes to get the book out of your head and make it fresher, but deadlines don't always allow that. When you're trying to sell a first book and don't have a deadline, it's in your best interest to take your time and put the book aside between drafts so it's like reading a new book when you get back to it. Even when I write a blog post, I go get a cup of tea or read a few web sites before I go back and edit it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gothic Crochet!

Oh, gosh, that crochet thing gets dangerous, fast. I'm going to have to get a bigger hook -- the one I have I got to put fringe on a knitted scarf -- because my hand hurts from clutching it. The death grip I probably have doesn't help matters. Fortunately, I have dance tonight, so I won't be spending hours at it while I watch TV and my hand can recover. I think I've also figured out why I had trouble learning to knit more than straight lines. My mom stuck the old book I used to teach myself to knit when I was a kid into a Christmas package, which was what started all this, and I believe it was written by someone who does this instinctively and probably was taught as a child by her mother or grandmother, so she can't really explain how to do it. Her explanations make no sense whatsoever, and the illustrations seem to have been drawn from her explanations. I bet I can find some online videos to illustrate the steps, and that should help.

I need to come up with something useful to make if I'm going to use this so I don't get bored while watching TV. I don't need more scarves. I already made a tea cozy and a phone cozy, but maybe I could do some in different colors. If I figure out more of the crochet, maybe I could make a lacy throw for my bed. I like to have a little weight on me when I sleep -- probably a security thing -- and that means in the summer I struggle to find that sweet spot with enough weight in covers to feel secure but not so much that I get hot. A lacy openwork throw might lend some weight while being able to vent body heat. Needlework is terribly addictive, but it's a great way to prevent myself from snacking while I watch TV. Only when my hand started hurting did I remember that I had chocolate cake.

Now for more on my recent reading, the last library book in my huge stash: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan. I'd describe this as a contemporary teen gothic novel. I love gothics. Give me a book with a girl in a nightgown fleeing a spooky old house while a storm rages overhead, and I'm all over it, though I prefer twists on the genre, like the Madeleine Brent books, in which the heroine gets to use her mad circus/Outback survival/mountain survival/skin diving skills rather than fleeing the spooky old house. This book is one of those twists on the genre.

An aspiring Intrepid Girl Reporter starts a newspaper at her village school, and her first big expose is going to be on the family that owns the town's manor house. There are all kinds of stories, rumors and legends about them, and they've been gone for years, but now they've returned, and at the same time, there have been these spooky noises in the woods. Her investigative reporting is somewhat hampered by her imaginary friend. Ever since she can remember, she's been able to talk to a boy in her head, and he talks back. They've shared thoughts and feelings her whole life. And then she discovers that he's a real person when he moves to town. Awkward!

The amazing thing about this book is that it manages to be spooky and atmospheric while also being laugh-out-loud funny. That's not something you see in a lot of gothics, but it all comes from the voice of the heroine, who's rather deliciously insane and has a very unique perspective on the world. The teen emotions are realistically rendered, so it may not necessarily be an "adult-safe" YA if you tend to get annoyed by teenagers, but I found that both the fun and the spooky balanced that out.

Now I suspect I may go on a gothic kick. I may also need a long, floaty white nightgown. I wonder if I could crochet one.

Monday, February 18, 2013

I Declare a Holiday

It's the Monday after a convention weekend, and although it was a pretty low-key convention at which I mostly just hung out with friends, I'm still dead tired. It's a holiday in a lot of places, so I may declare it a holiday for myself.

I think the best panel/presentation I attended, including the ones I was on, was an unofficial, impromptu one in which we got the scoop on the "asteroid go boom" incident in Russia from a NASA scientist. Though it wasn't very reassuring to hear how many objects that size are nearby and how we can't see most of them. Our former HOA manager used to say our roofs could survive a direct meteor strike, and I guess I'll just tell myself that it's true so I can sleep at night. The fact that our roofs can survive a direct meteor strike is actually a problem because apparently the material under the roofs isn't so good, but because the outer part is so sturdy, we can't manage to get the roofs replaced and have insurance pay for it after a good hailstorm, since hail doesn't damage these roofs. They're concrete fake clay tile. Anyway, when the meteor storm hits, party at my place, if you can dodge falling objects to get here.

In other news, I'm in Downton Abbey denial, and I had a weird dream last night in which I was secretly a famous sculptor whose work was all over downtown, in the lobbies of all the big high rises. Strangely, this came as a shock to me because I didn't remember making those sculptures. I also finally figured out how to do more than just crochet one long chain. I've been trying to learn to crochet since I was a kid, and it never worked, but it finally clicked. I don't think I'm to the point of being able to actually make anything, but it's rather therapeutic just randomly crocheting while I watch TV. Maybe my sculptures in the dream were crochet sculptures.

And now to enjoy my holiday/recovery day.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Musical Adventures with Kindergarteners

I'll be at ConDFW this weekend. I'm not scheduled for anything today, and I'm very close to being well but not quite there yet, so I may just stay home and hope I'll be 100 percent Saturday, when I have programming. I have a panel at noon Saturday on self-editing and one at 6 on surviving in parallel worlds. Sunday at noon I have a reading, and I have a panel at 2 on short stories vs. novels. There's something big that I will informally announce this weekend at the con. Stay tuned for an official announcement here later.

The latest in musical adventures with kindergarteners: There's a man in the church who collects flutes, and he brought his collection to show the kids. We worked on the bigger=lower tone, smaller=higher tone concept with the flute vs. the piccolo. He also had a didgeridoo, and the most angelic-looking little girl blurted, "That sounds like someone's stomach doesn't feel well." Another girl decided she wanted the shrillest glass flute because it would be good for getting her sister out of her room. I play the flute, so it doesn't generally occur to me that it's something pretty difficult to do until I try to teach kids the concept of blowing across the top instead of straight into it. Usually only one or two per class can actually make a sound on it. I'm not sure any of this bunch managed it, but they'd have had to stop bouncing off walls long enough to really try.

We also worked on incorporating scarves into the song we're singing next Sunday. It's sort of a liturgical dance/rhythmic gymnastics (but without the actual gymnastics -- though they really want to do cartwheels) thing so no one falls asleep during the song. They learned how to do it pretty quickly, though one did lament that they weren't as good at it as I was. I pointed out that I'd spent the day practicing so I could teach them. Seeing how they handle it in church will be interesting.

Now to see if I can force my sinuses to completely clear in the next 24 hours.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Twu Wuv

Happy Valentine's Day! I'm not a big fan of this holiday, and not just because I'm terminally single. I just think it sort of saps the romance out of things to have a particular day arbitrarily declared to be a day for romance, whether or not it actually means anything to you. It seems far better for each couple to find their own days and ways to celebrate their relationship rather than having a huge advertising industry dictate it to them.

Of course, this is the day when everyone comes up with themed articles about most romantic this or that. There was one on most romantic science fiction and fantasy couples on, and I found that while I liked many of those movies or shows, the relationships didn't strike me as all that romantic.

For instance, The Princess Bride. I love both book and movie, but I don't think it's all that romantic, and I'm not sure it's meant to be. In the book, it was definitely treated as a satire of romance. "As you wish" and all the talk about the most perfect kiss ever aside, there's not really anything to the relationship between Westley and Buttercup. She's dismissive of him, then when they're reunited he's kind of a jerk to her. I never really figured out why he'd even be interested in her, since she's kind of useless. The book even hints that their "happily ever after" may not be that happy.

Then there's Han and Leia from the Star Wars movies, and again, there are some good lines, but I don't really get a sense of what their relationship is. They snark at each other, then snark at each other with a dose of sexual tension, then confess their feelings in a snarky way, then snark a little more. I'm never sure what it is they actually like about each other or why they want to be together.

So now I'm trying to think of what I do consider romantic. I think near the top would be Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese in The Terminator. He traveled through time for her! Okay, so they only actually spent a couple of days together before he died, but he'd loved her from afar (way afar) up to that point, and then she loved the memory of him after that point, and when they were together, they seemed to have a real connection. They got each other on a fundamental level, and knowing him changed her life and helped her achieve her true potential. (And I think this story is why I loved the latest season of Haven, because it gives us that kind of relationship, but with her getting to come forward in time and be with him in his time.)

There's Amy and Rory in Doctor Who, whose relationship is initially put under stress by the arrival of the Doctor, but who then manage to grow together, in spite of him being killed and erased from existence. Her memories and love for him are strong enough to bring him back. He waited two thousand years to protect her, and she willingly got trapped back in time so she could stay with him and they could grow old together.

Stardust makes me romantically swoony, in general, both book and movie. Yeah, it's sort of a standard romance novel relationship, in which they start out sniping at each other, but I think it does a really good job of showing how their relationship evolves into love as they have to work and travel together and as he learns how different their relationship is from the shallow crush he had on the girl back home.

It's not technically romance, but I love the way the relationship between Ripley and Hicks develops in Aliens, the way the two of them recognize each other's competence and quietly trust each other in a terrible situation. This is the main reason the remaining movies Do Not Exist for me. In my head, the two of them got together and adopted Newt.

This one is going to seem unusual and unlikely for me, but I rather liked the odd relationship that developed between Wesley and Lilah on Angel, where they started as enemies, then both were surprised when they realized they'd developed real feelings. I'm still angry that they dropped this because they kept pushing his weird thing for Fred, the most Mary Sue character who ever Mary Sued (down to the cutesy nickname, short for Winifred). Though I then did like the relationship that developed between him and Illyria when Fred was killed and taken over by the hell goddess, who found herself developing an odd soft spot for this guy. I've got entire rants about some of the plot flaws in this series that I otherwise loved. I guess I like the idea of the nice guy meeting the bad girl while taking a turn on the dark side, and ending up coming close to redeeming her.

For the slightly older folks who haven't given up on finding love eventually, Sam Vimes and Lady Sybil in the Discworld books have such a wonderful relationship. They're an unlikely couple that works. They're from totally different walks of life, but they have similar values and strengths. She's so delightfully unflappable and one of the best cop spouses in fiction -- this is one lady who's never going to pout if her husband has to miss dinner because he needs to catch a murderer. She'll just lend him a portable dragon and send dinner to the police station for him.

I don't really have Valentine's Day plans. I'm still recovering from cold #2, so I imagine I'll spend the evening on the sofa, watching TV. I do have something to celebrate, but the celebration may be slightly deferred. I have some chocolates that the children's music director gave me, so I did get something this year. Right now, though, I'm still stuffy enough that I can't properly appreciate chocolate.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Our Changing World

I can almost breathe this morning. It's very exciting. I'm so very sick of being sick. Back-to-back colds with just a few healthy days in between is no fun. The worst thing was that Television Without Pity was down for the past couple of days -- on days when I didn't have any serious work to do and didn't feel like doing much of anything. They need to go down again on some day when I need to be productive.

The other morning as I was lying in bed, sort of awake but still coming out from under the effects of cold medicine, I found myself thinking. We used to talk about how much the world changed during my grandfather's lifetime -- he was born in the late 1800s and died in the early 1990s, so in his childhood, horse and buggy was still the primary means of transportation, but before he died, men had walked on the moon and voyages into space had become routine. And then it struck me how much the world has changed just during my adulthood. During my office clean-out project, I was purging old files, which included things I'd clipped and saved from my first job out of college. Most of that got trashed because it's all information that's readily available online, but I'd saved it at the time because that was how you saved information then.

Just during my adulthood, communication has changed entirely. Then, only the very rich might have a car phone. The day I moved into this house, I had to run to the fast food place on the corner to use a pay phone when the movers didn't show up and I'd already transferred the phone service to the new place. Now even children have smart phones that are essentially pocket computers. We have access to any information we need, at any time, from a device that fits in our pockets. When I left college, the Internet was something only the serious geeks at academic or government institutions were into. Now it's just part of the fabric of daily life. It's how we communicate with our friends, look up information, do business, pay bills and buy stuff.

And then I started thinking of how buying books has changed. When I was in college and for a few years afterward, just about every mall had a Waldenbooks or a B. Dalton. They were small stores without a great selection -- the science fiction section was probably about the size of my science fiction section at home -- but they did get in most of the new releases, and they might have a copy of each earlier book in a series when the new one came out. For more depth, there were a few Bookstops in the area -- a no-frills forerunner of the superstore. We also had a local independent chain, but I seldom shopped there because they weren't big on genre fiction and were openly snooty if you bought something they didn't approve of. If there was a book I was suddenly possessed of an urgent desire for, it could require a journey around town to search for it. I'd hit the Bookstops first because they usually had a bigger selection, they were 10 percent off the cover price, and if you had their card you got an even bigger discount. Then I'd hit the mall stores and finally the local chain, steeling myself for the insults at the checkout. There were a few other mom-and-pop bookstores that sold mostly used books but that would have new releases of mostly romances at the front of the store.

They opened the first Barnes & Noble in our area in the early 90s. I remember being in awe when I went to an event at one with some writer friends. They had a restaurant in a bookstore! It was amazing. I felt so very sophisticated having writerly discussions with my writer friends as we sipped cappuccino in a bookstore (it was my first cappuccino, and I was somewhat disappointed to find that I didn't like it, but that shouldn't have been a surprise because I don't like coffee). There were writers who had all kinds of doom-and-gloom predictions about superstores, though I never entirely understood them because they had much more depth than the mall stores. As more of those stores opened and as the Borders also moved into town, the Bookstops were closed, as were all the mall stores. The local chain went under. But it did become easier to find any particular book I was dying to get my hands on, especially when they opened a B&N just down the street. For a while, the bookstore was the center of my social life. I was in book groups there, and that was where I'd meet up with friends.

Somewhere along the way, Amazon showed up, and suddenly it was easy to get any book. It took me a long time to get on board because I liked the process of going to a store and buying the book right then instead of waiting for it to be delivered. But then the chains started getting weird about what they ordered, so they were less likely to have the books I wanted, and then they started closing the chain stores. They closed my nearest Borders, then the whole chain went under, and now they've closed my neighborhood B&N. Meanwhile, e-readers and e-books have taken off like crazy. I haven't jumped on board as a reader yet, but it's definitely changed the way books are sold. With a reader, you can get that instant gratification without driving all over town to find that one particular book.

And that's how the world's changed in the past 20 years -- from lots of places to buy books to just a few, but with the ability to get any book delivered to your home in just a few days or delivered instantly to a device. That also means that there are more options for authors -- for good or for bad. There are ways to get your book in the hands of readers without going through a publisher, but that also means the supply of books is less curated. That means a lot more choices that aren't so strictly defined by mass tastes, but it also means quality control can be iffy.

I trashed a lot of publishing industry and writing advice stuff I'd filed because it's no longer relevant.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book Report: Odd Books

I still have a stuffy head, and it's driving me insane. I feel like my head's been filled with cement and then encased in a cement block. Spicy food seems to open my sinuses temporarily, but even decongestants aren't helping much. It makes it hard to think.

But I have been able to read, and I'm halfway through the final book in my huge stack of books I was reading for award nomination consideration.

One recent read was Terry Pratchett's venture into science fiction, along with co-author Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth. A diagram for a device involving circuits, a potato and a switch is posted to the Internet. When people make the device, they find that it sends them to an alternate earth. This discovery leads them to realize that there's an infinite chain of other earths that can be "stepped" to using this device. The book explores some of the impact this discovery has on society -- the people who go "homestead" on remote earths, the emptying of inner cities into these other places as people with nothing for them here seek their fortunes elsewhere, the economic impact as gold is found in the same places on the other earths. It also gets into a travelogue as a young man who seems to be a natural "stepper" who can go between worlds without the device and without any ill effects is chosen by a sentient artificial intelligence (that may possibly be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle mechanic who found his next existence in a computer's biomemetic gel) for a mission to travel through as many other earths as possible, sort of a Lewis and Clark expedition.

As you can tell, this is an odd book. It's short, but it took me a long time to read, probably because it's rather episodic. It's a series of incidents with no real narrative drive until near the end, which is apparently setting up a sequel. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because each of the incidents is interesting and there's some really intriguing extrapolation going on about what would happen with this kind of knowledge. It's just that without any real aim there's nothing making it imperative to turn the pages. I could read an incident or two before going to bed and then put the book down and turn out the light instead of feeling compelled to keep reading.

Then there was The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett, which was another odd book. A teenaged boy in the early years of the 20th century gets a job as a pianist at a vaudeville theater because he's trying to track down one particular troupe. He believes that the leader of the troupe is the father he never knew. But there's something odd about this troupe: no one who's seen their act seems to be able to actually remember it. When he does catch up with them, he finds out why and that by meeting up with them, he's put himself in terrible danger. This one was a real page-turner, though I did figure out one of the secrets/mysteries fairly early on. It gets really out-there in places, but it was a fascinating read. If you haven't figured out one of the mysteries early on, it would be one of those books that's different when you read it again with the knowledge you get at the end. I would say that there's a dreamlike quality to the book that almost makes you wonder if the last third of it was really what you read or the nightmare you had when you had to put the book down and go to sleep without finishing it. If you liked the HBO series Carnivale, I would say to give this a try. It's different eras and topics, but there's something that strikes me as similar in feel.

Now I have to finish the book I'm reading now, and then I may take a break and read something totally outside the genre, maybe something from the To Be Read shelf.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rearranging the Office

I got the office mostly rearranged over the weekend. Now comes the real organizing, which is going to take more time. I have an L-shaped desk and already had a filing cabinet at one end. I moved the second filing cabinet to the other end, so I can reach both of them while sitting in my desk chair. I moved the two bookcases behind my desk, one to where the filing cabinet used to be in front of my desk and the other to the opposite wall where I had a cart/shelf thing. The cart got moved behind my desk to hold mailing and filing supplies and will also eventually be my incoming mail center. All this means that the area behind my desk where I sit feels a lot more open. I got most of the books reshelved, as well, moving the books I tend to refer to into my office. One of the bookcases is deep enough to get multiple layers of books, so I got most of the to-be-read books off the bookcases in the loft, where they'd been stacked haphazardly. There was also some purging of the shelves, and I may need to do another round of that. I was just getting the TBR books off the shelves so I could get other books shelved, so there was no evaluation as to whether I'd ever want to read any of those books. I think I need to do an honest assessment there.

Now comes the hard part. For one thing, I need to drop a lot of books off at the library for their book sale. Most of the books I'm getting rid of, I'd barely get anything for them at a used bookstore, but if they can help the library, I get more benefit. For another, now that I've rearranged things, I need to start putting together a system and putting things away. This is the point when I tend to lose interest in a project, but I can't stop now because the stuff from the office is spread over the rest of the house. The area around my desk is currently the neatest, most organized part of the house.

Unfortunately, all that furniture moving and book rearranging stirred up some serious dust, which kicked in the allergies. Or else I've got another cold or a continuation of the last cold. At any rate, I'm all stuffed up and sniffly. I gave myself yesterday off from the organizing and just took allergy medicine and lay around all day. I may try to set up the filing system today, if I can focus, since that shouldn't be too dusty. I got most of one filing cabinet purged of "why am I keeping this?" stuff over the weekend. The other cabinet may be rather more challenging. I'm afraid if I don't do any work on it today, I'll lose momentum, but I'm not sure I'm making my best decisions while on allergy medicine. I can just imagine trying to find things later in a filing system devised while on Benadryl.

So I think today there may be some purging of files but mostly some reading and resting while I try to breathe.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Tempests and Past Lives

While going on about my office organizing project, I totally forgot to share my latest adventure with the kindergarteners. I'd found a book on rhythm stick activities in the supply closet in the choir room, and they had a couple of things I thought would be fun to try. One was to use the sticks to make a rainstorm, starting slowly and softly, building up to the storm, then tapering off. The other was to play along with the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, with the big, loud opener that goes into softer strings. Then I discovered that my CD of that also has the Sixth, the Pastoral, which has a "Tempest" movement where the music sounds like a storm. These kids love to dance, and whenever I put on music, they just dance around the room like crazy. I can barely get them to learn to sing the songs, they're so busy dancing. So I thought we could make our own thunderstorm, then listen and dance along with the thunderstorm music -- if you can't beat-'em, join 'em.

So, what did they do when I put on the thunderstorm music for them to dance to? They decided they were small animals, so they hid in the corner during the storm to stay out of the rain. They did do a really good impression of squirrels, I must say, so they weren't just cowering in the corner. They were doing it in character. Then one of them became a hawk and started attacking the squirrels. The other squirrels became hawks, too, and aerial combat ensued that the adults had to break up. Mind you, these are all girls. The lone boy was too busy fighting demons from the underworld.

Next week, the man in the church who collects flutes is bringing his collection for them to learn about. I think I have some early music recordings that use flutes and recorders, so maybe we can dance to that.

Now, back to Project Office. In addition to the organizing book, I've been reading another one by the same author, called something like Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life that's about the psychological aspect of it. It's not so much about organizing as it is about the things we hold onto that may once have been useful or valuable but that no longer are because you're in a different place in your life, and holding onto those things may be keeping you from really heading into the next phase in your life. I've been thinking about that as I empty the bookcases around my desk in preparation for moving them because it's possible that part of my book collection could fall into this category. Not only were they not books I needed to have easy access to behind my desk, but I'm not sure they're books I really need at all.

The shelf behind my desk is essentially my collection of autographed books and books by authors I know. At least, that's how it started. It ended up being mostly a romance collection, as the autographed science fiction and fantasy novels are in the regular f/sf shelf in the loft/library. When I set up this office, I was writing romance and chick lit (or trying to) and hadn't really admitted to myself that I didn't like it and that what I really wanted to write was fantasy. So, having the books by the romance and chick lit authors I knew surrounding me seemed like a good idea for inspiration. Those books were "work." Now I look at those books and have mixed feelings. There are a few I really liked that I might read again. There are some I never read -- I used to go to booksignings for authors I knew, just to support them, and I always tried to buy at least the first book by any friend. A few of those people were mentors, of a sort, so seeing their books reminds me of being supported and encouraged. Most of them, though, never returned the favor when I had a signing and aren't in my life anymore. Some of the books do have sentimental attachment in and of themselves, like the copy of Shanna autographed by Kathleen Woodiwiss to "the real Shanna." I think I need to go through this collection and keep the books that really do inspire me and the ones by the people who really meant something to me. The rest, I can slice out the page with the autograph if it's personalized (because you never know where it may end up -- they'll never see that I don't have their books on my shelves, but they may find a book that's been donated) and donate to the library book sale. I don't know that these books are in any way holding me back emotionally, though I suppose they may be a subconscious reminder of a failure or of trying to be something I'm not, but it can only help to surround myself with things that really do inspire me where I am now instead of things that don't really matter to me.

Now I have to decide how to reallocate my book space. Do I incorporate the keepers into the regular shelves? If I do, something else will have to move into the office shelves. I don't want that to be the fantasy collection because I do more actual writing in the loft next to those shelves. Maybe it should be some of the non-fiction that I might use as reference material. I also need to do a purge of the To-Be-Read pile and admit that I will never read many of those conference giveaway books. That will clear a lot of bookcase space.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Project Clean Office

I've made huge progress with my office organizing project. Most of the ideas in the book I mentioned weren't exactly rocket science, and I'm sure I've heard some of them before (I think I've seen the author on Oprah), but sometimes it takes reading something at just the right time when you're ready to hear it.

So far, the top of my desk is clear, as is the area under/around/behind the desk. I think my next step will be to get out the tape measure and the graph paper and reconfigure my office. When I made this room my office more than ten years ago, I just put the furniture where it seemed to fit, then put the stuff in the shelves, etc. I've realized that this layout is very inefficient. I have to get up and go around the desk to get to the color printer. The bookshelves behind my desk are full of novels that I have no need to refer to while I'm working. Mailing and printing supplies are scattered in a couple of different locations. One file cabinet is difficult to get things in and out of because there's a bookcase too close to it, and the other is on the other side of my desk, where I don't even use it, which means the one close to my desk is overstuffed. So I need to think my way through some new layout possibilities.

The big lightbulb moment for me was realizing that decluttering and organizing are two different things. Decluttering may be part of organizing, but if you don't organize when you declutter, you'll only have clutter build up all over again. That's what happened last year when I had made some progress with decluttering, but all I was doing was going through a space and throwing out what I no longer needed, then putting the remaining stuff right back. That meant I still didn't have a proper home that made sense for everything. To stay decluttered, you have to figure out a logical home for everything so that it's easy to put things away.

One thing that's helping with this process is the idea of sorting before coming up with a system. Before, I'd create a system, then get paralyzed when I came across something that didn't fit, and I'd just cram it somewhere, and then I'd never find it again. This way, sticking Post-its on file folders as temporary labels means I can create a system that fits the stuff I have. It also helps that I don't have to purge as I sort. If it's obvious to get rid of something at this stage, I can, but if there's any doubt, I can sort it and then put more thought into it when it's time to put it away.

The other huge revelation for me is that the advice to only handle any item or piece of paper one time is not set in stone. I think that's been my biggest problem over time. It may work for some people and some things, but if you're a perfectionist or someone who likes to mull over things before acting, it will just paralyze you. If you can't deal with it perfectly the first time you touch a piece of paper, you'll put off that first time, and then you'll end up with a pile of stuff to deal with in that vague time in the future when you're up to dealing with it, and then that becomes overwhelming. But it's okay to look at something and then put it aside to deal with later, as long as you have a system in place so you won't lose it and so you'll deal with it in time.

The one downside of this project is that it's stirred up an epic cloud of dust, which isn't helping my allergies. I may need to get a mask. But once I get things really cleared out, a good vacuuming will probably help matters, and it should be easier to keep things clean. Now to measure my space and the furniture and play with arrangements. I'm ridiculously excited about this. I'd eventually like to really redecorate my office, but that will have to wait until I have the money for new flooring, new paint (and the ceiling height means professionals to do the painting) and new furniture.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Finding Critique Partners

I've got another writing-related reader question this week: How do you find outside readers?

Whether or not you have outside readers, like a beta reader, critique partner or critique group, is an individual decision. Some people work better with someone else to bounce things off of while others work better alone.

There are different levels of partnership. I know of writers who get together to brainstorm plots but who then work independently. I know of writers who send each other each chapter as they go. There are those who just want a critique or review after the book is done, and they may want either big-picture notes or a detailed edit. It may be a reciprocal arrangement, in which you review each other's work, or it may be one-way if the other person isn't a writer.

Why would you want a reader? Sometimes it helps to get an outside opinion. You know all the stuff that goes behind your story, which makes it hard to tell if you've explained it well enough for someone who doesn't have all that information to understand it. An outside eye may help you find plot holes or inconsistencies. It's easy to get into the habit of reading what you think should be there rather than what's really on the page, and spotting deviations may require someone who doesn't know what should be there.

When you look for an outside reader, you're not looking for validation. It doesn't do you any good if they just tell you how awesome you are. If you need that, send it to your mom or someone else who isn't critical of you. What you need is someone who can spot the flaws before you send your work to someone who matters, like an agent or editor. You need someone who knows something about the genre you're writing in, who has experience either as a writer or as a reader. If you're developing a partnership where you also read that person's work, make sure it's a genre you enjoy reading and know something about, and make sure you like that person's work, in general.

Finding a trusted partner can be a real trick (and that's the main reason I don't have a regular critique partner). You may find critiquers in writing forums or organizations. Some writing groups provide matches or critique services. If you go to a workshop or conference, look for the person who asks the good questions or the questions you'd have asked. I know of published authors who've enlisted those readers who e-mail them with detailed critiques of their published books -- if they can spot the problems after the book is published, why not let them look at the books before they're published?

To make it work, you need to be able to trust your critique partner -- not just their opinion about your work, but not to spread it to others or post it online (that has happened). I've heard authors say it's like a marriage, so it's worth it to take some time to find the right fit.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Getting Organized (again)

I haven't made it quite back to 100 percent, but just having the mental fog lifted has been wonderful. I was able to read non-fiction books yesterday and get information out of them, which I wasn't able to do last week.

As a result, I may be ready to make yet another stab at an organization project. I had a few lightbulb moments while reading, and I think I've uncovered some of my organizational issues. One is that I'm more of a perfectionist than I realize. If I can't do something perfectly, I put off doing it at all. Another problem, which ties back to the first one, is that I don't really have a good "home" for everything -- which is because I haven't found the "perfect" system. And I can't start organizing without a system.

The book I was reading, Organizing From the Inside Out, by Julie Morgenstern, suggests figuring out your system as you organize instead of starting with a system and trying to make everything fit. Tackle one area and sort absolutely everything in it into categories. The categories you end up with will help you create a system that makes sense for putting things away -- and you put things away based on why you'd need to find it again. Her other big idea is to think about a kindergarten classroom, where things tend to be put into activity centers, with all the stuff you need for that activity in the center, and then bins, boxes and other clearly labeled storage for everything, so that it's not only easy to put everything away, it's also kind of fun. Thinking in those terms indicated that my office is set up all wrong. There are too many tasks that require getting up and going around the desk or where the storage for an item on the desk isn't in easy reach of the desk. I'll have to get out the tape measure and graph paper and see if I can come up with another set-up that makes more sense.

I should probably take some "before" pictures and chart my progress.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Wake Me When It's Monday

I don't really have anything to say about the weekend because I slept through most of it. After fighting for about an hour to stay awake on Friday night, I ended up going to bed at 8:30. Then I slept until 8:30 the next morning and finally dragged myself out of bed at 9. I managed to stay awake but was foggy for the rest of the day. There was a baby shower for a friend in choir I went to, then I got home, made it for a few hours lying on the couch in a fog and was in bed by 9:30. I had to get up early Sunday because I had to sing for both services and forced myself to stay awake all afternoon, even though I could have used a nap, then had the lights off by ten.

On the up side, I think I finally feel human again. Almost all the cold symptoms are gone, and I'm a lot less foggy than I was. I'm optimistically hoping that one more night of good sleep and I'll wake up feeling normal again. Having energy would be lovely because my house is a disaster.

My big fun for the weekend was freaking out one of my teenager friends from the choir trip by letting her know I'm older than her parents. She couldn't seem to wrap her mind around that. She's going to the same university I went to and was home for the weekend. I said something about what it was like "back in the dark ages" when I went there, and she said it wasn't that long ago. I told her when I graduated, and she realized her parents were there at the same time I was, just one year behind me. I should have told her to check her parents' yearbooks. On second thought, no one needs to see those pictures. It would scar her for life. Or else make her realize that things can only get better.

This is going to be kind of a nervewracking week and I have lots of petty little business type things to deal with (plus a dentist appointment). I tend to procrastinate the petty little business stuff, which only makes it worse when I do have to do it. I've checked some books on time management and organization out of the library to see if I can come up with some ideas to add to my process.

And now, on with Monday!

Friday, February 01, 2013

More Cold Reading

I never did get my nap yesterday, but I made up for it by sleeping ridiculously late this morning. I resorted to the prescription cough syrup to get a good night's sleep, and it did stop the coughing. But that meant it took a really long time to get going this morning. Fortunately, I've taken care of my key business for the morning. I just need to restock on tea. Well, one kind of tea. I have plenty of other tea. Plus, I have a new tea cozy. I needed to think, so I did some knitting. I don't knit well -- just squares or rectangles. I've made a few scarves, I made a cozy for my phone (and it worked, too. Once my purse tipped over and spilled everything onto the pavement, and my phone came through unscathed), and now I've made a cozy for my second teapot that I use for flavored teas. My thermos keeps my regular tea hot, but I don't want to put flavored teas into it, and my secondary teapot is smaller, so I just need to keep the second cup warm. I'm looking forward to putting the cozy to the test. And I may put off the tea run to next week when it's warmer. I think I can survive on what I have.

One good thing about this nasty cold (the final, annoying stages are lingering, when I'm not really sick but not 100 percent) is that it's given me time to read, since I don't much feel like doing anything else. I've made it through my first huge stack from the library with The Rook by Daniel O'Malley. I'll be getting the paperback of this one to keep because it needs to be re-read. It's one of those books that will change once you know what's really going on. Plus, it's a lot like Terry Pratchett's books, where you need to read them at least twice, once to get the story and then more times to catch all the jokes woven into the narration.

I'd describe this one as The X-Men meets Men in Black meets The Bourne Identity, with a dash of Haven, as written by Terry Pratchett after a Lovecraft binge. It's about a woman who opens her eyes to find herself in a field, surrounded by dead bodies, with no idea who she is or how she got there. She finds a letter in her pocket telling her that if she's reading this, then she's been erased. It tells her who she is, that there's someone out to get her, and gives her instructions for what to do next. It turns out that she's a high-ranking bureaucrat in a secret organization of people with supernatural abilities who deal with supernatural events. She discovered a traitor in their midst, which got her memory erased. But she had warning of what would happen to her, so she dealt with her impending fate by documenting everything and leaving all the information she could for her future self to follow. Now this woman who has no memory of this has to step into her shoes and try to pretend to be herself to track down the traitor, since her former self had only figured out the fact of a traitor and what he/she was doing, but didn't learn the identity until just before being erased. The story goes back and forth between the present day and her past self's letters to her future self, documenting things that are happening to her and saying what she really thinks about the people in her life. One thing her enemies didn't count on is that her past self was apparently really timid and uncomfortable with using her powers, but once all her emotional baggage from childhood is removed in the memory wipe, they're dealing with someone else entirely.

This is a real page-turner. I put off a number of TV shows, deciding to watch OnDemand later because I wanted to finish reading this book. It's delightfully quirky, a little gross (I did mention Lovecraft), and laugh-out-loud funny in places, but it's also surprisingly poignant when it really brings home what it would be like to know that you may not physically die but that you will soon cease to exist. I suspect it will be even funnier on a re-read because, as I mentioned, most of the jokes are just woven into the narrative as a turn of phrase or a way of describing someone or something. And there's a big dose of British whimsy (though the author is Australian).

This is the kind of thing I was hoping for more of when they first started talking about "urban fantasy" in publishing. It's got that real world vs. magical world clash, all while dealing with supernatural stuff in a familiar bureaucratic setting. It's a bit more violent than my books, but I think it might appeal to fans of my series who like that magical workplace stuff.