Friday, May 31, 2013

Revisiting Wuthering Heights

I hit a bit of a block in the story I've been working on when I realized it had to be a romance. It was already supposed to be sort of a romance, in that it had a happily ever after ending, but I was so focused on all the plot stuff of getting everyone in the right place at the right time that I sort of forgot about the developing relationship and realized I needed a big, romantic episode. And that got to be pretty tricky because I'm doing a gender reversal in a standard fairy-tale setting, so I've got a princess and a servant guy. That's actually the more common pairing in the actual fairy tales -- the princess and the woodsman's third son who wins her hand and half the kingdom by doing some seemingly impossible task with the help of the animals and old people he helped earlier -- but the original fairy tales are pretty thin on relationship development (it boils down to "she was beautiful and he fell in love instantly"), and the stories that tend to get fleshed out more in current pop culture, so that we have those images in our heads, are more like the Cinderella story, with the prince and the ordinary girl. In those stories, we generally get some kind of "swept off her feet" scene, in which the prince awes the girl with something fabulous from his life, like the Beauty and the Beast scene where he gives her the library. It's really tricky to reverse the genders without it coming across as her being patronizing and without him looking like either a rube or a golddigger (and that's made me look at the prince and ordinary girl scenes in a different way). I don't even want this to come across as her dazzling him with her wealth. These two have made an intellectual connection by working on a problem together, and while they know they can't be together for good, she wants to show him one evening of fun and luxury, knowing that his life is usually one of toil. This is where a lot of current books would rely on sex, but I think that's out of character for these people and unlikely in the situation, and besides, it's lazy storytelling because it's an easy way out. I need to come up with something for them to do that's unique to their relationship, that brings out their characters and that makes the fact that they can't be together (they think) that much more heartbreaking. There's something kind of tacky about "Here, have a book/bon-bon/fancy outfit, I've got plenty." I think they need to do something on neutral ground, where it briefly doesn't matter that she's a princess and he's a servant, but I don't want to do the Roman Holiday thing where it's about her slumming.

But perhaps Wuthering Heights wasn't the best thing to read before trying to write something romantic. I read it the first time soon after I finished college, mostly out of curiosity, and I was deeply disappointed in it. The popular impression of it is that it's supposedly wildly romantic and that Heathcliff is some kind of romantic figure (probably because he's generally played by hunks in movies). But I found nothing romantic in the book. This time, my expectations were different, and I liked it a lot better. I also don't think the book is supposed to be romantic. There's never any hint that Heathcliff is anything but a monster. The only hint of romance is in the connection he had with Catherine, but it was more of a case that they were both such awful people that they deserved each other. Maybe they could have been happy and spared everyone else from being collateral damage if they could have just spent their lives running around the moors together, but there's still something rather toxic about a love that results in so much damage and that leads to such an impulse to hurt and destroy.

There's even a mention in the book that Heathcliff's rewarding quality wasn't his love for her, but rather his regard for the man who took him in and brought him up like a son, so I don't think Emily Bronte was under any illusions about Heathcliff being a romantic hero. There's a funny cartoon of the Bronte sisters with Emily and Charlotte swooning over the dark, dangerous guy and Anne rolling her eyes, since The Tenant of Wildfell Hall shows what it would be like to be married to a Heathcliff. But Wuthering Heights shows what it would be like to be married to Heathcliff in Isabella's story, where she's so abused and miserable that she runs away. There's even a scene in which Heathcliff essentially tells her, "Duh! I hanged your puppy right before you ran away with me. What kind of person did you think you were marrying?"

Generally, this book could be subtitled "Woman Who Have Lousy Taste in Men" because Heathcliff isn't the only nasty piece of work. Or maybe you could call it "No, You Can't Change or Save Him with Your Love." There are different kinds of tyranny. There's Heathcliff's knock you around and lock you up tyranny, but then there's Linton's "I'm so weak that if you don't give me what I want I'll die and it will be your fault" tyranny. And they all fell for both varieties, believing that love could tame the dangerous man and strengthen the weak man.

One thing I find amusing in 19th century novels (and this includes Jane Austen, as well) is the idea that being really upset can send one into a fatal physical illness. One big temper tantrum can drive someone into a fever that lasts for months. Walking in the rain while sad is a good way to commit suicide. I suppose in that era a lot of people had underlying conditions that could be worsened by a bad emotional state. If you already have tuberculosis, then maybe walking in the rain while sad could do you in. Still, I can't help but think of all the medical studies showing that being wet and cold doesn't make you any more likely to catch a cold.

Now I need to walk to the library and it's cloudy. But it's warm and I'm in a relatively good mood, so even if it rains on me, I should be okay.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Diva Moments

I was a total weather weenie last night. A round of storms hit just at the time I needed to leave to go to choir, and I didn't want to drive in the high winds and heavy rain, so I stayed home. We didn't get the hail that some were getting from this storm, but around here it's generally better to play it safe. I made good use of the time and got a lot of writing done on my current project. I just have the final "act" to write. I suspect there will be a lot of rewriting to do when I'm done because the first draft was essentially outlining the story. I may need to create more active scenes and flesh it all out. If I can make myself be diligent today, I could even finish this week.

I got all that done in spite of having a minor diva hissy fit that distracted me for a while. WorldCon is being held in San Antonio this year, in my own state. I bought my membership last year. Back in March, I submitted the information to be a program participant. A month or so ago, they started announcing participants, and in that round it was the big names who were attending. I didn't really expect to be on that list. Yesterday they announced another round of several hundred. I wasn't on that list, and there were people on that list who have fewer credits than I have -- short stories in small press anthologies vs. my list of major publisher novels (and worldwide publication). Not to mention that I've been on programming at two other WorldCons. I didn't make the cut in Reno, but that was on me because I submitted the info too late (though I suspect if I'd been a bigger name they'd have squeezed me in). This time, though, there's no reason why I wouldn't have been on this list, and I even checked my spam folder to make sure I hadn't missed an invitation. I had some qualms about this convention because of some behind-the-scenes stuff that's been going on, but being snubbed like this is making me re-think attending this convention. It's hard to justify the expense to go to just hang out without being a participant. I don't have a lot of diva moments because I think I have a pretty realistic sense of where I fit in the grand scheme of things and possibly even underrate myself (there are things I probably deserve that I don't expect). So if I feel shortchanged or snubbed, it probably really does mean something's wrong. They're saying the list will keep being updated, but not being included yet still feels like a snub because it means I'm on the much lower tier, and that affects my attitude toward the entire convention, which wasn't entirely positive to begin with (I love WorldCon, but there are issues with this particular convention).

But while I was having my "don't they know who I am?" hissy fit, I remembered Seth Godin's blog post for the day, which started: "You're actually not teaching them a lesson, because the people who most need to learn a lesson haven't, and won't. What you're actually doing is diverting yourself from your path as well as ruining your day in a quixotic quest for fairness, fairness you're unlikely to find." I guess that's the annoying thing. Because this is an ad hoc committee that will likely never put on another convention, there's no "they'll regret it when I'm famous" satisfaction. There aren't even a lot of people who might change their minds about attending this convention based on whether or not I'll be there, so me backing out isn't really going to hurt them. I just have to decide whether or not it's worth it to me. Is it worth the time, expense and stress to go to some panels and parties, hang out with friends and maybe do some networking while under the slight stigma of apparently not being considered important enough to be part of the programming, or are there better things I could do for my career with the time and money? Unless the book that's about to be submitted sells quickly and gets put on a faster track to publication, my next release won't be for a couple of years, so there's minimal real promotional opportunity. I'm not even sure how big this convention will be because of the issues going on with it. Maybe it's better to watch safely from Dallas and put that money toward going to the convention in London next year.

I will, however, be at FenCon in October, which has a WorldCon-caliber guest list and which is much more organized. And, yes, I've already been confirmed on programming.

In the meantime, I have more books to write.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Going on Summer Hours

I'm taking this week off from the every-other-Wednesday writing post because I'm still catching up from the holiday weekend and have no idea what to write about. I'll resume next week. I was toying with the idea of taking the summer off, but it really doesn't take that much more time to do than a regular blog post. I just need ideas, so if you've got a writing-related question you want me to address, this is your chance to ask it.

I have decided to go on "summer hours" starting next week, but it's the opposite of what that means for the publishing industry. A lot of publishers go on summer hours, in which they work a half day on Fridays (and a lot of people telecommute for Friday morning, so generally no one is in the office on Fridays). I'm planning to use this summer to really buckle down and work more. In Texas, it's not really a good time to be outdoors (though this morning has been delightfully cool) and there's much less on TV to watch. I also have fewer of my extracurricular activities going on. This is a good opportunity to sit inside and write like crazy. Then I can go on "fall hours" when things get busy in the fall and the weather is more conducive to being out and about.

Though I think some of those summer hours will be devoted to work around the house, organizing projects, etc.  We'll see how this goes. I'm great at making grand plans, not so great at sticking to them.

I had a good holiday weekend but am now kind of tired. We had a Memorial Day service at church Sunday evening, and I got to sightread in concert because the local community chorale was also singing and needed some extra sopranos. I knew the song, so I agreed to do it, and then it turned out that what they needed was help on the descant, which I didn't know. I had to just hope that my knack for being able to figure things out just from reading the music and without hearing it worked. It was also very high. It's been a very long time since I've sung a high C in performance. I'm not entirely sure I actually did it this time because of that "okay, I think this is the note I'm singing" guessing from sightreading, but I at least sang something in the chord.

Now I'm a little self-conscious about the way I must look when I sing because two people commented to me at the fellowship after the service about how they like watching me sing. I guess I do have fun and show it, though there's the occasional death glare when someone around me gets something wrong. I think one lady was also referring to the morning service. We were doing a jazzy piece that included the Samson and Delilah story, and the sopranos were singing the Delilah part. I kind of got into character to sing it with the right amount of sass. But now I'll be thinking of this and worried that I'm showing more than I should as part of a choir. This is why it's good that I wasn't visible for the Mozart Requiem, so people didn't see me gleefully singing "Dies Irae" like it was great fun (even if it is).

Since I don't have to do a children's choir lesson plan and don't have to go to choir until adult choir rehearsal, I have a whole afternoon to focus on writing and/or housework.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sidetracked (Again)

My moment of amusement for the day: In Target, a small child (toddler or preschool) being pushed in a shopping cart was singing "Master of the House" from Les Miserables at the top of his lungs, only with what he thought the words were instead of what the words really were. His mom shushed him before he really got going, so I didn't get to hear the full reinterpretation, but it was adorable. Then I provided some amusement to the guy running the self-check stands at Kroger when I attempted to reason with the computer. Out loud. He said, "I was just waiting to see who won."

I managed to get completely sidetracked yesterday, so I wrote nothing. I'd like to claim that my subconscious is really busy, but I'm not sure that's the case. I may be coming down with a mild cold or an allergy attack because I've been really tired and sneezing my head off, so that may be another excuse. Maybe something will happen today, or else the possible storms may give me more atmosphere for reading Wuthering Heights. I really am re-reading it, and I'm finding that I like it more this time around. It helps that this edition has Charlotte Bronte's intro, which clarifies that this isn't really supposed to be a romance. It's a character study. I think my initial reaction was mostly "Wait, this is supposed to be romantic?" but as a character study of sociopaths and the effect they have on the people around them it's rather brilliant.

My Sunday will be busy, and I'll be traveling Monday and Tuesday, so I plan to relax this evening and Saturday. Maybe I'll finally do that "retreat" for the next book. There may be a trip to the farmer's market tomorrow morning because I have to bake some cobblers for a church event and need to find some fruit.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Legal Fan Fiction

I woke this morning rather abruptly with the sense that I needed to get out of bed and get dressed. And it's a good thing because I was just finishing breakfast when the contractor called to say he was on his way to look at my water heater cabinet. Normally, I'd have still been in my nightgown. My hair was pretty much the way I slept on it (which isn't that different from the way it normally looks -- I've gone to church without doing anything to my hair after sleeping on it, which is one of the reasons I normally wear it in a bun and one of the benefits of curly hair) and I had on no makeup, but I was wearing clothes. It turns out the issue goes beyond the door. There are also bad leaks. It will require removing the water heater, redoing the interior, fixing the leaks and redoing the exterior. On the up side, I don't have to pay for it (not directly, but I've contributed in HOA dues), and they said if I want to buy a new water heater, they'll install it for free while they're at it. This one is about 11 years old, so it may be a good idea.

While he was here, he looked at some other things for me, and I learned a lot about how my house is built. I also learned that my carpet is original to the house. I thought it wasn't wearing well for 16 or so year-old carpet, but it's apparently wearing incredibly well for 30-year-old carpet. Some things I thought would be major repairs (that I'd be responsible for) turned out to be relatively minor. The hard part would be moving stuff around to do the repairs. I also learned what houses like mine are currently selling for, which is a lot more than I paid. Not that I'm in the market to sell at the moment. I'm not in a position to buy something else, and this house suits me for the time being.

The big publishing news yesterday was that Amazon would start publishing fan fiction and sharing the revenue between the author and the license holder. The Internet exploded, but I don't think most people actually read the announcement (or possibly they didn't understand what they read). They've actually struck a deal with the license holder of the properties, so it's really more of a licensed media tie-in than true "fan fiction." It's also very limited, to just a few properties (like Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl) that are owned by a book packager, not individual authors.  So it's not like you can now post your Doctor Who/Sherlock crossover fanfic on Amazon and legally make money off it. But you can submit your Vampire Diaries story that falls within certain guidelines and earn some money from it after signing over all rights to it. The contract terms are pretty stiff and not something to be entered into lightly (really, you're giving up everything in the story -- they can even use your original characters from your story in future works in that universe without paying you anything beyond the royalties you earn from your story). Then again, there's not much else legal you can do with fan fiction. It remains to be seen if this is the wave of the future and if more companies will sign on. I think it would be iffy for an individual author to get on board with this because of the danger of the fanfic authors claiming you stole their ideas if you ever write anything even remotely similar to something in a story that you've received some payment for. That's probably why the contract terms of this are so stiff and require signing over all rights, but that doesn't stop someone from filing a lawsuit, and it's expensive even to hire a lawyer to point out that the person signed a contract giving up all rights to everything in the story. A media conglomerate has lawyers on staff to handle that sort of thing, but it could be financially devastating to an individual author at my level. All my money goes into maintaining my house. I'd just have to send someone with a hammer and saw after anyone suing me.

I'm still forging ahead with this story. I suspect it will end up at least novelette or novella length because I'm at about 3,000 words and just entering the second act, so it will likely be at least 10,000 words. I thought this would be quick and easy, but I'm only managing about 1,000 words a day. Maybe today I won't be quite as easily sidetracked because I don't have a lot of other stuff to deal with.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Romantic Comedy and Fairy Tales

We dodged a bullet with yesterday's storms. According to the local TV weather geek (actually, his detailed Facebook posts, since he wasn't on the air yesterday), the rain-cooled air from the approaching storm rushed out just far enough ahead to keep the warm, humid air that was already in place from fueling the storm, so we ended up just getting rain and wind, with no hail or tornadoes. It was such an atmospherically blustery day that I started re-reading Wuthering Heights.

Then I went back to the New Project, which is really more of an experiment. I still don't know what it will end up being, a short story, a novella or even a novel. I suspect, given my patterns, that it'll either end up being a full novel, or I'll get to a certain point where it's on the verge of being too long to be "short" fiction and then I'll suddenly wrap it up quickly. It started as a fairy tale rewrite -- fleshing out the traditional story -- but turned into a fairy tale twist of looking at what was going on behind the scenes with the other people who were present when that story was taking place, and that turned into a sort of revisionist thing of the way those other people would have really reacted to those events (like, take the Cinderella story -- when a mystery woman no one has ever seen before shows up as a prospective bride for the heir to the throne and instantly has him wrapped around her little finger, wouldn't someone get a wee bit suspicious of her maybe being a foreign spy infiltrating herself into the court or an enchantress getting him under her thrall?). And then it turned into all of the above: a fleshed-out fairy tale in which the characters are given some dimension, but then also a behind-the-scenes story in which the traditional characters aren't the main characters and the well-known story is playing in the background, and a revision in which the main characters are dealing in a reasonably realistic way with the fairy tale events. It's loads of fun to play with, but I'm not sure what the result will look like or if it will fall apart halfway through.

As for the book already written and published, here's a little background on the genesis of Kiss and Spell. I'll keep this vague enough to avoid spoilers since the book is still trickling out and I don't think everyone's read it yet (insert usual plea to post, tweet, skywrite, blog, write reviews, etc. about it to help spread the word because I don't want anyone to miss it). I thought I'd wrapped up the series with Much Ado About Magic. Obviously, I left some major loose ends dangling, and I wanted to do something with that potential story line, but I didn't know for sure what, and I didn't think I'd get the chance. I only wrote Much Ado because the Japanese publisher thought it was already written and offered to publish it, not realizing that I'd only written a proposal. But then the Japanese publisher asked if I wanted to write more books. At the time, I didn't have any solid ideas. I'd already defeated the main villains. I said I'd have to think about it.

The same day I met with my agent and discussed this possibility, I attended a convention panel (I saw my agent because I was in Denver for a convention) in which several authors, including Katherine Kurtz (OMG!!!!) and Carrie Vaughn, discussed writing series. Carrie Vaughn said that the way she kept her series interesting for herself was by essentially writing a different kind of book for each book in the series. One might be a mystery, another a romantic comedy, another a caper. The readers might not necessarily notice this because the books were in her usual style, with her usual characters, dealing with the established situations in the series, but it was the way she approached the writing, so that even though she was dealing with the same stuff, to her she was doing something totally new. That clicked for me, and I found myself mentally scrolling through my literary bucket list of the kinds of books I've wanted to write, and I came up with the quest story.

But another thing I've always wanted to write was a straight romantic comedy. I loved the chick lit genre because it seemed to me to be closer to romantic comedy films than romance novels were, but I never managed to sell a straightforward (non-fantasy) chick lit novel before the market tanked, and there isn't much of a market for the kind of romantic comedy I would write. Was there a way to do that in this series? I've also always wanted to write some kind of resistance movement story, and I was researching that sort of thing for another idea I have spinning around in the back of my head. It all came together to create the rather crazy plot for this book.

The more I thought about romantic comedies, the more I realized that they are, in their own way, fairy tales. They even have their patterns and motifs. Mr./Miss Wrong, the reveal of the Big Deception/Lie, and the Mad Dash Across Town are as common in romantic comedy as getting magical help due to kindness and the reveal of the true identity are in fairy tales. Each genre also has its typical stock characters you expect to show up. Since this series was essentially about inserting magical elements into a romantic comedy world, why couldn't I flip that and insert romantic comedy elements into a (literal) fantasy world? I thought I had something different planned for the aftermath of what happened to Katie at the end of No Quest, but that ended up being the set-up that was necessary for this to happen. It also gave me a chance to revisit the romantic relationship. That mostly happened in the background of all the saving the world stuff, and it happened maybe more quickly than I'd originally imagined, since I didn't know how many books I'd get to write. This situation gave me the chance to go back to the beginning and focus on it for a while. I also love the idea that if two people are really suited for each other, they'll be suited for each other no matter what the circumstances are. All they have to do is find each other again, and then the same things they always loved about each other will still be there.

It was fun throwing my characters into a When Harry Met Sally/You've Got Mail world, and even more fun once they came to realize that's what was happening. Genre awareness is used all the time in horror and science fiction, where the characters have seen enough movies to at least try to cope with the situation on that basis (the whole Scream franchise), but I don't think I've seen too many cases of a character coping with a situation because she knows what always happens in a romantic comedy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Stormy Weather

Today has the potential to be really scary, since they're forecasting severe storms for the afternoon. After seeing yesterday's devastation in Oklahoma, that's even more frightening. With us, it's likely to be high winds and hail, with the high winds blowing the hail horizontally, and there I'm fortunate that my townhouse is on the "safe" side of the building away from the direction the storms will be coming from. Still, it will be hard to get the images from Oklahoma out of my head when the winds kick in. I spent my childhood not too far from there, and I've never seen anything like it.

Meanwhile, I had my own scare as I was watching the news coverage about Oklahoma last night. There was a loud thud from outside. I went out to the patio to check on what it could be. It came from the area where the cabinet holding the water heater is, so I was worried that the water heater had failed. Unfortunately, I've been having issues with that cabinet door. The door is rotted through, and it won't shut all the way. I turned in a maintenance request on that more than a year ago, but the HOA decided to table that repair. The hinges are also messed up, and trying to fully shut the door pulls them out of the wall. I figured it was potentially an emergency, so I sprayed WD-40 on the hinges and forced the door open so I could see inside. The water heater was okay, but the drywall in the ceiling had fallen in, and that's the sound I heard. The online maintenance request system allows you to leave comments for work orders, so I added a snarky note about how much money they saved by tabling that maintenance request, since the door being stuck ajar meant that the interior was exposed to the elements, and now they're going to have to put in a new ceiling. I had a response first thing this morning, and they're sending someone by to look at it. At least this one is on the HOA, not a repair I have to deal with.

But the adrenaline rush from that bit of excitement meant I was finally able to stay up late enough to finish reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Really, this is a book best read in one sitting -- a good rainy Saturday book -- because it weaves a spell and I think it would be wonderful to remain immersed in it for hours. Unfortunately, I had to read it in bits and pieces before I went to bed at night. It's difficult to describe the plot because this is a more "literary" fantasy novel that's more about ideas and atmosphere than story. Basically, there are two magicians who have very different philosophies on how to do magic. They have a running contest going on in which they each select a student, train that student, then have those students compete against each other. This seems to have been going on for centuries. The latest contest, starting during the Victorian era, plays out in a mysterious circus, where the young man and young woman who are competing create all kinds of wonders. The problem is that they don't really want to compete. They want to work together, and they fall in love. But the contest doesn't end until one of them is dead, and the circus is linked to them.

For me, the main appeal was the imagery of the circus. I want to go there so badly. It's only open from sunset to sunrise. Everything is black or white, and there's all kinds of magical stuff happening, so it's like going through a dream. The circus builds up a group of fans who follow the circus around the world, and the fans attend wearing all black and white so they can feel like they fit in, but with one red accessory to acknowledge that they aren't really part of the circus. I'd kind of like to see a movie based on this book, just to see what imagery they might use to bring the circus to life, but I'm not sure even the best special effects houses could outdo my imagination. The plot might be difficult to film, though, because it follows a couple of different timelines and jumps around until they converge. That would be confusing on film, but I think the story would lose something if told chronologically.

Anyway, stock up on caramel corn and hot cocoa, wear black with a red accessory and let yourself be immersed for the best experience. Then you'll want to go to a circus -- something more like Cirque du Soleil than Ringling Brothers.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Functioning Home

I had a productive and busy weekend. Thanks to those who contributed to the Keep Shanna's House Functioning Fund, and I hope you enjoyed your "thank you gift." I now have a working ceiling fan, garbage disposal and kitchen sink. The garage door opener is functioning but needs some professional maintenance. I also have a new doorbell that just requires a little bit of additional hardware. I'm now amazed at how long I went with these things not really working properly. I'm having to break a lot of habits, like re-learning to use both sides of the kitchen sink. I'm afraid I'm a little too good at adapting and getting used to a situation, to the point I don't feel all that moved to correct it. That explains why the contents of my office are spread out on the loft or piled up to the side. I just got used to something that was supposed to be temporary. I need to do something like set a timer and work on the office for a little bit each day until it's done. If I see steady progress and things change enough not to get used to it, that may help keep me going.

I had several hours worth of choir stuff on Saturday, then a double-length service, luncheon and retirement celebration for my pastor on Sunday. So it's my typical Monday lament of needing a weekend to recover from my weekend.

I did have some fun on Friday in seeing the new Star Trek film. I'm still not totally on board with the Star Trek reboot. I'd have preferred them to do new stories in that universe about different characters rather than re-doing the familiar (and iconic) characters. These mostly play to me as space action movies, not Star Trek movies. This one was a fun action film, but to me it came across as a parody of Star Trek, done in the style of an action movie, with lots of little inside jokes. Most of the inside jokes were funny or were amusing winks to the more devoted Trek fans in the audience, but there was a big callback in a major scene that just about ruined the movie for me. No spoilers, but making the big emotional climax of your film be essentially an inside joke just doesn't work. I think I was supposed to be deeply moved, but instead I was giggling hysterically as I acted out the scene along with the actors because I knew exactly how it would go, in spite of having never seen this movie before. When your core audience can quote the dialogue verbatim before it happens, you've got problems.

Then there was the season finale of Doctor Who, which actually validated one of my (many) theories about what was going on, but I still need to wrap my head around it.

Now to go put my house back to normal from all the things I had to move to do the repairs, and then I want to write.

Friday, May 17, 2013

New Book Day!

It's book release day, though this one has been trickling out, since we got it early to some of the places that are usually slow, but they got it out early this time, but then the places that usually allow pre-orders didn't this time. At any rate, the Kindle and Nook versions seem to be available, but for some reason Amazon isn't linking the Kindle and paperback versions as though they're one book, so you have to search the Kindle store specifically to get the Kindle version. Just searching the title doesn't give the Kindle version (at least, last time I checked). Here's the direct Kindle link.

I'm celebrating book release day by going to see the new Star Trek movie and then doing some home repairs with a friend. Actually, I think he'll be doing the repairs and I'll be acting as scrub nurse and handing him tools. To add to my list of problems, something has broken in my garage door opener -- not the more complicated electrical part, just a part that attaches the chain belt to the door itself. The Home Depot guys were baffled when I showed them a picture of the problem part because apparently my opener is an antique that's older than they are. We'll have to see if we can find a way to fix the broken part. That will likely require creative problem solving. Otherwise, I'll just have to replace the whole system, which would be a huge pain.

Proceeds from sales of the new book will go to the Keep Shanna's House Functioning Fund.

I need to learn to do more of these electrical and plumbing type repairs. I can do stuff like drywall, painting and minor carpentry, thanks to Habitat for Humanity, but they didn't let me play with the more complicated stuff.

Speaking of painting, who knew there were so many shades of pale blue? I still haven't picked a color for the downstairs bathroom. I thought I had it narrowed down, but then found a new card or two of samples yesterday that I will have to peruse and check against my existing blue items.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stupid Reporter Tricks

We had a bit of excitement last night with a big batch of storms in the area. I was fortunate to just get a lot of rain and lightning, but southwest of here there were a lot of major tornadoes. I spent the evening watching the coverage and the radar on TV while knitting furiously.

All the network programming was pre-empted for storm coverage, which meant we had an extended episode of Stupid Reporter Tricks. The weather guy was good at giving updates, showing the radar, and telling which areas should be taking shelter. Then they got news crews on the scene in the areas that got hit by the tornadoes, and things got silly. It was still the immediate aftermath, the storm was still ongoing (lots of rain, wind, thunder and lightning). It was dark and power was out. First responders were still trying to get to the affected areas to do house-to-house searches for people trapped in the rubble. No one had much clue about what was going on because everyone other than the first responders was supposed to be staying in shelter, and the first responders were busy. And meanwhile, there were storms still going on throughout the region that people probably needed to be kept updated about. But they still had to do live shots, in spite of having nothing to say. One crew was stuck at a church where they took shelter when they got caught in another wave of storms, and the church people were still there after being caught there during a Bible study when the tornado hit. For lack of anything better to do, the reporter started interviewing people at the church. She asked one lady, "Doesn't it break your heart to see this devastation?"

It's a very good thing I wasn't being interviewed. My snark levels climb off the charts when I'm upset. I probably would have replied with something like, "Objection! Leading the witness." Or maybe, "Well, my house is fine, so actually I'm good." Or perhaps a "What kind of question is that? Where did you go to journalism school? Didn't they teach you to ask open-ended questions instead of getting people to confirm the words you put in their mouths?" Most likely it would have been a scathing, "Seriously?" If anyone being interviewed live ever answered like that, I'd probably start a cult around them. And while we were getting this breaking news that tornado devastation is sad, there was another storm heading right toward me on the radar, and no one was saying anything about how serious it was.

Fortunately, the storms held off for me until after choir, so we got to have our final children's choir program. My kids were beyond adorable, and people seemed to like my crazy choreography. The mom who usually records it hasn't posted a link, so I don't have it to show off, but trust me, kindergarteners attempting a kick line is probably one of the funniest things you'll see all week.

Today, I hope to get started writing what I hope will end up being a short, palate-cleansing project. If it turns into a full novel, I'm doomed.

Tonight, though, is the finale of The Office. I may need tissues because the previous episode got me a little teary-eyed. I will admit that I'm kind of hoping that at some point we'll hear the "Vrorp Vrorp" sound from the parking lot and Nellie will jump up and run outside. (In case you weren't aware, Nellie on The Office is played by Catherine Tate, who played the wonderful Donna on Doctor Who, and Nellie definitely has her Donna moments.) In my head, that's what will happen to her, even if we don't see it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Plot vs. Character

I spent much of yesterday playing with a new story idea that came to me a couple of weeks ago. I don't think it will turn out to be novel-length, maybe novella-length, but I can never tell. It may explode. I'm not sure what I'd do with a novella. This doesn't seem like the sort of thing that will get much traction with most of the short fiction markets for fantasy, unless a themed anthology just happens to pop up at just the right time. It might just be something to put out as a cheap e-book to use as marketing and keep my name out there between releases. We'll see after I write it.

Developing a new story idea has reminded me of a question I get asked often by aspiring writers, whether I think of myself as plot-driven or character-driven. Get a bunch of authors together, and this discussion will often come up, with various value judgments about which is better implied in the discussion. Which is considered superior depends on which group you're talking to. Among romance authors, "character-driven" is generally considered better because it's supposedly deeper and more emotional, but in fantasy, science fiction and mystery, authors are praised for masterful plotting, with good characterization a bonus.

Really, though, I'm not sure it matters or if it's something that can be judged from the outside. The process doesn't necessarily show in the results, and a good genre novel needs to have both engaging characters and a well-developed plot (literary fiction has other expectations). When I hear from readers about my books, it's almost all about how much they love my characters, but my process is usually very plot-driven, where I first come up with the major events of the story and then create characters. There's a lot of back-and-forth, though, where I may have an idea of what the major plot problem will be, and then I'll think of the main cast of characters who'll be needed, and then I'll develop more of the plot, and then I'll flesh out the major characters, and then the specific steps of the plot develop based on who those characters are and the kinds of choices those people would make.

I do occasionally have a character in mind and fit a story around that person, but that's much more difficult to do. In the story I just started developing, I had the whole story outlined before I even started looking at who the characters were because it's the sort of thing where the types of characters were what mattered to the plot. The personalities came later, and I'm sure that will shape how I write the plot events, though it probably won't change the major events. If I do it right, it will yet again be a case of readers loving my characters, and they won't notice or care that the characters were secondary in the development of the story.

The bottom line is to write in a way that works for you and for the story you're telling without worrying about fitting into some mold or doing things in a way that's considered "better" by other writers. If you do it right, no one will be able to tell based on the results.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Report: Traditional Fantasy

For once, the paperback version of a book will be available at the same time as the e-book. In fact, you can order the paperback of Kiss and Spell from Amazon now, so you might get it within a few days of the official release date. There were some kinks with getting the pre-order of the e-book available, but we're working on that. It will definitely be available from the major retailers Friday, but apparently they changed their pre-order policies without telling anyone, and getting them to tell what their new policies are is something of a challenge. I think we have to answer some riddles and find some sacred chalice or other that's being guarded by a dragon.

If I ever become such a bestseller that people are begging to publish my books, I may have to make that my policy, where they have to answer riddles and carry out a quest in order to win the rights. How people like Stephen King have resisted that urge is beyond me. After all the struggles I've had with publishers and having to jump through their hoops, there's a part of me that's dying to go all "Dance, monkey, dance!" once I get some clout. Though that's probably more something I'd fantasize about. In reality, it would just be drawing a few contractual lines in the sand and being willing to walk if they won't give in. I imagine that's what Stephen King does, though we don't know what dark rituals he forces his editors to perform for his amusement. There's probably a non-disclosure agreement involved.

Now for some recent reading. I've been on a relatively traditional fantasy kick lately.

There was Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, which is a classic sword-and-sorcery type story in an unconventional setting -- a vaguely Middle Eastern fantasy world. Someone with great power is raising armies of ghuls to do their bidding, and if they get their hands on the throne, there's gonna be real trouble. The task of finding and facing this villain falls on the elderly ghul hunter who'd really just like to retire and his overly gung-ho (and a wee bit self-righteous) young assistant who handles the "sword" part of the equation. I kept seeing this in my head as a Saturday matinee movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen. The world building is fun, and I liked the unconventional characters, like having an elderly hero in a swashbuckling adventure.

And then another Patricia McKillip book, In the Forests of Serre, which read like a fairy tale. I recognized fairy tale elements within the story, but they all came together to create a new story with original characters. A power-mad king demands that the princess of a neighboring kingdom marry his son (or else he'll take control of his neighbor in a more violent way). His son's not all that keen on it, having been recently widowed and still so heartbroken that he has little interest in life. An unfortunately encounter with a witch in the woods leaves the prince wandering and lost, which messes up the wedding plans, and there's an unscrupulous wizard eager to take advantage of that. There's a dreamlike quality to this book in that it feels very familiar from all the fairy tale elements, yet because it's its own story, it's not familiar. I liked the main characters a lot and loved the way they worked toward their happy endings. I've loved everything of McKillip's that I've read, so I suspect I'm about to go on a major glom and read it ALL.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Domestic Urges

I had a productive weekend, and my hands really show it. I dug up weeds, vines and a layer of lava rocks that turned out to be below the top surface of soil at the end of the patio in the little area between the end of the slab and the fence, then I set out stepping stones and filled in all the gaps with pebbles. The stones have sharp edges, so I have a lot of little cuts all over my hands and arms. That should take care of the Evil Alien Vines in that area. I dug up some roots that were as big around as my thumb. I have one I need to cut, but I don't have a powerful enough cutting tool (like a hatchet). I also threw out the old patio table and set up the new one with the new umbrella base. I still have some cleaning to do on the patio to get rid of leaves and vines, and I need to cut back the vines so I can start training the new growth up some wire trellises. I think I also need some flowers now. There's a lot more space on the patio with the new table. Once I was done working, I spent an enjoyable half hour or so sitting on the patio with a cup of tea and a book. 

We'll see how long this whole domestic urge thing lasts. I think I may go back to the office organization project today, but I also need to clean the downstairs before a new story idea hits me and I get sidetracked by writing. My goal this week is to take care of a lot of around-the-house tasks and then get back to writing next week. I have things cooking in my head that should be about ready to come out by next week. One isn't my originally planned project, but it's a short one that I may have some use for in the near future.

In the meantime, I have release week stuff to do, like approve NetGalley requests and review proofs for the hard copy.

On a related note, if you sign up as a reviewer at NetGalley and are not with an actual media organization, your bio and links are key to getting books. I'm looking for reviewers with an established book blog with a decent readership, or at least something that looks pretty professional with some kind of plan or focus. Just saying you'll post reviews to Amazon and Goodreads doesn't cut it. Although Goodreads activity is nice, you need to give me a little more, like a number of followers, a position running a book group, etc. If you want to guarantee you don't get approved for review copies, write a bio like "I love to read and can never get enough books." That translates to "give me free books."

Friday, May 10, 2013

In Praise of the Waistcoat

The web site should now be more or less up to date. There's an excerpt of the opening of the new book. I may do some more tweaks in the coming days as buy links come up. Pre-orders should become available for Amazon and Apple early next week, for those who want to have the book automatically appear on release day. It's also possible that the paperback via Amazon will be available around release day, but I'm not holding my breath because things there have a fun way of getting messed up. We've got all the pieces together for that to happen, so it's up to them being able to pull off their end of things.

I don't know why I put off the web site updates for so long. It went on the list of things I procrastinate about until it reaches a point of dread, for no apparent reason.  I was all geared up to spend the day working on it, then finished in maybe an hour.

In other news, I've recently noticed a trend that I heartily approve of: the return of the waistcoat in men's fashion. Or at least on TV. I don't really follow fashion, and I don't know too many men who care much about being in style (most of my friends are geeks), so I don't know if this is a real-world thing, but it's showing up on TV a lot lately, much to my delight. There's just something about a trim man in a waistcoat. Last night, Sherlock was wearing a buttoned up waistcoat and white shirt on Elementary. David (aka Prince Charming) was wearing one this week on Once Upon a Time (and it was a scene in our world, not a fairy tale land flashback). The Doctor has added a waistcoat to his wardrobe this season on Doctor Who, worn with bowtie and frock coat, but a couple of episodes ago, he was in shirtsleeves with the waistcoat, and I really liked that look. On Haven last season, a waistcoat became part of Nathan's "really, I'm the police chief now" look, worn with necktie and sometimes a blazer, but with jeans for those messy crime scenes.

I'm not sure it's a look every man can pull off. You kind of have to be built like Matt Smith or Lucas Bryant -- tall, able to hide behind a flagpole -- to really work it . It doesn't work if the buttons strain or the shirt peeks out from underneath. On a skinny guy, the waistcoat accentuates the slim waist while adding a little needed bulk to the torso. Plus, it just gives that classy gentleman look.

I was just thinking of how I'll have to start writing these into my work, but since I've been writing steampunk, I suppose I already have. Maybe that's why this appeals to me. Then again, it may also have something to do with my Overgrown Manchild aversion. It's nice to see men dressed like grown-ups instead of like fratboys. I'm a big fan of suits, in general, and adding the waistcoat/vest ramps it up a notch.

If I were a good blogger, I'd go find photos to embed for visual aids, but I know better than to even start going down that rabbit hole of searching for images. I'd never emerge, and I have stuff to do today, like a trip to the library and to Home Depot so I can set up my patio.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Acknowledging Spring

I seem to have survived children's choir for the year. There's just one more session, but that's the end-of-year program, so I don't have to come up with plans. We just meet, run through our song, and then perform. And then I'm free! The kids were cracking me up last night. At one point, they were getting a bit nuts, then one kid stepped up and started playing "Simon Says." The others really went along with it, and the room got a lot calmer. She ended with "Simon says, listen to the teacher," then gestured to me like she was turning the class over to me. I almost couldn't keep a straight face. I wonder if that's something her teacher does in school. I'll have to remember that one. Then at the end of class, I let them pick whatever their favorite thing of the year was to do one last time, and they requested the Beethoven, or as they call it "the thunderstorm music." The brainwashing seems to be working.

I also had a fun Doctor Who fan encounter with an older kid. I was checking in with the children's music director to verify plans, and she was doing the end-of-year party with one of the children's bell choirs. I missed the context, but one of the girls in the group (I'd guess maybe fourth grade) said, "I wish we had a TARDIS so we could go back in time to five minutes ago when we got here." No one responded, and she repeated it. I couldn't help but respond, "Oh, that would never work. You'd think you were going back five minutes, and you'd end up in Victorian England or in 1975." She totally lit up and we had a nice little discussion (and I got offered a brownie from their party). I got the feeling she'd been sending out the geek signal to see if anyone responded, but none of her peers had any idea what she was talking about. I don't know if it was better or worse that it was one of the teachers who got it, but I think I earned a few cool points there.

I seem to have finally acknowledged and even embraced the arrival of spring. I bought a new patio table yesterday. It was a thought in the back of my mind, since the one I have is so huge it takes up most of the patio, and it's white plastic that over the ten years I've had it has stained and cracked. I was at Target and they had one on sale that's a sort of wrought iron, more of a bistro table size, and still has the umbrella hole, so I bought it on impulse. Now I need a better umbrella base, and I found myself eyeing the Home Depot ad circular in the newspaper this morning. With the smaller table, maybe I have room for a lounge. And then I need flowers. I also have a clever idea for using trellises to keep the evil alien vine off the fence and off the patio by giving it something safe to climb on. If I'm thinking outdoors, it must be spring. It's probably a good thing that I don't have a real lawn or garden that I'm responsible for, just this little enclosed patio, because I only seem to really acknowledge the outdoors for a few weeks in the spring and then again in the fall, and the rest of the year I'd be getting nastygrams from the city about the jungle surrounding my house that I've allowed to grow while ignoring the outdoors.

I was also eyeing the ceiling fan in the ad that had a remote control. That's definitely on the to-do list for the summer. And I need to finally get around to painting the bathroom.

But first, a re-do of the web site and getting this book launched. Then I can deal with my environment. Or maybe it'll be summer and the "ooh, the outdoors!" phase will have passed.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

New Book Info

My ballet teacher had a new CD for class, so last night we danced to the theme from Harry Potter, "YMCA" and a few other things that brought on giggle fits. And we planned out how a Harry Potter ballet would go. It would be fun to dance the Dementor role. They're talking about having an adult musical theater class in the fall, which would be too much fun, with dancing and singing. Musical theater has been a lifelong dream of mine which I doubt I'll ever really do (other priorities), but taking a class would be a way of kind of living it while counting it as exercise.

Now, drumroll please … the information on the new book. We may have a pre-order available soon, but the release is next Friday, so it's not going to be a long pre-order period. We've got the interior set up for the hard copy version, so it's possible that will be available more quickly this time. Now, the reveal of the cover:

You may notice that the fairy and the frog have kind of had their own narrative happening on each of the covers, and that seems to have reached a happy ending here.

We're still finalizing the cover text, but this is the gist of it:  

With great power comes great danger…

When a freak accident leaves Katie Chandler with magical powers, it seems like a wish come true for the former magical immune. But it also means she’s vulnerable to magic, just when the dangerous Elf Lord is cooking up another scheme in his bid for power. Anyone who gets in his way disappears—including Katie and her wizard boyfriend, Owen Palmer.

Now Katie’s under a spell that obscures her true identity, living a life right out of a romantic comedy movie in a Hollywood set version of New York. Will she be able to find her true Mr. Right in time to break the spell with a kiss, or will she be trapped forever, unaware of the doom facing her world and unable to warn anyone?

This was a really fun but really difficult book to write because there's a story within the story, and that story involves the same characters but in a totally different situation, almost like alternate universe fanfic of my own series, but I still had to show that it was actually part of the greater story.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Eep! A Book is Coming Out Next Week!

I had a rather remarkably productive Monday, getting a lot of nagging tasks off the to-do list and even doing a tiny bit of housework. It's just struck me how close I am to a book release, so I guess the next couple of weeks are going to be busy with promotional work and I'll have to backburner the brainstorming for my next project. That's probably for the best, since I still haven't figured it out and turning it over to the subconscious will be good for it.

This is the part of the writing business that makes me want to curl up in a ball and shut out the world, even though public relations was my career back in my "day job" days. Or maybe it's because that was my career. I like going to conventions and meeting fans. I'm not so crazy about all the little tasks, like updating a web site, remembering to post on social media, trying to drum up guest blogs or reviews, etc. Unfortunately, I don't earn quite enough money to pay someone else to do all this for me (someday!). At this point in the series, though, I think it's mostly about letting people know the book is coming. I doubt I'll get new readers with the seventh book. What I need to do is get the people who pick up the first book (and that's still happening on an ongoing basis, according to my royalty statements) to move on to the rest of the series.

So, in case you hadn't heard, the new Enchanted, Inc. book, Kiss and Spell will be coming out in electronic form next Friday. I don't know when the print versions will be available because that takes longer. Tomorrow I'll post the cover. I'm still working on the best way to describe the book without spoiling it. It's a really tricky one. Look for web site updates in the next couple of days. Then the following week I hope to get back in the pre-writing groove. I'd rather not have a two-year gap between releases, so I need to get something else out there, either traditionally or independently. My agent has a book ready to submit, and I'm developing the sequel so it will be ready to go whichever way this one gets published.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Idea Overload

I had another one of those weekends where I kind of need a weekend to recover. It wasn't quite as busy and crazy as the previous weekend, but it had its own kind of stress. Working backwards, I had to direct the combined preschool and kindergarten choirs to sing in the main church service, which is kind of like herding squirrels and making them sing. However, the result was insanely cute:

I'm responsible for the silly choreography. You can tell the kids who are in dance classes and who were very carefully imitating everything I did rather than just doing the motions. I know the lines are very uneven, but there were kids who were supposed to be on the bottom row who moved, and that threw things off, but it wasn't a battle worth fighting in front of the entire church.

Saturday, I had my workshop at the writing conference. I had a fun surprise when the moderator for my session turned out to be someone I worked with about fifteen years ago. Then I had the moment of "yikes!" when I realized I was wearing a skirt I wore to work then. I haven't been wearing it all along. I just rediscovered it last year and put it together into a totally new outfit. And then I realized that I wouldn't have known if she'd worn something she used to wear to work, so there's no reason to expect her to have noticed that about me. Though now I've made it public.

My workshop was on developing story ideas, so it was essentially a long brainstorming session. That seems to have triggered my brain into that mode, so I have still more ideas to play with. I came up with one as I fell asleep that might be more of a novella thing, but it's worth playing with. And then I was dreaming another just before I woke up that was highly amusing. I'm not sure if I could tease a story out of it, but it's fun for anyone who's a fan of those Saturday-night SyFy monster movies because I was simultaneously watching one and in the story.

I was with a group of people spending a weekend in a Scottish castle. We were watching TV, and a movie about a were bear attacking a group of people staying at a Scottish castle came on. It was about us! Some of the group went out to find and deal with the were bear, and they didn't come back, so another group, including the guy I liked, went out looking for them. Someone called in a famous were bear hunter, who was straight out of Central Casting as a wild Scot -- bushy red hair and beard, wearing a great kilt with no shirt, just the plaid thrown over his shoulder. He asked if we had any weapons, and I pointed to the walls that were covered in swords, axes, and the like. But that wasn't what he was looking for. He ended up raiding the silverware drawer and taking all the silver knives before heading out to do battle. Meanwhile, I was getting worried about the people who hadn't come back yet, since the guy I like almost always seems to die in those movies. He was the cute, nice, level-headed one, and in the movies that's usually the hero's best friend whose sacrificial death provides additional motivation for the hero. In real life, the level-headed one is probably more likely to survive, but I didn't know which rules were at work in this situation. I helped the rest of the people who were fleeing in terror load their cars, then went back inside and found my guy calmly watching TV. He informed me that the movie was over and a new one had started, and then my alarm went off.

I think there's some potential fun for the meta of it, with the people watching a monster movie finding themselves living one. Or is it a magic TV that made the monster movie happen -- the caretaker may have warned us not to spend our time watching TV? Or maybe the cute guy is the castle's owner, and he had warned the others against it. I think then the rest of the scene would have been the next movie being about alien invasion, then weird lights showing in the sky, and then we look at each other, scramble for the remote and turn off the TV. At any rate, this was very distracting and I spent a lot of time yesterday trying to tease a real narrative out of this.

I did get my HD cable box, and it turns out I could even set it up exactly like I had the old one, without getting fancy. I may not be getting full, true HD that way, but the important part for me is that I get the proper aspect ratio for the networks that don't letterbox the non-HD version, just cutting off the sides, instead. It was lovely to watch PBS the right way. I figure that if there's something I really want to see in true HD, I can just attach the appropriate cable and undo the other one. Unfortunately, the main reason I bothered with the new box turns out to still be a problem, as I'm still not getting the expanded range of channels. I'll have to call them again and get that taken care of. But today I have work to do, no matter how much I'd prefer to go back to bed.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Glamorous Capers, and Other Fun Stuff

My "retreat" day seems to be turning into a work day, as I need to write cover copy, review a contract and probably review a digital file or two, in addition to preparing for my workshop. I hope to squeeze in some time to run to the cable company, since I've discovered via their set-up instructions on their web site that their HD converters do have the outputs I need for my TV and VCR, and I'm still not getting the extra channels I'm supposed to be getting with my current converter box. I want to be able to watch Doctor Who on Saturday night when I get home from the conference, and I'm tired of the way my PBS station seems to cut off the sides of its programs on the non-HD feed, even though I have a widescreen TV.

I also need a library run, as I opened the door to walk to the library yesterday and was hit by a blast of cold north wind. It was 45 degrees with a wind chill much lower than that. Yes, in May in Texas. Summer is going to kill me. After yesterday, I caught myself thinking about getting ready for Christmas.

However, in my "retreat" time yesterday afternoon, I came up with a title for the book I'm developing, which is a big plus, and I don't find any other listings with that title on Amazon.

Meanwhile, I think I've been hit by a new story idea I'm not quite sure what to do with. It came from me guessing wrong about what was going on in the book I was reading. I'd even skimmed ahead because it seemed awfully close to the end even though it felt like we were in the middle part of the story, so I wanted to make sure this wasn't one of those cliffhanger series things (it wasn't), but I'd misinterpreted what I read in skimming ahead. What was really happening works, too, but what I thought was happening was far more intriguing, and now I want to write that story. I'm currently trying to map it onto my other ideas to see if it gels into a plot, but it's not really working. I suppose it's similar to something already in that steampunk book I just sold, but I think in a different story I could take it to its full extent.

I'm also still playing with that idea of the romantic, globe-trotting caper/espionage story. I have this vague sense of there having been a lot of movies of that sort, but all I can really think of is Charade. To Catch a Thief kind of fits. Then there's the whole James Bond canon. What else is there? There's got to be some Vespas in Rome, driving a convertible through the hills around Monte Carlo, running through the streets of Paris kind of thing. The Bourne movies are grittier than I'm thinking. I'm going more for Cary Grant and Grace Kelly where it's more glamorous than gritty. A couple rather than a team, so not really a caper in the Italian Job vein.

Yes, I'm thinking about five projects ahead, but I think some of this might end up applying to the one I'm developing. First, though cover copy for book 7, my workshop speech and upgrading my cable.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Projects off My Plate

I've finished proofreading and now am more or less finished with this book. I still have to review the digital files and the paper version proofs, write cover copy and do promotional work, but the writing part of the book is done. That means all my current projects are on someone else's plate. I've got a book with the editor, a book with my agent and a book going into production. Now I can move on to something new and kind of get my life in order. The next few days (aside from that conference on Saturday) will be my "retreat" to start really thinking about this next book, and that even counts as preparing for my workshop because going through my steps will help me think of things to talk about.

For those who are curious as to how much work goes into a book, this may have been the first one I've tracked from start to finish, and it came to about 143 hours. It's a little depressing that this comes to just under 18 8-hour working days even though it spanned more than a year (very off and on because there were gaps between phases), but then it occurred to me that this would be 8-hour days of non-stop, actual work, not the kind of 8-hour working days of getting settled at the desk, checking e-mail, getting coffee, chatting with co-workers, going to meetings, etc. I time with a stopwatch the amount of time actually devoted to this particular project. It doesn't count time thinking about the project while doing other things or the time spent on developing series elements that were used here. This was probably the fastest book of the series because it's shorter by a bit, because I already knew the characters so well and because I think I've finally learned enough to do it right in the first place instead of spending months rewriting. It does look like the ending sets up the possibility of a whole new range of stories, but it could also be taken as closure. And I still don't have any ideas currently sparking. We'll see what happens after I've written some other stuff.

I now have just one more normal session of children's choir, and then we have the evening of doing the program for the parents. My kids seem to have loved what I came up with for the song for the parents. They get to do a kick line. They're very excited. It will take a bit of practice to coordinate it. Although this whole thing is a little overwhelming, we must be doing something right because we've had no attendance drop-off. In the past couple of years, there's been a bit of a drop from the fall semester to the spring, and then a gradual waning to the end of the year. I'm  ending the semester with the same regular attendance as we started with, and I only lost one kid between fall and spring (and they may have moved). Either these kids aren't as into other activities, or they're enjoying themselves enough to keep wanting to come. They usually seem happy to be there.

And then the adult choir director found a way to make me very happy. We do a Memorial Day concert, and this year one of the songs is "Do You Hear the People Sing" from Les Miserables. I've always wanted to sing that as part of a choir, so this is a dream come true. Last year, the men's chorus did "Bring Him Home," and we went straight from that to an a capella choir arrangement of "Taps," and I don't think there was a dry eye in the house, including mine. I guess we're being more militant this year. I will have to restrain myself from climbing onto my seat and waving a flag.

We're having a sudden burst of November weather (in May!), so I think I'm going to walk to the library, browse for books, maybe get some DVDs, then have tea at the cafe. Otherwise, this will likely be a sofa day.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

From Idea to Plot

Our ballet teacher happened to have some tutus in the room last night, and there were only three of us adult students there, with no men. So, we shut the door, closed the blinds on the room's observation window, and we played ballerina. And, you know, we really did dance better while wearing tutus. For one thing, the short, fluffy tutus force you to keep your arms in proper positions. For another, when you feel like a dancer, you carry yourself like a dancer, and that makes everything work better. Too bad I was having a bad knee day and had to be very careful about not jumping too much and keeping everything low-impact.

I'm giving a workshop on building a book this weekend, and that give me fodder for today's writing post. For most writers, ideas are a dime a dozen. They're constantly hitting us, from every direction. I barely get through an entire day without getting at least a fragment of an idea for a story. When I first started trying to write, back when I was in junior high, this was a real problem because an idea would hit me, I'd start writing with great enthusiasm, and then it would fizzle out because it was lacking all the essential ingredients for a story. But then a new idea would strike me, and I'd forget about the previous one and strike out on the new one. This pattern repeated for more than a decade before I finally finished a book. It sometimes pops up again when I get hit with an idea, figure I know what I'm doing by now, and plunge into writing, only to find it fizzling.

I've found that there are some key ingredients to every story, and making sure to find or develop those ingredients in your idea can set you on the road to having a viable story (or if you can't find or develop these elements, you know it isn't a viable idea). These ingredients may come to you in different orders. Sometimes you think of the characters, then have to develop the situation. Sometimes you've got the situation and need characters and conflict. Sometimes, you may come up with a concept that has none of these elements and you have to figure it all out. So, this is in no particular order.

Just about every story needs:
Characters -- you need someone who can do something in order for much of anything to happen. These characters need to want something -- generally in addition to their story goal, and achieving their story goal may allow them to achieve this other desire, or that desire may change. Even before they realize that there's an evil wizard who must be vanquished, they may personally desire something like adventure, knowledge, love or money. This desire can be either a strength or a weakness (and sometimes both). They may be called upon to sacrifice this desire for the greater good.

A Situation -- There's something amiss in the world that must be put right. That's generally what your plot is about, putting that thing right. It can be as big-picture as an evil wizard with plans to plunge the world into hell in an epic fantasy saga or as personal as a person who needs to learn to trust again in a category romance. Setting this thing right is the job for your hero -- willingly or otherwise. The hero may or may not be aware of the situation at the beginning of the story. The story usually kicks off when the hero either learns of the situation or learns that he's the one who has to deal with it.

Conflict -- this is usually inherent in the situation, but you need something that's stopping the hero from setting things right and from achieving his personal desire. There's big-picture conflict -- that overall thing keeping the hero from achieving the main goal -- and steps-along-the-way conflicts that make it more difficult to achieve the steps needed to achieve the final goal. There may also be internal conflicts within characters, like fears and doubts, and personal conflicts between characters, such as the good guys disagreeing about the best way to do things.

Once you have these three elements figured out and developed, you can build a story plot. You know what your characters need to achieve, and you know what will get in their way. From there, you can get fancy with turning points and reversals and all that stuff, and you can add depth with the characters' internal goals. There's not much point in trying to plot or write until you know these things. If you're a "pantser" who doesn't plot, you probably have some sense of the characters, situation and conflict in your head before you start, even if you don't have it written down, or else you probably figure these things out early in your writing.

In the workshop, we'll take a story idea from the audience and build it into a basic plot. I hope. If all else fails, there's always the plot to Star Wars to use as an illustration (it's a very basic, universal plot structure and almost everyone is familiar with it, so I use it often as an example).