Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book Report: What Ifs

Sometimes I fall into entirely unintended reading themes. I didn't plan it this way, but I read two books about time travel and alternate realities in the week leading up to the Doctor Who anniversary. One of them I knew had that premise, but the other I picked up because of the author, with no idea what it was about.

The first one I read was Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster. I'd read her memoirs and find them hilarious, even if I suspect she'd be an unpleasant person to be around in real life, but now she's writing novels. I figured if her novels were as hilarious as her memoirs, they should be fun, so when I saw one at the library, I picked it up. It turned out to be a time travel story, sort of a mix of Mean Girls and Peggy Sue Got Married. Karma starts to catch up with a former high school queen bee (who never grew out of it) as her twenty-year reunion approaches. She gets fired from her job for slacking off and gets dumped by her husband for being a materialistic bitch. Going to her reunion to revisit her glory days doesn't even give her any satisfaction, since it turns out that all the people she used to look down on and torment are now more successful than she is. The only person who doesn't act like she hates her is the former hippie chick, now a New Age guru, who takes her home when she gets drunk and then gives her an elixir to give her "clarity." After taking the elixir, she wakes up during her senior year of high school, with the chance to fix what went wrong -- but every change will have repercussions.

This was a book with a main character I was prepared to hate, but I ended up finding her sympathetic as she grew in awareness. The slightly catty, bitchy voice worked, and it was generally a really funny book that I read in just a few sittings. It also got me started going down memory lane and thinking about what I might change if I had a do-over (I probably wouldn't change anything about high school, even though I was reasonably miserable, but even though I enjoyed college, there's a lot I might change with the benefit of hindsight).

The other book with a similar theme was The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. In this one, the heroine has just lost her twin brother and then her lover has left her for someone else. To deal with the resulting deep depression, she decides to try an experimental therapy. She wakes up as herself, more or less, in 1918. She's still her, but the 1918 version, and the same people who were in her life in her present day of 1985 are also there -- and her brother is still alive. It turns out that this version of herself is also undergoing an experimental therapy, so after that treatment, she wakes up in the 1941 version of herself. The three of them rotate lives as they go through the course of treatment, and each one can't resist meddling to make the life she's currently in better, for her definition of "better," as each has her own priorities. As they near the end of the treatment cycle, they have to decide which life they really want.

This was one of those books where I loved the concept, but was so-so about the execution. It's very much "literary" fiction, where it seemed to be making a point about something. The cover copy referred to it as being deeply romantic, but I found all the romantic relationships rather depressing. The writing was lovely and evocative, but now I want to see if I can come up with a different way of playing with the concept.

Maybe it's a sign that I'm an uncultured rube, but the more "chick lit" style story was the one that made me think about my own life and choices, and all that, and that lingered in my head far longer. Theoretically, "literary" fiction is better for us because it makes us think, but I don't see how humor, an easy writing style and a happy ending keep a book from being able to provoke thoughts. It seems like different books speak to different people, and it's pointless to tell us that a particular book should be speaking to us more because of the way it's written.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Weekend of the Doctor

I think I'm starting to see why it's best to have conventions in spring, summer and early fall. We had a Doctor Who convention this weekend for the 50th anniversary, and we had the threat of weather hanging over our heads the entire time, with a winter storm warning starting at 6 a.m. Sunday. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, as it didn't get below freezing and it didn't even rain all that much. I'm taking some credit for that, since after seeing the forecast Saturday morning, I told the con chair I probably wouldn't be there Sunday so he could make contingency plans, and then they'd be covered in case I couldn't make it, but then it could be a pleasant surprise if I did. Because there were contingency plans, nothing happened. But there were still a lot of people who didn't come or who left early because of the weather threat.

I also have a bit of a problem with cold-weather conventions because it forces me out of my hibernation instinct. All I want to do is curl up under a blanket, and yet I'm having to be out and about and friendly and articulate and all that. I know I wasn't my normal convention self, and that steadily waned over the weekend. Then I was left more drained than normal, even though I wasn't staying up late or having to get up early. I got about nine hours of sleep last night and could easily go back to bed and take a long nap now. I guess I'd better let myself recharge because in a couple of days I'll have to be around family for Thanksgiving.

In spite of the energy drain, I did have fun at the convention. It was great watching the anniversary episode on a big screen in a big room with hundreds of enthusiastic people, though I'll have to rewatch to catch all the dialogue. I haven't really tried analyzing the episode, but there was nothing about it that triggered my "but wait a second …" reflex. I'm generally happy with just about any non-linear storytelling that plays with time.

There were some great costumes, including some eerily accurate renditions of the various Doctors. One guy made a very good, slightly more age-appropriate to me Eleventh Doctor. But the danger of that sort of thing is that you never know if you find someone appealing because he looks like the Doctor or if you would actually find him at all appealing in his everyday appearance. I suppose the point is moot because my one attempt at mild flirtation fell utterly flat. I got more response from the Daleks.

Meanwhile, I came away from the weekend with a massive yarn stash. One of my friends is a big crocheter, and she'd inherited a huge yarn stash from a friend whose aunt, an avid knitter, died. She'd picked out the stuff she wanted, but there was a lot left in lace-weight yarn, which she gave to me. The trick is that I don't know if there's enough in any one yarn to make much of anything, but it's still something to play with. Then another friend had some yarn for a project she'd given up on. It's hand-spun yarn that she spun herself on her antique spinning wheel, so I think it needs something special. There's not a lot, so it will have to be something small like a hat or a collar.

It may not have iced, but it's a cold, rainy day, and I think I'm going to declare this my "weekend." I may spend the rest of the day on the sofa under a blanket with a book.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Weekend of Anniversaries

There are two big anniversaries this weekend. Living in the Dallas area, I've been inundated lately with Kennedy assassination stuff. It's been pretty much non-stop, with just about everyone who knows anything being interviewed in all kinds of special news stories. Most of it isn't news to me because I've heard so many first-hand accounts. One of my college journalism professors was one of the reporters on the scene, and he used that as his case study for the lecture on covering breaking news that turns into a major event (strangely, the main thing I remember from that lecture was the digression about running out of underwear because he thought he was just in town to cover a presidential visit and ended up staying longer than planned when it turned into a bigger story). I had a journalism seminar with Walter Cronkite, who talked about breaking the news. My first job out of college was at the medical school attached to Parkland hospital, and most of the doctors who treated Kennedy were on the faculty (some were residents at the time who were faculty when I worked there). The offices for the emergency medicine department were next to our offices, and that was one of the departments I covered, so I was quite familiar with so many of the names that keep coming up in these stories. I fielded the call from the Quantum Leap producers when they were doing their JFK episode and wanted to know what color the scrubs were at Parkland at that time, and I had to track down someone who was working in the ER then who could talk to them. Then there was a man at the church I used to attend who was a Dallas police officer at that time who knew most of the players involved. One Saturday, a group of us loaded up the church van and had him give us a tour, going down the motorcade route, visiting the old police station where Ruby was killed, seeing the Texas theater, etc. So I guess I don't really need all the TV talking heads.

The other big anniversary is the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. I'll be spending the weekend (weather permitting -- there's a chance of ice Sunday) at a local Doctor Who convention. I'm doing a number of panels, so we'll be testing the depth of my knowledge. I don't go back that far other than in vague awareness.

Though, apparently I should look into more Second Doctor episodes, because according to the "which Doctor are you" quiz, that's who I am: What is the point, in a scary universe filled with all manner of unpleasant and upsetting things, of taking life too seriously? Sure, it's important to stand up and be counted, to oppose the things you despise and so on, but that's no reason to walk round with a sour expression all the time. You like to keep things free and easy, relying on your natural charm and whimsical nature to guide you through life, until such time as you have to marshall your formidable resources. Then, let those who would oppose you look out!

Seems eerily accurate. According to the Companion quiz, I'm Martha: While occasionally lead by your heart, you have an enormously practical head on your shoulders, and are extraordinarily loyal, which means you can be relied upon to fulfill any task to the letter, no matter how personally inconvenient it may be. Guns, bandages, science, amorous playwrights from the past, there's little you can't handle.

I'm a little afraid to take the "How Dalek-y Are You?" quiz. I don't think I need that particular insight into my personality. It's likely to be scary.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thankful for Crayons

I survived yet another night of the kids at their craziest. Just one more session this semester, but that has me worried because they're supposed to sing in church the Sunday after that, and based on what happened last night, it may end up being one little girl and me singing a duet (which could actually be kind of cute if had been planned that way). The rest really couldn't be bothered with singing or learning the words.

I resorted to my "fall back and punt" tactic of passing out paper and crayons, since that actually seems to engage Problem Child, and then I played the song we're supposed to sing on a loop to maybe seep into their brains as I told them to draw something they're thankful for. Most of the little girls drew pictures of their families, with little hearts over their heads. Problem Child drew a picture of his family in their flying car (he may drive me nuts, but this kid has the potential to be really cool). One girl drew something that I thought she said was for her grandma, but it turned out to be a picture of her grandma. I'm sure Grandma will be touched,  even if she's not exactly flattered. My Queen Bee in the making drew a very lovely picture of herself. One boy colored the entire sheet of paper blue and said he'd drawn a picture of God. Some of the kids started doing handprint turkeys, where you draw around your hand and then make that into a turkey. One kid must not have been familiar with the concept because he followed the other kids in tracing his hand, but then instead of making a turkey he ended up doing a rather lifelike drawing of his hand, complete with fingernails and knuckles. I was impressed. One little boy turned his handprint turkey into a pretty realistic-looking turkey, as part of a detailed, farm-like landscape that covered the whole page. That one also impressed me.

It may not be the most detailed art/craft project ever, but I find it highly amusing to pass out paper and crayons and see what the kids come up with based on a simple prompt. It definitely reveals a lot about the kids. I need to think of a good Christmas-related topic for next time.

I think there may be baking this afternoon. I had planned to maybe do some shopping and possibly even get a haircut, but the fact that I changed into sweats after getting back from the grocery store this morning doesn't bode well for that.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nightmare Scenarios

The book is back with the editor, and now I should be doing other things, like spending the day shopping for a winter coat, but I've got a bad case of homebodyitis at the moment. I think a lot of it is the residual effects from oversleeping, which was a residual effect of waking up in the middle of the night from a really intense nightmare, one of those where when I woke my heart was both racing and pounding. I guess I got an aerobic workout in my sleep. The nightmare had something to do with being a fugitive and knowing that people were tracking me. It started with me (in the dream) watching a TV show about someone being followed and doing nothing to hide or disguise herself, and me snarking about it, which is pretty much the way I watch Covert Affairs. Then suddenly I was that person and I had no idea what to do. The freaky thing was that I woke up before anything actually happened. It was the fear of what might happen that was causing the pounding heart and that made me take a long time to calm down and get back to sleep.

Hmm, story idea? Get sucked into the life of the character you're criticizing and see how well you deal with it?

The artist who does my book covers got back in touch with me about the idea of doing merchandise using the art. I know I mentioned this before. I'm pretty sure she means to re-purpose the art she's already done, like the various frogs from each book cover, not to draw new stuff, so sorry, no Sam the Gargoyle t-shirts. She wants to use Cafe Press, but I haven't been crazy about the quality of their stuff I've seen, and it's awfully pricey. It doesn't seem like a good place to go if you hope to sell in volume, though I suppose the benefit is no up-front costs to you to make things available. I haven't seen too many t-shirts or tote bags or the like based strictly on a book series. I don't recall there even being a lot of Harry Potter merchandise until the movies started coming out. Any thoughts, ideas or experiences with this sort of thing? My main problem is that I seem to have truly moved on from the series mentally and emotionally (sorry!), so it's hard for me to get back to a place of thinking about it.

Now I have to come up with a lesson plan for the kids tonight. I think we'll play another game on the xylophone. I've got a dad helping tonight because my usual co-teacher will be out. It'll be interesting to see how that affects Problem Child.

And I need to call my mom because it's her birthday. Happy birthday!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Attack of the Huge Shoulders

I managed some housework yesterday. I washed dishes, did some dusting and got through part of the "there was something in here I wanted to clip, I think" newspaper stack (my house would stay significantly cleaner if I could make myself get into the habit of clipping things when I see them). I made the tweaks I needed to make in the book. I think I'm going to send it to the editor today after I re-read the parts I tweaked. Otherwise, I did some reading.

I've realized that I'm behind on my reading for the year, and I can't blame writing because I haven't written an entire book, start to finish, this year. I started a book, and it's highly unlikely it will be finished before the end of the year. Otherwise, I've done revisions on three books. My writing time count is down a lot for the year. I may have to blame the new knitting obsession because it fills some time I used to devote to reading, since I used to read while I watched TV. That's less of an option these days because of my changing eyesight, which was one reason I got back into knitting.

Really, I don't have a lot to show for this year, work-wise. I got a book published and sold a book, and then I started writing a book. I would say that once I get this book off, I'm going to dive back into the one I've been working on, but I don't know if that will happen this week. After looking at the weather forecast, I think I'm really going to need a good coat this weekend, so a shopping trip is in order.

It's not just my winter coat that's a relic of the early 90s. I got a new hat that I'd like to wear at the convention this weekend, and I was trying on some things that would go with it. I dug out a really cute suit jacket from circa 1993-1994. I hadn't realized what linebacker shoulder pads it had. Yikes. The shoulders extend a good two inches beyond my actual shoulders. I would say it's a candidate for the donation bin, but it would be cruel to inflict this on someone else. I'd have to snip the lining seams to remove the shoulder pads, but then the shoulder seams would come practically to my elbows. I may just have to give up on this jacket, which is otherwise really cute. I thought the 80s were the era of big shoulders, but it doesn't seem to have abated until at least 1995. I think I need to spend a couple of days trying on everything in my closet and purging it because I don't seem to have an accurate image of my clothes when I just look at them on hangers. I would never have discarded this jacket, but now that I've put it on I know I wouldn't wear it in public again. In my neighborhood, it could get dangerous, as desperate as the Dallas Cowboys are for defensive linemen. I might find myself drafted while getting my oil changed (I always seem to run into coaches there).

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hilarious Hiking Moments

Well, the epic housecleaning didn't exactly happen this weekend. I got sidetracked by books, knitting, TV and the Internet, and that's okay. Watching old Doctor Who episodes actually counts as work this week. I may tackle the housework in stages during the week.

I did manage the hiking trip and experienced a Hilarious Hiking Moment. There's this spot on the lake near a park that's kind of a cliff-like point. We went out there to watch one of the summer firework shows because it's directly across the lake from where they set off the fireworks. It was kind of an ordeal to get there, involving walking along the shore, climbing some rocks and then making it down a pretty faint trail. Once we got there, we were surprised that there were other people there with a lot of gear or with baby strollers, so we figured there had to be an easier way. We did find another trail, and it was a little easier, but it still involved some rock climbing. When I went out there for lunch a few weeks ago, I started out trying to get to that spot, but decided it wasn't the smartest thing to do when I was by myself without my hiking boots on because if I turned an ankle, I'd be in trouble. We headed out there on Friday, properly equipped for some serious, strenuous hiking. As we parked, we noticed a trail heading into the woods and decided to give that a try. After about two minutes of easy walking down a very gentle trail, we ended up at the point that had required all that difficult rock climbing to get to. I thought I was going to need CPR from laughing so hard. It was so anticlimactic.

There were some hilly trails leading away from that point, so there was still some decent hiking around the lake, but I still crack up at the thought of how difficult getting there seemed and how I'd decided not to try to do it alone because it was too risky, and yet it was such an easy walk that we ran into some ladies who seemed to be taking a lunchtime stroll during their break at the office, in their work clothes with sneakers, while we were there in hiking gear.

I have a few spots in the book to check, and then I'll be able to send it back to the editor. Then I really do need to do some housework. I also have some shopping I need to do. I've decided that since I had income this year (yay!) that there are a couple of purchases I've been putting off that I need to make. One is a new pair of glasses. The other is a new winter dress coat. I bought the one I have now in 1990, and it looks it. It's got the big, puffy shoulders. It's also getting threadbare in a few places. I've been doing some shopping around online to see who might have what I want, and it doesn't seem like Nordstrom sells anything in stores in my area. Everything I like or want there, when I check to find it in a store, they say it's not available and offer to let me buy it online. So I guess I won't be shopping there. A coat is something I want to try on. Sizing gets really tricky because you have to plan for wearing bulky things underneath. Sometimes they account for this in the sizing, but sometimes you have to go up a size or two. I have a vivid mental image of what I want. The challenge will be finding it in a store in my size. This is one reason why I'm still using a threadbare coat from 1990.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Done! And Now for the Weekend

I finished the latest round of revisions yesterday, so I get a weekend off. There will be hiking today, and then I think a massive round of house cleaning over the weekend to start kind of getting ready for Christmas, the season for which will be on us before I know it. I spent the past couple of months either frantically knitting or working on revisions, so I kind of need an industrial-strength cleaning, as all those petty little tasks fell by the wayside.

I hope to fit in a little reading, some TV catchup (there's a Doctor Who convention next weekend where I'll be a panelist, so I need to do some reviewing to refresh my memory), and maybe some knitting.

Now, though, I need to do enough straightening of the living room to have space for a post-hiking television night. There's currently an edited manuscript filling my sofa.

See how glamorous a writer's life really is?

The good news about the book is that I had to keep going back and re-reading yesterday, as I kept getting so caught up in the story that I forgot to read critically and edit. I think that's a good sign, if I get involved enough that my editor brain shuts off, even though I wrote it and know what's going to happen.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Miracle of the Leaves

After a couple of weeks off, I had children's choir again last night, and boy, were they a handful. Problem Child was back and really amped up, and my helper for him wasn't there. This kid is so out of control that the other kids are starting to resent him and try to avoid him. It culminated in an incident in which he made two other boys cry. We were playing with the parachute, making mountains, the ocean or a storm, based on what the song said, and he suddenly rushed into the middle of it and started spinning around to wrap it around him, ripping it out of the hands of the other kids and flailing about so that he hit two of the other kids in the face hard enough that they were crying. Then that meant having to take the parachute away if we couldn't play safely with it and follow instructions. I sat with his parents at dinner, and they were talking about how he was a handful but it was okay because he has a good heart. I bit my tongue before saying that actually he's turning out to a self-centered jerk who only cares about what's fun for him and doesn't care how he's affecting others. I really don't know if there's a diplomatic way of saying that to parents, especially not with the kid there.

But I did have a minor miracle that kind of blew my mind. I'd come up with the clever idea of doing leaf rubbings for a craft project and had brought a little baggie of leaves I'd collected, but when I tried it out before class, it didn't seem to work right, so I decided to do something else instead. While we were untangling Problem Child from the parachute, calming the kids he'd hurt and making him apologize to them, the other kids asked if they could color. We got out the crayons and some paper, and then in the chaos my bag had been knocked over, so they found the baggie of leaves, got them out and started doing leaf rubbings. So all on their own, with no instruction or direction, they did the project I'd planned in the first place. And somehow, theirs came out much better than my attempts. That kept them occupied until the parents came to pick them up. Just two more sessions this semester …

In other news, I'm very close to being done with this round of revisions. I don't think I'll even need another full read-through. There are just a couple of parts where I want to give it another once-over. Then I'll find out what the editor thinks and probably do another round with her.

And as we build up to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, they've released a mini-episode that explains a few things and that features a Doctor we never saw much of. I recently watched the special on the Eighth Doctor and found myself wishing he'd had more than the Fox TV movie (yes, he's in books and radio dramas, but that's not the same).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fan Fiction and the Aspiring Author

I had a reader question about fan fiction and writing for publication. This is an area that's changed drastically in the past year or so, so it's hard to offer a lot of advice, as it may even change again. But I'll take a stab at it based on what I know at this point.

For those who aren't too familiar with the concept, fan fiction is stories written in other people's universes. It's technically a copyright violation, but most rights holders (authors, publishers, production companies) turn a blind eye to it because it's produced out of love and helps promote the original works. There are a lot of different kinds of fan fiction. It may be stories that continue the adventures of the original story -- the crew of the Enterprise explores more strange new worlds. It may cover scenes we're not likely to see in books or on TV because of the need for conflict or pacing but that fans might be curious about -- the crew of the Enterprise plays poker while talking about their feelings, with no crisis interrupting them. It may focus on a relationship that's different from the original -- Kirk and Spock are in love and romantically involved. It may add a new character who allows the author to play in that universe -- Lt. Swendson, an auburn-haired, green-eyed beauty with brains and a lovely singing voice, joins the crew of the Enterprise, and Will Riker falls in love with her when he hears her singing jazz on the holodeck. It may move the characters into an entirely different situation -- the crew of the Enterprise are on the police force in modern New York City. Or it may explore other areas of that fictional universe -- the adventures of another ship in Starfleet.

Before the Internet, people shared these stories with friends or exchanged mimeographed copies at conventions. Now, there are a variety of archives and other sites where you can post your stories and share them with fans all over the world. There are some fan fiction authors who have a larger readership than many professionally published authors. Once upon a time, fan fiction was kept relatively quiet. Many professional authors had fan fiction in their past, and some professionally published novels may have had their origins in fan fiction before the author adapted them to be original works, but it wasn't something they generally talked openly about. Now, fan fiction has really come to the forefront. There are a number of authors who got the attention of publishers or agents with their huge fan fiction followings, and some of their books originated as popular fan fiction works. I've heard a high-level editor talking about reading fan fiction archives and occasionally contacting an author whose work she liked. Amazon now has a program in which people can self-publish fan fiction written about certain authorized properties, with the author and the owner of the rights sharing in the profits. A bestselling author was interviewed in TV Guide about her basing the characters in her latest novel on characters in a TV show.

Does this mean that writing fan fiction is a good path to writing success? I would probably say no. There have only been a few writers who've translated fan fiction fame into commercial success, out of hundreds of thousands of people writing fan fiction. One or two of them have been able to sustain success, and the jury is still out on the rest of them because we haven't yet seen if they can create anything that didn't start that way. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write fan fiction. If it's true that you have to write a certain number of words before you're able to write something publishable, then some of those words may as well be fan fiction. If you're not likely to be able to publish it anyway, you might as well have fun writing it. A lot of authors I know have written fan fiction or started writing in fan fiction. I dabbled in it when I was in a bad slump after having some novels published. When I was waiting months to get rejections, it was nice to get instant, positive feedback. It allowed me to break out of some writing ruts I'd been in, and I used it as a way to experiment with new techniques. My first attempt at writing first-person narration came in fan fiction.

However, the chances are pretty slim that you'll be able to sell your fan fiction work. There is now the Kindle Worlds program (https://kindleworlds.amazon.com/) in which you can self-publish certain works about authorized properties. Otherwise, if you try to make money on fan fiction, you're likely to hear from a lawyer. Occasionally, an author or a publisher that does the tie-in works for a property may put together an anthology of fan-written works in their universe, with submissions coming through a contest. Unless you're submitting to one of these contests, you shouldn't submit a story set in someone else's universe to a publisher or agent. If it's fan fiction based on a book, no one is going to be interested. If it's a movie or TV series, only one publisher will be authorized to publish tie-in novels, and they usually hand-pick known authors rather than getting works out of the slushpile. An agent isn't going to be interested in a work that could only be considered by one publisher, if at all. The exception might be works based on properties that are out of copyright, like the various books based on Jane Austen's characters. If you're submitting a book that's the continuing adventures of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you'll just look unprofessional.

The authors who manage to sell their works that originated in fan fiction do so by doing what's often called "filing off the serial numbers." They change enough details that the work is no longer identified with its source -- character names, place names or any unique details. The further the story is from the source to start with, the easier this is. That's why I'm never going to bother reworking any of my fan fiction to sell. I wrote what I called "pseudo canon," so that it read like a lost episode, not doing anything they wouldn't have done on the series, aside from effects budgets and time constraints. It's easier to just write an original novel than to try to change enough to make one of those stories even marginally original. But if you've done something like the crew of the Enterprise as cops in modern-day New York, you may just have to change the names and a few details. Or if you've written about the other ship in Starfleet, you'd have to change enough about the universe to make it no longer the Federation we know. There does seem to be some backlash in the fan fiction community about people pulling stories from online archives, filing off the serial numbers and then getting them published, with some very vocal boycotts of some authors, but those authors are still bestsellers, so it doesn't seem to have hurt.

I suspect there are many more works out there inspired by some other work but that never went through the stage of being fan fiction -- like the author I mentioned who was interviewed in TV Guide. I doubt she ever wrote a story with those two TV characters. She merely wrote a novel whose main characters were inspired by TV characters. I don't know how many paranormal romances or urban fantasies I've read in which the main characters were clearly Buffy and Spike, but with a few details changed. I'm personally of the opinion that if people can tell who your characters are supposed to be, you're doing it wrong, but it these books were published and successful, so perhaps it's a positive if you find an editor who's into those characters.

In general, to sustain a career, you're going to have to make up your own worlds and your own characters rather than using someone else's work as a starting point, and I know of far more authors who, whether or not they'd ever written fan fiction, did start their professional writing careers by writing original works than I know of authors who got published on the basis of fan fiction. If you're getting good responses from your fan fiction, it might be a good idea to come up with something of your own. That way, you've got something you can submit if one of those editors who reads fan fiction archives sends you a message asking if you've got anything they might be able to publish.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Authors' Notes

I was right, I got a lot further along a lot faster when I wasn't arguing with someone who wasn't present, though there was some arguing with Word when it decided that the entire document had somehow become text that wasn't supposed to be checked in spell-check and I noticed that it wasn't catching it when I wasn't vigorous enough with the spacebar and let words run together. I won the argument, and not with a sledgehammer.

I've now written my first "author's note." I guess my earlier books didn't require one, though there might have been some people who needed it pointed out that magic may not exist in the real world, but in this version of the story, magic does exist, and that changes things somewhat.

When I went to the library late last week, I skimmed through a few books that would fall into the same category as this one to see how they handled it. There were some with no note whatsoever, but those seemed to be the ones where history wasn't really changed, just the level of technology that made it almost like an alternate-world fantasy (if you have clockwork automaton butlers, it's probably not our version of the Victorian era and I would hope most readers could figure that out). There was one series with no up-front note, but with a detailed note at the back, describing what in the book was real and what was changed for the story. There are some with brief notes in front and more detailed notes at the back. For now, I've decided on a brief note on the main thing that's different and the main thing that changed, then a kind of dateline page (New York, 1888). I may suggest a more detailed note at the end of the book, or maybe just an afterword note directing people to my web site if they want details about what's real, what's made-up and where to go to read more. Some of the craziest things in the book are actually based on real things or events.

Does anyone have a preference for this sort of thing in books? Would you rather figure it out yourself, or do you like to have the stage set for you? Do you like knowing what's real and what isn't?

Reading the book in closer detail is reminding me why I love it so much. I do so hope readers latch onto it. There's just something about this book that makes me happy. I would love it even if I hadn't written it.

In other news, we're supposed to get our first real freeze of the season tonight, so this is probably the end of my moonflower vine, unless being on my patio shelters it some. It was only supposed to bloom through "late summer," so I guess making it nearly halfway through November with nightly blooms is pretty good. I'll definitely have to plant another one next summer because I really loved having it. According to the seed packet and the newspaper article that inspired me to buy it, it's not the sort of thing that will propagate itself and come back on its own. The zinnia and basil are now living in my office. I've kept basil through the winter indoors before, but the zinnia is supposed to be an annual. We'll see how long it lasts. I like having the pink flowers.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Round Two

Over the weekend, I finished this phase of the revisions, going through the editor's notes. I realized that one problem is that although I'm very clear in my head exactly when this is taking place and am trying to make almost everything that isn't changed by the plot fit that time period, I don't actually say anywhere in the story what the year is supposed to be. That may be why she keeps questioning things. So, an author's note and maybe a page stating the place and year might be in order. I think I had something in there during one draft, but it was in a scene that probably ended up being cut because it was nothing but exposition.

Today, I start doing the heavy-duty tinkering on my own, without referring to the editor's notes, fixing stuff like not fully explaining how the magic works. In this world, magic works as a power supply, so even non-magical people can use magically powered devices. These devices are just very expensive because magic is expensive for people who don't have it, themselves, and that limits who can own them. I thought I left enough hints, but apparently it isn't clear. Sometimes, I'm too subtle for my own good. I'm hoping this phase will go more quickly because of less time spent arguing out loud with a person who isn't even there.

One thing I'm really appreciating about this editor and that I think I'll enjoy about working with a less commercial, more literary imprint is that she is in no way trying to Twilight my book by emphasizing romantic triangles or teen romantic angst. I just started reading another steampunky YA novel last night, and in the opening chapters of the book, the two main female characters have met three young men, all of whom are described in great detail to prove how devastatingly gorgeous they are, and they've all had an intense instant attraction, romance novel-style. One of them is, of course, a dark and dangerous bad boy who might actually turn out to be a villain (except he won't). I found myself rolling my eyes. My editor has deleted a lot of the stuff I thought I'd have to put in to sell a YA novel, so I'm being allowed to have much more subtle relationship development. There doesn't have to be an insta-crush with every hot guy who comes along, and not all the guys have to be instantly seen as hot. Sometimes, a person can grow on you.

I just realized I have nothing to eat for lunch. I have no leftovers and nothing for a quick meal like a sandwich. It may be a cheese-and-crackers kind of day. But I have a pork shoulder cooking in the Crock Pot, so this will not be a problem for the rest of the week.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Don't Know Much About History

I have a busy day and weekend ahead of me, and really, I just want to hibernate. In addition to working on these revisions, I need to make a library run. I have a party to go to tonight, and I have to bake something for that. Then I have a "meeting" that's really more like a party tomorrow, which also requires baking. The party tonight is an annual affair, a real "grown-up" party, but since I was away all last weekend, I kind of just want a nice Friday evening on my sofa. I know I'll have fun, though, when I make myself go. I may be home early on Saturday, though, once I run completely out of steam.

Next weekend, though, I have absolutely nothing on the calendar, for perhaps the last time this year. I may be working frantically because after I finish going through the editor's notes I'll need to do another pass to tinker with things (I'm keeping notes on things I might need to go back and fix), and then I'll need to do a read-through, and I need to get the book back to the editor by the 22nd. With any luck, that will give me most of December free while the editor goes back over it -- though the way things tend to go in this business, that means she'll send it back to me right before she goes on Christmas break, and she'll want a revised version back early in the new year. Editors like to leave for holidays with clean desks, but then they want to get right back into things when they return.

I've talked to my agent about the revisions, and not only will I include an author's note on the changes to history, but I'm also going to include a list of locations and what they correspond to in the real world, with a suggestion of maybe including a map, since I'm also getting a lot of questions about the geography, and I'm not even tinkering with that all that much, aside from changing place names that have to be different because of the timeline changes (if the American Revolution hasn't happened, there probably isn't going to be a Washington Square). When the book comes out, I'll probably put some more detailed information on the history and some suggestions for further reading on my web site. Maybe I'll spark or encourage an interest in history in some readers. I certainly learned a lot while doing the research for this book. I'm into history, but I realized how lacking my knowledge was. My school history classes were always taught by coaches, which meant that we mostly read the textbook chapters, then answered the questions at the end of the chapter while the coach sat at his desk and read the sports section of the newspaper. And somehow, we never managed to get to the end of the textbook, so there were portions of history we never even covered.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Culture Clash

I'm still plugging away at revisions. One thing I'm struggling with is how much to explain. I did extensive research for this book, reading something like 60 books in the process. That included books on history, books on historical technology, books on the culture and novels written or published in the general time period to get a sense of the language, what words were used, etc. That means I probably know more than the average reader and certainly more than the average teen reader. The editor keeps questioning things that I would have thought were general knowledge -- like there's a question mark every time I mention electricity. The book is set in 1888. The first power generating station that provided electricity to a portion of Manhattan went online in 1882. Not to mention that the book itself is alternate history, so it doesn't have to be accurate to our history. There are things that are different on purpose. My world is actually behind on technology, as they're only just starting to experiment with electricity in 1888. There are some things I can kind of explain in context, but it's impossible to explain the timeline differences in the book because no one in the book knows they're in an alternate timeline. I'm having to find creative ways to explain the situation in this world without having the characters lecture each other. "As you know, Mary, magic is the predominant power supply, which is why people with magical powers are the upper class. It would be like owning all the oil in a world that uses fossil fuels for power, if you can imagine such a thing."

Speaking of alternate realities, I forgot to mention the strangest thing about last weekend's Steampunk convention: At the same hotel, in the adjacent function space, one of those Toddlers and Tiara's-style kiddie beauty pageants was going on. Talk about culture clash! There were all these small kids wearing makeup that made them look like they'd been spray painted, their hair processed, styled and sprayed to the point they looked like they were wearing wigs, dressed like Vegas showgirls. There were even some running around in diapers, with pacifiers in their mouths, with their hair in curlers and the same painted-on makeup. We had to pass through their part of the function space to get from our area to the hotel itself, and they were all out in the halls, practicing their routines. I thought it was a joke for exaggeration in Little Miss Sunshine when the little girl's talent, coached by her sleazy grandfather, turned out to be a burlesque routine, but that actually looked innocent and tame compared to what these girls were practicing. They were doing stripper moves while attempting Shirley Temple levels of dimply cuteness, all while being constantly berated by their mothers and coaches. I couldn't even see what the point was. It didn't look like anyone but the moms was in the audience, and there only seemed to be a few girls competing in each category, so it wasn't like any title they won was meaningful. I saw one of the crowns as they were checking out, and it was cheap plastic, like the kind of thing you'd buy for a Halloween costume.

Meanwhile, there were the women in our group, many of whom were dressed in full Victorian attire. Or else they were dressed as explorers. There was one lady dressed as a frontier doctor, complete with little black bag (I got the impression she was a doctor in real life, as well). I wanted to hold an intervention for the pageant girls. Unfortunately, it seemed like most of them had already been brainwashed, and they were mostly really, really bratty and entitled, like they really thought they were princesses. For a while, they were practicing their routines in the hallway in front of our meeting rooms, and they got snippy if any of us dared walk through where they were practicing on the way to our sessions. They were really bratty at the breakfast buffet, too.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Epic Knitting Project

As promised, I finally have photos of the epic knitting project. It's a lady's circular cape in shell pattern, adapted from a pattern in Weldon's Practical Needlework, circa 1886. It's in the book Victorian Lace Today. That's a whole book of patterns taken from Victorian knitting magazines or books and transcribed (with apparently much testing) into modern knitting terminology. I checked it out of the library and ended up buying a copy because I kind of want to make everything in it.

I made it out of rather cheap yarn because it's a very complicated pattern of a type I'd never tried before, so I didn't want to risk expensive yarn on it. Unfortunately, the only yarn of the proper weight I could find at the local craft store had sequins on it. It would have been fine if the black yarn had had black sequins, but I didn't realize until I started knitting that the sequins were multicolored, which is a little tacky and flashy. I'm considering snipping a few off. Now that I know what I'm doing, I may get some good yarn and do another one because I love the way it came out and I'd like something more usable. But later, much later, as I need a break.

Here it is, as worn. Ignore the frizzy hair. I'd just been out and got caught in the rain.

And here it is spread out so you can see the pattern. With black yarn, the pattern is a little harder to see well.

You cast on with the neckline, then the pattern gradually grows to create the full circle. Then after the body is done in the shell pattern, you go around the edges, picking up stitches and knitting on the border. The interesting thing about this is that you never actually bind off. You just take stitches off the needles to knit the border onto, and then at the very end of the border, you graft the edges together. The only binding off is in the border pattern to create the points, so you start with 16 stitches on each border section, then it grows to the point, then you cast a few stitches off and start again.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Book Report: History and Romance

I haven't talked books in a while, so today I have a Book Report of two very different things. My reading has been diverse lately.

First, there was The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which is a kind of book I like about a subject I don't much like. It's what I guess you'd call a historical mystery, in that it's about characters tracking down the events of the past, so that there are multiple stories going on in multiple times. There's the story of what happened in the past, and then there's the present-day story of uncovering that story. I'm a sucker for this kind of book and want to write one someday. I get very testy when a book seems like that type, but then there's no real story in the present, just finding a trunk of letters, or something like that. This book does it the right way, where what's happening in the present is almost as interesting as what's going on in the past. The downside is that the subject they're researching is vampires (one of my "ugh" topics), namely Vlad the Impaler, the original Dracula. However, this is far more about the historical mystery than it is about vampires, and the vampires aren't at all sexy or sparkly.

The book is written as a memoir of a historian, remembering something that happened when she was a teenager in the 70s. She found a mysterious old book in her father's study, something that seemed medieval. It was blank inside, except for one page with an illustration of a dragon. She asked her father about it, and he told her the story of that book mysteriously appearing on his desk when he was a graduate student, and how he researched it. Part of his research involved discussing it with his academic mentor, who'd found a similar book on his desk when he was a graduate student. The story has multiple layers, with the mentor's story more predominant at first, while we also learn how the father got the mentor's story. Later, it becomes the father's story, with the "present" story about what the girl is researching about the topic, and that story is the core of the book. Then toward the end, it's the girl's story, as she figures out what's going on in the present. It's kind of a globe-trotting adventure, to the point you find yourself imagining the thing from old movies where they show a map with a dotted line to indicate travel. They travel to Istanbul, Budapest, Romania, Bulgaria, Oxford and the south of France, among other places. It's a long book, but lots of fun for history and geography nuts. There's even a nice bit of romance playing out along the way.

For a change of pace, I read a young adult novel called The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. It's kind of a scaled down teen version of Four Weddings and a Funeral, a rather cinematic-feeling romantic comedy (and according to IMDB, a movie is in development -- but that can just mean an option, so it doesn't mean it's actually happening). It follows a theme I love, the idea of near misses and perfect timing and how things can sometimes come together. A teenage girl is on her way to London from New York for her father's second wedding, something she really doesn't want to do, since it will formalize the fact that her family is permanently broken apart after her father went on a temporary assignment in England, met someone else and decided not to come back. The girl misses her flight by four minutes, but while waiting in the airport for the next one, she meets an English boy who's studying at Yale and on his way home for a visit. They end up sitting together and spend the night on the plane talking, but then lose track of each other in customs. What are the odds of finding each other again?

I suppose it's not necessarily a true romantic comedy in that the things that happen aren't all that funny. It's just that the characters are witty and funny about some dark things, and the dialogue is very snappy. The book actually made me cry, but then I do tend to cry in the best romantic comedies. It's not just about the relationship between the guy and the girl because it's really more about her relationship with her father and coming to terms with the changes while discovering what really matters in all this. I read it in just about one sitting and couldn't put it down.

You know, I never end up next to the cute guy on flights, but when I was flying a lot for work, I remained ever hopeful that on the next flight, I might meet my Mr. Right. He must have missed his flight, or else not missed his flight so he didn't end up on mine.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Back Home

I'm back from the convention, and now I'm very glad that I didn't give in to the whim to extend my stay so I could relax a night before driving home because yesterday was clear and today it's raining, and I hate driving in the rain. I ended up having a good time at the convention, though I think it was probably better for research than for publicity. I got to examine some vintage clothing and see how clothing from the period has been reconstructed. They also had a traveling technology museum, so I got to see an original Edison phonograph and hear it played. It's amazing to think of how life-changing that must have been. Up to that point, the only way to have music was to play it yourself or be with someone who was performing.

Otherwise, I got to hang out with some friends and meet new people. My cape got a lot of attention. Of course, I forgot to get anyone to take pictures. I'll have to take some today to post. My one encounter with Patricia Wrede, the author guest of honor, was in an elevator, where she examined the cape. She'd seen a photo of the pattern but hadn't seen one made. And I came home with two new hats. I figure I'll need some fun things to wear if I have to do booksignings or school visits with this book.

I was silly and set the appointment for my annual furnace check-up for this morning, so I had to get up early and get the house in enough order that it was possible to have access to the major things they needed to check, but now the guy has come and gone, and that task has been checked off for the year. He discovered that the air vent in my bathroom had been painted shut. That explains so much. I can't believe I never noticed in all the years I've lived here. It was the adjustment knob thing that had been painted over, and he managed to pry it loose to open the vent.

Now that the knitting is done and the convention is over, I really have to dive into the revisions. I'm in the right frame of mind after a steampunk convention, and it's cool and rainy, so it's perfect writing weather.

Friday, November 01, 2013

On the Road Again

Just a quick note before I hit the road to Norman, Oklahoma, for Octopodicon, a steampunk convention. I finished my knitting project last night, and I'm sure I'll find someone willing to take a photo of me wearing it so I can post it when I get home. I have to do some finishing work, like weaving in the ends, but that will have to happen once I get there.

The nice thing about a steampunk convention is that I won't feel like I overpacked when I bring the extra-large suitcase. I had a minor dilemma when I couldn't remember which of my many white shirts and blouses works best with the vest I was bringing, but then I decided to throw both of them in.

Come to think of it, I haven't seen too many people at any kind of convention who worry much about overpacking. That's more a holdover from my Australian boss who thought you were overpacking if you needed more than a backpack for a three-week trip around the world.

Now to throw some things in the car and head off!