Friday, June 28, 2013

Geeky Summer TV

I launched into the new book yesterday, getting the first scene/the first 2,000 or so words done. Even better, the book seems to have taken over my brain already. I stayed in bed really late this morning in spite of waking up really early because entire scenes were flooding into my head, and when The Voices start talking like that, it's a good idea to listen. I think there will be a writing marathon today to try to capture everything that came to me last night. I'm remembering how much I love these characters. This may come across as blasphemy to some, but I may even like them more than Katie and Owen. They're a lot more complex and a little more messed-up while still being essentially good people who are trying to do the right thing.

In other news, I'm almost done with my latest knitting project, which I hope to reveal on Monday. It's really complicated and required learning a few new techniques, but the part I messed up on was the simple ribbing at the end. After doing a bunch of lace from a chart and then doing a pattern involving all sorts of bobbles and crossovers, I lost count on a simple knit three, purl one rib and had to undo almost an entire row -- and a row is 311 stitches. But now that the rib's properly established, it's a lot more brainless.

I've been getting all this knitting done because there's been a fair amount of geeky TV on lately, so let's catch up.

There's Primeval: New World on SyFy, a Canadian version of the British series, now finally showing in the US but, sadly, already cancelled in Canada after one season. I had to wait for SyFy to rerun the first couple of episodes because I assumed wrongly that it would be available OnDemand, like everything else on SyFy. When I caught up, I really liked it. One thing I like is that it's more on the CSI model, where it follows the events in a different location in the same universe, rather than being a remake of the original series where they try to map the characters onto the original cast. That means there's no Nerdboy. I know he was popular among the younger fangirls because he's allegedly cute (I much preferred the big-game-hunter research assistant from the first couple of seasons, though I ended up liking the actor even better when he got to be the comic relief in CHAOS), but as a character it seemed like they couldn't decide if he was Gilligan or The Professor. Half the time he was getting himself and sometimes others into trouble because he was a total idiot, but then they also tried to make him the brilliant inventor who came up with all the devices that saved the day, and by the end he was also some kind of romantic hero, and just ugh, really. But in this series, they all seem to be reasonably competent adult professionals who I can imagine actually doing this stuff. I like the team interactions. We haven't seen a lot of him, but I rather love the idea of the air force officer stuck in the X-Files/Project Blue Book kind of job who gets the surprise of his life when someone actually reports something relevant to him, and he has to use those protocols he's been sitting on while twiddling his thumbs in boredom.

Fortunately, Sinbad is OnDemand, so I can watch it on Sunday afternoons when I eat lunch and read the newspaper after church. I certainly wouldn't schedule my life around it or even bother recording it. It's supremely cheesy British fantasy fluff with just enough meat in it to be mildly intriguing. They've got a good set-up for a voyage kind of series, with the rag-tag group on the ship whose professional crew mostly died in a storm, and Our Hero is under a curse so that he'll die if he stays on land for more than a day. So they sail from port to port, having adventures before hightailing it back to the boat before sunrise. Unfortunately, this suffers the same ills as most of the recent British fantasy fare aimed mostly at teen-ish viewers, in that it comes across as way too contemporary. The characters in this vaguely medieval Middle East talk like modern Londoners, complete with slang and idioms. Sinbad wouldn't turn heads walking down any modern city street, since he wears cargo shorts and a t-shirt. The sense of modern was what kept me from being able to deal with Merlin, and it irked me with Robin Hood. With Robin Hood, one of the behind-the-scenes features even talked about how their costumes were designed so that kids could find clothes like that in the local High Street shops, so Robin Hood wore Ye Olde Hoodye. I guess they think that modern kids won't relate to anything that's not just like their own lives. Don't they realize that the allure of costume dramas is the costumes? What's the point of something set in a different time and place if I can buy the same things in the mall? Anyway, Sinbad must have caught my imagination on some level because I found myself dreaming an episode the other night. Or, at least, I was dreaming a fantasy story set on a boat.

I caught the first episode of Under the Dome, and while the plot intrigues me, I don't particularly care about any of the characters yet. I mostly spent the hour making snowglobe jokes, since Haven's Christmas episode a couple of years ago was inspired by the same source material, and it turned out to be a girl with powers who was turning the town into a snowglobe. Every time someone ran into the dome in this series, I'd hum a little "Silent Night." I think my main interest in this series will be mapping the King tropes.

It's not new, but my schedule has finally adjusted to allow me to watch Person of Interest, and I think I'm hooked. It would be nice if it were available OnDemand, though, since that's why I didn't watch it in the first place (it was on when I had a class, then wasn't OnDemand, so I didn't get hooked enough to want to record it, so I just didn't watch). I really like the characters (I'm kind of a sucker for the soft-spoken, unassuming badass), though I'm a bit lost on the big-picture story. I love the dog. But now that my dance classes have moved back to Tuesday nights and I no longer have major programming conflicts, guess where they're moving the show? Now I might be hooked enough to record it, though.

As for my question about blog content, I'm rather surprised that people are still intrigued by my daily life. I'm not intrigued by my own daily life. Maybe I'll make up one and start writing about it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

What Do You Want to Read Here?

I have decided that today I will begin writing words on the book. I saw the "movie" of the opening scene in my head a few times last night, and the last time it came with mental narration, which is a good sign. I still have some planning/plotting and research to do, but I think with that I'm at the point of procrastination perfectionism, where I'll never start if the plot has to be perfect before I go there. However, this week of additional plotting and planning has been beneficial because the opening scene is totally new and wouldn't have been there if I'd started writing on Monday. I'm finally getting to use a character I created in great detail for the first book and never found a place to use her (she's mentioned, but doesn't make a personal appearance). She's still a minor character who just appears in a couple of scenes, but I know a lot about her. There's even a possibility of her getting an expanded role if I do more books in this series.

I'm coming up on my ninth year of blogging (yikes! Where did the time go?), and since I'm winding down (for now) one series, getting ready to launch a new possible series a couple of years from now and trying to sell a new series, I figure it's time to re-evaluate what I'm doing. Judging by the comments, the audience has shifted over time, so it's not necessarily the same people (other than my personal friends) reading now who were reading back at the beginning. Or, if they are, they're being quiet about it. Which is cool.

So, this is your opportunity to tell me what you'd like me to write about. I guess I could do a fancy poll, but that usually takes more time to set up than it's worth. I think the last time I asked this question and did a poll, the topic that got the most interest was personal life stuff, which is funny because my personal life is pretty boring. I sit at home most of the time and occasionally go to dinner or a movie or hiking with friends, or else I go to choir practice and ballet class.

Are you interested in:
The process of writing and what I'm working on
Discussion of books I've read
A more in-depth re-read discussion of a book series or favorite books (like they do on
A re-watch, episode-by-episode discussion of a TV series (again, like they do on
TV discussion/reviews
Movie discussionreviews
Author interviews
The publishing industry
Writing/publishing how-tos

Those are just some ideas, but if you have other ideas of things you think I could address, speak up. I'd like to keep this blog somewhat relevant and interesting enough for fans to keep coming back while maybe also being interesting enough to draw people who aren't fans yet.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Plotting the Details

Because I still have a lot of classes to make up from the month of ballet I missed due to illness last fall (followed by a couple of colds in the spring semester), I stayed after ballet last night for the jazz class. And now I'm barely mobile and very creaky because jazz is a lot more intense than ballet. But it's great exercise because the class starts with stuff like crunches and push-ups. I just don't know how great an idea it is to dance from 7:15 to 9:45. The jazz was fun, though, and keeping up with the choreography is good mental exercise. I didn't even feel terribly awkward. At times I even felt like I was really dancing rather than working my way through a series of steps. Now we'll see if I manage to drag myself to tonight's ballet class. I've been awfully sedentary lately, so I need the structured exercise. Plus, the heroine of the book I'm working on is a dancer, so I think this helps keep me in the right mindset. I would say that I wish my knees were twenty years younger, but then it was about twenty years ago that I had to have knee surgery, so my knees were actually worse then.

I think I've figured out my main problem with plotting this book: The plot is really just a framework to hang the characters' emotional arcs onto. I've got the emotional stuff all worked out in great detail, but then I get vague and hand-wavy about the external plot that leads to that emotional stuff happening. Normally, it's the other way around, where I come up with a plot and then figure out how it affects the characters emotionally. This is also a book that's a lot angstier than I tend to write because these are all difficult emotions that will require tough decisions and sacrifices. I think the humor will come through in the voice. In the first book of this potential series, the emotional stuff was mostly subtext and the dialogue was snappy, almost screwball comedy style, where they talked about everything but what they were really feeling. Which is why it took a lot of rewrites, as I started with them saying things outright, then gradually edited that into subtext lying underneath witty quips. I imagine I'll have to do the same here.

So, today's fun will involve forcing myself to really plot and to stop whenever I'm tempted to slide by with "and then something happens" rather than coming up with what actually happens. I still leave myself room to play and allow myself to change things in midstream if I come up with something better while I'm writing, but leaving things at "and then something happens" at this point is a recipe for being blocked when I get to that part of the book. On the up side, I'm starting to have individual scenes play out in my head. They're not all strung together and are random bits and pieces, but I like it when the "movie" starts playing in my mind. I've got the opening scene down pretty well and am figuring out what happens next out of several possible options. I may also have the "ticking clock" element, the reason why the characters have to resolve this problem now.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Report: Introvert Power

It looks like the price drop on the first four books is now also available on the Nook, so you can get the cheaper e-books in the flavor of your choice.

I think I've figured out the opening to the new book. It sort of drifted into my head last night as I was falling asleep. I don't know if it's quite ready to write yet, though. I still have some stuff to work out, as the book as a whole is rather misty and vague. But first, my big task will be to send out the contract for the new YA steampunk book. It took a while and a lot of back and forth to get that finalized. This is why publishing is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

I forgot to mention in last week's roundup of reading that I'd read another Patricia McKillip book, The Book of Atrix Wolfe. I'm really trying to hold back from binging on all her books, all at once, because I like the idea of knowing there's still something out there. This one had elements of Cinderella (or more like Donkeyskin, in that she was a princess working as a servant in the castle of another king and wasn't particularly abused rather than being turned into an abused servant in her own home) mixed with wizards and the fey. I'm impressed by the way she manages to write new stories that somehow feel like lost traditional fairy tales. There's this whole classification system of fairy tale elements, and it's almost like she takes several of those elements and then mixes them together in a new tale that still feels old. Even if that's not what she does, it sounds like it could be a fun way to come up with a fantasy writing prompt. I shall have to try that next time I'm between books.

But the main book I want to discuss is a non-fiction book, Quiet by Susan Cain. It's a book on introversion that not only looks at the way society regards introverts but also at some of the science explaining aspects of introversion and the way American society is cheating itself by building itself around extroversion. Learning about introversion was one of the major lightbulb moments in my life. When we'd had "introvert" and "extrovert" as vocabulary words in school, they went with "Introvert" meaning quiet and shy and "extrovert" meaning talkative and outgoing. By that definition, I'd generally be considered an extrovert, depending on the situation. I'm an Army brat, so I'm good at adapting to new things and making new friends, and I'm very verbal. I come across as "bubbly" (one of the words most frequently used to describe me). But when I was a couple of years out of college, my boss sent me to a week-long summer seminar for university public affairs professionals held at Notre Dame. At the first session, they administered the Myers-Briggs assessment -- an official one, not just one of those Internet versions. I was really shocked when the results showed me as being a strong introvert, but then the lightbulb went off and everything clicked when they explained what that meant, that it was about where your focus was and where you got your energy. It explained so much about me and why I had so many times when I felt overloaded and needed to withdraw for a while. I'd been trying to live up to an extrovert label, but liking to talk has nothing to do with where you get your energy.

This book didn't offer much in the way of revelation on that front, but it did explain a few other things about me. For one thing, introverts tend to be highly reactive to stimuli -- we get a stronger response from less stimulation, while extroverts need more stimulation to get a similar response. That's part of why introverts find crowds and noise overwhelming. Even when I'm alone, I don't keep on music or the TV for background noise. My decor is fairly simple, focusing on soothing colors like blue or green, with white walls. It even explains my worship preferences -- what my church calls "modern worship" is full of stimulation, with constant wall-of-sound music, even as background to quiet moments, and with flashing slides on screens. I want to run screaming from the building. I much prefer the quieter traditional style where one thing happens at a time and the focus is on peace and reflection.

But most of the book is about the way American society has been driven and shaped by extroversion, to the point that introversion is often seen as a flaw that needs correcting. The people with the loudest voices are the ones being heard, so they're the ones arranging things for their own benefit. The problem is that a lot of it may be based on their preferences, but it's based on wrong assumptions about what works. Take, for instance, the open-plan office, which is an extrovert's dream. The theory is that if everyone works together in one big space, they'll be more productive and creative, with ideas flowing freely. The truth, according to actual research, is that open-plan offices result in lower productivity, higher absenteeism, lower job satisfaction, more turnover and more physical illness for everyone, introvert and extrovert. Extroverts may be energized by such an arrangement, but they don't actually do their jobs better. Or take group brainstorming, which is practically a gospel in the advertising world. It doesn't really work. Even extroverts come up with more and higher quality new ideas when brainstorming alone than with a group, and the bigger the group, the poorer the output. The most effective brainstorming is for everyone to come up with ideas on their own and then share and discuss them online where everyone is more likely to speak up and where all voices are judged more evenly rather than by who seems the loudest and most enthusiastic or forceful. I wanted to send those pages to everyone I have to deal with on any projects or committees and then to go back in time and share them with all my former co-workers and employers.

It's a very interesting book, and I think even extroverts should read it because they could learn a thing or two about dealing with people. There are also some amusing anecdotes as the author explores some bastions of extroversion, like a Tony Robbins seminar. That sequence alone made me think that if Tina Fey could take a non-fiction book on the sociology of interpersonal relationships among teenage girls and turn it into the movie Mean Girls, there had to be something she could do with this book to create a comedy about an introvert trying to function in an extroverted world.

Now to go ship off a contract and then settle down for some solo brainstorming.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Announcement Part Two

Now I can make the second part of the planned announcement (from Friday's post). When my agent suggested dropping the price of books 5 and 6, since they'd been out for nearly a year, I commented that it was too bad that we couldn't drop the prices of the first four books in the series, since they've been out for years, and a lot of people won't start the series without reading the first book. My agent got in touch with Random House, and they agreed to lower the price of the e-books for the first four in the series. That price has now shown up at Amazon and Apple. Last time I checked, it wasn't yet at Barnes & Noble, and I don't know about Kobo. Because these are the Random House books, the e-books are only available in North America (but stay tuned for future news on that front), and since I'm not in control of the situation, I have no idea how long that price will last.

If you wanted to get these books on your Kindle but thought the e-book price was too high when you had the hard copy, or if you've been trying to hook friends on the series and they've balked at the price, here's your chance to get the first six books of the series, including the four Random House books, as e-books at $5.99 each. The sales rank for the first book has shot up at Amazon already, so it looks like new people may be discovering the series. Tell your friends and spread the word. I'm very excited about the fact that the publisher agreed to this, so I'd like them to see really positive results from what amounts to an experiment on their part.

I had kind of planned to start writing the new book today, but yesterday as I was playing iTunes roulette, putting it on shuffle and trying to apply each song that came up to the story or characters, I came up with something new that changes the initial approach, and now I need to think more about it. It's tough to make the judgment call and decide if this is prudence or procrastination. Am I coming up with excuses to avoid starting? But since I have no deadline and since the new idea could make things even better, I think it's prudence to do more thinking about it.

In other news, I saw Monsters University on Friday, and I thought it was really fun, possibly even better than the original. That's mostly because the theme of the movie really startled me. It's hard to talk about it without spoilers because it all came up in the way the movie ends, but I was surprised by a movie coming out of contemporary Hollywood that dared to do a couple of things that go entirely against the grain of current American culture. It's something that needs to be said but that people who dare to say it often get slapped down about. Speaking vaguely, it's about the importance of aptitude or talent to success and being willing to admit that not everyone has the same potential. It's common sense, but not something you generally see in today's kids' movies, which tend to be more about "if you want it bad enough, you should have it."

I haven't seen much discussion of the latest Pixar short that's in front of this one, but I found it to be breathtakingly lovely. I'm still not entirely sure if they started with actual photography and animated elements of it or if they managed some truly photorealistic animation. There's not a single word of dialogue, but it tells a full story, and it nearly brought me to tears over the fate of an umbrella. Bravo, Pixar. I might even get Monsters University on DVD just to get that short film.

Finally, in other sort-of book-related news, my essay on House is the current Smart Pop Books freebie, if you care to partake. This was one of the cases of my Essay Curse, in which the show I'm discussing takes a horrible turn for the worse immediately after I write an essay about it. Almost as soon as my essay was finalized, they did things on the show that negated some of my points (mostly they woobified House), and then the next season sidelined the original supporting cast, negating all my arguments. However, I think that this is a reason the show sank from that point because it was no longer doing the things I talked about with the supporting cast. The essay will be available for free reading until Sunday.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Announcement Part One

I can't really make the full announcement yet because the part that depends on someone else doing something hasn't come about, but here's a start.

You know how they usually come out with a cheaper paperback edition of a book after it's been out for about a year? That isn't really about the fact that the physical object costs less to produce. It's about the perceived value of the content. A book is put out in hardcover because the publisher thinks that people are willing to pay that price for the content and they might even want to keep it. The paperback comes out when they think they've tapped out that market and can reach new people who weren't willing to pay that price.

That's why all this "I won't pay more than $XX for an e-book because it's only an e-book" stuff is rather silly, since it's the content that holds the value. If you really want something NOW, you'll pay more for it. I'm not a fan of hardcover books, but I bought the last few Harry Potter books that way because I wanted them on release day. I'd have paid the same price even if they'd been paperback because it was about the time, not the form.

So, following that model, since it's been nearly a year since books 5 and 6 have been released, we've dropped the prices, essentially doing the "paperback" release. Much Ado About Magic and No Quest for the Wicked are now $5.99 for the e-book at most booksellers. The hard-copy price has dropped, as well, with a list price of $11.99 (though Amazon is selling for slightly less).

There's another part of this that I'll wait to announce when it actually happens. It was one of those "I won't hold my breath, but it would be nice" things to begin with.

I imagine if you're bothering to read my blog, you've already got these books. But if you or someone you know was holding off, then maybe this will tip the scales.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I have most of the new book sort of outlined. If I were trying to sell this on proposal, I wouldn't be quite ready to write a synopsis because I'd need a lot more specifics later in the story, but I think I'm close to being ready to start writing a draft. This is a sequel to a book that it took me years to really finish because it kept shifting on me, so there's probably not a lot of point to outlining really specifically up front. I'm hoping that the specifics will reveal themselves to me as I go. And then after I figure out what the book's really about, I'll have to rewrite the whole thing. There are a couple more things I want to figure out at least in a general sense, and I need to finish my soundtrack compilation, which often adjusts my outline as I come up with ideas. I'll work on that some today. Tomorrow is going to mostly be a fun/work around the house day, so I'll work Saturday. My goal is to start writing on Monday.

This kind of heavy-duty thinking is really draining. I had no energy yesterday, and I woke up exhausted this morning. I had no brainpower left by last night, so I ended up rewatching the last couple of A Game of Thrones episodes while knitting. I've finished Phase One of the current project and am ready to move on to Phase Two, which could be a bit tricky. Today's exciting task involves going to get a new patio umbrella (mine finally died for good -- my dad fixed it the last time the cable for raising and lowering it broke, but it's more than ten years old, so I think I can afford a new umbrella). At this time of year, the umbrella is critical for shading my living room windows in the morning.

There's a possibility of a big announcement tomorrow, so stay tuned. Yes, I know, I'm a terrible tease, but I like suspense and I like inflicting it on others. No, not a new book, a movie or a TV series. Actually, there will be an announcement, regardless. How big it is depends on someone else getting something done. Now, though, I must go get that umbrella because there's too much light in my house.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brainstorming a Book

Taking that day off to deal with repairs must have worked because one of those "but WHY are they doing this?" issues I'd been struggling with suddenly resolved itself the second I sat down to work yesterday. The subconscious must have been working while I was otherwise occupied.

Since I've been brainstorming a book, I thought that would make a good writing post topic. How do you get started on a book once you have an idea? Here are some things you can do to get started. You don't necessarily have to do all of these things this way and in this order, but maybe this will spark some ideas of things you might want to try.

I usually start with a brain dump, writing down everything I know about the idea. I get most of my ideas while I'm working on something else that I need to finish, and this works as a way to clear my head so I can get back to that project I need to finish. I keep a loose-leaf idea binder, and when a new idea strikes me, I write down everything I have in my head, then put that sheet in the binder. If a new idea strikes me, I add it to the page. I often find that the idea multiplies while I do this, so that even if I start with one sentence worth of idea, I'll have at least a page when I'm done. This doesn't have to be in any kind of logical order and doesn't have to make any sense. It doesn't even have to be in complete sentences. Just scribble down whatever comes to you -- characters, plot events, scenes, settings, imagery, lines of dialogue, clothing, scents, etc.

If you're a visually oriented person, you might want to do this in mind map form. That's when you start with your initial thought in the center of the page and then draw branching spokes of related ideas radiating out from it.

If you've done the brain dump and put it aside while working on something else, when you come back to actually develop the idea into a story, review all your previous brain dump notes and write down absolutely everything else you can think of, including things you want to happen, even if you don't know how they'll happen. It will probably snowball, with ideas triggering more ideas.

At this point, I usually make a list of things I need to research. Not nit-picky, specific things, like the size of carriage wheels in 1836, but locations, career fields, related history, sociology, psychology, mythology, clothing, etc. This research is more for idea generation than for knowing specific facts. Some authors try to avoid reading novels that might be similar, but I like to at least get a sampling so I'll know what the tropes are. I like to find some of the classics of the subgenre, some of the more recent (like within the past decade) bestsellers and some of the newest books by newer authors. I tend to mix genres, so that requires reading books from both the genres I'm mixing. If I'm writing something in a historical setting, I'll read books written at that time to get a sense of the language and cultural mindset. I take notes as I read, not so much for facts (though I do keep a list of books that will be helpful when it comes time to get facts) but for ideas the books spark or concepts in the books that I think might be relevant. For a fun break in all this research, I may watch movies or TV shows that remind me in some way of the idea -- the setting, the cast, the themes, the kind of story. If my idea involves a particular culture, I may look up recipes and cook something like my characters might be eating.

After all this input, I'll do another brain dump and write down everything that's come to me. I'll review all my notes from my research and from the brain dumping, and then I'll start trying to mold it all into a novel. I'll take a story structure like the hero's journey and brainstorm what might happen at each stage. I'm not really making an outline here, just listing things that could happen at each point. Then I'll go back and see which ones I like best and look at how they could all flow together. I've written books where the plot just came to me, all at once, with almost no brainstorming required, but most of them require a bit of teasing the plot out of all those ideas. Sometimes the characters are more real to me than the plot, so I may start there and come up with what their story arcs are before I try to create a plot. Basically, I start with whatever's the clearest and then solidify it from there.

People who don't like to plot may just start writing at this point rather than doing that outlining work. That thought terrifies me, so I can't offer a lot of advice for writing that way. I have heard of "pantser" writers who, instead of outlining, make a collage, where they collect images or items that remind them of their story and put them together in a way that makes some kind of sense. I usually do a musical collage in the form of a "soundtrack" for the book, with music that reminds me in some way of the characters, story, scenes or emotions. I don't listen to this while I'm actually writing, but I may listen to it as I do other things, or I may listen to the relevant parts before writing -- say, if I associate a song with a scene or with an emotion I want to convey in a scene, I'll listen to that part of the soundtrack before I sit down to write that scene.

The big question is, when do you start actually writing? I like to hold off until I'm impatient and eager, when all this pre-writing work is just a delaying tactic and when I can see the opening scene in my head as clearly as if it were being projected in a movie theater. Then I know I'm ready. If I force myself to start, then generally that means the story isn't yet ready for prime-time.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hot Water, Phone Fun and Living an Era

I have hot water again! It turned out to be a (relatively) simple fix that merely required the purchase of a $1.41 packet of washers and replacement of said washers. However, I've verified that I will need a new water heater when they take the old one out to rebuild the cabinet it's in because mine probably has stalactites and stalagmites built up in it. We have a lot of calcium and lime in our water. I have to be good today and get a lot of work done, though, because fixing the water heater turned into a day of hanging out and then going out to dinner, but I probably needed the mental break and the wind-down from the stress of discovering what looked like a terrible problem. We have more repairs and a movie scheduled for Friday, and there's something I can fix that I'll be taking care of when I get the parts. I think I'll wait until later in the week for that trip to Home Depot.

Now, for a discussion of recent reading. I've mostly been doing reading for researching a book, which I won't get into. I read the latest installment in Maryrose Wood's The Incorrigibles series. I really like this series but am getting a bit frustrated by how slowly the clues and developments are trickling out. Since these are written for kids, I wonder how they respond to that. At least the books are coming out at a pretty quick and steady pace, so there's not too long to wait for the next one.

For a change of pace from all the fantasy I've been reading lately, I read Sophie Kinsella's latest, I've Got Your Number. From the way it started, I thought I'd have to cringe my way through it because the set-up seemed to be pretty sit-commy and was the kind of thing where you can see the disaster coming from the way the character is acting. But once the story really got going it turned out to be rather charming, and because of the situation it was a romance that was allowed to develop more on the emotional and mental level without going straight to lust. At the beginning of the book, our heroine has lost her engagement ring (her fiance's family heirloom). She'd been at a tea in a hotel, her friends had insisted on trying on her ring (the part where I was mentally shouting "No, don't do it!"), then the fire alarm went off, and when they got back to their table, no one had the ring or knew who had it. She's given her phone number to all the hotel staff in case they find it, and then she gets mugged and has her phone stolen. Just as she's collapsing in despair, she sees a phone in a trash can in the hotel lobby. So, she picks it up and gives that number to the hotel so they can reach her. But the phone is a company-owned phone that had been issued to an executive's assistant, and she'd tossed it in the trash when she abruptly quit that day. He calls, desperate for some help from the assistant who's supposed to be at the hotel for a client event. Our heroine helps him, then begs him to let her keep using the phone until her ring is found and she can get a new phone. He grudgingly agrees, so long as she forwards any messages or e-mails that come to that phone until he can arrange to get them sent to a different number/address.

But sharing a phone means they get access to each other's lives. She notices from the kinds of messages going to the assistant for him that he's a terrible communicator who doesn't read most of his e-mail and seldom replies. She gets him out of a couple of scrapes by pointing out details he missed (it's hard not to read things when she has to open them to forward them), and that emboldens her to start replying for him, which has mixed results. In some cases, it really helps his career. In others, she misinterprets things and causes problems. Meanwhile, he helps her out of some sticky situations with her fiance and his ivory-tower academic family, feeding her info so she won't feel so inferior to them. And then he starts to worry about what's up with her fiance when she forwards a message that she thinks is for him but that he knows isn't, and it's about what her fiance is up to. Basically, it's a pretty complicated plot for a chick-lit novel, but it's fun to see the back-and-forth of the messages and the way they get to know each other that way and the way these two strangers have each other's backs. There are footnotes included in the narrative, inspired by the fiance's academic papers, and that's where a lot of the jokes are. It's a fairly lightweight book, but perfect summer reading, and the kind of thing where you find yourself staying up really late to finish it. I think it would make a charming romantic comedy movie.

Speaking of which, I watched a new-to-me romantic comedy from my stash of things I bought when the neighborhood Blockbuster closed, Dream for an Insomniac. It was essentially a 1990s time capsule, but a decent romantic comedy. Our heroine has had chronic insomnia since she was a child, and she claims that since she doesn't dream while sleeping, she's allowed to have big dreams while awake. One of those dreams is that she won't settle for anything short of extraordinary when it comes to love. She's holding out for the perfect guy who fits her ideals. And then three days before she's to move to LA with her best friend to pursue an acting career, the perfect guy shows up and takes a job at her family's coffee shop. She has three days to convince him that he's in love with her so he'll follow her to LA, otherwise she'll lose him forever. It's pretty much one of those Gen-X slacker 90s movies, where all the mildly ambitionless young people hang out in a coffee shop and have long conversations loaded with pop culture and literary references. There's even Jennifer Anniston, complete with "Rachel" hair, playing the best friend, back in the day when her Friends fame was on the upswing and she was making smart career moves in playing supporting roles in smaller films (her "leading lady" films have been pretty awful and have exposed just how limited her range is). It was actually a pretty pleasant film where I liked the main characters and wanted them to end up together, but I was mostly amused by what a period piece it was. When you're living through an era, you never think about how it will look from the future, that it will actually be an "era." It kind of made me want to pull out my Gin Blossoms and Barenaked Ladies CDs. I never really did the coffee shop thing because I don't like coffee, but I did spend a fair amount of time hanging out in Barnes & Noble coffee shops (more for the books than for the coffee). I didn't get the "slacker" thing because I worked in office jobs when I was that age during that era, and I spent my free time writing books.

Monday, June 17, 2013

One of THOSE Days, Round Whatever

I seem to be having one of those days, though it started last night when I was watering my plants and noticed a wet spot on the paving stones near the water heater cabinet. The water heater was leaking from the top, which (according to my research) means that likely some of the connections have loosened or become corroded. I shut off the water supply to stop that and a friend's coming over with tools to see about fixing it. Considering that it will soon be replaced when they rebuild that cabinet, I just need a band-aid fix, not a major repair. It seems that all the stuff I've done with the patio paid off. If I hadn't put in paving stones in front of the water heater cabinet, and if I hadn't bought flowers that I'd need to water, I might not have noticed the problem until it was catastrophic. If it had been the bed of vines, the water would have sunk in and I wouldn't have seen it, and if I hadn't had to go out and tend plants, I wouldn't have seen it. Fortunately, either by design or by poor building, the slab in that cabinet slants so the water drains away from the house, and the sheetrock in there is already shot, which is why the cabinet has to be rebuilt.

But then this morning I was awakened by a howling gust of wind and I remembered that the patio umbrella was open. I ran out to take it down before it flipped, and the cranking mechanism didn't work. I had to wrestle the open umbrella out of the stand. This happened before, and my dad fixed it by threading in a new cable, but since the umbrella is more than ten years old and since a store near me has them on sale, I think I'm going to just get a new one.

I had planned to help with a summer reading program this morning, so I was a little irked that instead I'd have to stay home and deal with the water heater (and not be able to take a good shower before going out), but it worked out because it was pouring rain at the time I'd have needed to go, and then the contractors who needed to come evaluate the cabinet who were supposed to come tomorrow showed up this morning, so I wouldn't have been home. I knew the door was bad, but it came off, hinges and all, in their hands when they opened it to get a good look. I suppose I could have gone to the reading program and then planned the water heater stuff for the afternoon, since the rain has meant this morning wasn't good for working outside, but I don't think I'd have been at my best being patient with kids who are learning to read when I was so stressed out by this stuff, and it turns out it was a good thing I was home, anyway.

In other news, the whirlwind of productivity sort of tapered off by Sunday, but before then, I managed to empty several boxes in my office. The pile looks much less formidable. I also got a good start on outlining the new book, getting into some plot specifics. I haven't decided which specifics I'm going to use, but I have some ideas to toy with. As I recall, the previous book in this possible series was also very difficult to plot, one of those where I didn't know what was really going on until midway through it, even though I thought I'd plotted it. There was a lot of backtracking and rewriting. I suspect this one will likely be the same because it's that kind of world and story. The hard part is going from big, general idea to specifics, from "and then something happens that sends them off on an adventure" to "what, exactly, happens and how does it tie into the plot, and why do they react this way instead of doing something else?"

Friday, June 14, 2013

Improving with Age

I wasn't quite as insanely productive yesterday as earlier in the week, but I did manage to get the desk drawers cleared and organized. I keep having to fight against the paralyzing perfectionist tendencies, where I come to a halt if there's something I don't know how to deal with or if it isn't just right. I've got a box for things to sort through and place when I have everything else in order and I keep reminding myself that this isn't all set in stone and done for good. Once the major surgery is done, I can go back and finesse things. I can throw things in a file for now and then later sort everything in that file and create sub-files, for instance.

There was a lot going in the "deal with later" box yesterday because one of my drawers had become a catchall for random memorabilia. There were newspaper clippings, cards from friends, photos, calendar pages, etc. A few things were handy resources I wish I'd remembered I'd had, and I need to find a place to keep them where I can use them. One really odd thing in that drawer was a collection of every expired drivers license I've had since I was 18. It was interesting to look at how I've changed over the years, and I think I've changed for the better. Up through the photo taken when I was 30, my face was kind of a featureless blob, like someone hadn't quite finished sculpting it. There were eyes, nose, mouth, but there was no sense of structure to it. It reminded me of a book I read recently in which a girl had been cursed so that people never really looked at her, and if they did, they didn't get any impression of her face. After 30, I think I finally started to show the underlying structure. It's not a weight thing, since I've stayed about the same weight since my early 20s, but it is true that you lose some fat from your face as you age (which is why those facial fillers are a huge thing in cosmetic surgery), and I guess I finally lost enough of that to show that I actually do have bones in my face. I'm sure I'll reach a point of diminishing returns when I stop improving with age and just start aging, but it's rather nice to look at a picture of my 30-year-old self or even my 22-year-old self and think of how much better I look now.

This weekend is going to be an intensive plotting retreat now that I have the main idea down. For once, I don't have any obligations or plans for the weekend, and besides, the major freeways leading from my neighborhood to just about everywhere else are going to be closed for construction for much of the weekend, which limits where I could conveniently go and limits who could conveniently come to me.

Today, though, I feel like going shopping. That happens very seldom, and I think that since I'm planning to drive to WorldCon so that I can bring all the clothes, I may as well have some fun clothes. I haven't bought new stuff in a very long time. Today will likely be mostly shoes, though. I want to browse DSW because most of the shoes I love and wear a lot are starting to fall apart, so that the only "presentable" shoes I own are either uncomfortable or don't go with a lot of my wardrobe.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

On Fire in the Kitchen

I had another crazy productive day yesterday. For starters, I was on fire in the kitchen. Not literally. With my track record of kitchen mishaps (but only one emergency room visit!), it's important to make that clear because it is a possibility. I made strawberry jam, and I think that not only was it the best I've made yet, but it also went faster than ever and with less mess. There's normally jam all over the stove from filling the jars, but I only spilled a couple of drops. I did see a canning tools kit at Target today that had a jar lifter, a funnel and a magnetic lid lifter, and that might make things even better, but I'm doing pretty well without, and I don't can that often. While I had the food processor out, I shredded some zucchini and made zucchini bread. I also started playing with the slicing disc and sliced some zucchini really thin and wrapped it up in paper towels to get the moisture out. It made something kind of like zucchini chips, though not crispy all the way through. Very yummy. And while the food processor was out, I also used up the rest of a head of cabbage and made some cole slaw. Then for dinner I made a pizza, and for once it actually slid neatly off the pizza peel onto the baking stone and looked like a pizza instead of like a deformed amoeba, like it usually does, or like the last pizza I made, where the crust stuck to the peel on one side, an unintentional calzone. I even cleaned up after all that (mostly -- the dishes are washed, but the counters need scrubbing).

But wait, there's more -- I finished cleaning out the bins in the office and started on the desk drawers, where I found that I've apparently been hosting a paper clip breeding program. I may have bought two packets of paper clips, ever, but I have a drawer full of them, mostly from when I was serving as an officer in an organization back when we used mail for such things, and stuff like membership applications always came with a paper clip. I also seem to have a notepad/ memo pad/Post It pad hoarding problem. I have a whole drawer full from organizations, hotels, former clients and random swag giveaways. A lot of them are for now-defunct companies. I've started using some of them for brainstorming. Unfortunately, I'm now at the phase of cleaning where things look worse than when I started because I have to remove a lot of stuff from one place so I can put other stuff away. I'm also starting a "deal with later" box for the kinds of things that tend to paralyze me. I've found a lot of keepsake items that I don't really want to toss but that I don't need right at hand, and I've found some things I want to start using somehow. For instance, I found the folder of bulletin board material from college. We had huge bulletin boards built into our dorm rooms (probably to cut down on tape or nail holes in the walls), and I had a bunch of stuff to rotate, like the pictures from calendars, comic strips and some promotional movie stills I got when I worked at a weekly entertainment newspaper one summer. I've got a big bulletin board in my office, and maybe I should start rotating the pictures to fit what I'm working on.

And then after all that, I had a couple of major breakthroughs in my brainstorming that built on each other, so now I not only know what's really going on in the main plot, but I've tied the main plot into the major subplot in a way that really raises the stakes for all the characters. In one case, I reached for my notebook to write down another idea I had, saw the one I'd written previously and had a huge lightbulb moment.

Today hasn't been quite as productive since my water was off most of the morning (they were repairing a broken pipe in the neighborhood) and that kept me out of the kitchen. I did go to Target, the bank and the post office, so that should count for something. Now that I have something more concrete for my plot, I need to start outlining. I also have a project in mind to make use of some of those paper clips to create an additional shade for the window in the loft. It's a half-moon window that has a fan-shaped translucent shade. In the winter, all that light is wonderful and makes that a good reading spot. In the summer, it heats the whole house. I think clipping some fabric to the shade to dim the light a little might help.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Yesterday was remarkably productive. In addition to washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen, I cleaned the bathroom, tended to the new plants (some zinnia blooms were big enough to cut and put in a vase), finished developing my new filing system and got just about everything filed, found actual desk surface, cleaned out a couple of the plastic stacking bins in my office, did some brainstorming, got new yarn and went to ballet class.

The bins almost counted as play because that seems to be where stuff from years ago -- going back to elementary school -- got stashed. I found my sixth-grade pencil box in there, complete with the "warning: opening this box could be hazardous to your health" written in my sixth-grade handwriting on the lid. I don't really know why anyone would care what was in a school pencil box, but I guess at that age you really like the idea of having secrets. Plus, we had an actual, diagnosed kleptomaniac in the class, so there was a real danger of having pens and pencils taken away. I think that once I've sorted through that box, it will be where my stash of pens will live so I don't have to hunt for the new ones I know I bought every time a pen runs out of ink. Currently in that box, in addition to a lot of pens I suspect no longer write, I found the business card for the associate dean of my college from back when I was in school, the ticket stub from the circus, a book of "coupons" a friend gave me as a Christmas gift while I was in college (that I never got around to redeeming -- I should track him down) and a dental appointment reminder card from the mid-80s. I guess I cleared out the box between sixth grade and college, but I don't think I've opened it since then. It's like a time capsule from the mid-80s. When I'm done, the bins will store surplus office supplies (the stuff I don't necessarily need right at hand, like replenishments), art/craft supplies and office toys (for that play as brainstorming thing).

My brainstorming session was rather productive. I used a tool I found while cleaning my desk, a pack of brainstorming cards I got as a prize in one of those "games will make meetings fun!" (no, no they don't) sessions while I worked at an advertising agency (ad agency people feel the need to make everything "fun!").  Each card is a thinking tactic that's generally common sense but that it doesn't hurt to be reminded of, like "look at it from another point of view" or "get rid of assumptions." They generally apply more to things like business strategy, product development or ad campaigns, but I sometimes like to apply them to book development just because forcing myself to stretch is a good idea. The idea is that you think of a question or a next step, draw a card from the deck, then apply the technique on that card to the question. Or you can do a "reading" and draw multiple cards, with each representing an aspect of the situation. I did that for the overall plot and for the main themes of the book. Then I went through each stage of the hero's journey for each of the main characters, drawing a card for each stage. Some of the results were just silly, but a couple of things came up that I hadn't even been considering and that seem to solve one of the plot issues I was having. There's a lot more work to do, but I'm starting to feel like it's all taking shape. Today I may apply some different brainstorming techniques to what I came up with yesterday.

Today, I've already made strawberry jam. Actually, it's in process. I've done the initial cooking, but then it has to cool, chill a few hours, then boil again before it goes into jars. While I have the food processor out from pureeing the berries, I may shred some zucchini and make zucchini bread. And while I'm in my creative "retreat," I think I'll watch some relevant movies and knit. I don't have choir tonight, so I get an evening off.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Creative Spirit

The errands yesterday were moderately successful. I got some zinnias for my patio, then when Home Depot only had potting soil in huge bags, I went to Target, where they were putting the garden stuff on clearance. I'll have to hit them again to see if anything else has been marked down, but I got a "self-watering" pot to plant my new basil plant in. We'll see if that resolves my irrigation while out of town issues. I also found some flameless "candles" on clearance. The lamps on the old ceiling fan were a pretty frosted Victorian style, and I thought they'd make interesting candle holders, but I wasn't sure they were safe around direct flames. But put a flameless candle in them, and you can't tell the difference. Even better, I can use them with the ceiling fan running, which doesn't work so well with real candles. Now I need to decide where to place these. Meanwhile, since I had to be at Target, I got the ingredients I needed to try a recipe I found that I think is a lot like something my mom used to make. So there was baking, and it was close, but there was another version that I need to try to see if that one's closer. However, I have a grand idea for something utterly decadent I could make based on this recipe.

But I kind of failed on the yarn because they didn't have quite the right color and the one that I thought was closest turned out to be wrong when I got it home, and the texture when I started knitting with it was wrong. I think it will make a good blanket, and they had a free pattern at the store that looked interesting, but now I have to decide which wrong shade is closest to being right, since the yarns with the right texture were the wrong color. This may require another trip to the store, depending on which color I decide to go with. I already have some yarn of one slightly wrong color, and they sell it at the store next to the grocery store. The other slightly wrong color is only at a store that's farther away.

I was looking at all these things I'm doing that aren't writing and realized they're all forms of creativity. That's one of those The Artist's Way concepts, of indulging other kinds of creativity as a way of refilling the well and getting the emotional energy and inspiration you need for your chosen field of creativity. Knitting, baking and even playing in the garden are all ways of tapping into the creative spirit. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. But I have read studies that showed more creativity and better cognitive function immediately after a session of "play." It's also something that's effective as part of brainstorming. When you've spent time playing, you're more likely to generate ideas and be more open to wacky ideas that can be molded into something useful. I'm looking at this week as a kind of creative retreat to kick off a new book, so it's a good time to indulge in creativity even if it isn't directly book-related. And while I'm doing all this other stuff, I'm listening to music and seeing what songs strike me as potential soundtrack material, which makes me come up with ideas.

But today's activity is going to be mostly about cleaning house because it's easier to think properly in a restful environment, and because making jam (tomorrow's activity) requires a lot of clear space in the kitchen.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Starting my "Summer"

I got a bit of a start on my "summer hours" by waking up earlier than usual. Maybe I will have a productive summer. I made a quick trip to my parents' house this weekend to help my mom with something, but in spite of not having a regular weekend, I'm eager to get going on Monday. Go figure. Today, though, will be mostly taking care of some errands. The big one is a yarn quest. I finished my second blanket last night and don't have the yarn I need for the next project. It requires a particular color, which is turning out to be somewhat challenging to find. It would have been even more challenging if I were using the weight and needle size specified in the pattern, but it used sock-weight yarn, and it's very hard to find that without any wool in it. I get very itchy when I touch wool, so I wouldn't be able to wear it and my hands would be a mess from knitting with it. Also, I wanted to make it a bit larger than the pattern specifies. Some experimentation has shown that I get the results I want from a heavier yarn (that's easier to find) and slightly larger needles without having to actually change the pattern. Now I need to find the right color in something that doesn't make me itch.

Otherwise, I need to get back on track with the office organization project and I need to start the serious planning for the next book. I have some vague ideas and I know what's going on in general with the characters. I just need to narrow it down to specific events.

Meanwhile, the summer session of ballet starts tomorrow night, and that means it's been five years since I started. It's been one of the better things I've done for myself because it's helped me stay in shape, it's improved my posture and balance, and it's given me a whole new set of friends. Plus, it played into a book that I hope will someday see the light of day. I sometimes worry about being commitment-phobic because I really hate committing to things until I'm absolutely certain and I'm prone to quitting things when I lose interest, but I think it's more a case that I take commitments very seriously, and once I commit to something, I'm all-in for the duration. That makes me very cautious about what I commit to and leads to some wavering until I'm sure. It also leads to me quickly dropping out of things that don't seem right.

That means it's also been five years since I started making my own strawberry jam (I remember this because I bought supplies on the same round of errands when I registered for the class). This will be jam week (probably on Wednesday) as I'm almost done with the last jar and the strawberries were on sale. I think my homemade jam is less expensive than store-bought, but mostly I like the taste better, I like knowing exactly what's in it, and I like the sense of satisfaction from having made it myself.

So, that's the week ahead, dancing, knitting, jam making, some baking (I came home from my parents' house loaded up with zucchini, so it's zucchini bread time), and trying to make a vague story idea take shape.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Organizational Issues

I did decide to accept the programming invitation at WorldCon, and while there are some organizational issues behind the scenes, I have to say that their initial programming survey was one of the best I've seen for any convention, ever. I've done WorldCons where the survey amounted to sending a bio and listing a few things you can talk about, but this was pretty comprehensive, plus their software provided some of the existing answers for the fill-in-the-blank questions, which gave some ideas for what to put there. Usually when presented with a blank, I go blank. So, kudos programming people.

Now I have to decide which hotel I want. There are two that are across the street from each other. One is closer to the convention center and seems slightly more pleasant. The other is the party hotel. I know I'll be involved with parties, but at the same time, I like the idea of quiet. It's not too far a walk and I don't think it would be dangerous, and I likely wouldn't be alone. After all, in Denver I had to walk to a shuttle stop, ride a shuttle and then walk to my hotel. I may have to flip a coin. Then there's the drive vs. fly decision. With the hotel parking rates, I don't think there's a huge cost difference. There's also not a huge time difference, when you factor in getting to the airport, the time cushion for getting through security, likely flight delays, then getting out of the airport and getting a shuttle downtown. The differences come down to spending much of that time reading instead of driving vs. being able to bring anything I want instead of worrying about packing. It would be rather nice to go wild and have a different pair of shoes for each outfit and to bring full-sized bottles of hair products. I have a lot of friends from this area going, so there's a chance I could carpool with someone, if I could find someone traveling on my schedule, and that would cut the cost further and possibly allow some riding vs. driving time. But I don't have to make these decisions immediately.

I'm probably taking Friday off before I plunge into "summer hours" next week. I need to buckle down and start developing this book, and then there's marketing stuff to do. And finishing the clean/organize the office project. There's all kinds of crazy stuff squirreled away in here. The other day, I found something I thought I'd lost while I was looking for something else that I seem to have lost. I'm going to have to go through and empty and sort every box, bin and drawer. It will be like going shopping, I have a feeling. I already have a "new" short terrycloth robe since I found the missing belt that goes with it. I think that means I need to schedule an at-home spa day. I never did find that missing knitting needle, though. This is why I'm coming to like the circular needles even for projects that don't really require them. You always have both needles (unless you lose the whole thing).

Now off to get my act together in general.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Enjoying Revision

I have finished (sort of) the novelette/novella. I say "sort of" because as I got closer to the end, the "and then they resolved everything and lived happily ever after and now I'm DONE!" impulse kicked in. I already know I need to rewrite the big, climactic scene so that it will actually be big and climactic, like with action and stuff, maybe even some actual conflict. I just don't know if it's worth doing so at the moment. If something strikes me, I can go do it, but it's not like this is an urgent project. I think it's a good sign that the impatience began largely because I was starting to get eager to move on to the next book. Speaking of revision …

I had a reader question about revision, so I'll tackle that this week. I think the question was more specifically about making revision fun, but I don't have magical powers, so I'll talk more about making revision work. Revision is one of those things that works differently for different writers or even different projects, and you have to find the thing that works for you. There are writers who claim not to revise, but what they really do is revise as they go, fixing the previous day's work as a warm-up to the day's writing, so when they reach "the end," the book really is done. I don't know that this would work for me because my revision isn't just fixing words. It's about adjusting the entire plot, and I don't know what needs fixing until I get to the end. Then again, I have had a couple of books that kind of worked this way. I also wouldn't recommend trying to do this on your first book because there would be a temptation to keep working on each part until it's perfect, so that you'd never get past the first couple of chapters. There are people who write on the fly, so that the first draft is really more of an extended outline, and then they go back and do the main part of the writing in revision. And there are insane people like me, who outline and plan, then write the book and realize that the outline was wrong and the book was about something else entirely, and then have to do extensive rewrites. At any rate, I don't think you'll really make it as a writer if you aren't willing to rewrite. Even if you think your work is done after the first draft, if you sell it, an editor is probably going to make you do revisions.

I'll admit that I sometimes enjoy doing revisions because it feels really good to make something better than it was. I like analyzing and tinkering with a book. I get the same kind of thrill of discovery that comes from a first draft, but without having to write all the words from scratch. Here are some tips that might help you make the most of the process:
* If deadlines permit, let the work rest. You'll be less attached to it and might not remember so much about what you did or why you did it -- something your readers won't know. If I don't understand something when re-reading it because I've forgotten my thought process, I know I need to fix it. Some distance from the hours of toil make you feel less of a loss when you have to cut or change something.
* Try to think about the positives. A lot of revision is about fixing what's wrong, which can feel negative. When analyzing your story in the revision process, also look at the things that really worked or that you did well and try to find ways to expand upon them or do more with the good stuff. If there are parts of your first draft that just sing, figure out why. Does it have to do with that part of the plot, the characters, the setting? Maybe that's a sign that you should play up those elements in the rest of the book.
* Get yourself into the right emotional headspace. I generally make a soundtrack -- essentially an auditory collage -- for each book, or at least pick out a few theme songs. I don't usually listen to it while I write (I most often write in total silence), but I listen to it in the car or as I do housework during the time I'm working on a book. Pulling out that soundtrack is a good way to get me back into a book when it's time to rewrite. Sometimes it can even remind me of plot elements or themes I wanted to address in the book but didn't put into the first draft. I also know of writers who use scent or photos to evoke a book for them.
* Push your characters to the limit. I tend to pull punches in my first draft, so the revision is when I force myself to push my characters harder and put them in more difficult situations or demand that they do things they didn't think they were capable of. Sometimes all it takes to fix a book is to keep raising the stakes in each pivotal scene.
* Don't try to fix the words while you're fixing the story. Editing -- making sure everything's spelled right, that you used the best word for each situation and that all your sentences flow well -- involves a different mindset than creative writing, and when you're fixing the story, you want to be in that creative writing space. Do your wordsmithing on the next pass. You might get bogged down in minutiae if you're trying to fix the words while working on the big picture.
* This is when a beta reader can help to give you big-picture story feedback -- do they like it, what do they like, what didn't work, did they understand it, etc. Again, this isn't time for the red pencil. This is the kind of feedback that would come in a conversation or a note, not in marks in the margins.

And the lovely thing is, until the book is in print and in bookstores, you can still work on fixing it. There are a lot of chances to make the book better along the way.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Book Report: Good Guys and Bad Boys (and a mystery)

I'm almost done with this short story/novella/novelette. It's definitely no longer a short story, but according to the Nebula Award guidelines, it's probably going to end up on the border between novelette (7,500-17,500 words) and novella (17,500-40,000 words) (Not that I think this is award-worthy; I'm just looking at their rules to get the general length expectations). I'm at about 14,000 words and have the climactic action to go. I imagine it will both expand and shrink in revisions, since there are parts I skimmed over that may need some flesh on them, but there may also be some excess verbiage to trim. It's even possible that if I expand on it and go into some of the other points of view, it could turn into a shortish novel. It all depends on what I end up deciding to do with it. The main point of this exercise was to get back in the habit of writing new words daily, since I've been in revision mode for the whole year so far, and it helps to do it with an "easy" project with no pressure or expectations. Meanwhile, I'm hoping the subconscious is developing the next book I need to write.

Now, for recent reading beyond Wuthering Heights.
The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe was something I read about online, and the title alone gave me that "ooh!" response. It turned out to be a really intriguing contemporary fantasy that bordered on magical realism -- I suppose you could almost call it magical realism coming from the fantasy side of things. It seems to be the start of a series about the Tufa, a tribe of people living in the Tennessee mountains. They aren't Native American, but they were already there when the European settlers arrived (we learn what they are, but that would be a spoiler). For these people, music is a kind of magic, a way they protect themselves and each other and create their community. In this book, a young Tufa woman who'd been in the military and who is coming home from Iraq as a badly wounded war hero has to reconnect to her people and find her music again in order to protect her family. Meanwhile, a young Methodist minister newly arrived in town is trying to figure out the mysteries of these people. I think that was the part of the book I loved the most because it's so very unusual for fantasy. The Methodist minister is a good guy -- one of the heroes -- and he read very true to me, reminding me of most of the Methodist ministers I know. You almost never see a minister or religious character in fantasy who actually acts like a religious person and who is a hero. This book is wonderfully atmospheric but also laugh-out-loud funny at times. There's another book in the series coming out this month. It looks like it's about different characters, but I hope that since it involves the same community we'll check in on the people from this book because it didn't seem like their stories were entirely over.

Then I went through a bout of what was that book? When I was in junior high, I read a book that had something to do with time traveling, perhaps in dreams, and it involved lacemaking and an inn or pub called The Lacemakers' Rest. I remember describing this book to a friend in great detail, but I couldn't remember the title or author for the life of me. I'd tried every Amazon search I could think of, and came up with nothing. Then I was checking my library listings for books by Penelope Lively, who wrote some delightfully spooky teen books that probably would be considered urban fantasy today. I remember reading a couple of those books in junior high and wanted to find them again. It turns out they were British publications that don't seem to be widely available in the US, but they did have a book of hers called A Stitch in Time that sounded like it could possibly be my mystery book, since I was reading her books at around the same time. It did involve a contemporary girl going on vacation to an English village and having an encounter with a girl who lived a hundred years earlier, but it turned out that the stitching was a sampler, not lace, and the book would have really pissed me off when I was a kid because it turned out to not really be fantasy at all. It was just a girl with an overactive imagination thinking about the girl who'd lived in that house a century earlier. Books that pretend to be fantasy but then turn out not to be are a pet peeve. I think if I hadn't been expecting the fantasy, I might have enjoyed it more, but I was reading it because of what I hoped it would be.

So, since that turned out to be a false lead, I turned to Google, and it seems like I'm not the only person who was haunted by this mystery book and who remembered the same details but not much else because I found several hits on "Lacemakers' Rest" that were all "what was this book?" queries. The book in question is apparently A Pocket of Silence by Barbara Freeman. The title doesn't sound the least bit familiar, but the details mentioned in the discussions all were. My library doesn't have it (and it's long out of print), but other libraries in the county do, so I should be able to get it through Interlibrary Loan. Then I'll see if it merits the amount of brain space it's been taking up all this time.

Now, back to Wuthering Heights. One thing that disturbs me about that book is the fact that apparently Heathcliff is seen by a lot of people as some kind of romantic icon. I don't think even his supposed love for Cathy is all that romantic because his love is so destructive. He wanted to hurt her and all the people she loved. To me, that's not love. That's obsession. I wonder how much the "romantic hero" stuff comes from the movie adaptations, where he's usually played by some movie idol type. Then again, apparently the Boston Marathon bombing suspect has fangirls. There was an article in the newspaper recently about the number of tumblr pages swooning over him and either claiming that he's innocent and misunderstood or praising that he's so passionate about his beliefs that he was willing to make the utmost sacrifice. And there's an article today about how more than $8,000 in donations has been sent to him. Sometimes people scare me, but that does explain why bad boys are so popular in fiction, I guess.

Monday, June 03, 2013

After the Storm (and the hissy fit)

I think a good portion of my entertainment this weekend came from getting online last night to see the reaction from people who hadn't read the books to the Game of Thrones episode. There may have been some cackling with amusement. Yes, it was the episode with that incident. See, that's the problem with authors being so prone to kill off or otherwise torture (sometimes literally) their characters. You learn that it's not safe to get emotionally involved with anyone in the series, so you start looking at it all from a very detached place. I have an intellectual curiosity about what will happen next and get some amusement out of seeing how far it will go and how people will react, but I don't really care because it's too dangerous to get invested. I feel like there's a problem when a big chunk of the audience is more focused on watching the Internet go insane than with actually feeling anything about this thing that happened to the characters. Some surprise is good, and not everything has to be happy rainbows and puppies, but when bad things happen to everyone you care about, you tend to stop caring.

In other news, I got an invitation to be on programming at WorldCon late last night, so I guess I was in the next tier (or perhaps there are no tiers and they're just disorganized, or were just dealing with the applications like you'd go through Facebook, working backwards). And now I have some decisions to make. When I had my little "if they don't want me, I'm not going" snit last week, I was surprised by how relieved I was at the idea of not going. Having the convention over Labor Day weekend makes it bump up against a really busy time when all my fall activities are getting started. If I don't go, then I don't have to worry about that. I don't have to make hotel reservations, don't have to decide whether to fly or drive, don't have to plan wardrobe, don't have to deal with crowds, don't have to leave home for a week, don't have to stop the newspaper or worry about getting the plants watered. I made plans to get flowers to put out on the patio. But then I went to the planning meeting for FenCon and they were talking about the parties we'll be hosting or involved with, and I was hearing about my friends who'll be there, and I felt a pang at the loss if I wasn't going to be there. I was feeling left-out. But which is stronger, the relief from not having to deal with it or the loss from not being a part of it? And what impact will either have on my career? I suspect I'll end up going because I do enjoy WorldCons, you never know who you'll meet, and I do need to be better about networking.

Now I have to decide if I want to get flowers for the patio, anyway. I don't know how long the construction work out there will last and if it will preclude my outdoor enjoyment. We happen to be in a phase of weather when I like being outdoors. I spent a lot of yesterday afternoon sitting out there reading and drinking tea, and I had breakfast on the patio this morning, and I was thinking about how pleasant it would be to have flowers there. Two days from now, I may be back to cowering indoors under the ceiling fan and forgetting to water the flowers outside.

Finally, I did eventually figure out what to do with my grand romantic scene. My problem was that I was hung up on the servant/princess issue, when the whole point was that neither of them are typical, and that's why they clicked. Whatever they do should be about them and not about their roles. Then I realized it was essentially a Before Sunrise situation, where two people connected but knew they only had a few hours before they'd likely never see each other again. They wouldn't worry so much about doing anything in particular because it's more about spending that time together. I just needed to find a pleasant place for them to hang out. I did make a false start on that scene, but I now know how to correct it.