Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Pedantic Outbursts

First, a television reminder: Grimm moves to Tuesdays starting tonight, through the end of the season. I don't know if it will be permanent for next season (now that it's been officially renewed!). I think this has more to do with not wanting to waste a really valuable timeslot after another program in that slot tanked. I prefer it on Fridays, since I'm out on Tuesdays, and I really like my paranormal procedural block in the fall.

I finished reviewing copy edits, and now I'm on to one last proofreading pass, to make sure it still makes sense after I've made changes from the copy edits. There's a certain mindset to copy editors that's very precise and a little pedantic, so after a few days spent looking at an editor's comments, I find that mindset taking over my brain to the point that I find it hard to read.

In particular, two commonly used phrases are now suddenly really bugging me. I imagine they make copy editors' heads explode, but they keep ending up in books.

The first is "he/she turned on his heel and left" (or something along those lines). For some reason, that one really got to me all of a sudden, so I had to get up and turn around a few times to see how it works. I pretty much never turn on my heel. I turn on the ball of my foot. That could have something to do with my dance training or from marching band. I did finally find a way that I might turn on my heel. If I'm walking forward and then suddenly change my mind in mid-stride, I might use the heel on the front leg as it comes down as a kind of brake, and then turn, though the pivot is still on the ball of the foot.

At any rate, it's mostly only of those phrases that gets used more out of laziness and habit than anything else because you can generally get away with just saying "turned." Or maybe "turned abruptly." Or you could get more descriptive with "snapped about" or "pivoted" or "whirled."

Then there's another one that's used so often that people don't even think about it. I've probably used it a few times, and now that I've started thinking about it, it drives me mad. That's "warm blanket," as in "she wrapped him gently in a warm blanket."

Think about this for a moment. The default position of a blanket is "warm." There are cooling blankets used in hospitals to bring down fevers and then there are security "blankies" that are about comfort, but more often than not, the reason to use a blanket is for warmth, so it's generally unnecessary and redundant to say that a blanket is warm.

It's not even accurate. Unless it's an electric blanket or one of those hospital warming blankets used to treat hypothermia, or unless the blanket is right out of the dryer, the blanket itself isn't warm. It warms you by blocking any cold outside air from reaching you while it traps your body heat against your body.

So, it would seem that you could just say "blanket" except in the rare cases when the blanket isn't for warmth, which you would specify, or in the cases when it's important to note that the blanket itself is warm. Like if you're treating someone with hypothermia. If they don't have body heat, a regular blanket isn't going to help much, so you'd use a warmed blanket.

And that's our pedantic outburst for this round of copy edits. Who knows what will strike me on the next book. Oddly, neither of these things were an issue in the book that's just been edited. They were just things that struck me in other books while I was in that mindset.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Dies Irae!

I survived my crazy weekend, more or less. I don't have much in the way of a voice at the moment and I'm a little sore (I guess I was standing very stiffly), and I have the Requiem running through my head more now than I did before we performed it, including mental images of the score, complete with my notes on it. I'm looking forward to a day of not leaving the house, not interacting with people (except online, maybe) and being quiet. Still, it was a good weekend. I love singing big choral works and I love classical music, and it's fun to every so often get to pretend I'm performing in a real classical concert.

In fact, I have so much fun that it's probably a good thing I was positioned so the audience couldn't see me because I kept grinning, and that's not really appropriate for a Requiem. My favorite movement is the Dies Irae, and it's so much fun to sing that I can't help but light up. So we're singing about the day of wrath, the day of anger when the world will dissolve in ashes, and I'm going "Wheeeeee!" with sheer glee.

I need to find something else to listen to so I can get it out of my head, though. I dreamed it last night, and it's running through my head even now.

I have to finish reviewing copy edits today, then I may take a bit of a break before doing a final proofreading pass, since I'd likely proofread in Latin today anyway. ("Dies irae! Dies illa!") Then I have all of last night's PBS to catch up on. Once I get this book completely off my plate, I can work on my workshop for this weekend and then get back to developing a new book.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mozart on the Brain

I now have the Requiem totally stuck in my brain. I find myself wanting to speak Latin, though the only Latin I know is the kind of church Latin in works like this. Strangely, I can translate it pretty well in spite of never having studied Latin. I know what I'm singing without having an English translation handy. I have a little practicing to do before tomorrow's final rehearsal because there were a few tricky spots, and since we'll have assigned seats I may not be able to use last night's strategy of sitting among the college kids who've been schooled in this piece. I do hope that the director remembers from when I was in his choir that I'm the oddball who likes to sit on the edge of a section. If you're taking cues from other people in the section, you'll be a split second late, but in a complex piece like this where everyone is singing something different, if you listen to another part you can anticipate your cue more easily. He rearranged things to put the men in the middle last night, so I ended up sitting next to a bass, and that suddenly made everything so much easier for me. It had been weird sitting totally surrounded by sopranos since in my choir I usually sit next to an alto.

Though it was a little disconcerting that the bass was a skinny little college kid not much taller than I am, and yet he had this really deep voice. The first time he sang, I had to do a double take to confirm that the voice I heard really was coming from him.

Now to go tackle today's to-do list of insanity while Mozart runs through my brain. I'm about halfway through the copy edits, and they're mostly light, though the typo fairy seems to have visited my manuscript because the editor caught two, and I almost never have typos because I'm an obsessive proofreader. The English version will be slightly different from the Japanese version that I've already turned in because the copyeditor is a fan of the books and asks fangirl questions in addition to proofreading, and those questions sometimes result in tweaks.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Critical Discussion

The next few days are going to be really crazy for me. I have copy edits to review for book 7, a Requiem rehearsal tonight, a party tomorrow night, a Requiem rehearsal Saturday morning, a totally different choir concert Saturday night that I'd thought about not doing (it's not mandatory), but there were only three sopranos and we were all seconds so they needed someone who could sing first, then normal church stuff Sunday morning and then the Requiem performance Sunday night. Since most of this music is pretty challenging (and high) I should probably stay as quiet as possible when I'm not singing. At social events, I will be a good listener. Is it bad that I'm kind of hoping we get the forecast rain tomorrow so my former client's outdoor party is delayed to next week (the plan in the invitation)?

I had a fit of nostalgia yesterday for my early days on the Internet, and while I was waiting for a conference call to start (that awkward time when you don't dare step away from your desk in case they call a little early, but they're always a little late), I looked up whatever became of Usenet. That was my introduction to the Internet, and it was like the heavens opened up when I found that there were forums where I could discuss things with people all over the world. Somewhere along the way, I ended up mostly on Television Without Pity, and then there was an ISP change where they didn't say anything about the newsgroup access and I never looked into it. So I looked it up and found that the current ISP no longer offers newsgroup access, and some searching revealed that apparently Usenet has mostly become a big file-sharing thing for people who don't want to torrent, and that's why it seems as though ISPs no longer automatically offer it. It's a separate thing you have to get through some other place. I suspect if that's the case, there's probably not a lot of non-technical discussion going on, the way there used to be before the Internet was multimedia. I was mostly hoping to find an alternative to TWOP because they've had so many technical issues lately and some of my favorite forums have become a spiral of negativity in which a few of the more vocal people only want to criticize something, and they criticize that same thing over and over again and pile up on anyone who dares disagree, and soon the people who don't share that view just drift away because it isn't worth dealing with People Who Are Wrong on the Internet, so then the negativity really increases and becomes just the same few people talking to each other and patting each other on the back about how right they are. Usenet was usually big and chaotic enough that it was hard for that to happen. You could killfile people who annoyed you so that you didn't have to see their posts. And it wasn't so heavily moderated that you couldn't call someone out on being a jerk. That sometimes made things more intense and flame wars erupted, but it also meant it was hard for a small group of people to completely change the tone of a forum. Maybe I should look for individual fan sites for particular shows, but then you get into a lot of non-critical squeeage and then the shipping takes over and ugh. There's got to be a good place to do some reasonably balanced (able to see the pluses and minuses) literary-type analysis of television. I think I mostly want to get away from the "female characters are terrible" attitude (which generally comes from female posters -- I guess women actually on the show are competition for their TV boyfriends?) and the "saintly bad boy/boring if he's good, damned if he ever does one thing wrong good boy" attitude. Not to mention the "they didn't do it the way I wanted, so it sucks and all the fans are mad" routine. I may be dreaming about finding that anywhere on the Internet. Or on earth, because people are people. Maybe I should private message a few of the less obnoxious regulars I like discussing things with and start an e-mail chat loop.

Not that I have time for that sort of thing at the moment. Even after my musical weekend ends, I have a big to-do list. I made a master list for everything in my life yesterday, and it wasn't as overwhelming as I feared, but it was still a lot. I've got to prepare a conference workshop for the following weekend. I have a lot of household stuff to deal with, like painting the bathroom, getting the kitchen plumbing repairs done and getting the living room ceiling fan replaced. I've got a book coming out in May, and that will require some work. And there's the stalled office organization project that means it's currently in worse shape than when I began. On the up side, I only have two more real sessions of children's choir before the sharing program night. That removes a little stress.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Romantic Comedy Tropes

I'm feeling slightly off-kilter today, probably because I had a disorienting night. I fell asleep quickly and slept deeply, then woke up thinking it was morning and I'd slept all night. It wasn't a well-rested and ready to hop out of bed feeling, though, more like a "please don't make me get up yet" feeling. I finally forced myself to peel an eye open and look at the clock, only to find that it was just a couple of hours after I went to sleep. Then it happened again later in the night. I had a hard time convincing myself that it really was morning when I finally woke up in the morning. Maybe I'm dreaming now. But I'd better pull myself together because today is a business-type day when I have to actually interact with other people in a professional manner.

I spent yesterday afternoon doing a kind of brainstorming retreat on the next book. One thing I like to do when starting a book is watch movies or TV shows that remind me in some way of the story -- similar setting, similar storyline, similar mood or theme, characters that remind me of mine, etc. This isn't really to steal or copy ideas but to spur my thinking. I think of it as kind of like looking at a map when planning a route. You may already know how to get where you're going, but when you look at a map, you can see other possibilities. I may play mental games like putting my characters in the story I'm watching and figuring out what they'd do and how they'd react, or I may try putting the characters from the thing I'm watching into my situation and imagining it. Or sometimes it triggers an association chain, where something I'm watching will make me think of something that reminds me of something that triggers an idea. I came up with a biggie yesterday from a combination of association and "what would my character do here?" that I think amps up my story idea considerably. Those "oooooh!" moments are so exciting.

When I was getting ready to write Kiss and Spell, my retreat took on a different purpose because I was going to be deliberately spoofing the romantic comedy genre for a kind of story-within-a-story that happens as the result of a spell. That meant I watched a lot of movies, looking for tropes. Some of those tropes I wanted to truly skewer as a way of pointing out how silly they are. Some I wanted to pay loving homage to. Some I wanted to play with as how they might feel to the people living them if they were taken literally. For instance, so much plot and character development in the worst of these movies seems to happen in montages -- we see bits of moments as set to a pop song that tells us the couple is falling in love. What would it feel like to have your life pass in a montage?

Some of the cliches are fairly recent. For instance, the infamous RomCom Dash, in which a character realizes he or she is really in love with someone and has to make the mad dash across town to tell them Right Now. Sometimes they at least throw in a reason why it has to be done at that moment, like the person is about to leave the country, though in that case I have to wonder what the person at the airport feels when someone who's been giving him/her the brushoff up to that point suddenly arrives to disrupt all the plans. If someone shows up at the airport to try to stop me from going somewhere when I've already bought a ticket, I'm probably not going to be favorably inclined. I think this trope originated with When Harry Met Sally, when Harry is alone on New Year's Eve and remembers the pledge he made the year before that if he and Sally are alone then, they should spend the time together, and then he races to reach her before midnight. The closest I can think of previously to that is in Breakfast at Tiffany's, where she races to find her cat in time. But since When Harry Met Sally, there's been all sorts of crazy driving, barrier leaping and pleading of aid from strangers in order to reach the True Love in time for the big, dramatic declaration of true feelings.

That's another thing that's become a trope, the public declaration of feelings, often in a way that's humiliating. Jennifer Crusie has said that she thinks this trope may have something to do with the fact that marriage no longer really has the same importance in society as it once had, but the public declaration of feelings works in that way because it's a public commitment in front of the community. I'm not a fan of humiliation humor, so I don't like those cringeworthy moments. That's what ruins Notting Hill for me. I'm okay up until the end, but it bothers me that he's the one who has to make a fool of himself in public when their whole story has been about her, as the person with the power in the relationship because of her fame, denying him in public. It seems like for the arc to work, she should have to be the one to make a public statement acknowledging him as the man she loves when previously she's tried to keep their relationship a secret.

One trope that goes way back is the third wheel -- the Mr./Miss Wrong. Generally, the wrong person is the one who's right for who the hero or heroine is trying or pretending to be but who's totally wrong for his/her true self. And most romantic comedies seem to have some element of a character striving to be something that isn't authentic, something they think they ought to be or ought to want but that isn't true to the inner self. The problem is that this trope is used badly, without understanding the reason for it, so you're left with the hero or heroine looking like an idiot for ever thinking this person could be the right one. Maybe they were under a spell … (Hmmmm….)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More Fantasy/Women's Fiction Type Stuff

I had planned to run errands this morning, but the cold front that was supposed to hit in the early afternoon seems to be here now, so it's cool, gray and rainy. That means it's a stay-inside day. I think today may be my "retreat" to brainstorm the next book. There are a few movies I want to watch to set the mood and jump start the creative juices.

After taking more than a week to read A Discovery of Witches, I've gone on kind of a reading binge to finish all my library books before they were due. So, on with the Book Report:

First, my final thoughts on A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. After figuring out that it was essentially yet another rewritten Twilight, I must admit that I had a hard time taking it seriously and was more focused on spotting the Twilight parallels than on reading the book. On the plus side, it fixed a lot of the issues with Twilight, like letting the vampire have done something with his life other than go to high school for nearly a century and giving the heroine some actual abilities and powers. On the minus side, it had a lot of the same pacing issues, with hundreds of pages of hanging out, dating, arguing about whether their relationship was too dangerous and meeting the family in between each little burst of action. It also had some of the same bothersome relationship dynamics, with him being absolutely in control and dictating what she (and everyone else) would do. That's one romantic fantasy I really don't get, but given the success of the Twilight clones, apparently it's a common one. I've read a theory that modern women who feel overwhelmed may long for someone to just step in and take over, but I still don't get that. I'm totally on my own and sometimes get overwhelmed, but what I long for is more along the lines of someone to just call the plumber and get those repairs taken care of so I don't have to deal with it, not someone to dictate how I live my life and control my daily routine. At any rate, there were some interesting concepts and characters in this book, but I think they got rather bogged down in extraneous stuff. I'm curious about what happens next, but not sure I really want to wade through it.

My next read was The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston. I'm guessing by imprint and author blurbs that this falls into the category of historical/women's fiction with paranormal elements -- more paranormal romance for people who don't think they like romance or fantasy. I found the fantasy elements a little frustrating (though I think that was intentional), but I loved the romance. In early 19th century Wales, there's a young woman considered odd by her village -- she hasn't spoken since her father's disappearance when she was a child, and bad things tend to happen to people who are mean to her. Her terminally ill mother is concerned about what will become of her, and the solution comes in a young widower from a town a day's journey away. He needs a wife to keep his position as head drover (they figure that the man responsible for taking the town's livestock to market needs to have a reason to come home) and he finds this girl intriguing. But there's a magical well on his property that a local witch wants, and his new wife is in the way. This silent girl will have to learn to use her odd abilities to protect the husband she's coming to love and the rest of the town. The lovely thing in this book is the slowly evolving relationship between the newlyweds in their marriage of convenience. Neither of them is really ready to be married, so they take their time getting to know each other and discovering the things they have in common. This is made a little more challenging by the fact that she doesn't speak, but they find their own ways of communicating. Like I said, the fantasy side of the plot was frustrating, mostly because the villain was so one-note and obvious, but it's possible that was intentional because part of the problem was that only the heroine could see her for what she was, and she was unable to communicate that to anyone else. The writing style did take a bit of getting used to because the heroine's viewpoint is in first person and her husband's viewpoint is in third person, and the whole thing is present tense. I'm used to reading first-person present because that was common in chick lit, but third-person present is more unusual.

Then there was The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip, which is an absolutely magical little book, the kind of book that weaves a spell of its own. There's a seaside village where a mysterious bell that no one can find rings every evening at sunset. There's also something odd about the local manor house -- every so often, when you open a door, instead of finding another room you may find an enchanted storybook castle in another world. The lady of the manor is dying, and there's some concern about how her flighty socialite heir will deal with the manor. Everything changes when a mysterious scholar comes to town and starts asking questions about both the bell and the manor and when the heir arrives with her entourage. It's hard to say just why I loved this book so much other than that it really does seem to weave a spell that takes you to this place. There's a nice mixture of wonder and dread with the magic. I love the main characters, and there's a fun twist of a character who isn't what you assume (based on every other book ever written). There's also a nice romance that reminds me why I usually get my romance from fantasy rather than from the romance genre. It involves two of the main viewpoint characters, the bookworm young innkeeper who befriends the visiting scholar and the daughter of the prosperous local merchant who'd prefer to spend her days writing stories about the mystery of the bell instead of being courted by the squire's son. There are some fun misunderstandings not between the couple but involving everyone else and their perception of the situation. Anyway, I read this in practically one sitting and was utterly captivated.

I only have one more library book left, so when I return this batch, I'll have to see if I can find more. I'm not sure quite what I'm in the mood for right now. Maybe I'll put some things on my list on hold and read from the to-be-read shelves in the meantime.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Catching Breath

I think today will be all about gearing up to face the next week. It's not really work busy, just activity busy. And then I looked at my calendar and realized that my next few weekends are also busy, and then there's lots of work stuff coming up. So, yeah, feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment, so I may take part of today to catch my breath. After taking the weekend to catch my breath. Apparently, I'm going to need a lot of breath.

It didn't help that there was a major television apocalypse on Sunday night, in a good way. There were four hours of PBS programming -- they're rerunning Larkrise to Candleford, which I didn't see the first time around, at 6, then there's Call the Midwife, then Mr. Selfridge on Masterpiece, and then they started a new series in which some of the Bletchley Park codebreakers use their codebreaking skills to solve mysteries after the war. And then there was Once Upon a Time and Game of Thrones. To make things even more fun, they were really late getting the new Doctor Who up OnDemand, so I didn't get that until Sunday night. I still have PBS recordings to watch tonight. I prioritized viewing based on what was most likely to be discussed on the Internet today. It's going to be even worse next week when I'm out on Sunday night.

I got a full test of my ability to sing a capella on Sunday. I was leading the preschool Sunday school singing, and we didn't have a piano player, so I just picked a note to start with and did it unaccompanied. It's a good thing I have good relative pitch -- I can't do the thing where I can name a note or just perfectly sing a particular note without any guide, but once I have a starting point, I can find all the relative pitches to sing a song without help. I didn't realize that not everyone could do this until recently. It became rather obvious on Sunday morning that even with me as a guide, not everyone could follow along without the piano (or maybe they don't even do it with the piano, but the piano is loud enough to drown it out). And then the choir did an a capella piece, an old Sacred Harp style arrangement that got really complex and that was utterly thrilling to do.

So, for this week, lots and lots of singing, some reading and business stuff. Then collapse next Monday.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Expendable Sopranos

The bad thing about being a soprano in a choir is that you're usually pretty expendable. There are plenty more, and one won't be missed. You're slightly more valuable if you're a true soprano and not just in that section because it usually involves singing the melody or at least the highest note, so it's easy to follow along even if you don't read music. You're even more valuable if you can read music and harmonize enough to sing second soprano. And you're a little more valuable if you can switch-hit between first and second soprano, with the range to hit the high notes but the harmonizing ability to sing second. You're still more valuable if you have the low range to fill in on alto as needed. Which means that I'm about as valuable as you get for a soprano in a choir, since I'm a true soprano who can read music well enough to sing second but who has the range to sing first, and I also have the low range to sing first alto in a pinch. Even so, in most cases and especially in larger choirs, I wouldn't be missed because there are several more like me. That made it really hard for me to drag myself all the way across the metro area at rush hour for a rehearsal last night. I thought during the day that it wouldn't be so bad to just not do this, since I seem to be the only one in my choir who is. With a 200-voice choir, one soprano won't make a difference.

But then when I was listening to the recording yesterday afternoon, I remembered how much I love this music, and when I got to the rehearsal, I really enjoyed myself. The challenge is that most of these groups are rehearsing this in their own choirs, but I'm more or less on my own. There were a few others talking about doing it, but it fell by the wayside, so there's no point in having extra rehearsals. This was the first time I really looked at this music since the last group rehearsal. I'll have to do a little practicing this week, since there are only two more rehearsals before the performance. I have most of it down, but there are some really tricky parts that just require familiarity because they go by too fast to really read the music.

Next week's going to be busy, with my usual dance and choir, a conference call Wednesday, a rehearsal Thursday night, a party Friday night (a former client turned friend), a rehearsal Saturday morning, a concert Saturday night (not the Mozart, something my choir is doing) and the Requiem Sunday night. So this weekend will be devoted to relaxing. I'm going hiking this afternoon, since this may be our last cool day until fall, and then this weekend I'm going to chill out and rest up and maybe practice the Mozart.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Clever Plan

I stayed up way too late last night watching the news out of West, Texas (not to be confused with West Texas -- this is a town, not a region, and to make things more confusing, West, Texas is not in West Texas). I turned on the TV to see the late news so I could get an update on the storms that were supposed to be heading our way, and instead found myself transfixed for a couple of hours by reports of a small town that's been mostly flattened. West is pretty much a mandatory stop on road trips between Dallas and Austin. It's a mostly Czech community, and the roadside gas stations are also kolache bakeries. I think their Dairy Queen is now closed, but it used to have a very Old World style to it, complete with lace curtains. It wasn't until midway through the news coverage that I realized this was probably why the lady in the choir who's a nurse in the major regional burn unit abruptly left the rehearsal. I  bet she got called in as soon as word of the explosion got out.

Appropriately, I will likely be spending much of the day listening to the Mozart Requiem, as it's been a while since I looked at it and there's a rehearsal tonight for the performance next weekend. For those in the North Texas area, the concert will be next Sunday night at 6:30 and proceeds benefit the Genesis Women's Shelter. Here's more info.

Meanwhile, I sent the book off to my agent yesterday, and now it's time to start brainstorming the sequel. I figure if it sells, it'll be nice to have the sequel ready to go, and if it doesn't, I'm planning to self-publish, and then having the sequel ready will be good.

We came up with a clever plan for dealing with the kids in choir, and it seems to have worked. The older kids do rotations among singing, instruments, guitar and art, so we're doing mini rotations and switching the kids between the preschool and kindergarten teachers for activities. The other teachers did handbells last night and we did a craft. Then the children's music director got interested and we did a singing rotation with her. There was so much coming and going that the kids barely had a chance to get crazy. I did have one moment of triumph/vindication, though. There's one girl who's been a bit of a behavior problem all year. She keeps doing things that she knows she's not supposed to do. For instance, there are stacks of chairs along the wall, and the kids are told every week to stay away from them, but she likes to crawl under them. Near the end of class, she was crawling under them, and I told her to stop that and get out. She laughed and stayed there, not knowing that her mother had arrived and was standing beside me. Busted! I resisted the urge to cackle with glee.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Not-So-Dreaded Synopsis

In case you read yesterday's post before I corrected it, the season premiere of Warehouse 13 is April 29, not the 19th. I taught myself to touch type and never got around to learning how to do the numbers, so it inevitably fails when I attempt to touch type numbers. Sorry!

I should have the current book done and off to my agent today. Hooray! I only have about 20 pages to go, and I could have probably done it yesterday, but that's the section with the most intense rewriting and I was starting to zone out and get distracted, so I figured it was better to save the final stretch for today.

Now, for a writing post! When I read blogs on writing and publishing, I've noticed that the standard adjective used when writers talk about the synopsis is "dreaded." There's something about the synopsis that strikes fear and dread into the hearts of many a writer, and this is a problem because the synopsis is one of the main selling tools for your book, and if you write it with a sense of dread, that's bound to come through in the synopsis, so it's not likely to make anyone get very excited about your book. The synopsis is an advertisement for your book. Editors and agents read it to decide if it's worth reading the whole manuscript. Editors may use it to drum up enthusiasm among the editorial committee to encourage them to okay buying the book. Even after a book sells, the synopsis is often what's used by the art department to come up with a cover, the marketing department to position the book and develop the cover text, and the sales department to inform the sales team about the book. No pressure! No wonder we stress over writing this. As I often say, it took me 100,000 words to write the story. And now you want me to tell the story in five pages?

In the submission process, the synopsis helps an editor or agent know if the plot works. The query letter tells whether or not the premise is interesting and the first few pages of the book tell whether the writing is competent and engaging. The synopsis gives a sense of how the story unfolds, if the plot moves logically and leads to a satisfying conclusion. It doesn't need to contain every detail, but it does need to describe the major events and what their consequences are that lead to more events.

To change your mindset about writing a synopsis, think about a time when you read a book, saw a movie or watched a TV show that got you really jazzed, so that you were dying to talk about it with someone, but no one you knew had read or seen it, so in order to explain why you were so excited, you had to find a captive audience and describe the whole thing. Or, if you didn't yet have a captive audience, you may have rehearsed in your head what you'd say when you got a chance to tell someone about it. That's essentially a synopsis. What would you tell your captive audience about this amazing story you'd just read or seen? You'd talk about the main characters and what you found so fascinating. You'd talk about the major steps along the way, and you might highlight a couple of the big scenes. If you weren't worried about spoiling it, you'd describe the big plot twists with great relish.

I'd hope that you're as excited about your own book as you would be about something else you've read or seen, so put yourself in that mindset and recap it that way. I did have something of an advantage in this area because I worked in marketing communications, so my job was writing marketing brochures and sales material, but I think where writing a synopsis really clicked for me was when I had an Internet friend in England before the days when home broadband was a thing and before there were ways to access TV shows online. After each X-Files episode, I'd write a recap for her so she could follow the story without waiting for the series to get to England. I realized that I was essentially writing a synopsis -- I was making sure all the plot developments made sense while highlighting the most cool things about each episode. I tried to keep the same mindset when writing about my own books.

It does become more challenging when you reach the point in your career where you're writing a synopsis for a book you haven't written yet, but then that's a plotting issue, not a synopsis issue. Editors realize that things are bound to change when the book gets written. I find that my proposal synopses tend to be heavy on up-front detail and more vague as I get to the end. On the other hand, you may have a lot more enthusiasm for a book that still exists mostly in the idea phase and that you haven't spent months slogging through, and that should reflect in your synopsis.

So, start thinking "advertisement" instead of "dreaded synopsis" and see if that makes a difference.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I got to put the new blanket to use last night because it was a warm evening, and it did just what I wanted it to do. It was just enough weight to feel covered, but the open mesh kept me from getting hot and allowed the breeze from the ceiling fan to get through. I did have to pull up another blanket sometime during the night when it got cooler, but it's nice to already be getting some payoff for the effort.

Now some TV news. First, Warehouse 13 is coming back April 29, but the season premiere (the resolution of last season's cliffhanger) is currently available online via the SyFy web site and OnDemand (depending on your cable company). I watched that last night, but I may have to rewatch the older episodes they've also put OnDemand because I'd forgotten a lot.

I also watched the series premiere of Defiant, the new SyFy show. I'll definitely watch it again, but I'm not in love with it yet. I've found that the shows I get really into have some character or some question (or some question about a character) that makes me eager to see what happens next, not so much for the plot but because I can see that the mix of character and situation is going to be interesting. A lot of it comes from a sense of surprise. For instance, one of the things that got me intrigued about Firefly when I saw the first episode that was aired ("The Train Job") was the revelation that on this ship full of criminals pulling off heists, the one who was wanted by the Feds was the prim and proper doctor. I remember that sense of "Oh, now this could be interesting." So far, there's none of that in Defiance. I don't dislike it, but there was nothing that had me really curious about how things would work out.

From what I could tell of the backstory, there was an alien invasion by an alliance of races that planned to terraform earth to be a new home for them, but they weren't prepared for earth already being inhabited. There was war, until the soldiers decided not to fight anymore, and now there's a tenuous peace in a weird postapocalyptic landscape. Our Hero is a Mal Reynolds/Han Solo type, a former soldier who's an embittered veteran of a famous battle who's now something of a mercenary/scavenger, and he travels with his adopted alien daughter, a war orphan he took in and raised as his own. They get robbed by a roving gang and then are rescued and taken to the town of Defiance, formerly known as St. Louis, and if you've ever seen any movie or TV series ever, you pretty much know everything that will happen after that.

It has a bit of a Firefly vibe, with the Western tropes in a science fiction situation, and there's a dash or two of Mad Max in there, as well. I find a few of the characters interesting, though not all that intriguing (there's no real mystery to any of them, nothing I'm dying to find out). I'm a little worried about the teen Romeo and Juliet plot because the kiss of death for most of the recent science fiction series (V, Terra Nova, Revolution) has been the annoying teens put front and center. But my main problem with the pilot was that there were no surprises whatsoever. Starting about five minutes into the show, I had outlined pretty much what would happen. A lot of these tropes are right out of famous movies, down to the scenes and even some of the lines. Even the big "shocker" in the episode's tag was a bit of a "well, duh!" Granted, I'm hard to surprise because I know too much about story structure, but it would be nice to have one or two developments that I didn't see coming or that didn't seem so horribly telegraphed. I feel like I can even see how the series is likely to progress, so I hope they throw in a few monkey wrenches along the way to shake things up. Maybe the obvious triangle won't happen or the obvious budding relationship between the currently at-odds younger people won't come about, but I won't hold my breath. Still, it's science fiction on television. There are spaceships and aliens, and so far the teens aren't too prominent, so I'll be watching unless something else gets in the way.

Monday, April 15, 2013

You Sank My Battleship!

I thought that I might have been going on my summer schedule early when I woke up rather early yesterday without my alarm. Since the choir was off this week, that meant I could go to the early service at church, and I'd done some grocery shopping on my way home, had dinner in the crock pot and was reading the newspaper and drinking tea by the time I normally would have been heading to church. But today I was back to my usual waking schedule, so maybe that was a fluke.

Today's major task is dropping my tax return off at the post office (it's done and scanned) and then picking up some tea at the Indian market across from the post office. Then I'm back to reviewing the book that I hope to send to my agent this week.

My big movie viewing of the weekend was Battleship, watched OnDemand on HBO. I didn't want to pay to see it in the theater, but I was curious because it struck me as so very snarkworthy. And oh, but it was. Actually, the action parts weren't too bad (though probably rather implausible). It was the human side of the story that failed miserably, which is ironic because I suspect they included that part to attempt to transcend the action movie. This was one case where the SyFy "mockbuster" may have been a better movie. If they'd made that script with the production values and budget of this one, they might have had something.

I think the real problem was that the screenwriter must have read one of those "how to write a screenplay" books and taken the advice about establishing the hero's motivation and giving us a reason to root for him to heart. That resulted in 45 minutes (I was checking the time) of backstory on this guy that ended up making me really want the aliens to show up and making me cheer for the aliens. And it was all unnecessary. What more do you need for a goal and motivation than an alien invasion? What more reason do we need to cheer for this guy than that he's the one who has to stop the alien invasion? We really don't need to know about his love life, his family, his career issues. We just need to know that something bad is happening and he has to stop it. Instead, we got 45 minutes of seeing what a screw-up he was and how his Academy grad Naval officer brother forced him to join the Navy to get his life together. Then in the biggest mystery of the movie (beyond even where the aliens come from and what they want), five years later he's an officer, and I spent a lot of time dwelling on how that's possible. If you get your butt dragged to the recruiting office because the Navy is a last-ditch effort for making a man out of you, you don't become an officer. Even as an officer, he's still a screw-up and is on the verge of being dishonorably discharged when the attack happens, so it's not a case of an enlisted man being plucked from the ranks after demonstrating leadership ability. If he was Academy or ROTC, he should already be serving. Oh, and he's dating the admiral's daughter but the admiral is wise (and Liam Neeson), so he doesn't approve. And all this makes me so much want him to end up as alien chow because I like every other crew member on his ship more than I like him (there's Landry from Friday Night Lights!).

And, of course, this screw-up ends up in command of the only ship left to fight the alien invaders, thanks to a force-field dome thing and an attack that strikes the bridge of his ship. They'd have had a better movie if they'd cut those first 45 minutes and just gone with the junior officer suddenly being in charge of a massively huge situation that no one is prepared for. Then I'd have cheered for him and wanted him to succeed instead of thinking that they're all better off if someone just frags him and blames the aliens. But no, this is Hollywood thinking that only mavericks can do the kind of creative thinking that saves the day. If you're actually a good officer, you're just toast.

They did do some fun callbacks to the game, like them creating a grid using the tsunami buoys when the radar quits working and using the data from the buoys to estimate where the alien ships are and to aim attacks, or with the alien missiles shaped suspiciously like the pegs from the game boards.

I think the bottom line is that if you're writing an action movie based on a board game, you shouldn't read any screenwriting books. Those books are meant for real movies. Instead, start big and stay there and forget about providing more motivation than "save the world from alien invasion." Because if you're saving the world from alien invasion because maybe that will make the admiral approve of you marrying his daughter, you deserve to be blown up repeatedly by alien missiles shaped like game pieces.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Mama Complex

After posting about that "Mama" situation, I had it happen yet again yesterday in Target. That kid sounded so distressed as she reached her hands in my direction and screamed "Mama!" that I was afraid someone would stop that woman and accuse her of trying to kidnap my child. I thought at first that maybe she was just demanding her mother's attention because there was something in my general direction that she wanted, but I was in the cleaning products aisle, so unless the kid is a budding neat freak, I don't think she was having a Target temper tantrum meltdown about wanting bathroom cleaner.

Meanwhile, there was a sale on yarn at Michael's. This is potentially dangerous. I got some darker blue to make a throw for the living room. I'd wanted a burgundy red, but all they had was more of a clear red that was gorgeous but that wouldn't have quite worked. In my house, when all else fails, go with blue, even though the sofa is green (I couldn't find a blue one, and the idea was that it would go with an Oriental rug that had green, blue and red in it, but I still don't have the rug).

The real exciting news for the day was an announcement from the HOA that they've renegotiated our cable contract, so now we get the HD converter as part of our deal and we get an extended range of channels that includes BBC America. I wasn't getting that other than OnDemand, so now I should theoretically be able to see Doctor Who when it airs. I say theoretically because when I checked after getting the e-mail, I didn't have it, but I've re-set the converter box since then. I'm not sure about getting the HD box because the current TV only has one HDMI input, so I'd have to unplug the cable to watch a Blu Ray. I have plans to get a larger TV, but considering how long it's taking to finalize the book contract, I'm not spending that money until it's in my hot little hands. I'm also concerned about whether the HD converter box would have a coaxial output (or maybe AV) because I do still use my VCR, I don't have a DVR, and this deal doesn't include the converter box with a DVR. So, swapping out converter boxes isn't a high priority at the moment, but is something I may consider when I get the money from this latest book deal.

Now for a day of treasure hunting.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

My First Blanket

I was up way too late last night, but I finished the blanket! I was so close to being done that I just kept going until it was finished. I may have been a bit too tense on the binding off, and I even used a larger needle, but I suspect there was some "I'm almost done!" excitement happening. Here's the result, spread out across the bed:

Now I'm trying to decide what to make next. I suspect I'll get twitchy without something to do while I watch TV. I may make one in a color that coordinates with the living room to use on the sofa in the summer when the fan's necessary to keep the room from being stuffy but when the fan blowing on me can be a bit chilly. The open pattern gives just enough coverage while still allowing air circulation. I suppose this assumes that I get around to replacing the living room ceiling fan this year. I may also make some kind of shawl or wrap for indoor use in overly air conditioned locations. I have this huge pashmina type thing, but it's a bit unwieldy. I need something that's just big enough to throw over my shoulders.

We discovered one solution to the crazy kids last night: we switched kids. The preschool teachers took my kids for a while and I took theirs, and both of us later were talking about how the other kids were so good and well-behaved. I couldn't believe that this was the same group I'd snapped at when they insisted on crawling on the floor and doing everything as though they were animals. The teenager who helps in the other group is in the drum line at school, and he'd brought his practice drums to teach about percussion, so we swapped groups out to let my kids do it, too. I may propose we do something similar for the next few weeks so we don't go insane. The preschoolers are awfully cute. The kids usually call me "Miss Shanna" or "teacher," but one little preschool boy calls me "lady," and not in the "Yo, lady!" sense. He sounds very chivalrous as he looks up at me and sweetly says, "Hi, lady!" I'll have to think of something we can rotate on, but mixing things up seemed to have some kind of magic powers. We just have four classes left, and then the sharing program for the parents. I may survive without harming any small children, but it may be a close call.

Though I did have a mildly creepy/cute moment. When I was getting in my car afterward (the adult choir didn't rehearse last night, so I was leaving at the same time as the kids), a mom was putting a toddler -- I'd guess somewhere between one and two, still very baby-like, but talking -- in the car seat. The baby pointed at me and said, "Mama!" She got very excited and kept repeating it, even though her mother was right next to her. It was like something you'd see in a horror movie, where innocent-looking children suddenly start saying things that turn out to be true even though they couldn't possibly know that. Not that there is any danger whatsoever that I'm actually a mother. But the weird thing is, this happens to me often, where small children who are total strangers will call out to me as "Mama" or "Mommy." For instance, there's a preschool/day care center along the walking path that goes to the library, and the playground is beside the path. More than once, as I've walked by, a child will run to the fence and call out "Mommy!" as I pass and then start crying. In that case, I figure I may bear a slight resemblance to their mothers that makes them think when I approach that their moms are coming to get them. I don't know what set off the kid last night, since she was with her mother while she was rather frantically calling me "Mama." If I were Stephen King, I'd get a book out of this.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Other Side of the Story

We had an equal number of men and women in ballet class last night, which is really rare for an adult class. However, we didn't get to do any pas de deux, because we'd probably kill the poor guys with flying elbows. At least, I would. Not intentionally, but sometimes I struggle with remembering what to do with my arms while I'm worrying about what to do with my legs and my feet.

Now, back to the ongoing romantic comedy discussion as we lead up to the release of book 7, in which I have some fun with romantic comedy tropes in a wacky fantasy way. While I was curled up on the sofa, watching bad movies during my weekend cold, I thought of yet another reason why some of the more recent romantic comedies are failing. There's a failure to consider both sides of the story.

To me, a romance is more satisfying if both characters have a story arc, if there's stuff both of them have to overcome and work on in order to be together. But even if it's just one character who learns A Valuable Lesson, I still need to know why both of them are in this relationship. The formula for a romantic story, whether comedic or dramatic, is pretty simple: you have to have a reason for them to come together in the first place, a reason why he would want to be with her, a reason why she would want to be with him, and something that keeps them from being fully together until the happy ending. The stronger the thing keeping them apart is -- the more hoops they have to jump through and obstacles they have to overcome -- the stronger their reasons for being together should be. Too many of the bad movies in recent years have focused almost exclusively on one person in the relationship (usually the heroine, because these are seen as women's films), without much thought about what's going on with the other person. He exists as a quest object without much say as to whether he really would want her or why he wants her. I think that comes back to the cynicism in the filmmakers who don't think their audiences will notice or care.

For example, there was the Lifetime movie I was watching over the weekend, a sort of Valentine's Day version of A Christmas Carol, in which a bitchy bridezilla with a very mercenary attitude about relationships gets given a tour of her past, present and future Valentine's Days on the eve of her Valentine's Day wedding to a hunky lawyer. In the past, we see their first date, in which he takes her to a jazz club and starts talking about his love of music and how he really wanted to be a musician -- he plays jazz piano -- but he felt pressured by his parents into becoming a lawyer. She sneers at the idea of being a musician, talking about how musicians are total losers who seldom make any real money and never grow up, then switches the conversation to talking about how successful (and rich) he is as a lawyer and what a great car he drives. Of course, the point of the scene is to show the attitude she needs to change, but all I could think of was wondering why he even asked her out on a second date, let alone asked her to marry him. She wasn't hiding what she was or how she felt, so why on earth did he get involved with someone that obnoxious who didn't want to talk about his greatest passion and made it clear she was mostly interested in his paycheck? What did it say about him that he willingly got into a relationship that he planned to make permanent with someone he had to hide an important part of himself from? (We later learned that when he was "working late" he was playing piano with a jazz band and hiding it from her because he knew she wouldn't approve, and he felt he had to quit the band when he got married.) All I could think was that she must have put out on the first date and been absolutely amazing in bed. He certainly never articulated what he was getting out of the relationship that made it worth giving up something he loved. So, yeah, she learned she had to love him for something other than money, and all that, but why did he want to be with her?

This is similar to another bad romantic comedy trope, the triangle where the Miss Wrong is a raging bitch. The general set-up (and, boy, was this popular in chick lit books) was that the heroine is some mousy (Hollywood version, which means totally cute), sweet, loyal person who's in love with the hero, who doesn't seem to notice her that way, even though he really likes her and enjoys being with her. But he's in a relationship with someone else, who's a very high-maintenance bitch who makes his life miserable and is generally awful to everyone, especially the heroine. Some circumstances contrive for him to have to spend enough time with the heroine to fall in love with her, but there's still the bitch to deal with. Think Working Girl. But I always wonder what it says about him that he'd date someone like that and put up with the way she treats him and other people. If he's realized what she's like and has figured out that's not what he wants, why is he so spineless as to not do something about it? I know why writers fall back on this -- if your heroine is essentially the "other woman," then she looks awful if she's getting in the way of a relationship with a good person, so by making the other person look awful, the heroine looks better. But someone can be a decent human being and still be the wrong match. That's just a lot trickier to write, but if it's done well, it can be even more emotional because someone is choosing between two good things rather than the obvious good vs. bad choice.

And then there's my pet peeve: the misunderstanding plot, in which the heroine sees or learns about something the hero has done -- he's seen with another woman, he does something work-related that she doesn't like -- and immediately breaks up with him without discussing it or even being willing to listen to his side of the story. Then when she learns the truth that he was totally innocent, all is forgiven. But the story doesn't consider whether he's okay. Would he want to be with someone so eager to jump to the worst possible conclusion about him? Would it be wise to be in a relationship with someone whose way of dealing with problems is to just walk away without even talking to him or telling him what's wrong?

No matter how happy the ending seems, if this sort of thing is happening, I find myself thinking, "Yeah, that's not gonna last."

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Romance, Fantasy, and Related Topics

I managed to accomplish a couple of things yesterday, but not as much as I wanted to. Then again, reading for market research does count as work, and I was meanwhile playing iTunes roulette to see if any songs sparked ideas for the next book. There were also occasional knitting breaks, though I think the blanket keeps shrinking as I get closer to what should be the end. I've passed the point where the pattern said to end it, but the pattern is for a throw and I want to use it for a blanket that covers my whole body, so since I have the yarn, I'm continuing until it's the right length. So, every time I reach the point in the pattern where I have to decide whether to go on or finish, I take it to the bedroom, lie down and throw it over myself to see how it fits. Every time, I calculate that one more repetition of the pattern should do it, and then the next time I check, it still needs one more. Today, though, I must get down to business. Really. I even feel mildly energized.

But in the past week or so there has been reading. First was something that I got from the library before I went on my current mainstream vs. fantasy market research binge, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl. This one caught my eye on a library display because there was a castle on the cover (I love castles), and then there was a blurb on the cover saying something about how fans of I Capture the Castle would love it. So, I grabbed it. But in my skimming of the cover, I somehow got the impression that it had fantasy elements and was practically drooling in anticipation of something like I Capture the Castle with magic, but when I got around to reading it, I wasn't sure where I got that impression (possibly from a review blurb that used a word like "enchanting") (and you probably know what comes next -- ooh, I'll have to write it, then). Then I found the opening very disconcerting because I was picturing a 1930s setting but everyone was talking like they were in a Jane Austen novel. Finally, someone mentioned a current event and I realized this was set in the Regency period, not in the 1930s, so I had to reboot the brain. I noticed that the paperback cover on Amazon shows a girl in a Regency dress instead of a castle, but even there I'm not sure it would have put me in the right mindset because the skirt is all spread-out, making it look full, and the hairstyle is more 1930s than Regency. I would also say that I Capture the Castle isn't the best comparison. While I enjoyed both books, the only thing they really have in common is living in genteel poverty in a crumbling castle. This book doesn't strike the same fancy for me as I Capture the Castle, where the appeal was the coming-of-age story with the pain of unrequited love and the realization that there was a whole circle of unrequited love, with nobody loving the person who was convenient for them.

However, this turned out to be a very fun Regency romance that was essentially a mash-up of Pride and Prejudice and Emma, with a dash of Cinderella. Our Heroine lives in a crumbling castle with her twice-widowed mother, her baby brother (who is technically the owner of the castle) and her two nasty stepsisters from her mother's second marriage. The only way to save the family home for her brother and future generations is for her to marry someone with enough money to do repairs and upkeep. Fortunately, the old baron has just died and his heir is a handsome young man who brings all his handsome, rich friends to town for lots of parties, balls and hunting trips. Unfortunately, the nasty (and wealthy but not sharing) stepsisters are after the same men and the baron's cousin and closest friend has no manners, is rather geeky, with a compelling urge to see how things work and an alarming tendency to break them when he does so, and he doesn't seem all that keen on his cousin having much to do with Our Heroine. Pride and Prejudice ensues, but she tries to resolve the situation by playing Emma. This was published and shelved as YA, but it's essentially a traditional Regency romance, so it's something to look for if you're a fan of the Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer kind of book and miss the Regency romances like that before it turned into the fat, sexy historical romances in Regency clothes.

Meanwhile, I'm still working my way through A Discovery of Witches, and at the 2/3-3/4 point I have to say that if I were a publisher, I would classify it as upmarket paranormal romance, and to reach the broadest potential audience, I'd shelve it as general fiction. I think it's more romance than fantasy because, so far, the main plot seems to be the developing relationship between the hero and heroine, with the fantasy elements mostly serving as a catalyst for them to meet and get to know each other, and then as a complication and conflict to keep them from living Happily Ever After right now. The fantasy part of the story is mostly treated as a subplot and as something they'll have to resolve in order to get their Happily Ever After. But I think it tends to be more of a romance for people who don't really like romance novels, with the emphasis more on the intellectual and emotional aspects of the relationship than on the sexual side of things (at this point in the book, there's been one "heavy petting" scene, and a lot of the core paranormal romance audience would be disappointed in that). Plus, all the talk about history, science and wine gives it a sophisticated sheen that makes the fantasy and romance more acceptable to the "I don't read that sort of thing" snobs. The fantasy and romance fans who might like this sort of thing are more likely to find it regardless of where it's shelved.

But I may not really be able to take the book seriously enough to get too deeply into it because at about the midway point, I had an epiphany: This is a highbrow Twilight for grown-up history nerds. We've got our heroine who doesn't think she's anything special but who turns out to be the specialist special ever. We've got our sexy and wealthy vampire hero who recognizes her specialness, falls in love with her at first sight, is intoxicated by her unique scent, and is so overcome with desire for her that he has to go hunting and stalk an animal in order to bear to be around her. He stalks her (for her own safety) and loves watching her eat and sleep. He's part of a family clan that he introduces her to, and they become protective of her. There's a lot of "I'm too dangerous for you" "I'm not afraid" "I am a predator, and to me you are prey" "but I trust you" type conversations, and he delays sex even though she's eager for it. When she falls for him, her life revolves around him, to the point that when he leaves town for a few days, she melts into puddles of grief (like, literally). Once I started seeing it, I couldn't not see the parallels, and now I find myself reading more for spotting the Twilight comparisons than I am for the actual story.

On the upside, so far there's no lame triangle (though with at least two more books in the series, I guess she has time to meet someone else), the vampire doesn't sparkle, he's done more with his unnaturally long life than stay in high school for a century, and the heroine has powers of her own. I even kind of like the vampire character. Aside from him being a vampire and a bit of an "alpha male" type jerk, he at least is a craftsman/knight/soldier/physician/scholar/scientist, which is an intriguing combination. Now I'm curious if this is perhaps a more sophisticated "Ha, I can write better than that" Twilight rewrite/fanfic with the serial numbers filed off or if it's just that if you're writing a romance involving a vampire, you're going to hit certain universal beats.

At any rate, wherever this was shelved, it makes me feel better about my book because it has more fantasy and less romance, so it could fit well in fantasy if this is considered fantasy, but there's still enough fantasy in this that if it's shelved as mainstream, my book wouldn't be out of place there. And now I need to finish my final read and get it to my agent so she can submit it.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Cold Medicine and Crazy Movies

I think I'm just about over the cold. I'm just tired today. This was an odd cold because it came in phases. Thursday was the constant dripping. Friday added constant sneezing with a slight drip. Saturday was the stuffy day, with occasional sneezing and dripping. Sunday I had bits of all those symptoms, but milder, but with a fever. For a cold, it wasn't as miserable as it could have been. I did some reading, a lot of knitting (I'm almost done with the blanket) and watched some awful movies. There's something about being sick that makes me crave bad movies that I wouldn't be able to tolerate at any other time. Fortunately, there's Lifetime Movie Network OnDemand.

Some of these movies are so insane that they come back around to amazing. Like, there was this one where Molly Ringwald (!) is an unlucky in love small-town lawyer who's bemoaning her latest break-up over the phone to her best friend, and just when her friend tells her that when she's least expecting it, the perfect man will fall into her life, a badly injured man stumbles into her main street law office and collapses. Later at the hospital, she learns that he has a head injury but should be okay -- but he has no memory of who he is. He also has no ID. But the hospital can't just keep him around, so they're going to release him even though he has nowhere to go. So, she takes a leap of faith and brings him home with her, where he proves to be the perfect man, cooking and cleaning and complimenting her. Even better, when the "Lost Man" article with his photo appears in the local newspaper, a young pregnant woman comes forward to say she knows what happened to him -- a big, scary man was attacking her and this guy defended her so she could escape, but must have been injured in the process. But then just as Molly is falling in love with him, the publicity from the hero story brings in a lot of attention -- and his wife. And then just as Molly is bravely giving him up because she won't stand in the way of his marriage, another woman shows up, claiming to be his wife, too. Since the movie started in romantic comedy mode, I thought it would be wacky hijinks of women coming out of the woodwork to claim the amnesia patient as their husband until she figured out he wasn't really married to any of them, but it turned out this was all for real.

So then the local DA decides to make her career and get publicity by charging and trying him for bigamy and tax fraud, and our heroine Molly decides to defend him, with the creative defense that after the injury he's a completely different person, and therefore can't be held accountable for the crimes he committed previously. Though I think if she were a truly clever lawyer, she'd have questioned her town's jurisdiction over the case, since wouldn't he have to be tried in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred, not just the place he happened to be when it was discovered? And would tax fraud even be tried in the same court? If he was claiming both wives as dependents, that might be fraud, but they'd have to prove bigamy, then audit his returns, and then charge with tax fraud. It wouldn't be done in the same trial. So, anyway, it gets more and more insane, and I'm yelling at Molly to listen to one of the expert witnesses about how bigamists tend to be charming sociopaths who easily sway people into doing things for them but who don't care about how their actions affect other people, because, seriously, dude is way over the top with his devotion for her and you just know a twist is coming.

But, you know, that wasn't nearly as insanely cracktastic as the "real" movie I watched Sunday afternoon, Snow White and the Huntsman. I mean, there were Oscar winners in it, but otherwise it was a fantasy cheese Saturday-night SyFy movie with better production values. I think they must have used a script intended for a fantasy cheese movie (which means maybe I should raise my screenwriting ambition horizons -- maybe my fantasy cheese movie could get the big-screen treatment!). It's a good thing I didn't see this movie at the theater because I'd have annoyed the other patrons by talking back to the screen.

This movie was worthy of its own Stealth Geek rant.

Now, though, since I had yet another work anxiety dream last night (a client I forgot I had was going to a trade show this week, and I wasn't ready), I'm going to try to get some writing work done today. I'm tired and weak, but sitting and reading counts as resting.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Magical Realsim

Yesterday's sniffles seem to have been the harbinger of a cold, which ruined my plans for the day. I'm reminded of back when I was in school (or when I had a regular office job). There were days when I had no pressing reason to be at school or work and it was a perfect day for staying home and reading, and I could turn a few minor symptoms into a serious illness. But then there were the days when I was sick on a day when there was something going on at school or work that I wanted to be there for, and I'd keep telling myself that I was getting better, and maybe I could pull myself together and make it. I was supposed to go hiking/geocaching today, and it's the perfect weather for it (which is also the wrong weather for a reading day), so if I go five minutes without a sniffle or sneeze, I find myself thinking that maybe I could go, after all. And then I'll sneeze or cough. It really would be wise for me to take it easy today so I can maybe get over this quicker. I also think there should be a limit as to the number of colds any one person can get each year.  I've had more than my fair share, and I wouldn't want to be greedy.

But I did get a lot of reading done yesterday, since always needing a hand free for tissues made knitting challenging. I've decided that the kind of fantasy women's fiction that's more magical realism can be rather frustrating. I enjoy it while I'm reading, but then I start thinking about it and I get annoyed by all the "was it really magic?" loose ends. As a fantasy reader, when I see something supernatural in a book, I take it at face value rather than thinking of it as metaphor or symbolism or some psychological thing (I nearly threw Life of Pi across the room when I got to the end and got the "explanation."). If there's magic, I want it to make sense as magic. I want to know how it works, where it comes from, what the rules and limits are. The vague "it's odd, but we don't really think too much about it or question it, and it may just be symbolic" magical realism thing leaves me unsatisfied. Plus, a lot of the time, if it isn't magic, if that's just in the minds of the characters, then there tend to be a lot of staggering coincidences. They work if there's magic, because something is making it happen, but if there isn't magic, it's very contrived.

Does anyone know where A Discovery of Witches is shelved in bookstores? I've started reading it, and it reads like flat-out fantasy (with a strong helping of paranormal romance), with magic, witches, vampires, etc., and the writing being more genre style than literary. My library put a "fantasy" sticker on it (it has "witch" in the title), but all the author blurbs on the cover are from literary authors. It's showing up on the fantasy and horror Amazon bestseller lists, but I recall it getting mainstream/literary treatment when it was released. It shows up in the "people who bought this also bought" lists for both the books I know were published as fantasy and the books I know were published as mainstream women's fiction.

Now I'm going to go pretend it's gray and rainy and spend the day on the sofa with a book, some tea and the tissue box.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Market Research (and other excuses for reading)

First, a happy birthday to my aunt (she'll know who she is if she sees this).

I think today will be a mostly reading day because I have a raging case of the sniffles (very annoying) and it's cool and gray and I went on a library binge last night. As I get ready to submit the book I've been working on, I've been doing some market research. My agent and I have discussed whether this book best fits as women's fiction with fantasy elements or as contemporary fantasy. On the women's fiction side of things, that's where my earlier books were shelved (even if that was a problem for allowing the people most likely to like that sort of thing to find them), there's a strong theme of sisterhood and family responsibilities woven into the fantasy elements, and the fantasy elements may not be as "heavy" as what the fantasy houses are currently looking for. On the fantasy side of things, that's where I feel I fit best, I don't think my writing really fits what's currently considered women's fiction, and I think there's way too much fantasy to really fit in there.

So, I spent some time yesterday looking up the books in fantasy I feel are most similar to mine and tracking the "people who bought this also bought this" rabbit trail on Amazon. Then I looked up a few authors I know are doing fantasy elements in women's fiction and tracked that rabbit trail, and then I got some representative books out of the library.

This is made more challenging by the fact that it's sometimes hard to tell where a book fits at a publishing house. Sometimes I can tell by imprint, but sometimes hardcovers come out of the "hardcover" part of the house, which includes all genres. The B&N web site includes a mix of categories, while the Amazon site doesn't seem to include that information unless the book is on a category bestseller list, and there they can also include it in multiple categories. All the bookstores near me have closed, so I can't run to the neighborhood B&N and see where a book is shelved. My library slaps a unicorn "fantasy" sticker on the spine of every book with a word associated with any fantasy element in the title (and sometimes they're wrong to a hilarious extent). About the closest I can come to figuring out the target audience is the authors giving endorsement blurbs on the cover -- if it's a bunch of women's fiction or literary authors, it's probably shelved in mainstream fiction, but if it's fantasy authors, it's probably shelved in fantasy.

Then again, this probably erases that distinction of which category to go in because it will only matter in physical bookstores and it can be both online. The main difference is the editors I'd deal with, the store placement, the kind of promotion they'd do, and me having to persuade people who sell books at conventions or the genre specialty bookstores that the book really is fantasy, even if it's classified as "mainstream."

One of my fears was that my writing really wasn't up to the same standard as the more literary stuff or the bookclub fodder. I'm very plot driven and focus less on the wordsmithing and theme and metaphor and stuff like that. But selling a young adult book to a more literary imprint has made me think twice about that. I think this book is more "crafted" even though I still don't think I have a literary voice. The magic and fairies in my book are really, literally magic and fairies and not a metaphor for sex, love, power, family or anything like that. You could probably get some book club discussion going about a lot of the issues in this book, and those are the kinds of books that get shelved at places like Target and in airport bookstores. And so, I grabbed up a bunch of what I think may be fantasy or paranormal books published as mainstream book club fodder to see if I can assess how my book might really fit in.

Of course, my agent does her own research and knows the editors and their preferences, but it's my career and I'd like to be able to offer my informed input. Plus, it's a good excuse to spend the day reading and still consider it "work." And I'm still recovering from last night, when we had to combine the preschool and kindergarten choirs because one of the preschool leaders had a family emergency, so we had around 20 little kids in one room, all going slightly wild and crazy because things were different.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Fighting Writer's Block

In the same day, I got a reader letter asking about dealing with writer's block and I came across a handout from a conference workshop about writer's block while I was sorting through papers in my ongoing office organization/decluttering project. I figure that's a sign, so today's writing topic is writer's block.

There are actually several things that fall into the category of writer's block, and they all have different "cures."

One kind of writer's block is what I call Blank Page Panic. This usually comes after you've already written at least one book (with the first book, you have no idea what you're getting into). Before you start writing, your book that exists only in your head is perfect. As soon as you start writing, it becomes a very imperfect, real thing that you have to deal with. I find that the moment before I start writing the very first words of a new book is the most terrifying and exhilarating part of writing a book, but it's very easy to get paralyzed and find any number of reasons to put off starting. A related problem is not really knowing how to start. You may know what the book's about and even what the first scene involves, but you just don't know how to start.

One thing you can do when faced with Blank Page Panic is to lower the stakes for yourself. If you normally write on a computer, switch to pen and paper. If you write your first draft in longhand, switch to something like pencil or dry erase board -- anything that doesn't feel like "real" writing. Use Post-It notes, scratch paper, crayons, or something else that makes you feel more like you're playing. Then start making up opening lines, at least twenty different ones. They can be as serious or crazy as you want -- remember, this isn't for real. If you're really stuck, make your first one "It was a dark and stormy night," and then you know that anything else you come up with has to be better. Another thing you can try is to brainstorm the opening scene. Write about it rather than writing it -- record sensory details, analyze the theme and conflict, write a journal entry by your viewpoint character about what happened. Doing all that makes the scene come to life in your head, which makes it easier to write.

Another kind of writer's block is Stuck Syndrome -- you're in the middle of a book, and suddenly you have no idea what happens next. This can happen even if you outline your books because you may know the next outline event, but you can't think of how to get there from where you are.

This can have several causes. One cause is that something has gone wrong earlier in the book that keeps you from getting to your planned next step. You may have forced a character to do something for plot purposes that's out of character, and that makes it impossible to continue. Or your planned plot could be wrong because the story wants to go another direction, and that's what's keeping you from moving on to the next part in your plan. Or sometimes you're on track but just plain stuck. This is a good time to go back and re-read what you've written so far. That will help you spot where you may have gone off-track or if the story is maybe varying from your plan. Going back and doing some rewriting or re-plotting can help you move forward. If you're just stuck, try reverse-engineering from the next thing you know needs to happen and figure out what needs to take place for that event to occur. Keep going backward, step-by-step, until you reach the part you've written. This is another time when making a brainstorming list can help. Try to come up with at least twenty things that could happen next. The first ten will be the obvious things, the next ten may get silly as you push yourself but may contain one or two gems you can work with. It can also help to talk out your problem with a friend -- just articulating your issues can help you find solutions, even if the other person doesn't offer any feedback, or that person's questions may help you come up with ideas.

Productive procrastination can be helpful when you're stuck. Review your work and your plans, make a few lists, and then go do something else. I like to say I'm getting my conscious mind out of the way so my subconscious can get to work. Physical activity is good -- take a walk, go for a run, go swimming, dance. Mindless busywork tasks are good, like housework, ironing or washing dishes. Play and fun will jazz up your brain -- play fetch with a dog, play a game, blow soap bubbles, do something childish. Or you can do other creative things that aren't writing -- knit, sew, draw, paint, bake, sing, dance or play an instrument. If all else fails, take a shower (that's where ideas always seem to strike me). Keep something handy for writing down or recording ideas that come to you because your solution may pop up when you're not forcing yourself to think about it. After your break, return to your work and see if you have fresh insight.

Then there's what I call the Don't Wannas -- I'm not really blocked in that I know what I need to write next. I just would rather do almost anything else but write. I may sit and refresh Facebook for hours in order to put off writing. It builds into a kind of dread. A somewhat related problem is the Shiny New Idea, where something new has popped into your head that has you very enthusiastic, and it makes the old idea you're currently slogging through look even more awful in comparison.

This is when willpower kicks in. I find that starting is the hard part. Once I force myself out of the Don't Wannas, I can make good progress. To jolt yourself out of the Don't Wannas, try setting an appointment with yourself. You will start writing at a certain time. Until that time, you can do anything you want, but when that time hits, you'll get to work. Changing your environment may help. If you normally work in a busy place full of distractions, find a cave to hide in. If you normally work in a cave-like environment, move to a busier place like a coffee shop where you'll feel obligated to work while people are watching you. Set a goal for a certain amount of time or a certain amount of production (words or pages) and have a clear reward for achieving that goal, like a treat or a break to read or watch TV. If things are getting really bad, you can get software that will block your access to your favorite Internet time wasters, or you can get a friend to call you and tell you it's time to write.

If you've got the Shiny New Idea Don't Wannas, set the writing appointment with yourself, and before that appointment, do a big brain dump. Write down every single thing you know or can think of about your new idea. Then when it's time for your appointment, put that aside and get back to work. I find that writing down the new idea clears it from my brain so it's not quite so consuming, and it also points out the weak spots and makes it clear that this idea is nowhere near ready to be written. I find that my more successful ideas are the ones I put aside to mull over for a while (sometimes for years) while I work on other things. Then they're truly ripe and ready when it's their turn. Every time I've dropped what I was working on to work on the Shiny New Idea, the book has fizzled and usually doesn't even get finished. And yet this seems to be the one thing that stops new writers from going anywhere because they keep getting sidetracked by new ideas and they never actually finish anything. There may be a time in your career when it really is time to switch gears, but it takes some experience to know that, and generally it's not the Shiny New Idea but rather a percolating older idea whose time has come.

There's yet another kind of block in which you have no idea what to write next -- you don't have an idea for another book. That tends to be something that only happens to really experienced authors who've burned out a bit and need a break. Most writers I know have a massive backlog of story ideas. If you don't have another idea for your next project and you've only written a couple of books, you may not be cut out for a writing career. If you're not contracted for another book, do the productive procrastination thing, read, watch movies and otherwise experience life and artistic input, and you may find yourself filling up with ideas again. If you are contracted and blank, this would be a time to talk to your agent or editor. Sometimes brainstorming with another person will spark ideas.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Still More Nebula Reading

I was in a fog most of yesterday, but I did manage to outline the specifics of the fight scene I need to flesh out, and then I sketched out the basics of the plot for the sequel, so I can make sure all the proper set-up is done. Today I may actually do some writing. I got a late start this morning because I woke up from a dream that I thought would make a good story, then I spent some time trying to remember everything in the dream, only to realize that it didn't hold together once I examined it. The one part that still made sense when I thought about it involved someone going under cover in a Victorian-type beach resort to catch/expose a quack healer/snake oil salesman. There might be something there, though I'd probably have to leave out the Nazis and the very modern city buses.

I finally finished reading as much as possible on the Nebula awards ballot. I like going through this exercise not only to be a more responsible voter but also because it expands my reading horizons to read something selected by other people. While there was some excellent stuff and nothing much that had me scratching my head about the nomination, I'm starting to get the impression that the key to being nominated seems to involve being part of a clique of writers that includes one or two bigger names. All the books I hadn't previously heard of by authors I hadn't previously heard of contained epic acknowledgment/thanks notes listing lots of names of writing group members and mentors. Or I suppose it could also mean that being part of a group of writers makes you a better writer. I should investigate getting myself into a clique.

Now, for some more book discussion (all of these are young adult):

The Diviners by Libba Bray -- a teenage flapper gets sent to stay with her uncle in New York when her "party trick" of reading someone's fortune by touching an item belonging to them gets her in hot water because of what she revealed about one of her town's leading citizens. Her uncle is a scholar who runs a museum devoted to the paranormal and occult, and when the police consult him about a murder involving occult symbolism, the frivolous flapper turns Nancy Drew and becomes determined to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, she's discovering other young people who have gifts similar to hers. This book was a ton of fun (aside from the gory murder parts), really capturing the essence of Jazz Age New York, and the frothy fizz of speakeasies and Ziegfeld girl parties just makes the darker parts that much more shocking and intense. It was a long book that I read in just a day or so, though I will admit that I'm such a weenie that when I got to what would normally be an "I only have eight more pages" scenario, I put the book down because I knew I didn't want to read something as intense and scary as it was likely to be just before I went to sleep. I had to read it in daylight in my office.

I do have to give a content advisory on this one so I don't get any hate mail from parents about recommending this book for teens. The School Library Journal suggests it for grade 10 and up, and that's probably right, depending on the kid. It contains some pretty graphic descriptions of rape, domestic abuse and murder, and the teen characters indulge in some binge drinking (in an era when all drinking was illegal). However, there are negative consequences shown for dabbling in the occult and abusing alcohol, and we do see our heroine grow from being shallow to actually doing something worthwhile. I suspect that the kind of kid who'd want to read this book is probably safe doing so because they'll be more intrigued by the idea of doing research, working in a museum and solving murder mysteries than they are by the partying. However, the book is seriously scary in places.

Fair Coin by E.C. Meyers -- A teenage boy learns that his mother had to go to the hospital to identify what was supposedly his dead body, and in the dead boy's effects that were given to his mother, the one thing that doesn't match something he owns is a coin -- one of those "state" quarters for a state that doesn't exist. Then he finds a note in his locker telling him to toss the coin and make a wish. At first, he doesn't believe it, but then his wishes come true. However, with the wishes coming true there are also other things changed that aren't necessarily good, and he seems to be the only one who realizes that things have changed. But then he finds out that the coin isn't magical, his wishes aren't really coming true, and there's a threat that only he can stop. This book had a really intriguing premise with a mind-blowing twist late in the book that turns it from fantasy to science fiction. Most of it feels kind of like a Sliding Doors situation -- if this one thing changes, how does that change everything else?

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis -- Our heroine's family is the one that all the fairy tales happen to (there is a reason). Finally, it's the youngest daughter's turn when she meets an enchanted frog at the well in the woods. They become friends, and she entertains him with stories about her family. Then she kisses him but because the spell isn't broken instantly, she doesn't realize that he's been turned back into a prince -- a prince who's considered an enemy of her family. In order to be reunited with the girl he loves, the prince orders a ball that all the eligible ladies of the kingdom are ordered to attend, and Cinderella ensues, with a lot of twists (for instance, the prince is the one who's kind of an outcast in the home, living in cinders). This falls into the category of "why didn't I think of that?" The mash-up feels very organic, and one of the more interesting aspects is showing the consequences of turning from frog to human again. It takes him a while to re-learn how to walk and speak and to re-build muscle tone as a human. It also gets into just how challenging it can be to live in the middle of all these fairy tales, where it's dangerous to make wishes because they might come true.

Now I'm back to choosing my own books for a while, though I will have to get to work on the Hugo ballot. There was some crossover with the Nebula, so I won't have to read an entirely new set of books, but there are some new ones.

Monday, April 01, 2013

No Fooling

You wouldn't think that singing for three Easter services would leave you physically sore, but somehow it did. I think perhaps I was a wee bit tense while standing for the various music bits. I mostly feel it in my knees and the backs of my calves and then in that spot between the shoulder blades in my back. I'm kind of tempted to take today off as a holiday to make up for the extra weekend work, but the weather is supposed to shift to what I consider good reading weather, so I may try to accomplish some things today so I can take that time to read. I have a book I've been looking forward to, and it seems like it might be perfect for a cool, rainy day.

There was massive geeking over the weekend, with the return of Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, plus a different kind of geeking with the return of Call the Midwife on PBS and the Mr. Selfridge series on Masterpiece. I was so-so on the Selfridge movie, but it kind of made me want to go shopping. I haven't had that urge in ages. Unfortunately, we don't have any stores around here that are anything like that.

For those who saw the new Doctor Who, you might want to rewatch "Asylum of the Daleks" from last fall. There are some eerie parallels that I'm sure have to be intentional. They didn't occur to me while watching the new episode, but I rewatched the older one later because it's available OnDemand, and that's when it jumped out at me.

I suppose I should have thought of an elaborate prank for April Fools Day, but the trick of the Internet is that it's always out there, and someone can find something days/weeks/months/years later and not notice the date it was originally posted. I'm always getting e-mails or comments on blog posts that are years old that someone found while searching for a topic. I guess Facebook or maybe Twitter is about the only really safe place to play a big prank. I'm not even sure what I'd try to trick people into believing is true. Frankly, I'm too tired today to play pranks.

Now I think I'm going to go choreograph (mentally -- moving isn't a happy thing right now) a fight scene. It's the one thing I want to tinker with on the current project.