Wednesday, July 31, 2013

My Kingdom for a Bookcase!

I really got back in the groove yesterday, writing about 4,000 words. That wasn't quite enough to significantly move the needle on what I need to write each day (about two fewer words, yay!) to reach my goal, but a few days like that could make a difference. The wonderful thing is that I'm past the part of the book that was unexpected and into the part that I've actually sort of planned, though I suspect it will go differently from what I planned due to the unplanned stuff. The part that I had thought was "crossing the first threshold" into the story world is turning out to be the "approach to the inmost cave" part, going into the really mystical part of the special story world. The fun thing about all the unplanned stuff is that it's knitting together all the plot threads so that they're actually all part of the same thing. I thought I had three separate and parallel plots going on, but now it's all different aspects of the same plot.

I'm also about a quarter of the way through the book. I'd hoped to have a draft done around this time, but it was difficult to concentrate during the construction and waiting for construction. Now, though, I think I'm on track. Maybe the delay helped my subconscious figure it all out.

Meanwhile, the office organizing continues to creep in this petty pace (bonus points if you catch the slightly paraphrased reference). I've managed to sort through all the stuff currently residing on the loft that has a place to be put away. There's still some stuff out there that will have to wait until I clear out a few other things and create a place. That's why this is taking so long. It's a vicious cycle of not being able to put away stuff until there's a place to put it, but getting a place to put it requires sorting through and rearranging other things. I also have a few boxes of books to sort through and make the final call on donating to the library book sale or taking to a used bookstore to try to re-sell. It's very hard for me to pull the trigger on getting rid of books because I inevitably find something in the stack that I decide I don't want to get rid of, after all, and that makes me question the other things I want to get rid of. Last summer, I read a book that made me want to read more like that, and it turned out I had one by that author in my "donate to library" box, so I pulled it out and re-read it and decided I didn't want to get rid of it. The book I'm reading at the moment came out of my "donate to library" box. It had gone in there when I decided the author was kind of a jerk. Then I found a newer book by that author at the library, devoured it, ran back and got her other newer book, devoured it, then wondered if I'd misjudged her earlier, so I dug out the old book. I think she's gone through a period of personal growth, or something, because in this older book, yeah, she's a jerk. I don't like her nearly as much in the older stuff, so I may still get rid of this book when I'm done reading it. And no, I'm not going to say who she is because she strikes me as the sort of person who has Google alerts set up on her name and who might start a crazy vendetta against someone who dares call her a jerk (and also, we have mutual acquaintances, so she could find me).

Which is why I never seem to get rid of books. The process of purging books leaves me with doubts and second thoughts, and I end up re-reading a lot of stuff to figure out if I really want to get rid of it. But I'm totally out of bookshelf space. I don't have room for the books I KNOW I want to keep, and I'm just about out of wall space to put bookshelves because my house doesn't have a lot of walls. The interior is mostly an open floorplan and the exterior is mostly windows. Almost every real wall in the house already has a bookcase on it, and I even have an open etagere type bookcase in front of one window and a short bookcase under the stairs. When I'm done organizing the office and am ready to move to the next phase, possibly redecorating/refurnishing it, I may replace some of the bookcases with larger ones, or I may have to go all library in the open space, with bookcases lined up in the middle of the room instead of just around the walls.

But I can sort of see the end of the tunnel in this project, as I think the hard work is mostly done. I've set up the systems, and it's just a case of sorting through stuff to either put it away properly or trash it. I've found a number of things I thought were lost, including some CDs that seem to have fallen into random boxes. It's been fun to be able to just reach into the filing cabinet and find things instantly instead of searching my desk for hours.

Meanwhile, I need to do some cookbook reading or recipe searching before I go on my next grocery shopping trip because I've discovered that I'm in a bad food rut. I keep eating the same things, and I'm tired of them, but I can't think of anything else to do with the ingredients I have available. Much of that is due to summer because the things I like to cook are more cold-weather foods. I need to take more advantage of the fresh vegetables and fruits currently available, but I need to find something new to do with them. When you find yourself staring into the pantry and saying, "Well, there's always peanut butter on graham crackers," you need to do something. Today I may shake things up and have tuna on Ritz crackers for lunch.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Raiders of the Lost Story

My Day of Getting Stuff Done (Leaving the House Edition) was mostly successful. There was just one errand I didn't get taken care of. The main thing is that I have a new watch battery, which means I can wear my good watch again. This has been an epic case of procrastination. The last time I replaced watch batteries, I had all my watches done at the same time (probably because of procrastination -- when one died, I just started using another, until they were all dead and I was forced to take action). That meant that they all died around the same time. Because the place I knew of to get watch batteries replaced is rather out of my way and in a mall that it's best to avoid these days, and because I was really busy at the time, I bought a cheap watch at Target (which was less expensive than replacing a watch battery, actually). The cheap Target watch died last week, so I was forced to take action. I found a jewelry store in the good mall that does watch batteries, so I got the good watch I haven't worn in years fixed. I'd brought the other watches with me, then it occurred to me that I was setting myself up for the same problem in the future, so I decided to stagger my battery replacement over time. That way I hope every watch won't die at the same time. (I only have multiple watches because I had one I'd been using for years, then one year at Christmas I got two watches as gifts, and then there was the "I'm too lazy to replace a battery" watch. It's not like I'm one of those "I have a different watch for each outfit" people.) Now that the good watch is taken care of, I may try different places with the other watches to see if I can find a good match of price and competence.

I forgot to mention that there was also a Weekend of Getting Stuff Done, Housework Edition. I mopped the kitchen and entryway floors, did laundry and organized a couple of dresser drawers. It's amazing how much more space I had when I got rid of all socks that were either missing a partner or had a hole in the toe. I guess I was hanging onto the widowed socks because I was holding out hope that their mates might return someday. I need to face the truth that their mates are probably deadbeat spouses who've flown the coop, never to return.

In addition to Getting Stuff Done Outside the House yesterday, I got back into writing at a serious level, with nearly 3,000 words. I feel like I'm back on track. I've calculated that I'll need to write about 3,900 words a day on the days I have available to work (I'm trying to be realistic) in order to finish a first draft before WorldCon. The plan is to finish before the weekend before the con so I can spend that time getting ready and relaxing to build up energy. There's something about having a firm number to shoot for that's very motivating. I imagine my daily target will start creeping downward if I'm very good this week and get on the ball.

Meanwhile, I'm still gradually sorting my way through my office mess. Yesterday, I found some legal pads that I'd used to take notes at conferences. Some of the notes were worth archiving. Some were of the "duh" variety. And then buried in those pages were two pages of a handwritten story that I don't remember writing (though it is my handwriting). I suspect it was an exercise in some conference workshop where you're supposed to try out whatever technique they've just been teaching and they give you fifteen minutes to write something. I hate that sort of thing because the moment you put that kind of pressure on me, I freeze. Normally, I just write to-do lists or grocery lists in that time so I look like I'm writing, and then let other people volunteer to read what they've written (because there are always eager volunteers). I don't know if I was bored that day or if whatever assignment actually inspired me. I don't remember what the assignment was. It may have had something to do with contrast, coming up with a situation that seemed the opposite of what you'd expect for a character because my pages were about a witch who was afraid of flying. She'd had a nasty broomstick accident and still had her arm in a sling, so she was forced to fly commercial, and although she'd been fine with zipping around in the sky on a broom, an airliner terrified her. I have no idea where I was going with it, but I love the pages that exist enough that now I'm wondering where I can take the story. I don't know if there's a novel in there, but maybe I could try a short story. After I finish this book, of course.

And after reading all the Hugo nominees (and the Nebula nominees earlier this year), I'm not entirely sure that writing a truly brilliant story is the key to being nominated. There were some really good works in the mix, but there were also a few that had me thinking that someone had a lot of very devoted friends or some kind of Internet fame to get them on the ballot. So my plan is to write a story, find a place to have it published, and then enlist a Legion of Minions (or create a Cult of Online Personality) to nominate it for an award. I don't care so much about the award itself, but awards are a way to get visibility and credibility.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Vicarious Summer

We had a relatively cool (for Texas in July) weekend, which meant we got to take advantage of a local amenity. The next town over from me does fireworks at the lake on Friday nights during the summer. It's sponsored by a lakeside resort that has viewing parties at its bar, but you can see the fireworks even better from the lakeside city parks. Friday night was the perfect weather for sitting out by the lake, watching the boats until it got dark and then watching the fireworks. The show's a little shorter and less elaborate than July 4, but it's fireworks without the huge crowds you get on July 4.

And that made me realize why I get a particular craving for British (and it must be British) chick lit during the summers. I like vicariously enjoying a summer where summer is the outdoor time of year, when you can do fun things like go to the lake, go hiking, have picnics, tour the country on canal boats, go to fairs and festivals, have garden parties, etc., because you can step outdoors during daylight without bursting into flames. Here, that's all stuff you do in October and November, or maybe March and April, but not too late in April. And yet we bravely try to have the traditional summer. They do the Shakespeare festival on summer nights, never mind that it's still 90 degrees at the beginning of the show. There are outdoor festivals in July, when typically it's about 101 in the afternoon. For the "Taste Dallas" festival in July, I don't think they even have to turn on a stove to cook the food.

And so, I like reading books about people having a "normal" summer. Actually, this July hasn't been too bad, but the normal weather for this time of year (100+ degree days) is coming back later this week.

My only HBO movie of the weekend was Moonrise Kingdom, which took a premise that could easily have been dark and gritty -- two disaffected outsider tweens run away together -- and made it fun and quirky. Part of that was that it was set in 1965, so it was a simpler, more innocent time, and part was that it was set on a coastal island away from any of the grittier elements of civilization, so you never got the feeling the kids were in any danger from the usual problems that affect runaway kids. The boy was a hyper-prepared scout, so they had elaborate campsites. The whole feel of the movie reminded me, oddly, of Pushing Daisies.

I'd seen this movie referenced in discussions about why Hollywood can't make decent romantic comedies anymore, with this being proof that there were good ones out there. But this didn't at all trigger any of my romantic comedy responses or scratch my romantic comedy itches. The kids thought they were having a romance, but to me it looked more like two outsiders finding each other as friends and thinking that because they were a boy and a girl they had to make it romantic, but their "romantic" moments were rather half-hearted. I saw it more as a pre-teen fantasy about freedom, independence, connection and finding a place to belong. It was a good movie in that respect, but I can't see it as any kind of proof that there are good romantic comedies being made.

I have high hopes for Austenland, which should be coming soon, and I hope it comes here (and preferably to a theater I don't have to take a train to get to). The book was cute, I like the casting for the film, and it's just different enough that maybe they can have fun with it without falling into all the usual Hollywood cliches (and, please, let nobody have to chase anyone through an airport).

Now I'm off to have a Get Things Done Day, Leaving the House edition. I need new batteries in every watch I own, there are some things I need to get at the Home Depot, and I need to take care of some things at the bank and post office.

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Doorknob!!!

I have a doorknob! There was much rejoicing. Now the project is entirely complete, except for painting the door frame and the door to match the exterior, but that's being done separately as part of an overall painting project in the whole complex. I was starting to worry when I hadn't heard anything after around 7:30, but then he called to ask if it was too late to come out. He was out of here by around 9. He put in the doorknob and strike plate, caulked the door frame, replaced the intake/output pipes on the water heater and re-did the electrical connection to make sure it was good and sealed. It felt so good this morning to sleep in and then eat breakfast in my pajamas without worrying about being ready in case workers might come by at any moment. Although I've been at home alone all this time, I finally really feel like I'm home alone.

It's even raining now, so this may turn into a good writing day. I've done nothing all week. I got other stuff done, but I need to get back to the book in a serious way.

In other news, I found a book on Victorian lace knitting (Victorian Lace Today) at the library, and I'm giving one of the patterns a shot. So far, I've had to transcribe the lace chart because the charts in the book are microscopic, and I find them problematic if there are more than about 7 stitches in a row that are the same because then I have to stop to count. I also sometimes get confused with the fact that the same symbol means different things, depending on which side you're on. The author had suggested using non-slippery needles for lace, so since I needed a new size of needle, I got bamboo. And I hate it because each stitch is a struggle. I guess I'd hate it as much if the stitches were sliding off the needles, so maybe I just need to get used to it. But it is a challenge and I will not back down! I like the outcome of the patterns (well, the pictures of them. I don't know about my efforts yet) enough that I may want to get a keeper copy of the book. Then I could mark my notes in it. I could try scanning and enlarging the charts, but they're placed in a way that it would be very difficult to get a good scan without taking the book apart. While the book is obviously written by a knitter, I suspect the designer who did the page layout is not a knitter.

All the news for the fall TV season is trickling out after ComicCon, which means it's time for the annual round of "Oh no, this season is going to suck, I hate what they're doing to my show and I'm not going to watch this season (but I'll stay here to bitch about it)" on all the message boards, based on the spoiler hints from panels or the trailers shown at the convention. Which means I go into "someone is wrong on the Internet!" mode and point out that this happens every year, and the ComicCon trailers are specifically designed to create those moments that will make everyone in the hall gasp audibly and to generate news and buzz. Announcing that the same characters you love will be going about business as usual doesn't spark any news. Announcing shocking new developments does, and those shocking new developments tend to be over by the end of the season premiere. Sometimes it seems like most of these people have never watched TV before. I'd love to find a good place to discuss TV with other people who remember that they've watched TV before and who can discuss things other than squealing or groaning about romantic relationships. It's a bonus if they aren't so enamored with bad boys that they get excused and get a pass on everything while the good boys can't win because they're either boring or dared do one thing wrong, which makes them terrible people who are hypocrites. ARRGGGHH. Maybe someone should start a discussion board that requires an essay test to join. If the essay sounds like something a teenage girl would have written (regardless of whether or not you are one), then you don't get in.

I'm barely hanging on with Under the Dome, mostly hate watching at this point. You'd think that a show about people trapped under a giant dome would have a lot of potential, but for the most part, they keep forgetting about the dome. It's just a small-town soap opera. Nobody in the dome is acting like someone trapped in a giant dome. They don't seem to be making any preparations, conserving resources, developing a communication system (phones and Internet aren't working), doing any kind of census to find out who's in the dome, etc. When the military tried to blow up the dome last week, in spite of the fact that it could kill everyone inside, I was cheering for the bomb.

I tried to watch Breaking Pointe, a reality show about a ballet company, because, silly me, I thought there would be dancing in it. One of the characters in the current book is a dancer, so I wanted to watch what a professional company's daily class looks like. Unfortunately, there was maybe about five minutes of dance and the rest of the show was about their relationships, the company having a party, the various hook-ups and break-ups at the party, and so forth. Maybe I'll record it to fast-forward to the actual dance parts.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stealthier Geeks

I'm now on Day Two of Doorknob Watch. After I sat around all afternoon, waiting for the guy to arrive sometime "after lunch," I got the abject apology phone call at around 7:30 in the evening. He got busy and didn't realize until then that he'd never let me know he wouldn't make it. I never really know how to handle calls like that because the instinct is to do a reassuring "it's okay," but it's really not okay. On the other hand, being mean about it does no good because it wasn't like I wanted him to drop everything at that moment and come over here, and I know that the other thing he was working on was for the father of a neighbor who had his bedroom ceiling collapse when his air conditioner leaked. That's more urgent than my doorknob. Still, time management is one of my hot buttons. I'm a big fan of under promise, over deliver. I pad all time estimates and then if I'm early, I look like a superhero. I've found, though, that there are a lot of people who are afraid to give realistic (or padded) time estimates up front. It's like they think they're making people happy by saying something will be done soon, without realizing that people will then be really irritated if they don't come through. If he'd told me he couldn't finish with the doorknob until later in the week, I'd have been okay with it and I wouldn't have spent an afternoon held hostage in my house while waiting for him to show up. Although this particular contractor does good work, I don't think I'd hire him for anything on my own because the time thing would drive me insane.

I coined the term "stealth geek" a long time ago, and it's something I've felt describes me pretty well, since I am rather geeky ("fantasy novelist" is probably about the geekiest non-technical profession around) but I don't fit the stereotypical image of a geek. This week, though, I found that I'm merely at amateur level in those, both in stealthiness and in geekiness. We have a couple of new pastors at my church, and in order for them to get to know people, they put together a number of small-group dessert gatherings at the homes of various church members. I signed up for one hosted by a friend from the choir since I figured if I at least knew the host it might minimize the potential social awkwardness. This person reads my books, but I figured she was being polite and supportive, not that she was necessarily normally into that sort of thing. She doesn't have any of the usual geek signs. Then I got to her house, and the first thing visible is the shelf in the entryway full of various Enterprise models and a life-size phaser model. Her DVD collection looked a lot like mine, but with stuff even I don't have. Later in the evening, she invited me to join her Sunday school class for a game night. I was thinking something like Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit, but it turned out to be some kind of adventure card game. When I said that I'm not really wired for games in general and mentioned that I'm probably the only fantasy novelist who never even tried D&D, she said her D&D group already had ten people in it. Apparently this Sunday school class is essentially a science fiction convention with bonus Bible study. I might give them a try, although they're all married, mostly with kids (and most of the kids have been in or will soon be in my choir) and mostly significantly younger than I am. So it turns out that she's both stealthier and geekier than I am.

But that wasn't the biggest surprise. Two of the other people at this gathering were a slightly older couple (they have a ten-year-old grandchild) who are involved in a lot of music things. She plays the harp and he plays the hammered dulcimer, and they demonstrate the instruments for my choir kids. He sings in the choir, and they're both really sweet about coming up to compliment me whenever I sing in a duet or quartet. Absolutely nothing about them pings my geekdar. But then they were admiring the host's DVD collection and started talking about all the Stargate conventions they've gone to. That's some Ninja Level stealth geeking. In retrospect, the harp and the hammered dulcimer might have been a clue, as they're instruments found at Renaissance festivals, but I don't get a Rennie vibe from these people.

Then there was the person I didn't know who approached me to ask if there will be more books in my series, and there was the Firefly discussion on the way out (one of the other guests complimented the hosts on "a mighty fine shindig"), and I was left rather confused. Had I been to a church event or a convention? I had no idea my church was this geeky.

On another note, if you want to make a good first impression on the new pastors, it might not be such a great idea to be holding a baby while introducing yourself as one of the few never-married single adults in the church. I'd taken her off her parents' hands so they could eat, and she was happily burrowing into my hair when it came my turn to introduce myself. I quickly clarified that I was doing early recruiting for children's choir and would be returning her to her parents as soon as we managed to extricate her from my hair (it took three people).

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Writing With a Day Job

Door Watch update: The door is installed! He was supposed to have been here at 9:30, he called at 11 to say he'd be here in an hour to an hour and a half, and he showed up at 2:20. In addition to ripping out the old rotted doorframe and installing the new door and frame, they also gave the interior a coat of paint and confirmed that the roof repair must have worked because there were no signs of a leak after all the rain last week. However, The Project That Will Not End isn't over yet. The new door didn't come with a doorknob and the old doorknob is rusted through, so he has to get a doorknob and come back this afternoon, and there are a couple of things he needs to do to the water heater to tweak the rather insane configuration in that cabinet. I did get the sense that I'm not the only one he has time issues with. Just after he'd told me that they'd probably finish here in a couple of hours, I overheard him on the phone with someone else saying they'd be wrapping up in 45 minutes and heading over to the next job. That actually turned out to be more accurate than the two hours he told me, but that next person did probably end up waiting longer than anticipated.

After the previous writing post about when to quit the day job, I got some questions about writing with a day job. Most authors do start writing while holding down some other job, since there aren't exactly entry-level novelist jobs and sleeping indoors and eating are important. Here's some advice based on my experiences and what I've learned from other writers. This isn't a one-size-fits-all thing. You need to find what works for you in your life. I never had to hold down a day job, have a family and still have time to write, so I can't really address that other than from what I've observed from friends.

One thing you'll need to become good at is time management. Being more efficient about the things you need to do will help you carve out more writing time. It may help to analyze the way you spend your leisure time to see if there's anything you can painlessly cut out. You probably will have to make some sacrifices to make more time to write, but it's best to start with the time that isn't a sacrifice.

For instance, if you record TV shows and then skip commercials, you can painlessly save nearly 15 minutes out of an hour-long show without having to give up a favorite show. Or there's the time wasted with commuting. When I had a day job, my commute home during rush hour was generally about 40 minutes to an hour for a trip that was about 20-25 minutes at other times of day. I was able to carve out a lot of extra time just by avoiding that rush-hour commute. If I spent half an hour or so in my office writing after work, then I'd get home not much later than if I left at five, without the traffic headache and having produced something. Some days, I could meet my entire writing goal for the day before I left the office, so I could just go home and relax. I suppose you could do the same thing in the morning if you were a morning person -- go to work before rush hour and then spend the time before work starts writing. If you can't do that sort of thing where you work, find a place near your office that's not awful to get to during rush hour, like a coffee shop, library, etc.

Two things you shouldn't sacrifice are sleep and exercise. Studies have shown that you perform better, think more clearly and are more creative when you get at least six hours of sleep a night and get some daily exercise. Spending that time will more than make up for any writing time you lose. A lot of creativity in the subconscious happens while you're asleep, so if you don't sleep enough for that to work, you're missing out on a big part of what your brain can do for you.

Get to know how you work best and take advantage of that. Are you a morning writer or a night writer? Do you work best in quiet solitude or in some kind of chaos or noise? Can you toss off a few sentences whenever you have a spare moment, or do you need to get into a groove to really accomplish anything? I've known people who could write a paragraph or two in random spare moments throughout the day. I don't seem to work well that way, so I tried to cluster things to give myself bigger blocks of time to write. In those random spare moments I might do some brainstorming of what to write later, or I might use that time to get other things out of the way. I found it better to do all my errands on one night and forget about writing that night so that I'd have an uninterrupted block of writing time later that week. I found it worked better to have two to three hours a couple of nights a week than half an hour every night.

It may help to schedule your writing time and take it seriously as an appointment. For me, Friday nights were my writing time, since trying to schedule going out after work was difficult and I could sleep in on Saturday mornings. I'd come home from work, have dinner, watch The X-Files (I had my priorities), then make a pot of tea and write until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. While you're at it, schedule the other things you want to do and share that schedule with the people in your life. I've heard from writers with families that this helps because the family feels less neglected if they know when you'll be doing things with them and if they know when a writing session will end.

It may also help to ease into trying to keep a writing schedule instead of diving in head-first and trying to write a novel in a month or two. Start with a night a week and maybe a couple of two-hour blocks on weekends. When that becomes easy, doesn't feel like a sacrifice and you find that you're making progress in that time instead of staring at the computer screen, maybe add a night and increase weekend blocks. Ignore the people who say that to be a real writer you have to write every single day. As long as you're making steady progress and producing something instead of just talking about writing, you're a real writer, whether you write a few minutes a day or do a weekend marathon.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dissatisfying Reading

Door Watch should supposedly end today. The door is on my patio. Now I'm just waiting for the contractor to show up and install it. Last night, he said he'd be here around nine or nine-thirty this morning, but it's now nearly eleven. Once this is done, it will still have to be painted, but I think they're going to do a mass painting project and get everything done at once, and I may not have to hang around for that.

I normally discuss books on Tuesdays, but I've been through a rather unsatisfying reading spell in which books by authors I usually enjoy have disappointed me. I did read and love The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, but it's one of those books I don't really want to talk about much because I feel like talking about it will break the spell. I did find it scarier than most things I read, to the point I had to skip ahead a chapter or so to reassure myself that things were about to change for the main character when things got really bleak.

My main reading for the next week will be the Hugo nominees for novella, novelette and short story so I can vote intelligently.

For some book-related discussion: A couple/few years ago, I first heard book world people talking about "new adult," which was supposed to be books that transitioned between young adult and adult fiction. That makes sense to me. Readers in their early 20s who've just graduated from teen books probably aren't all that interested in reading about stressed-out mothers or the "I thought I had the perfect life until I learned what my husband was really up to" books. A category of books about younger characters in college or dealing with their first jobs would be a good way to hang onto that huge YA readership and help them find the books they might like in the vast adult fiction world.

Except, it turned out to be kind of like the "urban fantasy" category, in which the idea of it sounded good to me, but the reality turned out to be totally different (I wanted more fiction set in modern cities, but it ended up mostly being about vampires). It seems that what's been selling as "new adult," mostly self-published because the publishers and bookstores aren't yet totally on board with the category, is stuff of the 50 Shades variety. The characters may be college students, grad students or just out of school, but the stories tend to be very edgy and erotic. The characters seem to be damaged in some way and working out their issues through sex. At least, that's what the reviews sound like and what seems to be focused on in the online squee-fest about these books. Oh, and the readership seems to be mostly mature women, not the transitioning from YA crowd. There definitely does seem to be an audience, and it's nice that they're finding books to read, but selfishly, I was hoping that this might be a revival of chick lit under a different name. I'm dying for some fun, funny, fluffy reading like that and have zero interest in a heavy angst fest.

In fact, I went digging through the library for chick lit type stuff yesterday, but I think I may have tapped my library system's entire collection. Next I'll have to scour used bookstores for old stuff I haven't read yet. When I get in a mood for that kind of thing, nothing else really works.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Shopping Safari

That window-shopping trip on Friday turned into a shopping spree. I haven't really done a round of mall shopping in three years, so I guess I was overdue, but when I'd bought three dresses and a blouse after going into two stores, I figured I'd better get out of there. However, they were all very practical and versatile items. It felt so good to wear a new dress to church on Sunday. My favorite find came in the Banana Republic outlet store. I used to love Banana Republic back when it was "travel and safari clothing." They sold stuff like photographers vests and safari jackets. When I was in college and escaping my roommate on a Saturday by taking the bus to the mall and spending the day just wandering, I spent a lot of time in Banana Republic. I was planning to be a globe-trotting journalist, and I guess in my head a globe-trotting journalist dressed like Indiana Jones. Since then, they quit having a jeep in the middle of the store display and switched to selling yuppie clothes. But when I walked into this store, the first thing I saw was a "safari" style dress -- khaki with lots of pockets. It was the kind of thing they used to sell. And they had my size. And it actually fit me. Even better, it rang up for less than $24 (the tag was quite a bit higher, but I might still have paid that price). Now I have this urge to go report something from some far-flung corner of the globe (though I think there's also a steampunk vibe to it, so I'll get there via airship).

After last week's discussion of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, I stumbled on a movie on HBO that seemed to be a satire of the trope, Ruby Sparks. Our Hero is a young man who as a teenager apparently wrote The Great American Novel, which was a big enough bestseller that he lives a pretty wealthy life in LA in spite of having written nothing since then. But he's got a bad case of writer's block and now barely interacts with anyone other than his brother, his therapist, his publisher and his agent. But then he starts having vivid dreams about a young woman, and he starts writing about her. Soon, he knows everything about her and feels like she's the most vivid character he's ever written. But then he lets his brother read what he's written, and his brother says it won't work -- it's a romantic story, so the main audience is women, and what he's written isn't a real woman but rather a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (though he doesn't use those exact words), and that kind of character pisses women off. Things get weird when he finds his character in his kitchen, acting like she's his girlfriend. At first, he thinks he's hallucinating her, but then she interacts with other people, and then he discovers that whatever he writes about her comes true. He puts the manuscript aside to enjoy having his perfect girlfriend, but things get complicated the more she develops into a real person with a life of her own.

To be honest, I don't think the movie lived up to its potential, and I'm not entirely sure what it was saying about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl idea. I was waiting for him to learn that this kind of person would be incredibly annoying to be around, but he was only bothered by her when she developed a life of her own that didn't revolve entirely around him. I guess maybe that was the statement the film was making, that the "dream girl" for a lot of men isn't a real person. Or maybe it was just that this character had to learn to deal with reality and stop being so self-centered. I think it was meant to be a comedy, but the only actually funny parts came when he freaked out about her having a life of her own and tried to write her to bring her back to him, only to have that backfire. The actress playing the dream girl seemed to have fun with instantly shifting to become the latest thing he'd written.

I guess I'd have found it a lot more satisfying if instead of it being about him needing to learn to let real people into his life, it had been more about him finding out that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl would really be a nightmare and he started trying to do away with her when he met a far more interesting real woman.

I won't even get into yet another Hollywood version of what a novelist's life is like. I won't quibble about the LA-based agent because I've had one. I do wonder about the publisher (or editor) who lives in LA and constantly throws swanky literary parties. My main form of amusement from the portrayal of a novelist was a trope I've noticed in other things, where the main character has a reading event of the new novel, and apparently he either reads the entire book at the reading (talk about a marathon!) or he reads the end because the part of the reading they show is him reading what's obviously the conclusion, complete with Valuable Lesson that also applies to his real life, then closing the book as the audience sighs and wipes away tears. I think I'd be outraged if I went to a book event and the author gave away the end of the book. Or is that the way I'm supposed to be doing it, reading the last chapter instead of the first chapter?

Friday, July 19, 2013


It turns out my eyes weren't as bad as I'd thought. In fact, they'd barely changed. My current glasses are eight years old, and the doctor said getting new ones wasn't urgent but might be a good idea just because of wear. After this long, they're probably a bit scratched, even if the scratches are microscopic. I'm nowhere near needing bifocals. It may be a little more challenging to read while wearing my glasses that correct distance vision, but even with my distance vision corrected, I tested out at 20/20 for close vision. With correction, I've got 20/15 distance vision -- better than "normal." She did tweak my contact lens prescription to see if that would help matters. There's a very slight difference between my eyes, but not enough to make a huge difference, so for the convenience of being able to use the same lenses on either eye, one eye was very slightly overcorrected and the other was very slightly undercorrected. We're trying going for the exact prescription on each eye to see if that helps, since the overcorrection may have caused some of the reading problems. I've got a test pair to see if this works before I actually order more lenses. Right now, I'm working on the computer while wearing contacts for the first time in ages, other than the time when my agent called as I was getting ready for ballet and I had to consult the computer. I hardly notice that I'm wearing corrective lenses, other than that the street outside looks a lot clearer.

I'm afraid I'm going to get the "cataract surgery effect," though, in which once your vision is corrected, you suddenly realize just how dirty your house is. When I'm at home, I just keep a pair of glasses on the coffee table for watching TV and otherwise don't correct my vision at home. Since I'm testing the new contacts and getting ready to go out, I'm seeing my house with clear vision for the first time in ages, and EEEK. I don't plan to make a habit of wearing lenses all day, though.

In fact, the doctor suggested I keep doing what I've been doing, which is wear glasses/lenses just to watch TV or drive. If reading is a problem while wearing contacts to correct the distance vision, I can try the very lowest level of drugstore reading glasses. Otherwise, she suggests I get small glasses frames, maybe rimless on the bottom, to serve as natural bifocals, reading with no lenses from below the glasses. I've been going to this doctor for nearly 20 years, and what I like about her is that she actually asks about how you see and use lenses in daily life instead of just writing a prescription. If I worked in a regular office where I had to drive to get there and deal with people I needed to be able to see while also needing to read, I'd probably need something different (my eyes got a lot worse when I had a day job and wore contacts all the time. They've become a lot better since I started working at home -- maybe I should have added that to the intangible benefits list for writing full-time).

I may go shopping for new glasses in the next month or so, just because it wouldn't hurt to have another extra pair (my TV pair is more than ten years old) that's a little more up-to-date. Now, though, I'm off for a morning out. I'm plant-sitting for some friends and need to go water the plants, and I pass some stores along the way, so I may do a little shopping. I don't know if I'm going to do the actual buying at this point, but I haven't been shopping in so long that I don't even know what's out there. Mostly, I suspect I'll be buying yarn.

And then there's a scene I need to write that came to me last night, although I'm wavering as to how essential it is to the story. It may just be a character "doing laundry" scene, but I think there's something else going on. I can always cut it later if I write it and discover I don't need it, and writing it may tell me something about the characters that ends up being important even if the scene doesn't need to go in the final book.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Semi-Famous Geeky Knitting

Door Watch continues. No news to report. They'll probably want to come work on it this afternoon, when I have an eye exam.

I got to play "author" last night as a guest at a book group. I think of my job as having two different modes. There's "writer" mode where I sit at home in sweatpants or shorts and write, and there's "author" mode where I glam up, go out and pretend to be semi-famous. This book group is one I've met with before. The hostess is a friend of a former client, and the former client suggested they have me visit the book group. They've had me back a few times since then, and then they started inviting me to their other social gatherings. You've got to love a book group meeting that also involves a demonstration of a stun gun. No, they didn't demonstrate on me or on each other, but they were admiring one lady's cute pink flashlight with bonus stun gun feature and then placing a bulk order from the company's web site.

I had another distraction day, but this time with nothing to show for it. I just couldn't seem to focus. I got most of a scene written, about 1,000 words worth, but I fizzled and never managed to get back into it before I had to get ready for the book club.

I got my preliminary program assignments for WorldCon, and that will have to be adjusted somewhat, as they put me on a panel on the history of atheism. Really? Me? I said I wanted to talk about faith in fiction, and that doesn't really say that I know anything about atheism. I responded to say that I didn't belong on that panel. I resisted the urge to tell them that if I remained on the panel, I'd know the room would be full of potential converts, that for once I wouldn't be preaching to the choir, so I'd be bringing my Bible and a hymnal. I did actually type that into the response, but then I deleted it before sending. However, I did get put on a geeky knitting panel. I'll have to bring the TARDIS shawl. I actually think that all knitting is kind of geeky because it's about geometry. That's one more argument for driving instead of bus. I can throw more knitting examples in the car. And a cool panel will be on having books adapted for TV or film, with Charlaine Harris on the panel. I'll be the baby on that one because I've only been in the beginning stages, but I can talk about when it gets stalled out.

So, yeah, it likely will be a worthwhile trip. I'm starting to get excited, and it's about six weeks away. I've even started to think about going shopping because all my clothes are rather out-of-date. I haven't really gone shopping in years. Now, though, I need to get back to the book because I want my first draft done before this trip.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Good Kind of Sidetracked

A Door Watch update, for those keeping score at home: I ran into the guy from the board last night, and he said they've been wondering where that door is, too. It was supposed to be done last week, and they're tracking it down. Apparently the guy making the door has gone MIA. This one job may not be too big, but he's screwed himself over for future work, since we'll be needing a lot more of these doors soon and they won't be going with him when it comes time for a bulk order.

In other news, last night was the last dance class of the summer session. I stayed after for the jazz class because we were making our traditional trek to Sonic for milkshakes afterward (something we do at the end of each term). I don't know if it was because the ballet class was challenging or because of the jazz, but my legs are currently unhappy with me, from my hips to my toes. Actually, just about every muscle in my body feels at least tired, if not sore. I felt moderately competent (at both ballet and jazz) for a change, so I may have been a wee bit overly enthusiastic and pushed myself harder than normal. The trick will be to force myself to exercise regularly in the next three weeks before the fall session starts so I won't be starting from scratch.

In writing news, on Monday I got to write a scene that's been in my head a long time. In fact, it may have been the first scene from this book I ever envisioned, before I even knew what the main plot was. At one point, it was going to be the opening scene, but then other stuff happened. It felt so good to get this scene out of my head and into words, but then I got to the end of it and felt a little lost. That's when I realized I'd skipped over a few things in my eagerness to get to this scene. There was one scene I'd planned, and then a few other things that needed to happen occurred to me. Yesterday, I re-read the parts leading up to the gap and figured out what I needed to do. Then I got sidetracked.

But it was a good kind of sidetracked. I was researching that bus option, looking up reviews, etc., and then I looked for the location of the San Antonio stop on Google Maps, since their map didn't tell me anything, and I had the map show hotels so I could get a sense of where it was in relation to my hotel and the convention stuff. Just to make sure I had my bearings, I clicked on the little flag for what I thought was the hotel adjacent to the convention center, and it turned out to be a Hyatt. It was so close to the convention hotel that the flags overlapped. Just out of curiosity, I went to the Hyatt site and searched for rooms at that hotel for the time of the convention, and they had a room for more than $60 less (when you include the difference in tax) than any convention rate, and it was closer than the overflow hotel. So I made a new reservation and cancelled the one I'd made. It did require a pre-purchase, which gave me pause, but I figured that I'm going anyway, barring a serious crisis, and saving nearly $400 for the stay is nothing to sneeze at. Not to mention being much closer to the action, just across the street from the party hotel and adjacent to the convention center instead of several blocks away.

I'm leaning away from doing the bus thing. The reviews for the service in Texas were fairly good, but the reviews for the company as a whole around the country were pretty bad, with most of the fault being put on difficult customer service. One complaint that came up a lot around the country and even in Texas was baggage handling. They don't really check bags, just stow them under the bus, and apparently they have a bad habit of forgetting to load all the bags and just leaving them behind. You don't know your bag isn't on the bus until you arrive, since you don't check bags you have no proof that you gave them a bag, and since they just have stops, not terminals, their staff just leaves the bags sitting there on the street instead of taking them to a safe place to be picked up later. Since this is a business trip, having my stuff is pretty mission-critical. Another review brought up a possible issue that hadn't occurred to me: since they're not in the air, there's cell phone coverage through most of the trip, and there will be people who talk on their cell phones the entire way. For some reason, listening to one side of a cell phone conversation is annoying in a way that two people nearby talking to each other isn't. It would be nice if they designated a quiet area of the bus, but apparently they don't think of that. It would probably diminish my convention experience if I were arrested for shoving a cell phone down someone's throat after the second hour of non-stop yapping of the "Yeah, I'm on the bus now" variety. I'm saving enough on the hotel that I can afford the parking rates, and although driving that distance is tiring, so is listening to annoying people for that amount of time. It's also nice to have the time and packing flexibility, and catching the bus would require a bus/train ride downtown.

Yes, I'm putting too much thought into this, but I really enjoy travel planning. I plan trips just for fun, even without any intention of actually taking them. In some cases, the planning is the most fun part of the trip. I love researching all the options, and it only becomes stressful if I actually have to make a real choice. Yes, I'm strange.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Caution: Flying Sharks

First, a little crowdsourcing/survey: Does anyone have any experience with the Megabus line? They've started operating in Texas and have direct service from Dallas to San Antonio. It's much cheaper than either driving or flying and probably a little faster than the way I'd drive (if they stick to the posted schedule). Their baggage policy would allow for about the same amount I'd pack, though there is a limit so I wouldn't be able to just throw in whatever I want. However, there's no restriction on stuff like liquids, so I could bring a full-size bottle of hair gel. There's the same downside of flying in having to adhere to someone else's schedule, but then there's also the upside of having someone else do the driving while I sit and read or knit. I'm curious what the experience is like, what the clientele is like (would it be safe for a woman traveling alone?), etc.

Then again, the very name "Megabus" makes me twitchy. When we lived in Germany, we took a spring break trip to Spain that was a package tour for American military personnel. The bus was a double-decker with accordion extension, and it held something like 160 people. The guy sitting across the aisle from us dubbed it "Megabus" and didn't shut up through the entire trip from Frankfurt to south of Barcelona, narrating the adventure of Megabus driving through the night. His kids had that handheld Battlestar Galactica electronic game (this was the late 70s), and to this day, when I think "Megabus" I hear the particular pattern of beeps that went with that game.

In other news, I finally watched the infamous SyFy movie Sharknado. It fell into the category of stupid fun, but you really had to turn your brain off. If you've even watched a little of the Weather Channel, let alone actually been anywhere near a tornado or hurricane, it just doesn't work. For instance, there's a hurricane heading toward California that's driving all the sharks in the ocean toward LA. When the storm surge hits, the sharks are washed ashore to swim in the floodwaters. But the beach is full of beachgoers enjoying a sunny day when it hits. Generally, the rain bands of a hurricane hit first, so there are torrential rains even before the storm surge and the worst of the winds. There might be a few idiot surfers out enjoying the waves, but you wouldn't have crowds of people on the beach in their bikinis. Then once the tornadoes start attacking (that part reminded me of the episode of WKRP when there's a tornado and the station's only disaster communication plan is for communist invasion, so they read that, switching the word "tornado" for the word "communist."), they managed to CGI in the tornadoes but not the tornado damage. A major tornado goes through downtown LA, with the only damage caused when it flings a shark into something. Not to mention the people out swimming in a pool during a hurricane that's spawning tornadoes. Or maybe people in LA are that dumb.

But still, I actually kind of liked the main characters, and once you got beyond the stupidity of the situation, their story worked. They bothered to develop characters, and the acting among the leads wasn't that bad. The actress playing the barmaid needs to get cast in a series because she took a bimbo role and made it work. It helped that she wasn't written as a bimbo in spite of her wearing a bikini through the whole movie, but she also came across as believable, credible and sympathetic. Normally I cringe at the acting in these things, but she impressed me. It was the "name" actress who was painfully bad.

And, you know, it wasn't quite as stupid as the episode of Under the Dome I watched afterward.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Manic Pixie Dream Girls and Good Men

I don't think I'll be getting that new door installed today because it's supposed to be raining off and on all day, and it sort of defeats the purpose of weatherproofing an enclosure to remove the temporary closure while it's raining. At least, that's my logic. They may or may not agree with me. I'm loving the rain, though. The temperatures are in the 70s in mid-July. Between that and all the back-to-school ads in the newspaper yesterday, I'm afraid my body is trying to tick over to "fall" mode and will be terribly disappointed when summer inevitably returns for another couple of months. I'm anticipating getting a lot of writing done today because this is Good Writing Weather.

During yesterday's rain, I found myself re-watching Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day because it was on HBO, and I can't seem to resist that movie (yes, I have it on DVD, but watching on HBO is even easier). It's also a good rainy day movie. Seeing this movie this weekend after last weekend's Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie got me started thinking. What's the female equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl?

In case you aren't familiar with the term, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a character most often seen in a male-focused romantic comedy, romance or coming-of-age story. She's an adorable (or adorkable) woman/child (a childlike free spirit with a woman's body and sex drive) with a collection of quirks instead of a real characterization who guides the hero on his emotional journey. Zooey Deschanel is generally considered to be the poster girl for this character type (particularly in 500 Days of Summer), though I believe the term was coined for the Kirstin Dunst character in Elizabethtown. Another frequently cited example is Natalie Portman's character in Garden State. In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, she's got a weird combination of hypersomnia and insomnia, so she has trouble getting to sleep but once she's asleep she can sleep through absolutely anything. She's in her twenties but loves vinyl records, and when it looks like her building could burn down (and the world's ending in about a week anyway), she grabs her collection of albums instead of her purse with her ID and money. She's so ditzy that she managed to miss the last plane that would take her to see her family before the world ended, and she never got around to delivering her neighbor's mail that was mistakenly put into his box, so he never got the letter from his old girlfriend that could have changed his life. But she's also so winsomely charming that she can get whatever help they need on their pre-apocalyptic road trip, and being with her solves all the hero's emotional problems.

I'm not sure when this character type first appeared, and I wonder if it's a misread of some classic characters. The Katharine Hepburn characters in Holiday and Bringing Up Baby fit some of the characteristics, but I'd say they're Fake Manic Pixie Dream Girls in that in both cases she's deliberately putting on the extreme quirkiness, perhaps out of an awareness that this is a male fantasy, while having a distinct agenda (a Manic Pixie Dream Girl usually doesn't have a real agenda of her own -- she may state a goal, but she'll always sacrifice that goal for the hero). Holly Golightly in the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's looks like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she has her own character arc. She may resolve the hero's problems, but then she has even bigger problems that he then has to help her deal with. It's that actual character arc that's usually missing from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who only exists as an accessory to a man's life.

There doesn't seem to be a Manic Pixie Dream Guy, unless you count those Frat Pack type romantic comedies in which the hero is an overgrown manchild, but that doesn't strike me as a female fantasy. That's more male fantasy/fear -- she has to loosen up a bit, but she's still in the role of mean mommy making him grow up. I think the female equivalent is the Good Man. In most of the movies I can think of that are centered on the woman's journey, it comes down to her having to learn what a Good Man really is. There's the guy who's Good On Paper, who seems to be just what she wants, but then she's thrown up against a true Good Man who may not fit her checklist, but who proves himself to be honest, loving and loyal. You see that in classic screwball comedies and in a lot of the current ones. There's Katherine Hepburn having to choose among her ex-husband (whom she may have misjudged), a passionate reporter and the seemingly solid businessman in The Philadelphia Story, only to learn that her ex is the man who will stand by her in spite of -- or even because of -- her human frailties. In Miss Pettigrew, there's the wealthy man who can keep her in luxury, the connected man who can make her a star, and the penniless but talented and honest man who loves her for herself. Even going more modern (since Miss Pettigrew was based on a book written in the screwball era), there's While You Were Sleeping, in which the heroine has to choose between the slick, handsome Prince Charming type and his hardworking, less glamorous brother. Or more recently, Leap Year, in which she has to choose between a superficial doctor and a hardworking Irish pub owner. Notting Hill was also on TV yesterday, and although it does seem more of a male-focused movie, it's clearly aimed at a female audience, so it's about a Good Man who has to prove to the heroine that he's a Good Man once she realizes that a Good Man is what she needs.

But while I think the Good Man is a strong female fantasy, the interesting thing is that in the screwball era, during the Depression, it was also playing into a male fantasy. The ordinary working man managed to win the heart of even a spoiled heiress because of his inner good qualities that made him a better man than a playboy or a social climber. And to add to the fantasy, usually the tycoon father also approved of him as a good man and often gave him an opportunity (never money, though -- the Good Man always rejects handouts, but he'll take a job he's proven himself worthy of). And maybe that's why the trope has stood the test of time. It plays into everyone's fantasies. Yeah, it's a high standard for manhood, but being honest, loving and loyal is probably more achievable for the average guy than being fabulously wealthy and powerful. On the other hand, it seems that women generally find the Manic Pixie Dream Girl irritating. Why go to a movie to watch a crazy chick mess with a guy's head when you can watch that so often in real life?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Difficulty Points

Still no door on the water heater cabinet. It rained yesterday, but I don't think it was enough to test either the leak repair or the temporary door because it was the kind of rain where you could dodge the raindrops. They seemed to be falling at least three feet apart. It's possible that no raindrop hit the cabinet.

I did get back into the groove of writing, and turning on the music seemed to help. I don't know why this one particular series requires music -- even music with lyrics -- to write when just about everything else requires either silence or instrumental music. I should make decent progress today since I know the next couple of scenes. Then again, there's the chance that when I get there, they'll go in an entirely different direction.

My other accomplishment was making homemade bagels. A month or so ago, there was an article being passed around Facebook on what kitchen staples it's worthwhile to make for yourself, based on time, cost and quality, and what it's better to just buy. One thing that surprised me on the "make at home" list was bagels. The writer claimed that not only was making them at home far less expensive, but it wasn't that time consuming and the results were so much better than anything you'd buy, even from a specialty bakery. I doubted homemade bagels would be cheaper than what I buy, considering that I usually get them at about $1 for six on the "Oops, we baked too much" cart at Kroger and I think he was comparing to buying them at a specialty bakery, but still, that article triggered the "Aha! A Challenge!" part of my brain.

As my friends and family can attest, I have a bad habit of living as though I'm putting together an Olympic gymnastics or figure skating routine, where you get extra credit for doing more challenging things. I actively look for the hard way, and I rationalize it by claiming that it's better or more efficient. Some people climb Mt. Everest because it's there. My reason would be that the place I want to go is just on the other side, and there's no point in going the long way around the mountain when you can just go up and over the top. To be honest, it comes down to the fact that the hard way is usually more fun or more interesting, and there's a real thrill in achieving something difficult. Because of this sometimes dangerous and scary trait, when I read something like "it's cheaper and better to make your own bagels," I have to pause to question whether this appeals to me because of the cost and quality, or if it's because I think I'll get bonus difficulty points for making my own instead of just buying them.

At any rate, for some reason, yesterday I decided that this had to be done. I used the recipe in Joy of Cooking, and it turned out not to be that difficult, if you know the basics of making bread. It only took about two hours, start to finish, and that includes the at least ten minutes of searching for a particular measuring spoon, only to find it in the dishwasher that's currently serving as a giant dish drainer. I won't be staggering out of bed in the morning and making bagels for breakfast, but a bagel sandwich for a lunchtime hike picnic is doable. A lot of that two hours is rising and baking time, so there's not that much labor, just stirring together ingredients, kneading, shaping, then boiling and baking. Looking at the cost of the ingredients, I think I may even be beating the Kroger bargain rack. But the real difference is the taste. The guy writing the article was right. There's no comparison between this and anything you buy at even a good bakery. Lightly toasted, with a little cream cheese and strawberry jam, this made a heavenly breakfast. I'm afraid this is going to become like the jam, where I did it once just to prove I could, and the results were so good there was no going back to store-bought. Because these have no preservatives, I froze most of the batch. Now I'll have to experiment with other flavors, like cinnamon raisin. Blueberry might be interesting, but I'm not sure how you'd knead a stiff dough without making a mess and popping blueberries all over the place. I bet bakeries use dried blueberries for blueberry bagels.

Aren't these lovely?

One other odd thing on the list of things it's better to make for yourself was yogurt. Supposedly, homemade is much cheaper and so much better that you won't ever want to buy yogurt again. I've yet to try that, but I am curious, and just think of the difficulty points!

Thursday, July 11, 2013


I'm still waiting on that water heater door. The contractor called yesterday to ask if I'd heard anything because he hadn't been able to reach the guy who was getting the door made. It was supposed to be ready on Monday. I just want this all over with, but at least I have hot water in the meantime.

Yesterday was my official procrastination-busting day, in which I took care of a number of things that have been sitting on my to-do list for a while. One of them was making an appointment for an eye exam. I'm way overdue for a couple of reasons. One was that I ordered some contact lenses after my last exam via the WalMart optical shop. When I'd heard nothing after a few weeks, I checked on it, and it seemed that the order had been lost entirely. So they gave me a few samples to tide me over, cancelled the old order and placed another order. The lost and cancelled order showed up at around the same time as the new order, so I had lots and lots of contacts (I have the monthly disposable kind, but I don't wear them every day, so they last even longer). In the meantime, my contact lens use declined drastically because I'm getting old. I reached the point where if I correct my distance vision, it's difficult to read. I've never worn contacts at home. I just keep a pair of glasses on the coffee table and wear them to watch TV. Because of the reading thing, I mostly just wear contacts now if I'm driving long distances, dancing or hiking. If I'm going to have to read, I wear glasses so I can take them off or look under them to read. My usual cue for getting an eye exam is running out of contacts and realizing the prescription has expired. It took me a really long time to run out of contacts, and now I suspect my prescription has changed. I don't know if I'm quite up for bifocals because I read perfectly well without my glasses. It's just that issue of being able to see up close and far away at the same time. I give myself extra space in dance class because when people get really close I lose the ability to know exactly how close they are. This wouldn't be a problem if certain people paid any attention to where they were in relation to other people and made any effort to stay in their general space or lane, and it's more diplomatic to say my eyes aren't working right than to say I have to allow extra space because I'm afraid you're going to blunder into me without looking where you're going. The teacher teases me about having my comfort zone near the wall, but the wall isn't going anywhere. I know where it is. If I'm in the middle of the floor, I have to worry about people moving around.

My other bit of procrastination turned out to have a penalty for waiting this long, but then that turned out to work in my favor, so win! I'd been putting off making my hotel reservation for WorldCon because I hadn't decided when I would arrive and depart and I hadn't picked which of two convention hotels I really wanted. I figured I still had time because usually they'll post messages about how their room block is filling up and there are only X number of rooms, etc. They hadn't said anything, and I was worried that might even be a bad sign. So then I went to the site to make a reservation and it said the room block was full. They still haven't announced that other than on the hotel page. But it turns out that the overflow hotel, which has the same rates, is one of my favorite San Antonio hotels. It also has in-room mini fridges, supposedly is giving free wi-fi, and I get frequent flier miles while staying in this chain, which should give me account activity so I don't lose the zillion miles I've been hoarding to maybe upgrade for going to London next year. I was going to have to either take a trip between now and March or find some other way to have activity on the account. It's not that much farther from the convention center, and I can usually get someone to walk with me from the party hotel at night (or that gives me an excuse not to stay at parties too late). If this had been offered as a hotel option from the start, it's the hotel I'd have chosen, so in this case, procrastination worked out for me.

Strangely, taking care of all the procrastination triggered a massive procrastination fit in everything else. I sat down to write and just couldn't make it happen. My brain was all over the place. Part of the problem may be that the story is veering in an unexpected direction, and that new direction isn't quite clear to me yet. I also may not have found the right working conditions for this book yet. As I recall, when I wrote the previous book in this potential series, instead of working in my usual absolute silence, I put iTunes on that computer on shuffle and worked with music. Maybe I'll try that. I was also strangely tired. I'd planned to go to a ballet class but instead I was in the shower by 9 and in bed with the lights out (after a little reading) by 10, and still slept to my usual time. I should feel rested, but I think I could go to sleep right now if I let myself lie down.

On an entirely unrelated note, is there any interest in t-shirts and related items (coffee mugs, etc.) with the Enchanted, Inc. series artwork on them, like the frog or the fairy? The cover artist has raised the idea, and I wanted to gauge interest. However, I haven't been impressed with the quality of stuff I've seen from Cafe Press, so if you know of another on-demand kind of print shop, let me know that, too. I wonder if there's something via Amazon, so it could be linked to the books somehow.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Quitting the Day Job

This week I have a reader question(s), which is essentially about when a writer can quit the day job, and what day jobs are best for writers.

I would say that the answer to both questions is It Depends. For the first question, it depends on your finances, your situation, your personality, your priorities and your goals. I would generally recommend waiting to make that decision until after your first book has been published, you've completed your first contract (if it's a two-book contract, both books have been written and accepted), you've received your first royalty statement and you have a second contract. That doesn't mean that you can quit then, just that then you'll have the information you need to make the decision. You'll know that you're not going to be a one-book wonder, you'll have some sales numbers to tell you how you're doing, you'll know if you're getting foreign sales, and if you've saved most of the writing money you received while still getting a paycheck, you'll have an emergency fund. Remember that book income isn't the same as a paycheck. If you have an agent, the agent gets a commission. You have to pay income taxes and self-employment taxes (the Social Security you pay, plus the part an employer usually pays) and benefits like health insurance, unless you can be covered on someone else's plan. On the other hand, there may be some cost savings from not commuting, eating out less, etc. From there, it depends on what you can comfortably live on. You may be willing to make financial sacrifices to live your dream and really push on your writing career or you may feel more creative without financial worries.

It's not necessarily an either/or thing, depending on your situation. There are ways you can ease into making the leap. I would suggest that if you hope to one day leave the day job, you start preparing now, even if you haven't sold or even written a book. Start saving as much money as you can so that you'll have a financial cushion when the time comes. That allows you to not live from contract to contract. You may be able to work out an arrangement with your employer to cut your hours or telecommute, which frees up extra time. You can look for freelance opportunities either to earn extra money for that nest egg while you're working or so you won't be entirely dependent on your novel writing once you do leave the regular day job. That was the way I did it. I'd sold some books and had been saving money ever since I got out of college, and I already had some freelance work on the side. When I wanted to focus more on my writing, I was ready to quit, but my boss allowed me to cut back to 30 hours a week (and since I was being paid part-time, that meant a firm 30 hours. I'd been working about 60 hours a week before without getting overtime) and telecommute. When I got laid off a couple of years later when my industry took a downturn, the severance pay, my savings and my freelance work allowed me to not look for a new job. The freelance work paid the bills until I got a new novel contract, and then I gradually transitioned to writing fiction full-time.

But should you quit the day job? Again, it depends. You don't necessarily have to if you have a job you enjoy that inspires and energizes you and that allows you time to write, though you may find juggling everything more of a challenge if your writing career really takes off and you have to do things like book tours. I've found in my own experience and heard from others that writing full-time doesn't really mean you spend that much more time writing. I seem to have a certain amount of fiction in me per day. What's nice is the luxury to spend more time if I'm on a roll without worrying about getting up for work the next morning. You may not even see a benefit from writing more, unless you're self-publishing or writing category romances, where frequency is how you build a career. Publishers generally don't want more than one book a year from an author because they can't get more than that slotted, though you may be able to publish more if you write a couple of different things for different audiences or publishers.

Not having a day job mostly allows for all the other stuff that goes with writing once you're selling books, like copy edits, page proofs and publicity. There are blog tours, media interviews, speaking engagements, convention appearances , booksignings, etc. A lot of these are evening and weekend events, but if you're spending evenings and weekends doing this stuff, that eats into your writing time when you have a full-time job. You also have to deal with agents and editors during business hours, and it's nice to be able to schedule conference calls without worrying about how that will look to a boss.

Where I find the real benefits is in the intangibles. For one thing, living according to my body clock makes me a lot more productive. I had a bad mid-afternoon slump when I had a day job, but now I find that's my best writing time, probably because I'm getting the right amount of sleep at night. I may not spend much more time actually writing every day than I did when I had a regular job, but I'm getting about twice the amount written. I'm an extreme introvert, so being around people all day at work drained me. Now that I spend my days at home alone, I have more energy overall and I've developed more of a social life. My life is a lot better balanced, and I have time to do other things I enjoy now that writing is my job instead of my hobby (even when the hobby made money). I can have other hobbies now. I read a lot more, and I think that's important. I think all that helps add up to making me a better writer. The volume of my output hasn't changed drastically, but I think the quality has improved and not just because I have more experience.

As for what day jobs work best, I've heard the advice that you shouldn't have a day job where you write a lot because then you won't want to write when you get home, but it didn't work that way for me because what I wrote at work was so different from fiction. When my job allowed me to hide in my office and write all day, I wrote more when I got home. It was when my job was more about meetings and management and I had to travel a lot that I wrote less. I think that writing as a career made me a better novelist because I had a firm grasp on the mechanics and was used to meeting deadlines. It may not work that way for everyone. I did find that the unhappier I was in my day job, the more I wrote, so maybe you don't want a really awesome day job. But I think that depends on your personality. An introvert will probably benefit more from quitting the day job. An extrovert may not get the same intangible benefits because all that alone time will be draining, and going to Starbucks every day to work gets expensive.

Before you make the leap, I would suggest talking to writers who've already done so. Give it a trial run. Take a week (or more, if you've got the vacation time) of vacation and pretend that you're now a full-time writer, keeping to the schedule and workload you think you'd have. If you're going stir-crazy by Friday, quitting may not be a great idea even if you can afford it. If you dread going back to your day job at the end of the week, then leaving may be something you want to work toward.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

"Bulletproof" Tropes

Supposedly, the new water heater cabinet door was going to be finished yesterday, so it's possible that the final work could be done today. Have I mentioned how much I'm ready to have this over with so I can go back to normal and stop spending my days sitting around waiting for people who might show up to either do or check on work? This is a silly little thing, but I really want to be able to go back to having breakfast while still wearing my nightgown instead of feeling like I should get dressed as soon as I get up, in case someone comes by early. And I want to be able to get back to sitting around the house in the kind of really comfortable casual clothes that I generally don't allow myself to be seen in public in.

I did get back to writing yesterday, but I didn't get much done because the scene I was writing suddenly veered in an unexpected direction. I think it's a good direction, but the fact that it veered meant I had no idea what happens next and couldn't finish the scene. Now I have to think about it. During the water heater and holiday hiatus, I realized that there's a good mythological model for part of the main plot of this story. I just want to find a way to put an interesting twist on it.

A couple of weeks ago, the Dear Author blog had a post about "bulletproof tropes," the tropes you love enough that you'll cut any books that have them some slack -- even a bad book with those tropes is better than a good book without them. If it's got that trope, it can't fail. I'm afraid I often have the reverse, the tropes I love so much that I get really irked when they're done badly, and I have high expectations for any book that has them.

One of those for me is the Friends Become Lovers story. I love the idea of it, but it's generally really badly executed. In romance novels especially, as soon as love enters the picture, they stop acting like friends and that side of their relationship disappears. Other genres where there's another main plot and the romantic relationships are a subplot do it a little better, but it's still a pretty rare plot line, perhaps because there's the idea that without angst and drama, it's boring. I've noticed in television discussion, if the woman on a show gets into a relationship with the "best friend" guy, the fans protest and claim they have no "chemistry." They prefer her with the angsty bad boy with whom she has a turbulent relationship laden with sexual tension. Then again, this is also something that's tricky in real life. I don't know that there are that many cases of people who have been friends without even considering anything else who then fall in love. Usually what looks like friends-to-lovers from the outside is really just a slowly building relationship in which there was a mutual initial attraction, but either due to circumstances or inclination they took it really slowly and built a solid friendship before adding romance or sex to the picture. I suppose one reason it does work better in other genre stories may be that if you're thrown into extreme circumstances, that might give you a different view of someone familiar whom you hadn't ever thought about in that way. At any rate, it's a story line I'm drawn to but almost inevitably disappointed by.

I don't know that I have any real "bulletproof" tropes because there have been things I hate even when they contain things I love, but I do have some things that I'm a sucker for and will forgive a lot if it does these things reasonably well.

One of these is time travel, but only some kinds of time travel. Not the kind of time travel romance that was really popular in the 1990s in which a busy modern woman gets sent back to medieval times, falls in love with a knight and decides to stay (as if). What I love are stories with complex timelines, so that things happen out of order and you get stuff like the son being the mentor to his much-younger father. However, you do have to be careful about it. I was rather creeped out by the bit in The Time Traveler's Wife in which he was hanging out with his wife when she was a child because that looked an awful lot like grooming or brainwashing. If someone's going to run into a lover when the lover is still a child, the adult may have the "oh, wow" moment and then try to avoid the kid to avoid influencing the child. A kid may not remember a brief encounter with a random stranger, so that's okay. Showing up for regular tea parties with a child you know will grow up to marry you is a little predatory, and you can never know if your future spouse marries you out of real love or because you've been such an influence.

I also love most stories involving people traveling to other "worlds," whether it's an alternate world like Narnia or a fairy-like realm. In some respects, I think it's related to the time travel thing. If you're going through a portal to a fantasy world, then you can have the fun part of medieval times without the ick that shows up in real history. This kind of story is very "monomyth," since the Joseph Campbell heroic journey is classically one to an otherworld. There's that sense of going into the "other" and returning changed or changing enough that you can't return. Though I have to like the characters (and thus, I didn't get past the first chapter of the Thomas Covenant series).

I'm a big fan of the ordinary guy hero -- not the type who may be toiling as an apprentice underwater basketweaver but who is really the long-lost heir or the destined, chosen one whose time has come, but rather the guy who doesn't have any particular destiny but who is in the right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time, depending on how you look at it), gets caught up in events, and isn't the sort of person to turn his back when something needs to be done on behalf of other people. I think I'm drawn to the idea that you don't really know what you're capable of until you're tested, and the worst thing that happens to you can actually be the best thing for you if it allows you to achieve your potential. Our ordinary guy may have been a decent farmer, sailor, merchant, etc. I could even deal with him being a run-of-the-mill wizard. But then he gets caught up in events and his achievements raise him to a new level. If I see any hint of that sort of thing on the cover of a book, I'm generally sold. I think this is why Neverwhere is one of my favorite books. Not only is it a journey through another "world," but it's an ordinary guy who gets stuck there just because he was nice to someone in need, not because he was special or had special skills.

I suppose I should take a good look at my bookshelves to see what other patterns emerge, though I think that a lot of my favorites weren't always things I expected to like but that took me by surprise. There's not a particular trope there that draws me, but rather the individual characters and their particular situations.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Apocalyptic Events

I have hot water again! Showers are lovely! But it was a bit of an ordeal getting there. At about 2 Friday afternoon, I got a call from the board guy asking if I'd heard from the contractor, since he hadn't been able to reach him. I hadn't heard anything. He said he'd try again, but if he still couldn't reach him, he'd find someone else to finish the job. At around 3, the contractor called and said he had to finish up some things where he was, but he'd be here in 2-2 1/2 hours. I figured that meant 5-5:30. They showed up at 7:30, worked a little more than an hour, then said they had to go get another part and would get dinner while they were out. They returned after 10:30. They finally finished up at 2 in the morning. There's still a bit more finishing work to do when the new door is ready, so it's not all over yet. I'm hoping that will happen today so I can stop having to be prepared for people to show up at any moment throughout the day or night. It wouldn't be so bad if it was just during the day, but the workers tend to show up at night, and the board members drop by to check their work in the evening, so I can't even unwind at the end of the day, and there doesn't seem to be a clear-cut time when I can just relax and be sure no one will ring my doorbell.

I was a bit of a zombie on Saturday because after getting to bed at around 2:30 in the morning I was wide awake at 7:30 and my attempts at napping failed. Instead, I spent the afternoon sort of dozing in front of the TV. There was a Primeval marathon, and then I watched Pitch Perfect on HBO. That was the fun little movie about college a capella singing groups. I got the sense that there was an element of satire in there and we weren't supposed to take it entirely seriously, so I didn't worry about most of the usual plot tropes since the movie seemed to be winking at them. The music was good (if a bit overproduced, to the point it sounded nothing like music being performed live by that number of people). I had to crack up at the teen movie trope that the way to excel in any music or dance competition is to be really wild and crazy and use current music -- even though you're competing against other people your age who presumably listen to the same music. You'd think after all this time, people would have figured that out, so that it reversed and the way to excel would be to do stuff like Gregorian chant while everyone else was boring and ordinary and used current music. Though I will give this movie credit for having the big differentiator be 80s music mixed into the current stuff (even if it did make me feel old).

In the evening phase of being a sofa zombie, I watched Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which was an odd romantic dramedy. There's an asteroid on a collision course for earth, and all efforts to stop or divert it have failed, so the world will be ending soon. That just makes life worse for a sad-sack insurance salesman whose wife runs off the moment the news about imminent doom comes out and who can't get into the debauchery his friends are enjoying in their final days. When his apartment building comes under attack during a riot, he and his Manic Pixie Dream Girl neighbor flee together, and the two of them end up going on a road trip to find the high school girlfriend he thinks may be the love of his life that he let get away and to see if they can find a way to get her back to her family before the end. If you've ever seen a movie before, you can probably imagine everything that happens along the way. It's basically a slightly raunchier It Happened One Night, set against the impending apocalypse. I'm glad I watched it, but I can't imagine ever watching it again because the end of the world stuff is rather depressing and overpowers any humor or warm fuzzies from the rest of the story. I think my favorite sequence was when they come across a TGI Fridays clone restaurant that they're surprised is still open, with a staff that's going all-out in enjoying their final days (which pretty much looks the way they always tried to make TGI Fridays look in their commercials back in their heyday. I was very disappointed when I finally went to one and found that it was just a restaurant with staff who were required to be annoying). I think the movie would have worked a lot better, though, if the neighbor hadn't been such an obvious Manic Pixie Dream Girl and had been more of a real character, instead. A collection of adorable quirks is not the same as character development.

Now to see if I can apply the new ideas I came up with while doing additional reading and research when I was waiting for contractors. The break may have done me a favor, but I need to get back on track.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Waiting for Water

I'm on day six with no hot water. I do have a water heater, but it's currently in a box in my neighbor's garage. Now I'm waiting to find out when the workers will come to finish the construction work and install the water heater. If I'm really, really lucky, I may be able to take a hot shower tonight. But the lack of hot water is turning out to be the least of the problems. It's only really an issue when I need to wash dishes or bathe. It's the waiting around for workers to show up that's suspending normal operations. I feel like I'm on constant alert for guests who might just drop by at any time. And then when they're around I can't help but be conscious of their presence. Even when I try to go upstairs and hide in my office, they're constantly opening the patio door to ask me questions or tell me things. And then there are the board members dropping in nightly to check on progress. So, while having hot water again will be heavenly, I'm even more looking forward to getting my normal life back. I want to be able to sleep late if I'm so inclined, not feel like I need to get dressed immediately, have a leisurely breakfast and start working on things that require concentration without worrying about being constantly interrupted.

I've switched from even trying to write to doing some more research reading, which turns out to be a good thing because I've already come up with a new character who will appear in the next scene and help drive the story where I need it to go. I'm also taking care of some mindless business-related tasks I've been putting off. I'm getting some office organizing done while waiting to hear from the workers. Yesterday, I found a CD I thought I'd lost, stuck in the middle of a pile of stuff.

I did most of my holiday stuff on the third, going to see Despicable Me 2, which was probably the funniest thing I've seen in years. I laughed so hard that I cried and ended up a little sore from laughing so hard. I really need minions. Then the adjacent town's fireworks display was that night, and I went with a friend. It turned out to be a relatively low-hassle fireworks experience. We arrived after 9 and still found decent parking. It was a bit of a walk to the park, but that meant we didn't have to sit in traffic to leave. Our view of the lower-level fireworks was somewhat obstructed from the vantage point we got, but we got a nice view of the high stuff. It looked like all the fireworks were coming out of the roof of a particular house, and the lower-level stuff looked like sparks shooting out of its roof. So I amused myself by imagining that to be the home of the local wizard or alchemist, who either just had a huge breakthrough or a huge disaster. Maybe the apprentice spilled something.

On the actual holiday, I made a Target run since I didn't think anyone would be showing up to work and it was my chance to leave the house, there was some napping, I made barbecued ribs, and I otherwise just hung out, read, watched TV and did some knitting.

Now I need to start summoning the workers so I can get this stuff done and over with. To ensure their arrival, I need to start doing something that would be really inconvenient to have interrupted.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Construction Progress

Well, the cabinet rebuild is mostly done. They were here until almost midnight. I guess the carpenter is like me -- once you get started, you don't mess around and you get it done. He kept saying that if they were bothering me, they could pack it up, but I figured it was better to let them finish because they were pretty close. He wanted to finish mudding out the drywall so it could dry and then he could finish everything today. Now I just have to see when the water heater will be delivered so that can be installed, and they're having to have a door made since the only doors they could find with those dimensions were interior closet doors, which could explain why the door went bad. He's already fixed the valve on the water supply line, which had broken, so I actually come out ahead in this with things better than they were. However, I may find myself on a committee because the board member was impressed with my historical knowledge of the community, since I knew what some of the past politics were, why the bricks in one part of the outside wall don't quite match (drunk driver and an SUV), and when they last did any painting.

I managed to wash my hair last night with the bucket and pitcher method, but I'm definitely feeling the lack of a hot shower after ballet last night.

I'm going to take the week off from a writing post because of being up so late last night and taking part of today as a holiday. Next week, when the construction is done, I can get back on track.

Now I need to go heat some water to wash dishes. I love my electric teakettle. I dug out my old stovetop kettle so I could heat more water at once, and I can boil two kettles worth of water (boil, empty, refill, boil again) in the electric kettle in the time it takes the stovetop kettle to reach a simmer.

And, yikes, there was just the sound of a really nasty collision in the intersection behind my house. Someone's horn is stuck on. I can't quite see it from my window so I don't know how bad it is. I wonder if I should call 911 or if someone on the scene already has. If I don't hear sirens in a couple of minutes (the fire station is two blocks away), I guess I'll call. And there go the sirens.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

SF TV in Book Form

It looks like I'll finally get something done on the Saga of the Water Heater Enclosure. Last night, a board member, his contractor friend and another board member who is also a contractor came over to look at it and agree that yes, it does need to be fixed. The non-contractor board member was talking about how the undamaged side was okay, but the contractors said no, it all had to go because it was probably breeding vast quantities of mold. They also agreed that the water heater was probably shot, based on the symptoms. I said I wanted to put in a new water heater when they put the water heater back in after the work, but the one I found that I liked was too big for the enclosure.

That was when the contractor board member, an older gentleman, made a potentially fatal error. He expressed shock that I was shopping for a water heater. I said (not necessarily in these words), "Well, duh, it's a vital piece of equipment and it costs a lot of money. Why wouldn't I research the purchase?" He then said something about getting the right color. He received what my friends would likely recognize as the Scary Smile as I patiently explained that the one I wanted had multiple program modes, so it could learn my water use patterns and save energy, and it had a vacation mode so that it didn't have to heat the water full-on while I was out of town. I think that was when he realized that I was a force to be reckoned with and asked for the specs on the water heater. I gave them off the top of my head, which the other contractor who was standing by the cabinet verified. He then said that he could go through his plumbing supplier so I wouldn't have to pay retail.

Maybe I should have let them know that I might have needed someone to take out and then install the water heater, but I could probably have done the carpentry work on my own, other than rebuilding the door frame. I know how to deal with drywall. Habitat for Humanity is great for life skills like that.

I got word this morning that they'd start work today. I don't know how long it'll take. It's a very small space. Getting the water heater out will probably take as much time as ripping out the old sheetrock and maybe even hammering in the new. Taping and mudding out will take a little longer. So I might have hot water by tomorrow night. In the meantime, I worked out a way to get a semi-shower using a large basin, a small pitcher and the electric teakettle. Is it weird that I'm kind of enjoying the creative problem solving aspect of this?

But enough about the "my house hates me" woes (maybe my ghost is acting up). I have books to talk about! This week, I have two fun science fiction novels/novels relating to science fiction TV. One, I was really surprised to see in my library, Shada, the Douglas Adams Doctor Who story that was never finished, as novelized by Gareth Roberts (a current Doctor Who writer). This is from back in the day when a "story" was told in six half-hour episodes. They'd apparently started filming this, doing the location shooting for the first part that takes place in Cambridge, but then there was a strike that shut down production, so the episode was never finished. From the author's note at the back, I get the impression that the script wasn't entirely finished, either, that Adams, who was never known for being good with deadlines, hadn't quite reached the end, or else had done a "and then stuff happens, the good guys win, the end" type of rushed ending, with the hope of fixing it as they got closer to shooting that part. Since they never shot that part, he never finished it. The fun here is not so much that it's a Doctor Who story, but rather that it really feels like a new Douglas Adams book, more so than the Hitchhiker's book written by a different author. It's very much in his voice, and there are very Adams-like touches, like the ship with an annoying personality. There are also a few inside jokes for Who fans, like the description of a monster tearing through a wall like it was made of polystyrene. I'd imagine that a Douglas Adams fan might enjoy this even without being a Who fan, though obviously a Who fan would enjoy it more.

Still on a science fiction TV theme, I then read Redshirts by John Scalzi. An ensign newly assigned to the fleet's flagship notices something strange, like the way they seem to burn through junior crew members, with at least one dying a horrible and pointless death on every away mission. Then there's the "Box" into which material is fed, and it then pops out an analysis or solution with only minutes to spare, no matter what the deadline is. The science of that just doesn't make sense. The more veteran crewmembers avoid having anything to do with the senior officers and hide when it comes time to assign crew members to away missions. Then there's the one senior officer who seems to get injured or exposed to a deadly disease on almost every mission, only to miraculously survive and then be totally cured a week later. Our hero gets suspicious and starts looking into this, only to find that the truth is even weirder than he imagined. The story goes off onto a highly entertaining metafictional slant, something sort of like Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms series meets Galaxy Quest meets Stranger than Fiction. It's laugh out loud funny in a lot of places, though one of the codas may have brought a tear to my eye. Recommended reading for Star Trek fans.

Although I enjoyed this approach to the concept, it did make me kind of want to see a realistic treatment of the Star Trek tropes -- what would really happen in a ship like the Enterprise, where the senior officers seem to have a strange case of Stockholm Syndrome that keeps them from accepting promotions that require transfers, where people are regularly coming down with strange diseases that make them behave oddly, and where the junior officers have a horribly low life expectancy? You'd think there would be investigations or mutinies, or is Captain Kirk some kind of charismatic supervillain who has the crew under his thrall so they don't notice these problems and live only to serve him? How does a captain maintain so much loyalty from his crew that they won't leave his command even to further their careers in spite of the fact that so many of his crew are treated as expendable and so many awful things happen to them?