Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year in Review

I've reached the point in the screenplay that's like the middle of a novel, where all the detailed scenes I had in mind for the set-up have been written, but there's a gap before the detailed scenes I have in mind for the resolution. It's the "and then stuff happens" part of the synopsis. So now I have to figure out detailed scenes for the middle.

Meanwhile, I've updated the Plan for World Domination for the coming year. I tried to make all my goals reachable so that I don't burst out of the gate with great enthusiasm, only to be discouraged when I can't sustain it. I can always increase my goals if the ones I set become too easy. The main thing is that I've set both a daily and weekly quota for writing time. If I go over the daily goals early in the week and reach the weekly quota early, then I get a free day. But if I go over my goal to a certain degree, I think I'm going to come up with some kind of other reward rather than time off.

Achievements for the past year: Sold a book. Published a book. Submitted a book to publishers. And after the final accounting, I think I might have matched my best day job year in income (though the expenses are an estimate, so the final total will come when I do taxes). In non-work things, I've done more hiking this year than I've done in any previous year, so that means I did accomplish at least one thing on my goals for the year list, to make more time to do the things I enjoy and move things off the "I've always wanted to" list to the "things I do" list. I learned to knit in a big way, going in one year from only being able to knit scarves in straight lines to doing fancy lace and complicated cables. I got a start on organizing my office, and having a better filing system has already made life easier. I just need to get back into the project and finish it.

I didn't see enough movies to do a "best of" list. I'm still tabulating the reading for the year, so I haven't yet found the patterns or decided what my best books for the year would be.

As for next year, aside from my writing time plan, professionally I want to do better at networking. I will also have to up my social media game, since I have a young adult book coming out. I may even have delve into (gulp) Twitter. Personally, I want to get back into sewing now that I have a machine. I used to do it as a kid, and I've even done a few things totally by hand as an adult. I'll probably start with easy wear-around-the-house clothes before I start tackling steampunk costumes. I would like to get my house organized so that I can start doing some remodeling and improvements. I should probably devote a little more time to music, since it's something I love, and I may as well try to do it well.

Now, happy new year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ready for the New Year

I'm back home again after a Christmas break that was mostly spent reading. I got through about four books in the few days at my parents' house, which was nice. I don't seem to let myself just sit and read much at home. There's always something I should be doing.

I discovered that the little blue box I drive (a Ford Focus) might be bigger on the inside. I was worried when I saw that one of the presents under the tree for me was a huge thing covered in a red sheet rather than wrapped up in paper. The sheet turned out to cover two boxes, one a container with two swivel patio chairs and one a patio storage box (in flat pack, with assembly required). I accused my parents of coming up with a scheme to make me visit more often because I was sure it would take multiple trips to get it all home, especially considering that they also gave me a sewing machine and I had a huge suitcase. But it all fit, and without even having to lower the back seats. The storage box fit sideways in the trunk, with room for my suitcase on top. The chairs fit upside down on the back seats, with room for the cushions under them in the space between the arms and the seat and the bases on top. The sewing machine went on the passenger seat floor. And I managed to unload it all at home. The storage box is still in the garage because I'll have to clean off the patio a bit to situate it, as the stuff that will be stored in it is currently sitting where it will go. That will have to wait for a warm day. But the chairs are on the patio and set up.

I'll need to finish clearing out the office to have room for the sewing machine, and I'll probably pay a visit to Ikea to find a table for it. Now I have an incentive to finish cleaning out the office because there are a few things I want to make.

Normally I find myself energized and eager to work after the new year, but I came back from Christmas feeling all motivated about writing. Some of that may be due to looking at my progress for the year and realizing that I don't seem to have done much. The amount of time I spent writing this year is way down, and I didn't write an entire book this year. I did revisions on book 7 and got that ready for publication, and I did revisions on the new book for my editor. I did a final pass on the book that's currently on submission. Otherwise, I started a book that still needs to be finished and I wrote a novella (or more)-length story that needs a lot of work, either a lot of editing or a lot of fleshing out. And then I started a screenplay that still needs to be finished. Next year, I really need to make an effort to dedicate a certain amount of time to writing and get more stuff produced.

I think another thing that triggered my eagerness to work was looking at real estate. I discovered that the town where I go to church has started redeveloping its old downtown area, with a lot of new stuff that still fits that old, turn-of-the-century look. They're building new houses that look a lot like Craftsman bungalows, and they're situated around a park and near the farmer's market. I love old houses, but around here they tend not to be well located, and I know they require a lot of upkeep. My 1984 house is driving me nuts, so a 1917 house would probably kill me. But a new house that looks old and is in a good location would be cool. Then I saw the prices they're asking and saw pictures of the interiors, which have no "old house" charm. Then I checked the listings for things in my neighborhood, and I can get a lot more house for a lot less, even if it looks 1990s instead of early 1900s. I can trade a fake-old look for still being in walking distance of a library, plus having more than $100,000 more money to use for other things. Not that I'm planning to sell this house anytime soon. It needs a lot of work done to be ready to sell, and once that work is done, I imagine I'd enjoy living in it more. But that did start me thinking about where I am financially, and I know that if I want to improve my circumstances, I will have to work more. Fortunately, having the option of self-publishing means that working more can improve my circumstances. I'm not just writing more things to be rejected.

On the up side for the year, I did get a book published and sell a book to a major publisher. That new sale was a long time coming. There are other cool things in the works. I made more money this year than in any other year since I've been self-employed, and came close to matching my highest salary from when I had a day job (and I may just make it, depending on what might come in from Amazon by the end of the year). I'd love to say that working less led to more money, but this was money earned on work done in the past ten years.

My reading was also down this year. I guess I can blame the knitting because I was doing that instead of reading while watching TV. Otherwise, this was the year of lots of home repairs. That took a lot of time and mental energy. There are more repairs to be done, but maybe they won't be in emergency mode and I'll be more in control of the situation instead of waiting for a contractor someone else hired.

And I intend to get a start on my productivity by working on my screenplay today.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

Happy Christmas Eve! I had my annual viewing of The Holiday last night, and even aside from the Christmas stuff, I think that's an excellent romantic comedy, one of the few good ones in the past decade or so. This morning I made pecan waffles, but it's different this year because unlike the last couple of years, it's sunny today, and in the past I've enjoyed my Christmas Eve breakfast with the Christmas tree lights on and music playing. The lights are kind of pointless when it's bright outside. It'll be nice not having to drive in the rain tomorrow, but I did rather like it when it was dark and gray out because then I could see the Christmas lights or see trees through windows as I drove past. It won't be quite as magical on a bright day.

I still need to wrap gifts (didn't get around to it yesterday), and then I have two services tonight. I'm already sleepy, so there will likely be napping so I can be conscious at midnight.

I made a lot of progress on the screenplay yesterday. I'm nearing the halfway point. I had planned to spend a lot of today watching bad Christmas movies, but I'm thinking that instead I'll write one since I'm kind of having an anti-sound/noise day when I need quiet. I need to do some singing so I'm not going from nothing to singing full out, and I need to practice a little bit. Maybe the sensory input aversion will fade as the day goes by or after a nap.

Now I must go clean the kitchen, wrap gifts and do some packing. Then I'll be offline the rest of the week. So, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate, and a fun, festive time to all!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Presents

I ran some necessary errands (library!) this morning, so I am now ready to have peace and quiet until Christmas Eve services tomorrow night. That was one unexpected benefit of switching around my holiday travel schedule. Usually, things get really quiet in the last couple of days before Christmas. There are no more parties and most people are either busy or out of town, so that gives me a couple of quiet, unscheduled days that I can use to prepare for the holiday. I always felt so rushed when I went to my parents' house before Christmas Eve because I was usually going straight from a stretch of parties and activities with no time to settle down. Now there's some laundry, packing and gift wrapping to be done, but then I also have time to read, write, and do some contemplation to get refocused and remember that this is actually a religious holiday. I'm hoping to do most of the physical preparation today so tomorrow can be focused more on the spiritual side, leading up to the two church services.

I made pretty good progress on the script on Friday but now have to do some backtracking and tinkering. I hope to get a bit more done today before I settle in for the pre-Christmas Eve viewing of The Holiday and maybe something else.

Now, for a Christmas post. I think today I'll discuss gifts. It's hard to pick one favorite gift ever because that seems to change over the years, but I do have one that's almost like something out of one of those cheesy holiday movies, where the adult finally gets something he/she wanted but didn't get as a child. Only usually that person is a Scrooge sort whose heart grows three sizes when he gets that present, and not getting that present was what turned him into a Scrooge. In my case, it was just a delayed acknowledgement of a childhood dream. I've always been fascinated by pianos. I had a little toy one, and I taught myself to read music and to play some songs. My friends and a cousin took piano lessons, and I desperately wanted that. When I was at their houses, I'd get out their piano books and work through some of their lessons. I begged for a piano and lessons, but that was before you could get electronic pianos, and we moved every few years, which isn't something that goes well with owning a piano. I did get to learn an instrument when it came time for junior high band, but a flute is not a piano (though it is more portable). Then when I was in my twenties, my parents gave me an electronic keyboard with piano-sized keys. I finally had my piano. Not that I've really learned to play it. Learning the flute first actually made that more difficult because I only learned to read the treble clef and play one note at a time, and it's a huge mental and physical adjustment to play with both hands. My brain is looking at the music and saying it's easy while my hands are tangling in knots. I can, however, find all the notes, and I can work out my choir music. It would help if I practiced more and put some work into it, but now I'm at the point where I have only myself to blame and can't really blame my parents (though this wouldn't be an issue if I'd had piano lessons starting when I was about six, when I started begging).

I had one other gift that was also like something from a cheesy Christmas movie. That came when I was in first grade. There was a girl in my class who was a bit odd. I'm not sure exactly what was odd about her (looking back as an adult who might be able to figure it out), but she was from a very poor family, and I'm not sure she spoke English very well. She was the kid the other kids shunned, but since I tend to be oblivious to those sorts of things, I didn't realize I was supposed to be avoiding her. When I had leftover food on my lunch tray and she wanted it, I let her have it. I had no idea that she was hungry (some of this I learned later via my parents, who got it from the teacher). For Christmas, they did the kind of gift exchange where everyone brings a generic wrapped gift in a certain price range, they put numbers on each one, and then each person draws a number and gets that gift. This girl brought a gift but refused to put it in for the gift exchange. She wanted to give it to me, and there was a meltdown involved before she was finally allowed to do so. The gift was a tie clip for a 1970s necktie, so it was pretty wide, and it had a dangling pendant-type jewel hanging from it (in a color that happens to be my birthstone). It was probably scavenged from her dad, but I thought it was beautiful and wore it as a pin (and I still think it's lovely -- I should dig it out and find a way to wear it). Being oblivious, I had no idea at the time why she wanted me to have it and wasn't willing to put it in the gift exchange, but my parents later explained that it was because I'd been nice to her and shared my food with her. I didn't even do that to be nice. It had just seemed logical, so I felt a little guilty that she took it as kindness. The lesson learned was that you have no idea what your actions will mean to someone else, and something you don't even think about may make a big difference for them.

As for the worst gift, that, hands-down, has to go to a guy I dated very briefly. A friend had set us up, mostly because I liked to dance and he was a ballroom dancer (though he was hard to dance with because he was used to doing choreographed stuff). We went out to a movie right before Thanksgiving and went dancing once after Thanksgiving, and then we met up for a movie and he wanted to come to my place afterward to give me my present. That sent up the warning signs and I said my house wasn't fit for company because I'd been baking. So we arranged to have dinner that week. I went frantically shopping for a gift because I hadn't thought we'd been dating long enough for that. I had no idea what to get him because I didn't know him that well. His gift for me turned out to be this hideous Frederick's of Hollywood thing. I don't even know how to describe it other than that it involved velvet and lace and there was no practical purpose for this garment. It wasn't something you would wear to sleep in, and it couldn't really be worn under clothes. I suppose it was to be worn to pose in and then remove, but it wasn't the sort of thing you could even remove easily. It was like an extra-long sports bra with a lot of lace. I don't think I reacted the way he expected because he then claimed it was a joke, that he'd just wanted to see my reaction when I opened it. It was a gift that had nothing to do with me or who I was, and it was more a gift for him than for me, even if it was true that it was just for a joke, because it was a joke for his amusement at my expense. Needless to say, the relationship didn't last long, though that wasn't really the final straw (I was young and foolish and accepted his apology). The final straw came a few weeks later when he accused me of avoiding him because I didn't want to go out on a date when I had a sinus infection and was on my second round of antibiotics and taking decongestants that kept me from sleeping, so I was exhausted, in pain and feeling lousy (but no, it was all about him). He's on my list of reasons I'm still single. That's the kind of guy who makes a convent start to look good.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Traditions

I didn't get any writing done yesterday because I took a day off. It was supposed to be a hiking day because it was nice and warm, but it was also very, very windy. At times, I had trouble staying on my feet. The air was also kind of nasty because the high winds were whipping around all that sand and salt grit that's still on the roads after the ice storm. So, we went to see Frozen instead, and even splurged on the 3D, which was the right choice as they did a really nice job with the 3D. They didn't rely on the cheap tricks of things coming out of the screen at you. It was more about adding depth and texture -- it made the snow look so fluffy you felt like you could reach out and make a snowball, and the ice looked truly slick. The constantly falling snowflakes extended out into the theater and fell all around. The story definitely poked at the more traditional Disney princess stories, even snarking about the idea of falling in love and planning to marry someone you've only just met -- which was the height of romance in the earlier movies. The music was also good, but that was where my one complaint lies. I've seen reviews calling this essentially a Broadway musical, but it really isn't. It's still a Disney musical, in which we get an early song in which the heroines outline their dreams and then the rest is mostly fun/silly songs from the comic-relief characters. No big closing number, as they totally gave up on music toward the end. This one didn't even have a good romantic duet, though that had something to do with the story structure and would have been difficult with this plot. But that's where they could have used a trick from Broadway, the hypothetical love song, which allows the man and woman to sing a romantic duet early in the show, before they've fallen in love. The most obvious example is "If I Loved You" from Carousel. This couple was made for that, with their dispute on how long it takes to fall in love for real. She could have sung verses about knowing in an instant, and he could have sung verses about things discovered along the way after knowing someone a while. I guess I'm just irked that they had a leading man with a lovely voice, and the only singing he got to do was a short comic song, with no duets with either heroine.

Oh, and after we finally had a curly-haired princess in Brave, we have Norwegian (well, a fictional Norway-like kingdom) princesses here. I actually feel represented!

And then it was time for the annual visit to the town that calls itself The Christmas Capital of Texas. It looks like the towns in those made-for-TV Christmas movies often look, as one forum poster said, "like Christmas threw up all over town." Lots of lights, music being piped in along Main Street, a big animated light show in the park with the gazebo, North Pole Express trains pulling into the railway depot, you get the idea.

That brings me to a topic for today's seasonal post: traditions. While I probably fall more to the traditional side of things -- I'm not exactly a pink feather tree, Thai food for Christmas dinner and hip-hop versions of Christmas songs kind of gal -- I don't have a lot of real traditions. There isn't anything my family has to do every year because we do it every year. In fact, within the past five or so years, we've changed just about everything about how we do Christmas. We agreed that we don't really like turkey that much, so we started doing Christmas ham. I've started staying here for Christmas Eve and driving over to my parents' house on Christmas morning, so now we have Christmas dinner and then open presents in the afternoon, and then we watch Doctor Who at night.

I've made a few things kind of traditional since changing things, like I usually spend the evening before Christmas Eve watching The Holiday and other holiday movies, then I make pecan waffles on Christmas Eve morning so I have something to reheat quickly for Christmas morning, and I drive home from church on Christmas Eve via a certain route to maximize light viewing. But those things fall more into the category of "I liked it when I did it last year, so I think I'll do it again this year" than into being a tradition.

A friend and I have made a habit of visiting this one little town to see the lights every year, but that's because it's really cool. I like the overall atmosphere, he likes analyzing the animated light show, and there are good places to eat in town. If a year comes up when we can't fit it into our schedules or we're not in the mood, I won't feel like Christmas is ruined.

I suspect a lot of this comes from coming from a military family. When you move every few years, it's hard to maintain a lot of traditions because you may not be able to do the same things in each location. The climate is different, the things available are different, the houses are different. Christmas in Germany was different from Christmas in Oklahoma, and Christmas in El Paso was different from either of those. You just find things in each location that work and that seem like fun, and if you're able to carry them over to the next place, then great, and if you can't, you find new things. It would have been difficult to maintain the tradition of hiking up the hill to the castle in El Paso or in a small town in East Texas.

Now today I plan to do significant work on the screenplay. I may make another batch of cookies. Tonight, some "research" by watching TV movies while knitting. For the weekend, I think Saturday will be more TV movies while doing a bit of a spa day in preparation for a party at night. Sunday we're singing the Christmas portions of Messiah for both services, which means a Sunday-afternoon collapse.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Seasonal Books

I discovered yesterday that there's a key difference between screenwriting and novel writing. In screenwriting, you can't use summary to skip ahead. Once you start a scene, you're committed to showing everything that happens until the scene ends. You can sometimes use montage to telescope multiple scenes, but you can't really skip from the start of a scene to the end. This came up in the turning point scene in this story, where the heroine has the opportunity to speak up and get herself put on a new account team that will advance her career while also getting in the way of her music career. In one life, she realizes that she can't commit to this, so she remains silent, gets given a different, lesser assignment and realizes she'll never get ahead. But after having that "nightmare," she speaks up and gets on the team, which moves her up in the world while also creating friction with her bandmates. I'd planned this to happen at a staff meeting. The key things happening would be the boss laying out the opportunity, the heroine starting to speak up but hesitating, her rival jumping in, and the boss giving the rival the assignment. In a novel, I'd have put in a sentence after the rival spoke up to the effect of "other people offered their ideas, then the boss paused for a moment to consider" before the boss gave the assignment. In a script, I couldn't do that. I had to show the whole meeting. But I hate sitting through meetings in real life. Putting a whole meeting in a script early in the story would be the kiss of death. And yet it seems weird to have the staff in the conference room for a meeting, then end it after one person speaks up. I rewrote the scene so that the heroine is rushing in late to work, still in her coat, when she's waylaid by her rival, who snarks about the lateness, and then the boss comes up in a "oh, there you are, just the people I'm looking for" way, presents the opportunity, the rival speaks up, and she gets the job. With just those people present, I don't have to worry about whether other people should be talking and I can keep the scene short.

Now, for a holiday post. Every year, I talk about my struggle to find Christmassy reading materials. This goes back to something that started accidentally. In my first year to be freelancing, I joked about how I needed to have an office party. At the med school, our office party had been a nice lunch outing. At PR agencies, it was mandatory "fun" in which we had to go out to some place on a Friday or Saturday night, being thanked and "rewarded" by having to give up our free time, which I always hated because those parties were seldom really fun. I decided that I would take an afternoon to put on Christmas music, have hot cocoa and cookies, and read something just for fun, and that would be my office party. I bought a new book just for the occasion. I hadn't planned it this way, but the book turned out to take place at Christmas time. It wasn't marketed as a "Christmas" book. It was just a book that happened to be set against that backdrop. I enjoyed that so much that I set out to try to repeat the experience, only it's very hard to find books like that. I'm not really a fan of romance novels, let alone the (usually trying too hard) designated Christmas romances. I don't want Christmas to be a central theme, just part of the setting. I guess you could say I want something like The Holiday in book form. It could have taken place at any time, but putting it at Christmas added some conflict and atmosphere.

That first book I found was A Promising Man by Elizabeth Young and was about a woman who meets what seems like the perfect man, until she learns that he might be the new boyfriend of her high school nemesis. Does that "don't steal your friends' boyfriends" thing apply to people who tormented you but now stay in touch as frenemies? The heroine and the guy meet when she's out Christmas shopping, then she's planning an "orphans" Christmas in the city with her roommates and other friends, since her parents are going to be out of the country, but then everyone else gets other plans and she ends up going with the guy to his family's dinner. We get London shopping and an English village. Yay!

I've been less successful since then. When I've found books that seem to be set at the right time of year, the authors have the nasty habit of skipping past Christmas entirely. Or there's something else about the book that annoys me.

Some others that have worked:
The Rose Revived by Katie Fforde -- there's an extended sequence in which one of the three heroines helps a guy who inherited his family's farm (and it's practically medieval farmhouse) get ready to host his extended family for Christmas, though the book takes place over a longer span of time.

Life Skills also by Katie Fforde has some pivotal scenes taking place at Christmas (and bonus, at Oxford, so I can easily visualize it), but there are some things that irk me enough that it doesn't entirely work as a Christmas book.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos is beautifully atmospheric and seasonal, but has some sad, depressing stuff, too, and it makes me cry, so it takes the proper mood.

Bridget Jones's Diary can also work because it has some pivotal holiday moments.

It's a lot harder to check for seasonality when I have no local bookstores and can't flip through a few pages to see when a book takes place, and the library's selection is rather random.

I do re-read A Christmas Carol and the Christmas section of The Wind in the Willows every so often.

Connie Willis has some good Christmas material in some of her novels. The Christmas portions of Doomsday Book are lovely, but the rest of the book gets pretty grim. There are also some nice Christmas bits in the Blackout/All Clear two-parter, but again, there's a lot of other stuff that doesn't quite fit the mood. Her short story collection, Miracle makes for good seasonal reading. I particularly like the story about Dickens' ghosts getting seasonal jobs at a bookstore.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Movies

After a shopping excursion this morning, I should now be totally done with my Christmas shopping and my pre-Christmas grocery needs (aside from some fresh produce that I'll get tonight on the way to choir). I also got a little self-indulgent, but I hadn't yet really spent last year's Christmas money, so you could say it's finishing up last year's Christmas shopping. They had some fun gift packs of the makeup I use, and those are good for getting travel sizes of things. I also got another pair of those yummy pajamas. Now I have a pair to wear when I'm forced to take the other pair off to wash them.

I started writing my script yesterday. In about an hour's worth of work, I managed five pages (two scenes), though a lot of that time was spent trying to convince Word to let me format it the way I needed to. I imagine I'll need to find a dedicated screenplay program if I decide to really do this on a more regular basis. It's definitely a mental shift from novel writing because you can't write anything that doesn't show on the screen, and that means no thoughts. I have to find a way to dramatize everything.

Some of my writer friends are doing a series of Christmas-related blog posts, and I figure I might as well play along. Since I'm talking about my Christmas movie, I'll start with my favorite seasonal movies.

When it comes to the made-for-TV movies of the sort I'm writing, I have two major favorites that I can rewatch multiple times, and I still like them. They fall into the "I want to write something like this!" category (as opposed to a lot of the other ones, which fall into the "I could do better than this" category). Most of the rest of these movies I watch either to snark at or to be amused by seeing actors who are more familiar from various science fiction shows in entirely different roles.

One is The Christmas List and is from sometime in the mid-90s on the Family Channel. It's about a woman in her late 30s who, on a whim, writes out a Christmas wish list. When her co-worker at a department store puts the list into Santa's mailbox in the store display, the wishes start coming true in unexpected (and not always pleasant) ways. The thing I like about this one is that although there's a hint of magic in how this works, once the magic kicks things off, the heroine gains the confidence to start going for things on her own, and the magic isn't even necessary anymore. Now that she's admitted to herself what she wants, she goes after it. There is a romance, but it's more of a byproduct than a goal, and she has to learn to be confident in herself first. One of the best scenes comes when she's wished to go to this fancy restaurant she's always wanted to go to, and her boyfriend won't take her there because it's a waste of money. After she dumps the boyfriend, she gets dressed up, goes on her own, gets treated like a queen by the staff and has a wonderful time.

The other is an ABC Family movie from a couple of years ago, The 12 Dates of Christmas, a Christmas take on the Groundhog Day story, in which a woman finds herself reliving the same Christmas Eve twelve times. In each iteration, she has a blind date that she starts out resenting because she's not yet over her ex-boyfriend, but by the end of the cycle she's fallen in love with the guy. Along the way she's started noticing all the other people in her life and learns to appreciate them more and do the things that they need. This one is refreshing because there's no "villain." The ex is a decent guy, his new girlfriend isn't a harpy, and he had a good reason for breaking up with the heroine. The heroine doesn't need to be reformed so much as taught a few minor lessons. She's no Scrooge, just someone who's been too tied to her own plans for her life to really consider other people. It's fun, funny, and gives me the warm fuzzies.

On the big screen, The Holiday may be my favorite. That's the one in which a depressed British journalist and a stressed movie trailer producer swap homes for the holidays, so the movie trailer producer winds up in a quaint cottage in a tiny English village, where she meets her hostess's handsome brother, and the journalist ends up in a Hollywood mansion, where she learns some lessons about gumption from an elderly screenwriter. I think the main reason I love this movie is that a quaint cottage in an English village and a pile of books would pretty much be my dream vacation if I wanted to get away from it all and relax. But I also like the character arcs and the romances, and it's another movie that gives me the warm fuzzies. More movies like this, please.

Another favorite is the classic Christmas in Connecticut, the original, not the remake, in which a single woman who writes a Martha Stewart-style magazine column has to improvise when her publisher invites a returning war hero to spend Christmas at the Connecticut farm she writes about in her column as a publicity stunt. She quickly has to come up with a farm, a husband, a baby, and home-cooked meals (when she can't cook), and then regrets the husband part when she meets the war hero. I kind of want to write an inverse version of this, in which a homebody who writes a Sex and the City-type column has someone want to join her for her glamorous Christmas-in-the-city life.

My favorite version of A Christmas Carol is either the musical Scrooge or the Muppets version.

There's been some controversy over Love Actually lately, with a columnist talking about how awful it is. I love it, but I have to be in a certain mood to watch it, so I don't watch it every year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Strife Without Misunderstanding

Yesterday, I laid out the scenes for my holiday movie. Last week, I bought a foam-core posterboard, and then I used Post-It index cards to write out the various scenes and lay them out. I have a few that still need fleshing out, but I do have a sense of the structure. I may start actually writing today because I've generally found that those later scenes fill themselves in with details once I have the details from the earlier scenes.

I've decided that the first day that my heroine experiences before waking up and finding herself reliving the same day will have a lot of common nightmare elements so it will make sense for her to wake up and think it was all just a dream. Fortunately (or not, I suppose), my subconscious has been generous in providing those to me. My main recurring nightmare, with only the details changed, is being on my way to somewhere I need to be, only to realize I forgot something like the information about exactly where I need to go, so I have to go back and get it, and then when finally heading to the right place, all kinds of obstacles appear. So she'll be rushing to a music gig after work, only to realize she left the information behind at the office, so she has to go back, where she gets caught, and then she has other things getting in her way before she finally makes it. Last night, I had a nightmare in which I was singing with the choir and then realized that I was singing a totally different song from the rest of the choir. So that may have to happen. I once had a nightmare the night before I was singing with a quartet that we were supposed to have worn Victorian attire and I didn't get the memo (resulting in a frantic rush home to get the right clothes, and cue that recurring nightmare), so perhaps she'll show up with the wrong costume for the gig.

For the day job side of things, I've decided to go the "write what you know" route and have her working for a public relations agency. That way, I can provide a lot of realistic detail. The company I worked for was headquartered in New York, and I visited their offices, so I can depict the more "big city" version. It's a career that tends to draw creative people, so it might be a good fallback for a singer. Although there's a lot of visually boring stuff, like spending the day writing e-mails and news releases, there's also active stuff like going to client offices, touring locations you'll be promoting, meeting and interviewing people to get information for news releases and putting on events and press conferences. There's even a hint of glamour occasionally, and you sometimes get to meet famous people. But it can be very demanding. Getting ahead in a big agency requires putting in a lot of time and energy. On the other hand, it is a job you can do as a freelancer to help pay the bills while you work on something else, once you've built up a reputation by working at a big firm. And PR skills are good to have if you're promoting yourself in some artistic endeavor, so it's not like time in that job is a total waste for a creative person. My heroine will still have some ways to earn money while she builds the music career, and she can apply her PR skills to promoting the group.

I do know that there will be no Dreaded Misunderstandings. I figure that most of the conflict will come from being torn between lives, so within each life there won't be a lot of romantic strife. The guy in the life that turns out to be wrong will realize that her heart isn't really in it, which will tear them apart, but once she gets together with the guy in the right life, things will be okay. Her real problem there will be when she gets to the point where she knows that's right for her, but she keeps waking up in that other life where she doesn't know him.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Horrible Endings

I survived my crazy weekend and now kind of want to hibernate today, but I have to make a trip to the post office (there ended up being a question about something I needed to mail, so I didn't make it Friday), and I'm out of tea (well, the kind I drink daily), which gives me an incentive to really make it to the post office this time, since the Indian market is across the street from it.

My kids did okay singing in church. They didn't make much sound, but they didn't do anything other than sing, which I count as a win, considering the antics they were up to in the choir room earlier. I made some dire threats about giving full reports to parents, so I think they were scared stiff.

I watched a non-holiday movie Saturday night since Jack the Giant Slayer was on HBO. I'd kind of wanted to see that in the theater but never got around to it. I would classify it as a potentially good movie trapped in a bunch of CGI. They had a really good cast and some interesting characters, so if they'd devoted even a fraction of the attention they gave the effects to the script, they might have really had something. Instead, they seemed to use the fact that they could do all kinds of effects to create giants as a crutch and relied on spectacle instead of story. There were some wonderful moments in which we almost seemed to be getting to know the characters, and then they'd dart off into yet another set piece. Note to filmmakers: In order for us to care that the characters might get stomped by giants, we have to know enough about them to care about them, and that takes more than telling us a few things to tick off the "create memorable characters" checklist from your "How to Write a Screenplay" book. This movie very much had the feel of a story written to formula, like they had a screenplay book open in front of them while writing and went through each step without really understanding the "why" behind the steps. And then they undermined what I thought was a really cool twist at the ending by apparently not realizing they'd created a really cool twist. Then they added an entirely unnecessary epilogue.

But that didn't annoy me as much as the book I stayed up way too late Friday night finishing (somehow, a bad ending is even worse when you stay up too late to get to the ending because you don't want to stop reading with just a few pages to go). I was already irked because it had seemed to be a Christmas-set book and then it skipped Christmas. Then the plot hinged on the Dreaded Misunderstanding. The thing I hate about the Dreaded Misunderstanding isn't so much the misunderstanding itself, but the aftermath, in which everything is okay after the real truth is revealed and they realize it was a misunderstanding. I always wonder why you'd want to be with someone who's willing to leap to the worst possible conclusion about you. In this case, if the guy I was seeing listened to someone with an obvious agenda and, with no evidence whatsoever, believed that I was a double-crosser trying to cheat his grandmother out of her money, all would not be okay once he learned that this person had been lying to him. If he was able to consider me being that kind of person, I wouldn't want to speak to him again. Even worse, the grand romantic gesture to make it up to her was something that would have had me calling the cops, not swooning. At any time, I'd have wanted to hurl the book against the wall. After midnight, it was worse. And I'd loved the beginning of the book.

I may resort to re-reading for the rest of the month because then I'll know what I'm getting.

And now I have been reminded that endings are important. Screw them up, and you lose whatever goodwill you built earlier in the story.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gifts and Holiday-Set Books

The last of my ice should be gone today (after a week!) because it was above freezing all night and it's been raining this morning. Actually, I thought it was raining hard when I opened my front door to get my newspaper, but then it didn't seem to be raining on my patio. The "rain" was run-off from the roof, which slants to the front, while the patio is on the side. And now they're forecasting another round for next weekend …

I was so worried about having gifts for my teen helpers in choir that it didn't occur to me until last night that this was the first year I've been doing this that I didn't get anything from any of the parents or kids. Usually I get at least one hand-drawn "card" done by a kid and maybe a bag of goodies or a Christmas ornament from a parent, presented by the child. None of the parents even spoke to me this week, aside from the one who helps me. While Problem Child was a problem, he did ask to hold my hand when we walked back from the sanctuary to our classroom after practicing, which was a nice "Awwww, maybe I won't kill him" moment. Then I made another kid cry. We were killing time by letting them sing their favorite Christmas songs (we said if they worked on the song we're doing in church, they could do this). He requested "Jingle Bell Rock," and I went totally blank on it. I said I didn't know it well enough to sing it, and next thing I knew, he was crying in a corner because we didn't do his song. A few hugs, a demonstration that I really didn't know it (I was getting it merged with "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," which must be banned immediately), and letting him pick a different song, and he was fine. But if someone had given me goodies, I might have inhaled them all immediately after that session. The church is sending me to a workshop for choir leaders next month, so we'll see if I can pick up any tips. There are classes for preschool and early elementary, and they said that as a choir member, I can also go to any adult choir sessions that look interesting and that aren't opposite children's things.

Today's exciting plans: I have to get to the post office to mail something (hopefully the automated machine will be working and I won't be in line behind someone who can't figure out how to work it), then over to the Indian market for tea. I have a batch of cookies to bake. Then tonight I have a TV dilemma. There are two hours of Grimm, the last hour of which is opposite the season finale of Haven. Since they repeat Haven at 11, I think I'll watch Grimm, then catch the late Haven repeat. I may record Haven, but I'd rather watch it in HD, so it's worth waiting. Alexis Denisof from Angel (still probably the most gorgeous man I've ever seen in my life -- he really doesn't photograph well, which tells you how gorgeous he really is) is joining Grimm in one of the episodes tonight, after a one-line voice cameo last week, and it sounds like he's being British again, which is quite a relief because he's the odd American actor who doesn't act as well with an American accent. I'm a little worried about Haven because apparently there's going to be a huge cliffhanger and the show hasn't been renewed yet. If you've got a Nielsen box, turn your TV to SyFy tonight. Or Tweet about it, or something.

I've also had my annual struggle to find seasonal reading. I don't really want Christmas-themed books, just some fun books that happen to be set around the Christmas season. I thought I'd found one when the latest in my library by an author I like mentioned on the flap that it was about an Englishwoman who spent Thanksgiving in New York with a friend, and then a few weeks later someone she met in New York comes to England. To me "a few weeks later" after Thanksgiving means Christmas, so I assumed that meant the guy would be in her picturesque Cotswolds village for the holiday itself. Unfortunately, the book ended up skipping past Christmas itself, with the visit coming in early January. So, not a Christmassy book at all.

But hey, I'm writing my own story this year. Now off to get things ready for the post office.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lair of the Ice Witch

I finally left the house yesterday. The roads are mostly clear, though the bridges are still a bit messy. There was still enough ice on grassy areas that it looked like we'd received a light dusting of snow. Strangely, the immediate area around my house seemed to be the iciest I noticed in my neighborhood or in any area I passed on my way to the church. My roof is still white with ice, as is my lawn, and my hedges are still encased in solid ice. It's a stark contrast even to my next-door neighbors. It looks like something out of a story, where either I'm the Ice Witch who keeps my house that way or I've been cursed by the Ice Witch to live in winter forever. Ooh, story idea … It's actually probably because mine is the house facing mostly north and east, so I only get direct sunlight while it's still below freezing in the morning. And I don't keep my furnace blasting. Instead, I dress warmly and keep a portable radiator by my desk. It seems silly to heat the whole house to 70 or so (a challenge with my high ceilings) when I'm just in one spot. I suppose over the weekend when we had seriously sub-freezing temperatures, a three-inch thick slab of ice on the roof might even have counted as insulation, like an igloo.

I survived my last children's choir of the year. Now I get a few weeks to recover, aside from directing them Sunday morning. That's going to be interesting. When we were practicing last night, their attention span faded midway through the song. I could see them zoning out. They remember the words. They just stop caring and get sidetracked. The boys were particularly crazy. While we were practicing in the sanctuary, one of the moms from last year's group was there to watch her daughter's choir practice, and she commented as an aside to me, in a resigned-sounding voice, "I suppose you're not allowed to beat them." I got desperate enough to invent an invisible Elf on the Shelf who came with me to choir to report on their behavior (they'd all already told me about what their elves were up to). And after all the stress of picking out gifts for my teen helpers, they didn't show up.

Now, back to my holiday movie … the heroine's main issue, having to choose between a promising music career and the security of her day job, is one of those "write what you know" things because I reached a point where I had to admit that while I was focusing my mental and emotional energy on writing, I probably wasn't going to be a rising star at my day job, and if I did put in the time and energy on the day job that I'd need to really get ahead, my writing wouldn't go anywhere. I realized that I was being supervised by people who were younger than I was and who had less work experience. I needed to pick one and accept the consequences. But writing as a second career has fewer stakes because you can fit it in around the edges if you're willing to give up other stuff. Also, writing isn't very cinematic. You don't get a lot of interesting scenes out of someone sitting around, staring at a computer screen.

Then I saw this video posted on Facebook, about an a capella group that was stranded at DFW Airport by the ice storm and how they ended up entertaining the other people stranded there (this also was shown on our local news):

That gave me something of an epiphany because I know one of these guys. He's the husband of my agent's former assistant, now associate, and he once came with her to a convention where I was also a panelist. As two singers, we got into a conversation about his career. I thought my heroine could be part of a group like this, which raises the career choice stakes even higher because others are depending on her, and her clinging to security might be holding them back from taking advantage of opportunities. December is a busy season for this group, since in addition to concerts they get hired to do a lot of private parties, corporate functions, etc., and that fits into a holiday movie. I also know of a local group that does a capella caroling in Victorian attire, and if you can do the fancier vocal band stuff, four-part caroling harmony is a breeze, so I thought it would be fun to make it a group that does a variety of things, with costumes to go with it -- Victorian caroling, madrigals in medieval garb, Manhattan Transfer-style jazz in slinky cocktail attire, etc. Then there's potential for humor/stress in having to remember which outfit goes with which gig, changing into elaborate costumes on the fly, and then maybe even worrying about being seen in a hoop skirt by work colleagues. It makes the double life more visual. Their goal would be to make it as a vocal jazz group, but the other stuff helps pay the bills along the way.

On a more commercial level, with stuff like Pitch Perfect, Glee and The Sing-Off, this kind of music has become trendy, which is a hook for a movie. I've also noticed that the female stars of these kinds of movies are often child, tween or teen stars from 10-20 years ago -- often either would-be Broadway babies who got sitcom deals or Disney Channel stars obligated to record music for Radio Disney -- or singers branching out into acting. I figure a role like this would make a good vehicle for a B-C list starlet looking to revive her career as an adult and eager to show off her years of voice lessons or for a former American Idol finalist trying to get into acting.

Now for a little more fun, here's a Christmas song this group did last year. Listen carefully, it may sound familiar (and this may be the only version of this song that's remotely tolerable):

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


The thaw seems to have begun in earnest. It's already above 40 degrees, according to the thermometer on my patio. I can see patches of grass under and around the shrinking sheet of ice. I skipped ballet last night because there was still a stubborn ice patch right in front of my garage and a lot of standing water, and it was already below freezing at the time I would have left for class, so by the time I came home, things could have become slick. Today, though, I should be able to make it to choir and be home before it freezes up again. I have a couple of errands to run this afternoon, too. Wow, leaving the house. What a concept!

Now if I can just fight off this lurking cold/allergies that seems to be threatening to attack right before my Crazy Holiday Weekend (it shouldn't be a cold because I haven't been around people in a week). I have a choir rehearsal in the late morning/early afternoon, then my fan group's annual holiday meeting and auction. Sunday morning, my kids are singing in the early service (assuming they even remember the song at tonight's rehearsal), then I'm singing with the choir in the late service, and then that night is the Christmas concert. Meanwhile, there's the postponed cookie swap/sale, so I have to bake some cookies, and I need to do some baking for the meeting.

I'm going through all my screenwriting books as I work on this movie idea, and I think this will be a good exercise to help me in novel plotting, as well. With a screenplay, much of the work is done before you actually start writing because the structure is key. The dialogue can change even while shooting, but it's the flow of scenes that really matters, so there's a lot of work in arranging and rearranging the scenes and beats of the story before you start putting it in screenplay format with words. This is where things like notecards pinned to a board come along. I have a lot of the plot worked out, but now I need to really develop the characters in more detail. I have a sense of them and see them vividly in my head, but not yet in a way I can put into words to convey what's in my head, if that makes sense at all.

Several of the screenwriting gurus say you should run your story ideas by people to see if your concepts work. That goes against my nature because I'm more prone to hiding in my cave and producing something, then presenting it as a finished product. Also, at this stage of my career I need to avoid spoiling my own work. But since the odds of this ever hitting the screen are slim, and if it does, it likely will be altered significantly after it leaves my hands, here's the "logline" of the concept for my TV holiday movie idea (deep breath):

A woman torn between her promising music career and the security of her day job finds herself experiencing both possibilities when she lives the days leading up to Christmas twice. The working title is Twice Upon a Christmas.

There might be a better way of phrasing/explaining the situation, but the way it happens is that she lives a day where she lets music take priority, goes to bed, then wakes up and it's the same day, but she makes her day job career a priority. The next time she wakes up, it's the next day, but she's back in the reality where she made music a priority. She seems to be living one life and dreaming the other, but she isn't sure which is the dream and which is the reality -- and for a while, she's not sure which she wants to be the reality.

I started out planning to do a Sliding Doors kind of thing, since they seem to like paranormal twists and Groundhog Day has been done to death, and they like ripping off familiar plot structures. But then this weekend I watched one that already used the Sliding Doors thing, and there was some Television Without Pity discussion about how that worked to pick the reality she'd follow. In the original Sliding Doors, she died in one reality, so the timeline only continued with the other, but obviously you don't want to do that in a heartwarming Christmas movie, but they don't seem to have thought that through and figured out how it resolved. But I wanted it to be more about a choice than a twist of fate like whether or not someone caught a plane or train. And if it was about choice, then she'd need to be aware of both sides to know what she wanted. Then I remembered a TV series that was on a couple of years ago in which a cop seemed to be living a life in which his son died in an accident and his wife survived and dreaming a life in which his son survived and his wife died -- or was it the other way around? He was living both lives, but didn't know which one was real. The cases he was working on overlapped between lives, and sometimes he'd learn something in one life that he'd use to solve the case in the other life, but then he had a hard time explaining how he got the information. That was dark and tragic, but I thought it would be a fun premise for a "learning a valuable lesson" romantic comedy.

Tomorrow: More about the thinking behind the premise.

So, what do you think of the basic concept?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Movie in My Mind

I got a lot of work done yesterday on my movie, and I was having enough fun with it that I worked fairly late into the night because details just kept filling in. I've got a pretty good outline/summary of the whole story, with some detailed scenes, and then more details keep filling themselves in along the way. I stayed in bed latish this morning because a couple of scenes were getting more detailed in my head, and I figured I might as well be warm and comfortable while I brainstormed.

I know I say this about a lot of the stuff I write, but I'm loving this story. Working on it is like getting to watch my favorite holiday movie over and over again, but a little bit different every time. I started out saying I was doing this just to have done it, but now I really want to see this produced. I have a few Hollywood contacts, so I suppose I'm a little ahead of your average aspiring screenwriter, but this will be a whole new realm for me. Of course, I have to actually write the script first. The ideas are the fun part. Putting it into words in the right structure and format will be more challenging.

In other news, the ice has started to thaw. We were above freezing for much of the day yesterday, but then got a hard freeze overnight. Today the sun is out, which should help a lot once it warms up. There's still a lot of ice on the roofs, some of it melting (and then refreezing into icicles) and some of it sliding off in huge sheets. Any vehicle that was outside when this hit has sheets of ice on it, which seems to be a road hazard with big trucks when the sheets come flying off on the road. That just happened on the road behind my house that my office window overlooks. A truck stopped and the ice on top didn't. The ballet school is open tonight, but I may or may not venture out, depending on how close it is to freezing and how much has melted.

See the daggers of ice created by yesterday's melting and refreezing. You can also see how thick the ice is on the roof.

I really need to get out tomorrow because I have the last children's choir rehearsal of the year, and they're singing Sunday. I also need to find a gift for one of my teen helpers. One of them was easy because I know what she's a fan of. The other is more of a challenge because he's a boy, and the usual fancy soap/bubble bath type generic token gift doesn't work so well there. The situation reminds me of something Connie Willis has said about character development, that she doesn't bother with all those questionnaires about favorite colors, favorite food, etc., because what really matters is what the person does. I've been with this kid while navigating whitewater rapids and have seen him dealing with a difficult child, so I feel like I know the kind of person he is, but I don't know much about him. I was thinking of just bringing some cookies, but then I don't know where he stands on stuff like gluten, veganism, sugar, etc. And I'm not even sure he'll be there because he kind of stopped coming for a while, so it would be nice if it's not something totally useless if I get stuck with it. So, any suggestions for a token thank-you kind of gift in the $10 range for a teenage boy you don't really know anything about other than that he's very cool under pressure and quite brave while still being fairly compassionate and maybe a little awkward?

Monday, December 09, 2013

Out of the Ice Age

I spent the weekend iced in, with all my plans and activities cancelled. They even cancelled church services, since the parking lot was an ice rink. We got above freezing for a few hours yesterday, and it's just above freezing now, so there should be more clearing today. The danger is that it will re-freeze overnight while everything is still wet. All the schools around here are closed today, probably more because of the parking lots and sidewalks than because of roads. Three to four inches of solid ice is hard to clear, and there are problems with sheets of ice sliding off roofs (it makes an interesting sound when a patch of ice goes from my roof). Right now, my front walk and driveway seem to be clear, and the major roads are clear. I could get out if I wanted to, but I don't really need to. It's days like today when I'm really glad that I work at home. Most employers would expect people to come to work today, and it's nice to not have to. I did finally get out of the new plush pajamas today. They're in the wash right now. Next time I venture out, I'm heading back to TJ Maxx and buying every pair they have in my size, and then I will live in them all winter long. They're that soft and snuggly.

However, I will be working today because that holiday screenplay idea really started shaping up in my head over the weekend. That could be because I spent the weekend binging on made-for-TV Christmas movies, both some favorites and some really lame ones. Normally when I do something like that and say "It counts as work!" I'm semi joking, but this really did end up being helpful. My binge gave me a sense of what works and what doesn't, what the "rules" seem to be, and what I like and don't like. From there, I started getting images of scenes in my head, and then plot lines started working out, and I got a sense of some of the characters. Now I've got the opening three or four scenes playing out, with simultaneous mental narration in screenplay format. I may start writing a treatment today, or at least writing down the stuff I know and figuring out more of it.

The one potential problem with this story is that it's the kind of thing that might be hard to put into novel form if the screenplay thing doesn't go anywhere. It requires some visual cues, and I can't quite think of how to do it in prose form. I guess that's a sign that this is a good screenplay idea, if I can't figure out how to novelize it and I  find myself thinking in screenplay form instead of in narrative.

Other things I accomplished over the weekend include knitting most of a hat (after learning to knit in the round), getting my Christmas decorations up, and doing a fair amount of cooking. I still have ingredients for several cold-weather dishes that I ended up not making because I had so many leftovers from the dishes I did make.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Entombed in Ice

The weather geek was right. We are pretty much entombed in ice. There's a thick glaze over everything. Even the outside walls of my house are glazed. My front walk has about an inch of ice on it. There's traffic on the major road behind my house that my office overlooks, and people are driving at normal fast speeds on it, but I wouldn't be so confident, as we're not above freezing, and the wet stuff on the road can refreeze. All the plants are also coated in ice. The leaves make a kind of clacking sound when the wind blows.

This is what the hedges in front of my porch look like.

They got the runoff from the roof. It looks like there's snow on the ground, but that's a layer of sleet on top of a layer of ice, with a layer of ice on top of the sleet. Still, it's pretty to look at out the window and pretend it's snow. I put up my Christmas tree and got the lights on it yesterday. I also got up the garlands on the loft and stair railings. Today I'll be decorating the tree.

I had planned to make Christmas cookies today, but they moved the church cookie sale/swap (people donate cookies, then you buy an empty box and get to go down the line, filling your box with a variety) to next weekend since we're supposed to get more ice/sleet over the weekend and it won't thaw until Monday. I may bake anyway, just for fun. Yesterday, I baked bread in case the power went out and I needed sandwiches (I hadn't factored that into my meal planning when shopping, but I had planned to make bread, so I had ingredients). Last night before I went to bed, I boiled a kettle of water and filled my Thermos so I could have hot cocoa even if I lost power. The water was still really hot this morning, so I might even have been able to make tea (though not good tea). I'll have to do that again tonight, since the weather geek is talking about filling a tub with water to make sure he has water even if pipes freeze tonight. When the more conservative, science-based meteorologist starts prepping, it's a good idea to make plans.

Now I think I'm going to go do some house cleaning so I can spend the rest of the day playing "snow day" and maybe working on my screenplay.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Preparing for the Impending Ice Age

We're supposed to be getting a major ice storm starting tonight. I'm actually kind of worried about this one because the local weather geek, who's all about the science and not the hype, is using phrases like "entombed in ice" in his Facebook posts, and after running the numbers from the data he got yesterday afternoon, he announced that he was going to the store to stock up and be prepared. They issued the winter storm warning yesterday afternoon, when it was about 79 degrees. I have a weather radio, so I was sitting in my office, looking out the window at a warm, sunny day, when the disembodied voice came from below, warning me about impending freezing conditions. Yesterday, I walked to the bank and got rather warm doing so. Today there may be ice. Ah, Texas weather.

But I am prepared. I hit the grocery store yesterday morning, so I've got enough food to survive on for a while. I've also got hot cocoa and found some Gluhwein. I brought in the emergency car charger, which can also be used to power other things, and made sure it's fully charged, in case I lose power. I'm in trouble if there's an extended power outage because my house is all electric, but I have a fireplace and some Duraflame logs, I have lots of candles, and I have a lot of blankets. I've been pretty much yarn bombing myself since the knitting addiction hit, so I have lots of stuff to wrap up in.

I also found a new winter coat earlier in the week when I was doing my shopping. I walked into the Burlington Coat Factory in the nearby mall, and although they had almost nothing left, they had one coat in my size that was almost exactly what I was looking for. It has a portrait collar that comes up high in the back and it's princess-seamed, fitting through the body and then flaring at the skirt. I kind of wanted it to be a little longer and to be some color other than black, but the fun thing is that in spite of it being Calvin Klein, it was about three quarters of what I'd been thinking of spending on a coat, so if somewhere down the line I find the perfect coat, I won't feel like I can't get it. Unfortunately, the ice storm may nix my Saturday night party plans, so I may not get to wear it this weekend. I also got my hair cut while I was out, since the stylists in the salon at the mall looked bored and I had a whim. My hair seems a lot happier when it hits the middle of my back instead of going below my waist.

The plan for today is to bake some bread (since most of my weekend food plans involve cooking things, and there is a chance of power outages due to ice on the lines), straighten the house and put up my Christmas decorations, which I brought in from the garage yesterday. Tomorrow if I still have power, I'll bake some Christmas cookies for the church cookie swap sale (assuming I can get there to bring cookies -- we're not supposed to get above freezing until Monday, and there will be up to half an inch of ice). All the while, I'll be doing iTunes roulette to figure out a soundtrack for my movie. I also have some new knitting needles for a new project I want to start.

You know you're an introvert when being iced in sounds like the best weekend ever, as long as you have power.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Researching the Market

This will be my last writing post until after the holidays because I want to take a little recharging break. I will be taking ideas or questions for future topics, though.

One bit of advice aspiring writers are given is to study the market by reading a lot of the kind of books they want to write. The question is, what should you look for, and what do you do with this information?

The answer is that it varies, depending on what you're trying to write. One area where market research is essential is category romance, such as the books published by Harlequin. They have defined lines that are distinguished by length, tone, degree of "heat" and other elements. If you want to target one of these lines, you need to get a really good sense of what they're publishing, and that goes beyond the guidelines they issue. By reading a lot of these books, you'll get a sense of what kinds of characters and settings they seem to like and what plotlines are overused or possibly desired. If every other book is about a cowboy hero, then that generally means they really like cowboys. This is one area of publishing where writing specifically for a particular line is a good idea. There's not much else you can do with that kind of book, so it makes sense to be very targeted to what they seem to be publishing.

In other kinds of publishing, researching the market is more to give you a general sense of things rather than telling you what to write. If you read a lot of what's been published recently, you can start to learn the cliches that might be overused and you'll know how original your story really is. You can get a better idea of what publisher might be a good fit for you, based on the general kinds of things they publish. In that area, look more for style or tone than plot because most publishers don't want to have two authors doing really similar stories. But you can tell if a particular editor or publisher seems more in favor of dark and angsty vs. light and fun, for example. Sometimes authors mention their agents and editors in the acknowledgements of a book, so you can make a list of people you think might be interested in your work.

One thing you shouldn't do is chase the market. Most books hitting the shelves today were probably bought about a year ago and may have been written a year before that. By the time you get a book written and submitted, things are likely to have changed. Angsty shapeshifters may be the hot thing now, but by the time you go and write a book about an angsty shapeshifter, the publishers may have had their fill. However, if you've written a book about an angsty shapeshifter, you'll know you need to strike while the iron's hot, and a publisher that hasn't done one yet but that seems to publish books with your style of writing might be a really good target.

What if you can't find anything like your book? That doesn't mean you should give up, but you need to be aware that you might have an uphill battle -- and if it does sell, you could possibly start the next trend. If you're not writing what's currently hot, you need to make that book brilliant and so enthralling that editors can't put it down. Theoretically, every submission should be that way, but the "hot" trends are an easier sell, either to an editor or within the publisher (because even if an editor likes it, she has to get buy-in from the people who hold the purse strings). You can also look for books that have elements in common with yours, even if there's nothing exactly like it. Do you have a similar writing style or tone to something else in your genre? Is your main character similar to a main character in a published book? Are there plot elements that might appeal to the same people?

When I set out to write something new, I try to read as much as I can along those lines, whether it's setting, subject matter, plot, time period or even style. That gives me a sense of what I like and don't like in that kind of book and helps me be sure that I'm being moderately original rather than accidentally duplicating something that's already out there. I can sometimes find patterns of what seems to work best, and I get ideas from twisting existing tropes. Then when it's time to submit, I can give my agent a list of comparable titles that she can use when pitching my book, or that list helps her narrow down her plan of where to submit.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Christmas Shopping Achieved!

I went out this morning to run the usual restocking errands, and now I'm pretty much done with my Christmas shopping. I have a pretty small list, just my parents, since I give my brother his gift at Thanksgiving, and I've got the main items for them. I'd still like to find a couple of other things, but if I get hit by the plague and don't get to shop again before Christmas, I will have gifts for my family. I love it when I stumble across good things when I wasn't planning to do that kind of shopping.

I also started preparations for this weekend's forecast freeze by getting myself a pair of fleece pajamas (they were on sale at TJ Maxx). I'm already planning a cozy Friday night watching my TV shows while it's freezing outside (and maybe even freezing rain). The local weather geek has mentioned that he will make storm preparations for this one, so it's likely to be worse than the one a couple of weekends ago that amounted to nothing. Tomorrow will be grocery obtaining day so I'll be ready for baking.

I'm reading my first teen dystopia book, unintentionally. I didn't know that's what it was, just that I saw it in the library and remembered it from my notes from my talk with my agent about my new publisher, as this was their "big" book for this year. My knowledge of the Hunger Games series is limited to the ads for the movies, but it does seem like the heroine getting all glammed up in a makeover seems to be a requirement for this sort of thing. The world may suck, but you get to wear a pretty dress at least once if you're the chosen one. I don't think this is the genre for me. Not because of the pretty dress issue. I'm totally in favor of that. But I'm not crazy about the futuristic dystopian society thing.

The story for my Lifetime holiday movie is shaping up in my head, and strangely, I'm finding myself thinking it in screenplay form rather than in narrative. I've watched enough of these movies to have a sense of their "rules." Going after a prestigious career to the point you push family and friends aside is bad, and you'll have to learn A Valuable Lesson. Ditto for anything that gets in the way of you celebrating Christmas. The girl (or boy) next door is your best choice. You can only end up with the super good-looking and successful person after he/she has learned A Valuable Lesson.

In my personal rules, there will be no adorable moppets -- no single parents finding love. No "Hey, Santa is real!" stuff (I've only tolerated that for one movie and that was because Lucas Bryant was playing Santa's son, and unlike on Haven, he was allowed to smile). No "I should have married my high-school boyfriend and my life would have turned out better."

I'm hoping I can get away with somewhat subverting a few tropes. Why does it have to be so either/or -- small town or huge city, driven career woman who's mean to everyone or stay-at-home mom, boy-next-door or mogul? What about some success without killing everyone to do it, or working at a conscientious company rather than an evil one? Can't you find a nice guy who wasn't your high school boyfriend?

Monday, December 02, 2013

'Tis the Season (Already?)

I'm back from my Thanksgiving break and now find myself diving headfirst into the Christmas season. I've had my annual "look at the calendar and whimper" moment. I have a lot going on and a lot to do between now and the end of the year.

But I have a plan. I've mentioned in the past my minor addiction to the cheesy made-for-TV holiday romantic comedy movies and said that writing one is on my career bucket list. This year, I'm going to attempt it. I'm between rounds of revisions on the upcoming novel, so I'd rather not dive back into another book. A TV movie screenplay is about 88 pages, and most of the work comes in the plotting, which is the fun part of writing for me. This gives me something to keep me in the habit of working, it fits in the season, and it means that any seasonal fun I get up to counts as "research." It may not come to anything, and I may realize that screenplays are harder than they seem. I may end up novelizing it to self-publish for the next holiday season, and then maybe let my movie/TV agent try to get it optioned for a TV movie. Or, who knows, it will launch a new part of my career. I also want to write one of those SyFy Christmas disaster movies, but I figure they make one of those a year, while Lifetime, ABC Family, Hallmark and ION each make at least three or four new holiday movies every year, so the odds are better.

I had a good Thanksgiving holiday. There was much food, a lot of reading and some knitting as I played with various lace patterns. I introduced one of my brother's little dogs to the horse in the pasture behind my parents' house, and they bonded. It was so funny to watch the little dog and the horse touching noses and licking each other. My parents were clearing out a lot of our old stuff and having us go through it to see what we wanted, so I got a trip down memory lane going through my own stuff, plus had the fun of going through my brother's stuff with my sister-in-law, who now has lots more scoop on what he was like as a kid.

When I got home, I unwound from the drive and worked off some of the food by taking a long walk in the park that runs along the river. As I was walking down the path through the woods, I started hearing what I thought sounded like bagpipes. I ended up walking farther than I planned because every so often it seemed louder, and I was sure that it was bagpipes, but then it would fade. I finally discovered that someone was playing the bagpipes in the parking lot at the southern end of the park. I guess that's a good place to practice because it's across the levee from the neighborhood, so he wasn't really disturbing anyone. I don't know a lot about bagpipes, but I think he was really good. He didn't sound like he was strangling a cat, he was playing a lot of fast, complicated stuff very fluidly, and he seemed to be on pitch, in that he was playing real notes and nothing that made me cringe. I rather enjoyed walking through the woods to the accompaniment of the pipes. It kind of made me feel like invading something.

This week, the goal is to get my living room neat enough to put up my Christmas decorations, all while playing iTunes roulette to help me come up with a "soundtrack" for my holiday movie. I also need to do some shopping and get a start on some baking.