Monday, September 30, 2013

Hitting the High Notes

I made it through the weekend, and now I have to face a crazy week. For this convention, I'm on the staff as well as being a guest, so I get to help with set-up, I've got my PR job to do, and I'm helping with some other projects. But I still need to figure out what to wear, what I should say in my panels and what to read for my reading.

The what to read part is a challenge because it's hard to find scenes from books 5-7 of the Enchanted series that aren't spoilers for people who haven't read them, and people are still discovering that these books exist. I've already read the opening scene from the next new book a couple of times (though it is somewhat different now). Maybe I'll do something from the book that's currently in search of a good home. I may bring several selections and let whatever audience shows up decide.

My big personal triumph for the weekend was hitting a high B-flat on my own in front of an audience. I've never done that before. I hit that note a lot at home or in my car, and I've sung it as part of a choir, with everyone around me also hitting it. I haven't done that a lot lately, as for the past ten years or so I've been singing the second soprano part in choir. I'm not technically a mezzo soprano, but I can read music and find the harmony notes that aren't melody, and I'm willing to sing second. Once a choir director learns that you can sing second and are willing to, you're singing second forever (since most of the soprano section usually consists of people who don't really read music but who can sing the melody and people with the Diva Gene who can't bear not to sing the big glory notes). That means that when the sopranos get to the really high notes, I'm usually singing a lower note in the chord. But this Sunday, I was singing with a quintet and was the only soprano. The song ended with the soprano line on an E-flat, but then there were little parenthetical notes written above that, going up to a G and then a B-flat, and the choir director said to do those if I could. I did the G in rehearsals on Wednesday because that one is easy. Then I practiced and found that the B-flat wasn't so hard. It just takes confidence, and that's the sticking point because I get terrible stage fright about singing. Plus, this was early in the morning when I could probably sing bass. But I warmed up pretty well, and then when we ran through the song, I did it, and I was still able to do it when we sang during the service. I resisted the urge for a fist pump, but I'll admit that I was buzzing a little all day. I don't think I'm cured of the stage fright, but a good performance experience does help stop the downward spiral of fear, where fear makes me perform badly, which makes me even more afraid for the next time.

I would like to get some writing done this week, but given my schedule, I have to admit that it may not happen. Next week I suspect there will be serious Cave Time after being around people all this week. Is it bad that although I'm looking forward to the convention, I'm also looking forward to the weekend after the convention, when I can hole up in my house and not do anything? I'm already hoping for rain that weekend. I have books I want to dive into.

Friday, September 27, 2013

My Outdoor Oasis

Where did this week go? It really feels like Monday was yesterday. I didn't get any writing done, but it was still a very productive week. For one thing, I made a four-minute movie. That involved editing the video footage, editing a separate audio track and then synchronizing the two; adding some sound effects; adding a few minor visual effects; and creating a background music track. All while learning two software applications.

Meanwhile, I also did some PR work for FenCon and seem to have secured a spot in the newspaper's weekend Guide for the relevant weekend. Then there was choir stuff, including a lesson plan for the kindergarten choir and learning my part for a quintet. Yesterday, errands and flu vaccine. No wonder the week went quickly.

Next week will be even more insane. It starts tomorrow with the final FenCon meeting and some of the technical set-up. I'm singing at two church services Sunday, as well as leading the preschool/kindergarten Sunday school music time. I have baking to do for the convention, more set-up, and then the convention itself starting Friday.

Today I may try to do a little fine-tuning on the video so I can show it to the committee tomorrow, then I want to rewrite a scene in the book I've been neglecting. It will be a knitting and television evening before an early(ish) bedtime so I won't be crabby for Saturday's meeting. I'm kind of allergic to meetings to begin with, and if I'm tired or hungry, there's a high risk of homicide.

In the meantime, to soothe us all, some garden-type photos. I often talk about my patio, so here's a picture. I need to trim the Evil Alien Vine that is making inroads on the patio, and one of my plans is to get better chairs that aren't badly stained (at this point, I've given up on keeping them clean enough to sit in and just throw a beach towel over them). It's my own little outdoor oasis.

The vine on the trellis behind the table is this summer's gardening triumph, my moonflower vine, grown from seeds. This photo was taken at a different time because it blooms at night. I caught this just as the blossoms were starting to open.

And here's a more fully open blossom. They smell lovely. I hope to have a window of opportunity when it's still blooming but after it's not too hot to sit out on the patio in the evenings when the vine is blooming.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Musical Indoctrination

This morning was an errand day. I've done a Target run, bought enough groceries that I shouldn't have to go shopping next week, and I got my flu shot. Only, it wasn't a shot. They wouldn't give me the shot because of a drug allergy (that I've always had and that didn't stop anyone from giving me the shot before), so they gave me the mist. Supposedly, it contains even more strains for more protection, and it turned out that my insurance covered it the same as the shot, so I don't know why the pharmacist made a big production out of it. I was all geared up for the needle, so it was almost a letdown to just have to sniff. I'd planned this for a couple of days when I don't have to do much or be around people, before a week of constant activity. Now we'll see if this keeps me from getting sick this year.

I don't have any fun stories about the kids today because they were pretty good last night. My problem child was more sulky than hyper. He did NOT want to be there. I don't know if I'm glad that his parents are holding the line on this one thing or if I wish they'd give in and let him not come if he doesn't want to. I actually didn't make it all the way through my lesson plan last night. Normally, I seem to plan too little and have to wing it, but I thought I hadn't planned enough and then had to hurry through a couple of things. They actually seemed interested in what I was teaching. I started the musical indoctrination last night. We were talking about fast and slow music, and to them, fast music is like rock music, with a beat. So I brought out the Chopin. I played one of the "andante" etudes, then switched to the Revolutionary. They actually stayed focused on the classical music longer than I expected. They did lie down and mime sleeping during the slower piece, and we let them because they were quiet for more than 30 seconds. Next time, I'll introduce them to Beethoven with the "thunderstorm music."

Then I had a nice discussion at dinner with the choir director and some of the choir members about sociology and entertainment, veering off into talk about Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. In choir practice, I had to sing with a quintet with a microphone in front of the rest of the choir, which was unnerving, but it's probably good practice for Sunday morning. It's a really jazzy gospel-style song, so I get to use my jazz voice for it -- until the end when the soprano part goes up high. I get to wail! Fun!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Once More Into the Breach

I have to face the kindergarteners tonight, which means I need to come up with a lesson plan today. I led the singing for the preschool and kindergarten Sunday school department this week, and I got to see that the Sunday school teachers -- including one veteran school teacher -- had the same problems I have with this one kid. In just ten minutes of the group time, he tried to leave the room, and it was clearly a doing it to see if he could get away with it thing. The teacher (who's a friend from choir) suspects it's a case of a really dangerous combination of ADHD and overly permissive parenting that doesn't set or enforce limits. They'll say "stop that" but then don't do anything when he doesn't stop. He's a really smart, sweet kid, but I think he's flailing a bit because he doesn't know where the limits are. He actually responded well to me, so I wonder if that means that while he may push, he actually likes knowing that with me there are firm limits.

Meanwhile, the room where they do the music is where the 3-4 year-old class meets, so while I was getting set up and waiting for the 5-year-olds to arrive, I got to hang out with the really little ones. I had one little boy walk up to me and ask, "Am I handsome?" I assured him that he was -- he had on neatly pressed jeans and a western shirt, cowboy boots, and the kind of slicked-down hair that suggested a comb dipped in water. I got the feeling from his tone that his parents got him to sit still for the grooming by telling him it would make him handsome, and so he had to verify this with an outside source. Then we had a Linus, a kid who came in with his security blanket and who promptly threw the blanket over his head and stood against the wall. He'd carry on a conversation from under the blanket, but I'm not sure I ever saw his face. There was also a little girl who glommed onto me at first sight and stayed attached until I had to leave. She had curly hair, so maybe she saw me as someone like her, or else I was close enough to having hair like her mother that I filled the "Mom" security role.

If I survive tonight, I get a week off because there's a special event next Wednesday night. I just need 45 minutes worth of activity for tonight. And then I have to learn some music for a quintet I'm singing in this weekend.

Meanwhile, it seems that taking a couple of days to play with video editing was good for my writing. I finally saw the problem with the scene I'd been working on. I had such a clever line that I'm afraid the scene was built around. And then I realized it was totally wrong for the story. Up to that point in the story, one character had been trying to avoid the other character, while the other character was desperately trying to reach her to talk to her. In this scene, they're in a public place, he spots her and is trying to hide from her, then is taken aback when she catches him and says the witty line. I don't know how many times I've worked on this scene without catching that if he's been looking for her all this time and finally sees her, he's going to be the one going after her, and she's going to be the one trying to dodge him. I think I can still use the witty line, but it will be in a defensive posture, not an offensive one. Now I'm going to have to totally rewrite it, but at least I'm not writing myself down the wrong path.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Scary Self

I spent most of yesterday editing video, then most of last night editing video in my sleep. It's not so much the actual editing as it is the tinkering with making the program do exactly what I want that's the challenge. I think iMovie was designed for fairly straightforward projects like putting together your vacation video into a single presentation. Also, it has an extensive sound effects library without a single good "thud." You know, the sound makes when a body hits the floor. It doesn't have to be a dead body. It could just be a faint. I suspect that's a far more useful sound effect than "sea lion bark." Which it has. But I think my project is mostly done unless I need to tinker with the sound.

Scrolling through all those sound effects gave me all sorts of other crazy ideas for things I could do, though perhaps as a podcast rather than as a movie. And I need to get my hands on some old 1880s-1890s film footage to make a book trailer for the new novel. Then the next step will be enlisting my friends into crazy projects. This way lies madness.

There is something scary about me on camera, though. When people take still photos of me, even if I'm laughing and having a good time while doing it, there's always one shot in which I look totally evil in a way that nobody noticed in real life that only showed on camera. While editing video and going frame-by-frame to catch the right edit point, I've found that something similar happens. I'll be smiling and looking genial, but then there will be one frame in which I have this "DIE!!!!" look in my eyes, and it's gone in the next frame. Apparently, I have an evil alter ego that occasionally peeks out for a split second.

Also, I'm disturbingly good at playing "so perky that it comes across as slightly deranged." Sort of the Stepford Effect.

The fall TV season really gets going this week, and I'm trying to figure out my watch live/tape to watch later in the evening/watch OnDemand the next day schedule. Having HD now makes that harder. If I wait a day, I can watch in HD rather than on tape. With some networks, that also affects the aspect ratio. NBC and Fox letterbox, but ABC and CBS just crop the frame for non-HD, which is annoying. I think I'll watch Person of Interest live after ballet, since they don't do OnDemand. Then I'll get NCIS tomorrow night after choir. Thursday in between Parks and Recreation and Elementary I can watch the finale of Broadchurch. Chicago Fire and CSI may get shifted to Sunday afternoon while I eat lunch and do crossword puzzles. Post-Broadchurch, I can move one of them to Thursdays. I could also move one to Fridays, at least until Grimm starts again. This all means I'll get a lot of knitting done, which is good because I've got several projects I need to finish in a fairly tight timeframe.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Fall is here, and for the last few days, it actually felt like it, with cool mornings and afternoons that are just warm enough to be "warm" and not unpleasantly hot. Saturday I went with a friend to the Red Bull Flugtag that was taking place nearby, and I can certainly think of worse ways of spending an afternoon than sitting beside a lake and watching homemade "airplanes" (using the term very loosely) splashing into a lake after mostly ineffective attempts to fly (I think there were only a couple of teams who managed anything that looked more like flying than falling). In between launches, there were lots of boats on the lake to look at, as they were renting kayaks and paddleboats and giving gondola rides. We even got to see the fire department boat rescue a kayaker.

Here's the one picture I got (my camera only has an LCD screen, which isn't much use in sunlight, so taking pictures is pretty much a guessing game. That explains the tilt). It was a tribute to Big Tex burning up at the state fair last year, so it was a cowboy hat that started spewing smoke as it launched. As you can imagine, an airplane shaped like a cowboy hat pretty much just fell off the ramp instead of flying.

This morning, I walked to the Indian market to restock on tea, and since the last pound of tea I bought, that shopping center has changed. They've remodeled the grocery store and now there's also an ice cream shop in the center. I got the impression it was an Indian ice cream shop, since almost every other business in the center is Indian-related and since part of the sign on the window said something like "we'll take you back home." Is Indian ice cream different from other ice cream?

I may find out, as part of my plan for the fall is to force myself to mix work with fun. I still want to get some work done, but I also want to make time to enjoy the season. One of the things I'd like to do is explore my neighborhood by visiting these various little shops and restaurants. We've got a big variety, including Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican and Chinese. I'd have to drive to get to the Nepali restaurant, though.

Today's task is delving into iMovie for a secret FenCon project (if it succeeds, it likely will make its way to YouTube). I last did video editing when I was working on my broadcast journalism degree, and things have changed a lot since then. We didn't use computers then. We had a machine with two tape decks. One recorded and one was the source. You set your start and end points for the clip you wanted to use, and then it would record it over to the other tape. Then you'd find another clip and stick it on. If you wanted to change something, you started over. Now it looks a lot easier, but I haven't tried it yet. Once I learn, I may become a menace. I'll be making movies about everything. I may also delve into using the computer for sound editing. That I learned how to do with reel-to-reel tape, a grease pencil, a razor blade and splicing tape. Maybe I'll take up podcasting or writing "radio" dramas. Because I need more hobbies.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Cool Autumn Knight

I think I've figured out why I don't have enough crazy/funny blog material. It's not that I don't do weird or silly things. It's that half the fun is reporting the reaction of other people to the weird/silly things, and I don't have a long-suffering husband to react when I do something like bring home a giant bear head or, say, a suit of armor. If I find something like that, I just bring it home and it makes me happy, which isn't very funny. Most of my friends are as odd as I am, so instead of reacting like, "Um, why do you have a suit of armor on the ledge over your front door?" they're more likely to say, "Cool, you have a suit of armor on the ledge over your front door! It needs LED lights behind the visor!" In my group of friends, I tend to be the "normal" one. Relatively speaking.

By the way, the suit of armor on the ledge over the front door isn't a hypothetical. I keep trying to name him, but his name keeps changing. (I'm terrible at naming things, so it's probably for the best that I didn't have kids. They'd be starting school with their legal names still being something like "Baby Boy Lastname.") My house is insane and doesn't have normal ceilings. Except in the parts of the house that have a second story above them, the ceiling is the underside of the roof. But then, for some bizarre reason, they seem to have decided that the entryway needed a ceiling, which means that there's this large shelf/ledge because the ceiling stops a few feet into the house. The plans call it a "plant ledge," but that spot gets almost no sunlight and it's nearly impossible to reach to water any plants there. It looked awfully naked, so something needed to be there. Then I saw these little (fake) suits of armor at a garden store and knew that was what I needed.

Maybe I need to find a "normal" friend or two to react to the few crazy things I do so my blog will be funnier.

It's coolish and rainy today, starting to feel like fall, so it should be a good writing day. I've been revising the first third of the book I've been working on. I figured out what I was doing wrong, went back and fixed it, and have been fixing the ripple effects after that. I'm just about done fixing the part I've written and I should start moving forward today. I think moving forward will be a lot easier now that I've fixed what I was doing wrong. Sometimes, when you're blocked the problem isn't with the next scene, it's with a scene fifty pages back.

And then the cool and rain should make for a good TV night. I've started rewatching Grimm, then there's new Phineas & Ferb (one episode, at 8:15 Central) and new Haven. I might get to actually snuggle under the lightweight, open-weave sofa throw I knit earlier this year. Ah, but I love cooler weather.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Round Two with the Kindergarteners

First, if you need a laugh, go read this now. Warning: don't drink liquids while reading. Depends may be necessary. I needed tissues because I laughed until I cried. Definitely look at the pictures. There's no real reason for me to post this, other than that it's a convenient way for me to save the link for days when I really need a laugh. Also, I think I can see why I haven't managed to become a famous blogger with a legion of followers. My life isn't nearly interesting enough and I don't do nearly enough crazy things to write about. It would never occur to me to buy a giant bear head to put in my house. I do have a suit of armor, but there's no story behind it and nothing funny or crazy associated with it (though a friend wants to put LED lights that will come on randomly behind the visor).

In other news, I read a newspaper article this week that has given me a potential retirement strategy. The article was about a woman who had realized how much a particular choir teacher she had in school had influenced her life and sent her down the path she took, and she decided to look the teacher up and thank her. It turned out that the teacher was in poor health and developing dementia. She'd never married or had kids and lived alone. The woman started checking on her regularly and helping her with things, and then when she reached a point she couldn't live alone and had no relatives, this woman and her husband took the former teacher into their home, as though she was a family member.

It's looking increasingly unlikely that I will marry or have kids, so I think I need to start working now on my choir students to have someone to look after me in my old age. I wonder if I can insert subliminal messages into the music we play in class: "I love Miss Shanna. Miss Shanna will be the biggest influence on my life. I will owe a debt of gratitude to Miss Shanna that I should one day repay when she needs me."

Things actually went a lot better last night. I had two additional teen helpers, a girl who had this group for music and art camp in the summer, so they already know and love her, and a boy who will be solely dedicated to Wild Boy. Both of them were on the choir trip I chaperoned last year, so I know them pretty well. The boy has dealt with ADHD himself, so he knows the warning signs and coping mechanisms and has a lot of empathy. I think a lot of the problem is that when there's too much stimulation, like noise and chaos, it sends him spiraling out of control, which makes the other kids crazier, which makes him crazier. Just getting him momentarily out of the room into a quieter place so he can calm down helps keep things from getting crazy. And me not having to deal with him means I can control the rest of the class better, which makes it less noisy and chaotic, which makes him less likely to lose control. It also means that I'm not in an adversarial relationship with him. I had a big "aww" moment when he came to show me his drawing. One thing that also seems to work is having quiet activities, and I passed out paper and crayons and told them to draw something they wanted to praise God for. He really got into drawing, and he'd drawn his family -- plus his new teen helper buddy -- in their secret lair.  I also used the carrot approach. I had the parachute, and if they acted in a way that showed they could handle the parachute, we'd do a parachute game at the end of the session. I did have to explain that this was a toy parachute when one boy got excited about it being the thing you put on your back so you could jump out of an airplane. We got to make a thunderstorm with the parachute, which was lots of fun for everyone.

Now if I could just get them to actually sing, since this is supposed to be "choir" (though this choir program does encompass some music theory, a little theology, and music appreciation). There's one little girl who really sings earnestly, like she's trying to do it right, and there's one little boy who sings with great gusto at a level of about 11 (though not necessarily the same song the rest of us are singing). The rest just kind of mill around, maybe occasionally making a sound. I was teaching some voice technique, and we were singing the various vowel sounds. One kid put the "oo" and the "ee" together, back and forth, and I think I earned a lot of kindergarten street cred when I said that we weren't being Minions. There was a bit of impressed surprise that I knew what they were doing. Hmm, next week maybe we'll do a Minions vocal exercise.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Flawed Hero

First, a correction on yesterday's post. The title of the book I was discussing was The Demon Lover, not The Dark Lover. That was a brain glitch on my part, since the book was RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ME. I wasn't doing that from memory. I was actually looking at the cover. I guess I slotted the author's name into the title. I even recall thinking as I proofread the post that the author had picked a pseudonym (the author bio says it's a pseudonym) that was a little on the nose with the title of the book. You'd think that would have been a clue.

In various online discussions I've been involved with lately, in convention panels and in articles about summer movies, the topic of heroes and what makes one has come up. I thought that would make a good writing topic, so for the next month or so I'll be addressing heroes.

The term "hero" usually applies to the protagonist, though not all protagonists are what we'd call "heroes." A real hero is a good guy, someone on the side of right who's maybe a little better than normal people -- more skilled, braver, more honest, more likely to make the right choice. That doesn't mean a hero is perfect or always does the right thing. And there are shades of grey regarding heroes. There are flawed heroes, reluctant heroes, dark heroes and antiheroes.

This week: the flawed hero

Really, this should apply to all heroes because a perfect person with no flaws is a boring character. With no flaws, there's no room for a character arc because the hero doesn't have anything to learn and doesn't need to change. You occasionally see the perfect hero in superhero stories, and then you generally need a sidekick to take on the usual heroic arc of growing and changing, or else you need to keep the story really simplistic and in short doses, like a single comic book adventure (with limited continuity between adventures). One of the complaints I've seen about the recent Superman movie (I haven't seen it) was that it went overboard in making Superman, who was one of those perfect heroes, a little too flawed, but I'm not sure how interesting a Superman movie would be for today's audiences if Superman remained perfect and pure. The Superman tellings that have made it work have used his Clark Kent persona for the character growth arcs, where Clark has lessons to learn, even as Superman has remained an ideal.

How flawed you want to make your hero depends on your story, but I think it works best if at least one of his major flaws has something to do with the plot, where that flaw is what holds him back at the dark moment when all seems lost, and then finally learning his lesson about that flaw is what allows him to prevail at the end. "Flaws" like, say, an addiction to chocolate fall more into the category of quirks. They're important to shape a character, but an otherwise perfect person who can't resist chocolate doesn't make for an interesting character arc unless you're writing a story set in Willy Wonka's factory. Interesting character flaws that lend themselves to arcs include things like a lack of self-confidence, too much self-confidence, attachment to material things or inability to trust. A flaw can also come out of the character's driving need -- someone who's driven by a need for love and belonging may have a hard time making the right choice if that need gets in the way. If he's found something that feels like a home, he'll be reluctant to leave that home or let that home come to risk, even if the greater good is at stake.

A flawed hero can make bad decisions. He needs to have something to overcome at the end, and sometimes it's more interesting if he's at least partially responsible for the things he has to overcome. He can still remain heroic if his bad decisions and screw ups are done with good motives, though if you're writing a darker hero who might be more of an antihero, then he can also screw up through more questionable motives. A hero may jump the gun and try to take on the bad guy before he's ready for it, resulting in some disaster. He may have questionable priorities, such as choosing the well-being of one person (not himself) over the greater good. He might listen to bad advice or be misled. He may ignore good advice and try to do things his own way.

One of the better examples of this is Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, who leaves Jedi training before he's finished to directly confront Darth Vader because he believes his friends are in danger, ignoring Yoda's warnings that it's a trap and that taking on Darth Vader before he's ready could jeopardize any later chance to defeat Vader and the Empire, once and for all. It was a bad decision, since he did nothing to help his friends and nearly got himself killed, but was it a morally wrong decision? Was the desire to save his friends wrong? Would we have sympathized much with a hero who was willing to sacrifice the people he cared about for the greater good? It's a moral dilemma sympathetic enough that we can forgive Luke for screwing up because we have to admit that we might have made the same choice. That's key in letting your hero make the occasional bad choice. At least part of the audience should feel like they might have done the same thing in his shoes. There will always be people who don't agree and who can't accept failure in a hero, but if you feel like you can justify your hero's actions (and you aren't a sociopath), then you can probably convince most of your audience.

However, the real measure of the hero is how he recovers from his mistake. If he's a decent person, he's going to feel remorse for messing up. He may become depressed. He may even retreat from the cause for a while to lick his wounds. The former hero found drunk in an alley has become something of a cliche. But he eventually pulls himself together and tries again. He may need one of his sidekicks to pull him out of his despair and remind him who he is, maybe even give him a swift kick, but he will come back. He'll learn what he needs to know, listen to the right advice this time and make the tough choice that's needed for him to win. This is much of the point of the "Resurrection" stage of the hero's journey, for the hero to die to his old self by being willing to die -- literally and metaphorically -- for his cause. That's when he can leave it all behind and move forward as a new man.

And I don't know about you, but I find a story a lot more satisfying when the hero has something like that to overcome than when he never takes a wrong step along the way and all his problems are the villain's fault.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Small-Town Magic

Last night was a mix of good and bad TV. The pilot of Sleepy Hollow was a lot of fun. I like the characters and their partnership. I love the snarky, kind of twisted humor. The atmosphere is wonderful. I might be a little iffy on the mythology, though, depending on how they use it. It seldom goes well when TV writers discover a cool verse or two in Revelation without knowing anything about the context. But if that's just used as a framework and big-picture goal in something that's more of a mismatched buddy cop paranormal procedural, then I'm good.

And then there was Over the Dumb. Wow. And not in a good way. I'm from a small town, and again we seem to have TV writers who have no clue how small towns really work. You might have a guy like Big Jim in a small town, but he wouldn't have anyone really snowed. He might be able to buy, threaten and blackmail his way into influence, and there might be little that could be done against him because of that, but everyone would know pretty well what he was. A few people might buy what he's selling because it would elevate their positions to be his sycophants, but you wouldn't have the entire town happily going along with building a gallows to execute a man without a trial, just on his say-so. I am so glad this is over. I only watched because I thought it would be a limited series with an actual ending, but now it's been renewed, and there's been no resolution to anything, so I won't be wasting more time on it (although snarking about it is fun). Too bad the premise is a bit too obvious to steal and do right. There's got to be another mystical way of isolating a small town, though.

And now on to books. I've got a book to discuss this week that will require a lot of caveats. In some respects, it's as close to the kind of thing I write as I've found (and is alarmingly close in mythology to something else I've been working on). In other respects, it's very, very different from what I write, in such a way that some of my fans might not like it at all.

First, though, about the book, The Dark Lover by Juliet Dark. It's about a newly minted PhD who's an expert in folklore and whose dissertation about "demon lovers" in folklore and gothic literature became a popular book. She's been offered a faculty position at a small college in upstate New York, and although she'd hoped to find a job in the city itself, she finds herself really drawn to the town and to an old house in the town. When she learns that the house was once the home of one of her favorite gothic novelists and that it contains all the novelist's papers that are not allowed to leave the house, she accepts the job and buys the house, planning to write a book about the novelist. And then she finds that the faculty of the college are rather … unusual and that the town was founded as a refuge for various supernatural individuals -- and that she actually fits in pretty well. Then she starts having startlingly realistic dreams about a mysterious lover who visits her in the night and tells her she could make him real if she loved him -- a scenario that also shows up in the novelist's unpublished manuscripts. Is he a dangerous thing that needs to be banished, or someone who needs to be rescued?

Like my books, this has a rather "chick lit" tone. They're packaging it as "women's fiction" and seem to be trying to give it a literary slant, but I thought the writing was pretty much chick lit -- first person, some sarcasm, lots of references to shoes and designer labels. It deals with the collision between the "real" world and the magical world. In some respects, it could even be looked at as "Enchanted University." I really enjoyed all the stuff about the mythology of the place, the makeup of the town and all the various characters. If those are the things you like about my books, you might enjoy this.

On the other hand, sex is a pretty big part of the plot and there's a lot of it. I've noticed that the word "erotic" comes up a lot in reviews I've seen. However, it seemed to me that it was essentially the same sex scene over and over (because a scenario is playing out), so it's pretty easy to skip. But if one of the things you like about my books is the fact that they're "clean," then you might not enjoy this. There's also a lot less humor -- intentionally -- than in my books, as these are not meant as comedies, so this is not the place to go for a laugh.

There are two more books in the series, and I might look them up to see how they go. I like the town in the book, and I enjoy spending time there. There is a romantic element, but it's definitely not a "romance." There's a character who, if I were writing it, would be the candidate for a slow-build background relationship that comes to fruition near the end of the series, but I can't quite tell if that's the plan or if something else is going on.

Anyway, it might be good for a contemporary magic fix if you're looking for that sort of thing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

When in Doubt, Blow Stuff Up

I think this actually counted as a "relaxing" weekend. I caught up on TV shows I missed during WorldCon and afterward, I did a lot of reading and knitting. There was some baking. Now I'm energized and ready to face the week.

And it will be a busy one. FenCon is approaching, and I have PR stuff to do, as well as a few side projects that I've taken on. I need to work on choir lesson plans. I have PR stuff to do for my own books. And then there's that book I'm writing. That means I'll need to dial back on correcting people who are wrong on the Internet.

That will be hard with the fall TV season beginning. I'm looking forward to the premiere of Sleepy Hollow tonight. The previews I've seen intrigued me, and the reviews have also been good. Now watch the ratings be awful, and it'll be killed in three episodes (this is Fox we're dealing with -- no, I haven't forgiven them for killing Firefly and many other things I liked).

One thing I've been catching up on is The Doctors Revisited on BBCAmerica, in which they do a mini documentary type show on each Doctor, his companions and his major villains, then show a representative story from that Doctor. My exposure to Classic Era Doctor Who was spotty at best. I think I mostly just saw Tom Baker stuff, over and over again. It's been interesting seeing all the others. I don't think I'd ever seen the Seventh Doctor before, and that was the episode I watched yesterday afternoon while knitting. I have now finally seen the iconic moment in which Ace attacks a Dalek with a baseball bat. In that era, it seems that while they had about the same minimal budget for special effects that they had in previous years (whatever the producer found under the sofa cushions in BBC headquarters, I'm afraid), somehow they managed to score a HUGE pyrotechnics budget. They were blowing up more stuff than the Mythbusters, and it looked like practical effects rather than movie magic. Maybe they found a stash of military surplus explosives and figured that blowing lots of stuff up really well might make up for the fact that all their other effects were horribly cheap. I got a kick out of how they'd go from this massive, vivid explosion to a terribly campy shot of a spaceship. It was like, when in doubt, blow something up. (Sounds like a good life motto -- I should cross-stitch that on a throw pillow.)

Next up will be the Eighth Doctor, which is in the era I remember in a lot more detail. I watched that TV movie, and while I was disappointed at the time that it didn't spawn a series, it's probably best that it didn't because it would have been on Fox, and it probably would have been killed after a few episodes that totally mangled the mythology. And that would have stopped the franchise from being properly rebooted later by the right people.

Now to go get my work done, and if I'm really good and accomplish everything on the to-do list, I'll allow myself a little time for correcting people who are being wrong.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Lucky Friday

It's Friday the 13th, but I'm actually feeling pretty lucky today. I've been doing some bookkeeping, and I'm on track to earn about as much this year as I did in my peak earning year back in my Day Job days. Of course, that's gross, not net, so it doesn't take into consideration business expenses like my agent's commission, and it doesn't include paying for my own health insurance or self-employment taxes, but the year's not over yet and I will likely earn a bit more, and I feel like there's a substantial non-tangible benefit from not having to go to work for someone else that makes it worthwhile to earn less money. I've had a few lean years when I was starting to worry that I'd have to try to find another job, which could be challenging after more than ten years out of the ordinary workforce, so actually having money is a complete mental adjustment. I find myself still viewing spending the way I did when I was living off my savings. I don't want to totally shift mental gears because things can change (and I've had it happen -- a graph of my career would look like a roller coaster), but I can let myself loosen up a bit.

For those trying to figure out what a writer makes, here's your answer. I'm considered "solidly midlist," which means selling fairly well and steadily without being a bestselling star. In my good years, I'm earning about what I did as a middle manager in a public relations agency more than ten years ago. In my bad years, about half my living expenses have to come out of savings. I can support myself, but I doubt I could support a family. I'm probably doing better than most people who are writing professionally, but not as well as many. Those who pirate my books are not stealing from the wealthy who don't notice the loss of income. There are very, very few authors who wouldn't miss a few thousand dollars here and there.

I had plans to go out today and catch a showing of Austenland now that it's at a nearby theater, but then I slept late and didn't have time to do the things I wanted to do this morning before going, and I just plain didn't want to. I want to see the movie because I'm in the mood for a quirky romantic comedy. I read the book when it came out, but it's been long enough and I've read enough other "rabid Jane Austen fan goes on an Austen-oriented vacation" novels to be vague on the details. The reviews haven't been kind, but then I've found that reviewers tend to loathe romantic comedies in general. You have to read between the lines of reviews. I'll probably go sometime next week. Today, though, I think is going to be a Grand Day In.

I actually want to do some writing today. I've been figuring out what needs fixing, and then realizing the ripple effect the small changes will have, but then that led me to visualize a certain scene in a way that made it come to life and be a lot more vivid. When I start seeing the movie of the book in my head, I know I'm on the right track.

I've also started a new knitting project. I'm juggling two right now so that I won't get bored by either and I'll avoid repetitive stress problems. One is lace on smaller needles with fine yarn and the other is a blanket with big needles and fat yarn. When I get tired or sore from one, I switch. After working on the lace, the blanket feels enormous. It's like coloring with those fat kindergarten crayons after working with colored pencils.

Then there's new Haven and new Phineas and Ferb tonight!

But for now, I leave you with a combination of two great things: Les Miserables with lightsabers!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fall TV

They say that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, but I came close last night. It's funny how when I make a to-do list for myself, things take longer than I anticipate, but when I make a lesson plan for choir, things don't take nearly as long as I anticipate. Fortunately, I always plan for at least one extra item, and I did have to resort to the extra item, but the extra item was just enough. The Problem Child was late, and for a moment I thought we'd be off the hook for the evening. The other kids were rambunctious, but not obnoxious, and they were doing that endearing kindergarten thing of really, really wanting to impress the teacher and having to tell me all kinds of things about what happened in school that day. Then Problem Child showed up, and the boys immediately forgot about wanting to impress the teacher as they joined him in running around like crazy and ignoring everything any adult said. I don't know what it is about this kid that gives him this power over other kids. He just gets them in trouble and keeps them from actually having fun with the group, but they all want to be just like him. Meanwhile, I have several very proper little girls who are not at all amused by the boys' antics. As one little girl said very earnestly when I was explaining the class rules, "If you talk when someone is talking, that's called interrupting." Said with big, sincere eyes at me, and then a sidelong glare at the boys. I may have scared Problem Child a bit because just as I was telling him not to run because the floor is slick and he might fall down, he fell down. He looked at me with a bit of awe, like I'd done it to him, and I gave him an enigmatic smile with a hint of satisfaction. Though I doubt the lesson stuck. He was running around like a maniac during dinner, and his parents barely looked at him. I sat with his parents at dinner, and I repeated the "running will get him hurt and he has to stop that in my class" message a few dozen times. Oh, and I've learned from the teacher who had him last year that he actually likes time outs, so they don't work for punishment. I don't care about punishment. I just want to stop the running around. I suspect the other boys don't like time outs as much, and maybe if they suffer consequence from following his lead, he'll lose some of his power. Yes, I am now planning psychological warfare against five year olds.

Ah, well, at least I have a week to recover before I face them again. And it's going to be a good TV weekend. Friday night is the season premiere of Haven, and it takes me back to the Friday nights of X-Files days, in which I settled in on the sofa and created the proper atmosphere for absorbing all the details of a spooky show. It's still too hot for the blanket and hot cocoa, and candles don't work so well with the ceiling fan running, but I have the electronic candles. One reason I like this show is that I can't usually predict it (even though they often end up having the same plot elements that show up in whatever I was writing at the same time they were writing episodes -- I just can't predict which plot elements we'll both have grabbed from the ether). Last season ended with a mega-cliffhanger, and unlike most series, I haven't managed to mentally write the conclusion. Also, it was big enough a cliffhanger that I doubt it will be neatly wrapped up in the first minute of the show before they move on to another story, as happens far too often on TV. So, basically, calling me between 9 and 10 central time on Friday would be a bad move. Really, make that all of Friday evening because I will be finishing my season three marathon, probably with pizza and wine. Though I may have to plan a post-episode debriefing with a friend.

Then on Sunday night, Foyle's War is back on PBS. This is a mystery series that was about World War II in England, with the titular detective Foyle working in Hastings, near the coast. He wanted to get in the action of the war and tried to come up with all kinds of excuses why he was no good for the police force, but they needed him more as a cop to solve all kinds of war-related mysteries on the home front. Now the war is over, so it will be interesting to see where they take the series in the post-war era. My favorite part of the series was the quasi-father/daughter relationship between Foyle and his spunky young female driver, a proper vicar's daughter defying her father by getting involved in the war effort in the motor pool (the kind of job Queen Elizabeth did during the war). I'm hoping they'll find a way to continue that even after they're no longer working together or maybe find another excuse for them to work together.

The other night when there was some kind of delay in the TV schedule and I had to wait a while before the thing I planned to watch came on, I killed time by watching some of the network fall preview things that were available OnDemand. NBC's Dracula looks absolutely terrible. I found it hard to tell what was going on from the preview, though it seems as though they're somehow Twilighting the Dracula myth. I'm normally all over anything that even looks Victorian, but the pretty here wasn't enough to get me past the head-scratching. Not to mention, even the three-minute trailer was dull enough that it lost my interest.

However, I was rather pleasantly surprised by Fox's Sleepy Hollow trailer. I hadn't really put any thought into the series and watched the trailer out of curiosity, and then found myself watching the other material they had posted. It seems that Ichabod Crane was working for George Washington, died(?) fighting the Headless Horseman, and then has somehow been revived or brought back to life -- along with his nemesis and a bunch of other nasty stuff -- in the present day. Now he has to work with the one detective who believes him. The trailer reminded me a lot of Grimm and Haven, in that it looks like it will be a paranormal procedural that covers some dark topics, but does so with a lot of humor and snark. It's a dark world where the people are funny. The rapport between the two leads reminds me of Elementary or early Haven, with a nice mix of "you and me against the world," snarky banter and growing friendship. And then there's the fish-out-of-water element, which is the source for a lot of the humor. The part of the trailer that cracked me up, though, was when the cops who apparently aren't in on the secret encounter the Headless Horseman. They first see him from behind, where the giant collar on his coat obscures what isn't there. They start to tell him to turn around and put his hands on his head, but the words trail off when they realize he doesn't have one. Then one cop says to the other, "Can he even hear us?"

This one premieres Monday night, and I've gone from "maybe I'll check that out eventually OnDemand" to "I am SO watching this." But I have a feeling it'll make the final episode of Over the Dumb/Too Stupid to Live Theatre, or as the network calls it, Under the Dome, even more painful. That show has to win an award for worst execution of an intriguing premise. I was in when I thought it was a limited series with a defined endpoint, but they've renewed it and I'm out after I snark at the finale on Monday.

As part of my marketing efforts, I've decided to revive (yet again) my sporadic Stealth Geek blog to talk about all this geeky TV stuff in more detail and with spoilers so that I don't clutter this blog or spoil those outside the US. Maybe a dedicated blog that isn't an overt author blog will allow other people interested in the topics to discover me and then maybe eventually buy books. I'll post pointers here for those who want to follow both.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Making Things Concrete

As the summer starts to wind down (ha! I wish!), I have to say that my knitted blanket, the thing that started what became a minor obsession, has worked out exactly as I hoped. On warm nights, the open, lacy blanket on top of a sheet has been just enough weight and warmth. If it gets cooler as the night goes on, I pull over my light down throw. I've got an idea for another blanket I'd like to make that's more elaborate and that would work as a full-on bedspread, but that's about three projects down in the queue and will require some thinking, as it's a modification of a Victorian shawl pattern. First I have to finish the current blanket, a cables and bobbles pattern I'm doing for Project Linus, and there's a Victorian capelet I'd like to have ready before Octopodicon (a steampunk convention) in November, and then there are potential Christmas gifts.

I spent yesterday revisiting and replotting the current project. I decided to start by working out the resolution and then reverse engineering. That led me to realizing that I had to commit to who the villain was. The villain is mostly offstage in the first half of the book, pulling strings that affect the viewpoint characters without them knowing who's doing it (like in a mystery), and I had several characters from the previous book who could potentially be doing it. I took another look at the previous book's outcome, and realized that a character I hadn't even been considering as the villain here actually made the most sense. Then I had to figure out exactly what the villain was doing offstage to thwart the heroes, essentially plotting the book from the villain's point of view. That made me realize that I'd done a few things wrong, but fixing those things will make the rest of the book a lot easier. I still haven't quite met in the middle -- I have the beginning and the end -- but I probably need to fix the beginning before I can figure out the middle. I have to give some props to Lou Anders of Pyr Books for his screenwriting lessons for novelists workshop at WorldCon for helping me figure out the end, which set all this off. I was pretty vague about the outcome, but I needed it to be concrete. The goal had to be something we could see being achieved, and we needed to definitively see the heroes achieve it. It also helps if achieving the goal coincides with the heroes realizing something important about themselves. Working until I got that made other things fall into place. I also think I've got a more concrete structure instead of a nebulous mass. The structure doesn't really change much because it was more a case of discovering it than creating it, but it makes it easier to think about the story in a coherent way.

We'll see how coherent I can be today. I took my first ever dose of Allegra in desperation when the allergies (ragweed season, yay!) got to the point of distraction. Benadryl works on the allergies but knocks me out, and I have to drive this afternoon. Theoretically, Allegra is non-drowsy, but supposedly non-drowsy Zyrtec knocked me out for 24 hours. I have children's Allegra and took a child's dose. So far, the sneezing and runny nose have eased, but I feel slightly "off." It's not a sleepy or impaired "off," just a sense of difference that may or may not be related to the drug. I may just be in shock from not having nasty allergy symptoms.

And tonight I have my first real choir session with the Holy Terrors. I need to come up with an action-packed lesson plan designed to maintain the attention of kids with serious ADHD for 45 minutes. I don't know if there's an actual medical diagnosis here, but I figure I should plan for it, and if they can focus longer, then it's easier to adapt to remove items from the list while doing other things longer than it is to scramble to come up with new things to do when they get bored after thirty seconds and I run through my whole lesson plan in fifteen minutes.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Out Into the World

First, thanks to all who responded to my questions about newsletters and discovering books. It looks like my instincts were right. The trick about marketing books is that it really is something that's hard to do on purpose because most people discover books in very accidental ways, such as finding them in a library and hearing about them from friends. I discovered two of my very favorite authors because I noticed the covers on their books, and something about the art spoke to me -- and in one case, the art turned out to be very misleading. It had nothing to do with the subject or tone of the book, though I think I would also have liked the book that the art would have fit. What I need to do is find ways to make people aware of the series and get them to try it and then to make sure people who've started reading the series are aware that there are more books.

Second, another one of my babies has gone out into the world, looking for a good home. Putting a book out on submission is like boarding an emotional rollercoaster. You start out with high hopes, looking at the list of editors and visualizing your book at each of those houses. And then the rejections start to come in. The rejections always come first because that can happen right away -- the editor may know from the first page that it's not right. Offers take a lot more time because the editor has to read more of the material, then take it to committee and persuade the publisher to buy it. Sometimes it seems like the rejections come all at once. You go through days of getting constant rejections. It hurts to cross each potential market off the list. But then you get a hopeful response, like when your agent follows up with the editors who haven't rejected and one responds that she's reading it and loving it or when one says she's waiting on a response from higher in the food chain. Rejections that come after that hurt more because they tend to be of the "I loved it, but I don't know what to do with it/don't think there's a market for it/haven't published anything like this before" variety. Then if you're really lucky, someone expresses interest, which triggers an auction among anyone else who hasn't yet rejected it, and that then triggers a fast slew of rejections among anyone who's not interested in fighting for it (a lot of the time, it's not that they had any interest, just that the auction deadline forces them to pull it out of the bottom of the pile, take a quick look at it and decide it's not worth the effort to do a quick read and push anything through). And then if you're really, really lucky, you end up with an actual offer with real dollar signs and numbers attached to it.

I know this is a difficult book to categorize, so I'm girding my loins. A contemporary Tam Lin (the folk tale or ballad, not the Pamela Dean novel)/The Goblin Market mash-up (the person stolen by the fairies who has to be rescued is a sister, not a lover) starring a ballerina, an injured detective and a bulldog and with a subtle semi-romantic thread that would be wrong if it happened is going to be a tough sell. I imagine a few of the rejections will be along the lines of "I love Shanna's work, but I'm not sure what to make of this." Possibly with the addition of "I'd like to see something more like Enchanted, Inc." But maybe someone will see what I love about this story and the characters and give it a good home. If not, I already plan to self-publish it because I believe in this book. Having that fallback position does make this a little less stressful. However, I would appreciate good wishes, prayers and other things intended to influence the universe.

But enough about me. My WorldCon hotel reading that I didn't get to until I was skipping the Hugo awards was Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe, a follow up to The Hum and the Shiver. It's sort of a sequel, in that it takes place in the same setting after the previous book, and there are characters who cross over. I suppose it does continue the big-picture plot from the previous book. But it also stands totally on its own. The main characters are almost entirely new, and I don't think you'd be at all lost or lose much understanding if you hadn't read the first book. These books are about a mysterious culture found deep in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. They have a kind of magic to them that's tied into their music. In this book, a young man who gained a kind of stardom as a reality singing show contestant comes to town after a personal tragedy because he's heard that there's a song in this town that could heal his broken heart. He's not one of these people, but he may be what they need to break a curse that's on the verge of becoming permanent.

I really love these books. The world captivates me to the point that I kind of want to go to eastern Tennessee and look for this town and hear this music. I like the characters a lot. He has a way of writing nice guys who are still interesting and complicated and damaged people who aren't all dark and edgy. I'd almost go as far as to say that this is "hillbilly Neil Gaiman." I think if you like Gaiman's novels, you might like this.

I spent yesterday rereading the work in progress. It seems I threw in a plot thread I'd forgotten about. Now I need to figure out where to go from here.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Military School and Marketing

I may be in even more trouble with the children's choir this year than I thought. I found out that the other adult teacher in my group has asked her Sunday school class for prayers because we'll need all the help we can get. I might also be wrong in my assessment about Problem Child. She doesn't think there's necessarily anything wrong with him, just inconsistent parenting. Yes, the mom does try to correct him, but she also tends to give up when her first attempt doesn't work, so he's learned to ignore all correction because it'll pass. I may not have a case of "no one can correct my special snowflake" or "we think the word 'no' stifles a child's creativity," but it seems to be a case of "maybe the teachers can teach him to behave, and that will make my life easier." The people in charge are even talking about getting a dedicated "buddy" for him, like they have for special needs kids, so that the teachers can focus on the whole class instead of having to devote all their attention to the one kid. I'd think that would be a huge parenting wake-up call if your kid isn't special needs but is such a bad behavior problem that he requires special needs treatment. Do they have military boarding schools for kindergarteners? That may be what this kid needs. I think I need to practice my military "Atten-hut!" bellow. Maybe the boys will enjoy being treated like they're in military school. I'll teach them to salute and march. That's sort of music-related, right?

I'm forcing myself to get back to "normal" this week. Five days should be enough time to recover from a convention and travel. I have some marketing work to do, some bookkeeping to deal with and then I want to get back to the writing in progress. I went to a really good writing session at the convention (about the only thing I managed to attend where I wasn't a participant), and now I want to see how it applies to the work in progress. I'll have to re-read the whole thing first, though. I'm a little hazy on what's actually on the page vs. what's in my head.

There may be some swimming pool time, as well, since I've realized that I need more exercise. I've put on a bit of weight over the summer, probably from eating out more often than I usually do. It's not much and probably doesn't show, but there are clothes I wore last summer that don't fit this summer, and I can feel the difference in the way my body works. I also don't have the fitness and endurance levels I'd like to have. I shouldn't nearly collapse after 45 seconds of jumping in ballet.

Back to the marketing stuff: How many of you subscribe to author newsletters? Do you actually care about them? Have you ever signed up for a newsletter to be eligible for a giveaway? If so, did you keep subscribing afterward? I suspect I'm about to have a tussle with my agent about this because she thinks newsletters are an excellent marketing tool and I think they're preaching to the choir. If you care enough to sign up for the newsletter, you're already on board. Hearing about the giveaway means you've already heard about the author, unless it gets out onto one of those contest junkie web sites, in which case they sign up for the contest, then unsubscribe (sometimes even being tacky enough to label the newsletter as spam when they do so) when the contest is over. Most of the authors I know have stopped the giveaways other than those to reward fans because they don't actually do much good. Then again, that may be my personal bias against marketing that looks like marketing, and "win an Amazon gift card!" looks too much like marketing to me. Newsletters might work better for the kind of self-published authors who have a constant stream of releases, but I don't have anything new coming for a while, just an existing series that's all out there. I guess I also have a personal bias against author newsletters. I've been automatically subscribed to too many by authors who just subscribe everyone in their address books, and I unsubscribe from them all. I do follow a few authors' blogs because they have interesting things to say, but this really doesn't affect my book purchases, and there are a few authors I follow on Facebook just to find out when they have new books coming out. I don't even know what I'd say in a regular newsletter.

What I need to find is a way to expose more people to the existence of the series, get them to try it, and then make sure they know there are more books. I don't think that e-mailing existing fans is the way to do that, but in responding to my agent, I can't just dismiss her ideas without offering any of my own. How did you first learn about this series? What works to make you aware of a book and then get you to try it? How do you keep track of a series to learn about new books?

Friday, September 06, 2013

Dreading Mega Boy

I'm faced with a dilemma. I finally have a whole day in which I don't have to leave the house, and I get a notice from the library that a book I have on hold is in. It's not like I'm lacking in reading material, but still, it's out there, waiting for me, and going to the library today will be more pleasant than on the weekend, when there will be people there. But that will require putting on "public" clothes and getting in the car, since it's way too hot to walk today.

Part of the reason for yesterday's post-grocery run hibernation was recovering from the shock of the first children's choir session Wednesday night. This year is going to be fun (for alternative meanings of "fun"). Until now, I've had mostly girls with one or two boys, and the boys haven't really been typical boys. They've been the quiet ones in the group. In the group that showed up for registration/meet the teacher night this year, I had five boys and three girls. Two of the girls are twins, and they're very, very girly. The boys are more typical boys. I've been warned from multiple sources about three of the boys. Separate, they're sweet kids, but together, as one other parent put it, "they become like some kind of Transformer mega boy." It doesn't help that the ringleader of the group has some behavioral issues -- and I mean actual neurological stuff, not just being a spoiled brat, because I've watched his parents trying to work with him. He literally can't control himself, but then the other two follow his lead. Fortunately, my adult co-teacher is the mother of the twins, and I figure the mother of twins is at parenting level ninja. We've already agreed that I'll do the music part and she'll handle crowd control. I don't think I'm allowed to use shock collars or tasers. It's not a good sign when people ask what choir I'm doing this year, and then they go, "Oooohhh. That's gonna be interesting." Fortunately, Problem Child's mother is aware of the problem and wants to work on it rather than being one of those "the world should revolve around my special snowflake" mothers, so there will be backup.

So this year my lesson plans will have to be aimed at Short Attention Span Theater, and I won't be able to fall back on putting on music and everyone dancing. It will help that I already know most of the kids from singing with the preschool Sunday school class over the last couple of years, and they already know me, so I won't have to worry about learning names or getting them comfortable with me.

But I'll worry about that next week. For now, I need to unpack and do laundry (I still have suitcases sitting in the living room), and I have to marathon an entire season of Haven on BluRay (it came yesterday!) before next Friday's premiere. And then there's catching up on stuff from the week I was gone, though I'm irked that OnDemand skipped an episode of Broadchurch. It goes straight from episode 3 to episode 5, so I may need to find another way of watching the missing episode because you can't really skip an episode in the middle of an eight-episode mystery series.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Post WorldCon Wrap Up

First, a little business: There's a survey being done to get a measurement of who science fiction fans really are, outside the demographics usually seen at conventions, and what their interests are. You can go here to take the survey and help provide a better picture.

Now, for the WorldCon wrap-up, or at least part of it. I think each panel I was on gave me fodder for multiple blog posts, so the true wrap-up may take a while as I visit each of those topics over time (and hopefully before I forget everything). I'm not going to dwell on the journey itself, other than to say that I've learned a few things about myself and road trips. One big thing is that I really need to stop and take a break every couple of hours. I haven't done a lot of really long trips before. Mostly, I drive to my parents' house, which is about two hours away. I've done some trips to Austin and Houston, which are about four hours, and there's usually a lunch/gas/bathroom stop about halfway. Most of the way to San Antonio is my route to Austin, and I stopped at about the usual halfway point for the Austin trip. Then two hours after that, I got really twitchy. When I drive in familiar territory and have been going too long, I get the road zombie thing, where all I see is the road and I'm not aware of where I am. But I've only driven to San Antonio once, and that was six years ago, so I reached a point where I got weirdly paranoid because I had no sense of how much farther I had to go and I started imagining that something was wrong with my car, mostly because of reflections off the dashboard that made me imagine seeing the "we're all going to die!" warning lights out of the corner of my eye. When I found a nice-looking gas station/convenience store with a big old oak tree in front of it, I stopped for gas even though I didn't really need to, just to walk around for a while. On the way back, I made a point of taking breaks, and it went much better.

I recovered from the drive by picking up take-out at the food court in the mall on the Riverwalk and eating in my room while watching an NCIS rerun. Then I made use of the hotel's rooftop pool and swam a few laps and just floated for a while to work the kinks out. There was a nice deck by the pool overlooking downtown, and I sat out there and watched the sun set and the city lights come on. I did the Thursday-morning Stroll with the Stars and saw a part of the downtown area I'd never explored, the dam and spillway at the end of the flood control channel behind the Riverwalk. I like water, and rushing, roaring water is even better. I spent the next couple of days sitting at the FenCon table in the exhibit hall, aside from the hour I spent at an autograph table. I didn't have a line of fans, but I did have a steady stream of people, and not just the "sign my program book" people or friends. In between autographs, I worked on my knitting, which brought a few people over to chat. I'll have to remember that for future autograph sessions. Knitting gives me something to do other than sit there and look pathetic and lonely, and it gives people a reason to come talk to me and then learn about my books. The same thing happened at the FenCon table.

Friday night, I got another new experience because the Random Penguin (okay, technically I think they're calling themselves Penguin Random House, but Random Penguin is much catchier) party was in the Tower of the Americas, which has an amazing view of the city. I kept forgetting to socialize because I was too busy staring out the windows. Then I had a number of geek moments in which I'd be chatting with a group of people, then belated introductions would be made and I'd discover exactly who I was chatting with.

Saturday and Sunday were my busy paneling days. I had a lot of fun (and a big crowd in the really big room) with the future of Star Wars panel, and had the rather surreal experience of having David Brin plugging my books during introductions. I wouldn't have thought he'd have any idea who I was. The geeky knitting panel was also a lot of fun. Since I was the closest to "local," I was the one able to bring visual aids. The TARDIS shawl got a lot of attention, as did some of my lace knitting and, of course, the lightsaber knitting needles. The Sunday morning panel on books being made into movies and television was educational for me and I did a lot more listening than talking. Charlaine Harris really is a hoot and a real sweetheart.

I'm afraid I skipped the Hugo awards ceremony. I don't have a lot of patience for award ceremonies in general, and I was dead on my feet. I went to dinner with some of the FenCon gang, then went back to my room, read a while, and was in bed with the lights out probably before the ceremony ended. I was one of the "stars" for the Monday Stroll with the Stars, so I had to be up early for that. I was getting really tired of the convention center by that point, so for my lunch break between panels, I went to the street festival at the nearby old church that I'd noticed them setting up while on the stroll, and I was fed by the nice church ladies and had an interesting conversation with one of the people working at the festival. It was a good break before the final panel.

I think I've started a tradition for the end of WorldCons. Last year, on the last night after the con ended, I had dinner at a cafe on the river in Chicago. This year, I had dinner at Casa Rio, the old Mexican place on the Riverwalk. If I go to London, I'll have to find some waterside dining, but probably more in the vicinity of Little Venice than on the Thames itself. There's something about just sitting on the bank of a river that's very relaxing and that helps me wind down.

My initial goal for this con was to improve my networking, and I'm not sure how well I succeeded there. I probably ought to get more involved on the SFWA forums to stay more in touch with the people I was chatting with at the party. I didn't exchange business cards with people, or anything like that. On the other hand, I ran into some friends from college, someone I worked with 15 years ago and someone from a book club I used to be in.

Now, I'm going to have a little resting/hibernation time. I had ballet the night I got home, then children's choir started last night and I had choir rehearsal. Today, now that I've already obtained groceries, I can just relax for a while. As I get older, my body seems to be less flexible about changes to routine, and a week of changed sleeping schedules, irregular mealtimes, different kinds of food, probably not enough water and lots of social interaction has utterly drained me. I have a few business-related tasks to take care of, but otherwise I can catch up on the TV I missed while I was gone and maybe start a season 3 of Haven marathon if my DVDs arrive as scheduled today.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Know When to Fold 'Em

I'm back from WorldCon, but the report will have to wait a while because I need to organize my thoughts. At the moment, I'm afraid I'd mostly talk about the drive home, in which I seemed to come across the world's slowest McDonalds, where it took something like twenty minutes to get a drink. Meanwhile, Texas is big. Really big. Someone needs to invent teleportation. While I'm processing to the point I can talk about more than how long the drive seemed to be, it's time for a Wednesday writing post.

I'm going to get a bit radical today and go against one of those pieces of writing advice that I hear all the time, that you have to finish what you're working on. To some extent, that's true. You won't get the first two chapters of a book published (unless it's a short story in its own right). But at the same time, not all ideas are viable, and bogging yourself down in a story that really can't be finished and shouldn't be finished isn't going to help you much. My career might have started sooner if I'd finished something instead of flitting from idea to idea, but I think I did more harm to my career and delayed myself more because of stubbornly insisting on completing something that wasn't viable. I'd have done myself a favor if I'd allowed myself to move on when I realized that a story just wasn't working instead of spending years trying to make it work and hating every minute of it.

The trick is in knowing when something isn't working as opposed to hitting the "slog through the middle" hard part or being distracted by Shiny New Idea syndrome. The middle of a book is hard even when the story idea is good and perfectly viable, and I find that when I'm slogging through the middle, that's when my best ideas for other stories hit me. If you're struggling with the middle and get hit by a new idea that sounds fun, It's even more difficult to keep on. How do you know the difference between a book that's hit the hard part and a book that isn't working?

If you've been hit by a distracting Shiny New Idea, give yourself a day to play with the new idea. Do a brain dump and write down absolutely everything you know about this idea. If scenes come to you, write them. List facts, character details, etc. Most Shiny New Ideas aren't really ready to be written yet, so you're likely to run out of information, and you'll see then that this isn't a book you can drop everything and write. Getting the info out of your head may make it easier to go back to your current project and focus. But if you keep coming up with more and more stuff with the new idea and scenes turn into chapters, and you still have more in your head after a day, then you may be on to something that's worth developing.

If you're just stuck and slogging on a story without the distraction of a new idea, it may help to give yourself a break, especially if you've been working diligently. Some writers call this "refilling the well." Take a time you'd normally devote to writing and do something else, like reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music, visiting a museum or even just taking a walk. You may find yourself returning to the project with more enthusiasm.

You can try going back to the beginning and rereading what you've written so far -- without doing heavy editing unless you discover a major plot flaw that needs to be fixed in order to get the story back on track. You can read in a few hours what takes weeks to write, and sometimes reading it like a reader would gives you a sense of forward momentum. Something that seemed like a slog to write may zip by when you read.

Another way to deal with feeling stuck is to take a step back and do some outlining or brainstorming. Make a list of ten or twenty things that can happen next. Make a list of things that need to happen before the end of the story. If there's a future scene that's already clear in your head, write it. Look at your characters and see if there's something about them you haven't fully used or developed. If you have a good idea what the ending will be, reverse engineer: think of what needs to happen immediately before the ending to make it happen, then think of what needs to happen to make that happen, and so forth.

If you try these things and are still stuck, you may not have a viable idea. If you're not seeing future scenes in your head, if you don't find yourself thinking about the characters, then at the very least your heart isn't in it, and the result probably won't be very good even if you force yourself to finish it. If the book isn't contracted, then there's no harm in putting it aside and working on something else. You'll be better off than if you spend all that time working on it and the result is something that can't be published, anyway.