Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 In Review

I got my page proofs done, so today is pretty much going to be a holiday for me. I want to do some housework so I can relax tomorrow and as part of my ongoing goal of getting the house ready to show and sell.

Looking back, 2014 was a really good year for me. I didn't have a new release until the end of the year, but this was my first year that I earned more as a novelist than I did in my best year with a full-time job, even when I take business expenses, health insurance and self-employment taxes into consideration. A lot of that was due to audiobooks, which were very successful for me. And unless things totally tank in a surprising way, next year should be even better, since I'll have the income from one new release, two more books in that series and my major publisher hardcover debut (my first three books were hardcover, but were from a very small press). So, yeah, ten years after getting my career truly started, I'm achieving some success.

I didn't do perhaps as much writing as I would have liked last year, as the one book I finished was started the year before, but I got a book ready for publication and finished a book while also going through a number of rounds of revision, copy edits and page proofs on another book. In 2015 I want to finish the third book of the Fairy Tale series, the second book in the steampunk series and at least one more book to be determined later. That will take a lot more self discipline than I've had lately, especially since I do hope to be moving during the year and have a major publisher release that will require publicity.

I didn't see enough movies to really have a best of the year, but Into the Woods would top the list. My favorite new TV series was Forever.

My reading was down a lot for the year, falling short of my 100-book goal, but a number of the books I read were really, really long. My favorite series discovery was the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. My "author new to me" discovery of the year was Sherwood Smith. I started on two of her series, and I still have what seems to be her major one waiting for me. That will likely be my January reading. It's hard to say what my favorite book of the year was. When I look back at my reading log, there's no one book that jumps out at me in an obvious way.

In addition to finances, I guess this was a pretty good year in general. I seem to have got over my singing in public stage fright (I hope it hasn't redeveloped, as long as I've gone without solo or ensemble work). I had no major health issues. I took my first real vacation in forever.

For next year, I could stand to be more fit. I hope that moving will help me with organization by giving me a fresh start and a clean slate. I can make sure everything has a place to start with and try to create new habits to put things in those places. And I need to spend more time writing, as always.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Into the Woods

Today is having to be a kind of work day because I have to go over some page proofs, so I may as well follow my workday routine and make a blog post.

I had a good Christmas. It was pretty quiet, just spending time with my parents and the usual napping, eating and reading. I suppose that doing some work today will be good for me because it will help me transition back into a really busy schedule starting next week.

I did let myself have some holiday time yesterday to go see Into the Woods. I'm a big fan of the stage show, and I liked the movie. There were some changes I wasn't crazy about and the singing is a wee bit overproduced (but hey, at least it's on pitch), but there were also elements I liked better than in other productions I've seen. I was particularly pleased by Emily Blunt's take on the Baker's Wife. She's often played as kind of a shrewish nag, but this version was merely a flawed human who had her sympathetic moments. She made some mistakes and sometimes behaved selfishly, but you could also see where she was coming from, and her relationship with her husband seemed quite solid and loving (their version of "It Takes Two" may have been one of my favorite moments in the movie).

But what really stole the show was the way "Agony" was performed. The audience was laughing out loud. It's a funny song, but the visuals were hilarious.

I'll be getting this one on Blu Ray when it comes out. Then I may have to do a double feature with the DVD of the original cast of the stage production.

I'll have to do a year in review post tomorrow because I'll need to look back at what I read this year.

I know that at least the first half of this coming year will be busy since I really want to sell this house and buy a new one and get moved as soon as possible, and that means getting a lot of work done on the house within the next few weeks, all while dealing with page proofs and copyedits and trying to write a book. Then there will be moving and getting settled in. And then I want to get two more books written. This will take a lot of self discipline.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas Eve!

Before I get caught up in all the holiday prep stuff, here are some fun Christmas treats.

First, the Minions go Christmas caroling. I really need some Minions. I think I need to add "underground lair" to my new house wish list.

Then a classic from the Muppets:

And finally, a look at downtown Grapevine, the self-proclaimed Christmas Capital of Texas. They kind of like lights. (It was hard to avoid the lens flare)

Now to finish making a pie, wrap some gifts and try to get some rest before tonight's two services.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Holiday Countdown

I have reached the point of "hey, tomorrow's Christmas Eve, when did that happen?" in which I realize that anything I had planned to do this holiday season and haven't done probably isn't going to happen. But that's okay. I've done enough.

I had yet another failure on the holiday-set book front. There was some buildup to it being the Christmas season, then Christmas itself was skipped over, then there was a nice New Year's Eve scene, and that was the middle of the book, with the rest going on to span the first half of the year. It's tricky finding a book that's set around Christmas and has enough imagery to get me in the mood but that isn't so specifically a Christmas book. Really, the only objection I have to the specifically "Christmas" books is that most of them are very genre romances (you don't see a lot of "Christmas" books in other genres). I'm looking for more of a book that happens to be set around Christmas. I just lucked out the first time I did this because I hadn't even planned it to be Christmas-themed reading. I was just giving myself time out with a book, and it was a bonus that it turned out to be very Christmassy (there was nothing on the cover to indicate the seasonal setting). That was so nice that I've tried to do it again, without much success.

I am thinking that I need to novelize that Christmas movie screenplay I wrote last year and put it out as an e-book next year.

Instead of some of my other traditions, I've started taking walks around the neighborhood in the late afternoon, when it's not dark yet but it's not full-on sun and some of the Christmas lights have come on. I'm killing multiple birds with one stone. I'm exploring parts of the neighborhood as part of my preliminary house hunting, deciding what areas I like, checking out indications like what cars are parked outside, where there are noisy dogs, where people are out and friendly, etc., plus getting a better look at houses than I can while driving by. I'm getting exercise. And I'm looking at Christmas decorations. I think I've now wandered through all the places where I've seen listings online.

Looking at these listings is fun. I've been focusing on my neighborhood, where I really want to stay, but just out of curiosity, the other day I checked out the nearby town where my church is. The houses there in my price range are much older, but it was the way the listings were presented that was very different. For the houses in my neighborhood, the photos are very staged -- there may be furniture in the rooms, but all other signs of human habitation are out of sight. In this other town, there were listing photos where it looked like the Realtor just showed up out of the blue and started snapping photos -- there were toys on the floor, piles of laundry, stuff all over the countertops.

I'll have to do a lot of decluttering and cleaning to even get to the point where you could take a photo where it looks like a showroom, even if all the clutter is just temporarily hidden for photo-taking purposes.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Movies

The publishing tradition of making sure authors work over the holidays continues. I just found out I'm getting another set of page proofs this week, and they'd really like my comments by January 5. I don't think I've ever had a major publisher book that didn't require me to do something right around Christmas. That may be because I tend to have summer books, which makes me fall into that slot in the schedule. Funny, I was just thinking about one of the changes made in the last round this morning and wondering how it would be handled. I'm just lucky I get to see how it's handled before it's finalized, so I guess I won't complain too much about working during the holidays. I'll probably save this for that low point on the day after New Year's Day when it doesn't feel like a regular day but it's not a holiday anymore.

But in the meantime, there are cheesy movies to binge on. Here are some of the ones I've watched this year (most of which aren't actually new). I'm going to have to add a blanket disclaimer that I am not making any of this up. These are all real movies that I'm pretty sure I didn't dream.

I kicked off the movie watching season the Saturday after Thanksgiving with a double feature on the UP channel, which is new to me. It seems to be aiming for wholesome, uplifting programming. They had two British movies from a few years ago that they were treating as premieres, and I watched mostly because the listed cast members boggled the mind. The first was called Nativity!
and starred Martin Freeman (after The Office, Hitchhiker's Guide and Love Actually but before Sherlock and The Hobbit) as a teacher in what was apparently the loser school in Coventry who gets stuck directing the school's Nativity pageant and who dreads it because his former drama school rival is the director at the school across town and apparently puts on a good enough show that it gets reviewed in the Times. When he runs into his former rival, he panics in a game of one-upmanship and suggests that his former girlfriend, who went off to Hollywood to become a movie producer, may be coming to see the show, and who knows where that could lead. Things spiral out of control when his idiot manchild teaching assistant (the headmistress's nephew) overhears it and tells everyone. It was actually a fairly cute, if wildly improbable, story.

But then there's the sequel, Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger in which they've had trouble replacing Martin Freeman's character because of the idiot assistant (apparently he was the breakout character, or else the actor is related to whoever funded these movies). The newest teacher hired is David Tennant (post-Doctor Who, which makes you wonder if he made the right decision to leave). The idiot assistant wants to enter the kids in a Christmas song contest, and when the teacher won't sign off on it, he kidnaps the teacher and hauls him along with the busload of kids to head to Wales for the contest. Also entered in the contest are the cross-town rival from the previous movie and David Tennant's evil twin, a renowned choral director and composer. Of course, the trip goes horribly wrong with all kinds of obstacles in the way, but there are some fun visuals of a bunch of kids in Christmas pageant costumes hiking across Wales. This one was more of a live-action cartoon, the kind of thing the Disney Channel used to do, and David Tennant payed the typical adult role for that kind of thing, doing a lot of outraged sputtering until he learned a Valuable Lesson about being an idiot, or something.

Then the Hallmark Channel gave us a Texas-style offering, a movie called something like Angels Sing, set in Austin, apparently filmed in Austin (it looked real to me) and involving a lot of Austin people. Harry Connick Jr. is a professor (presumably at UT) who desperately needs to find a house before Christmas, but is hampered by the Austin real estate situation (very accurate). Then he runs across a mysterious old man (Willie Nelson) who's willing to sell an incredible mansion to him for much less than it's worth, but under the condition that he keep up with neighborhood standards. He finds out what those standards are when his neighbor (Lyle Lovett) shows up with a box of lights and offers to help him decorate. It turns out that this is the street in town that's famous for its holiday displays. One problem: Harry hates Christmas. This sounds like the setup for a comedy, but it's a sob story involving lots of death and tragedy, mixed in with the absurdity of Willie Nelson, who is either Santa or an angel, or maybe both, giving Harry advice on faith and hope. I kept watching mostly because Willie leaves a grand piano in the house as a gift when he moves, and Harry Connick Jr. is the star of the movie, so you know what's coming, except Chekhov's Piano is never played.

Another fun Hallmark offering was It's Christmas, Carol, which is your basic Scrooge story, with our Scrooge being an uptight female publishing executive who makes her staff work on Christmas (I'd have believed it if it had been authors, but the publishing business loves their holidays for themselves) and fires someone on Christmas Eve. She gets the ghost treatment, courtesy of her former boss, Carrie Fisher, who gets to be all three ghosts, plus Marley. I had to forget everything I know about publishing to watch, but it was fun watching Carrie Fisher be super-snarky and have fun with the role. I have come to the conclusion that there's a good reason Dickens didn't make the original story a romance because it's hard to build a romance around a Scrooge character. The transformation can't happen until just before the ending, which makes it hard to believe anyone could have fallen in love with this person before the ending. In this case, it was an old boyfriend, but he seemed kind of pathetic for not having gotten over her in ten years and then instantly getting back with her after so long when she spent all that time being a raging bitch, just because she shows up on Christmas morning with an apology.

I don't know how many more I'll manage to fit in between now and Christmas. I did my annual viewing of The Holiday last night, and I want to hit either Gremlins or the Muppet Christmas Carol this year.

Friday, December 19, 2014


I had things I was planning to discuss today, but I got a very late start this morning and am rather distracted because as of this morning, I've cracked the Amazon top 100 in Kindle books (and am at the top of two category bestseller lists).

No, not with the new book, but with Enchanted, Inc., the nearly ten-year-old book. Random House dropped the price and did a BookBub ad. Last night, the ranking was in the top 150, and I stayed up very late to see what happened because I figured that night would be the peak, and then I got up this morning and it was at 99.

The rest of the books are rising, as well. It's kind of nice to essentially have my old publisher marketing the rest of my books for me.

I think this is the highest I've made it on any list, so it's worthy of celebration. I slept late (after being up so late) and then made sour cream and raisin scones (essentially Irish soda bread in scone form) for breakfast. I think today will be my "office party," which amounts to a day spent reading and drinking tea while I enjoy my Christmas decorations. I can even get to the chaise on the loft now that I've hauled three bags of books to the library to donate to the Friends of the Library book sale and boxed up some books I want to keep that don't currently fit on the available bookcases.

Tonight it may be time to dig into the Christmas movies that are available OnDemand. I had planned a discussion of the ones I've watched so far, but I may write that up over the weekend and post next week.

Now to enjoy my momentary status as a "bestselling" author.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Getting in the Spirit

I woke up thinking it was Friday. But it isn't. My brain is sadly confused. Not that Fridays make much of a difference for me, but there's still something about a Friday that is magical, so it's disappointing when it isn't one.

I always start the holiday season with a list of things I want to do for fun -- places to go, things to see. And I seldom do any of them. I'd considered making this a grand day out, to take the train to either downtown Dallas or downtown Fort Worth and do a Christmastime in the city kind of thing. But I wrenched my bad knee while making my bed yesterday (see, housework is bad for you), and while I can walk just fine today, I don't know that lots of walking would be the best idea ever. I may just go grocery shopping and hit the library. Whee! But I think tomorrow may be my Reading a Holiday-Set Book day. I have one I've put aside that I started reading this summer and then realized was set in December. I'll be really annoyed if it ends up entirely skipping over Christmas. There should be warning labels.

Saturday, I do have Christmas-related plans to look at lights and see the town that goes insane for Christmas. Then I have plans to spend Tuesday evening with my annual movie marathon, and two services Christmas Eve night. As I get older, that becomes more what's important to me at Christmas, with the gifts becoming more of an afterthought. I've even mentioned to my parents that instead of buying each other stuff, we could do the Angel Tree kind of thing, then write up what we bought for a kid and put that in a box and wrap it to open on Christmas. I think it would be more fun reading about what toys some kid got than actually getting something.

Though I might feel differently next year when I'm not in the process of streamlining my possessions before I move. I may need more things then and have places to put them. Right now, I can't fit anything else in my house and need to get rid of things.

For now, though, I think I need to clear my head and get into the spirit of things.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Scent Memories

It never fails -- anytime there's a big holiday, I will get something back from some editor or my agent. This time, it was copyedits on book 2 of the Fairy Tale series. I understand why that happens -- these people want to clear their desks of pending projects before the holidays. That just means that I get a project on my desk right at the holidays. At least this time I control the timeline and I don't have to deal with it until later if I don't want to. Too many times with editors I get the edits right before the holidays and the editor would like my revisions back right after. I haven't looked at these edits, but the editor said I didn't leave much for her to do, so I doubt it will be a lot of work, and I'm not really in detail-oriented mode right now, so I think I'll get on this after the holidays. My agent's office is closed now anyway, and I doubt they'd get right to formatting the book the moment the office reopens. Still, this means there's a good chance we could get book 2 out in the March timeframe. It depends on how long it takes Audible and if Suzy the narrator is booked up or free, since we like to get the electronic, print and audio versions all out at once.

Yesterday's "I can't focus my brain, so I'll do something else productive" project was sorting through and organizing my bathroom junk drawers. These are essentially horizontal medicine cabinets (as I don't have the vertical kind) that started out as places to store toiletries and makeup out of sight but that mutated to become catchall repositories while the toiletries and makeup sit on the counter. I ended up throwing out an entire shopping bag full of random stuff that had expired or evaporated. I still have an entire small Amazon box of skin-care products (lotion, soap, scrubs, bath gel, etc.) and a similar box full of hair-care products -- and that's just the sample/hotel sizes for the hair stuff. Then there's the drawer full of sample-sized toothpaste and dental floss, courtesy of my dentist. I will not need to buy any toiletries for the time being. One thing that I hope doesn't become useful is having sorted and organized my medicine drawer, so that if I come down with a cold or the flu, I won't have to scrounge through three drawers to find that one remaining capsule of Nyquil that might still be floating around in its blister pack. Everything is well-stocked and together, so if I need something, I can go right to it. This should prevent any illness for this winter (since I seem more likely to get sick when I'm out of tissues and cold medicine).

It seems the theme for this winter will be "spa day." I'll have lovely skin after using up all these lotions, and some of them smell nice, too. Speaking of smell, I also found a small bottle of the perfume I wore when I was in my last year or so of college and then right out of college. In college, I wore the drugstore knockoff version, but when I finished writing my first book, my mom bought me the real thing, and I guess it was a gift pack with this small vial as the bonus. It still smells the same, so it hasn't gone off (though it may be much stronger). It's not a bad smell, but it's so not me anymore. I wonder if it ever was me or if that was who I was trying to be. Or it may just be a product of its time. Just for nostalgia, I couldn't resist putting some on. And then an hour or so later I was scrubbing my wrists with rubbing alcohol and then unscented lotion. I guess some rubbed off on the sleeve of the sweater I was wearing because I can still smell it. Or else it was so strong that it's still slightly on my skin after the alcohol and lotion, a dance class, a shower, and a night's sleep. If it was that strong back in the day, I apologize to anyone I came within 20 feet of in the early 90s because I probably assaulted you with Giorgio Red. (Funny, I thought of it as a huge splurge then, but it seems to be available at Wal-Mart now.)

I barely wear perfume at all now because most of the time when I'm going out, it's for choir stuff, and they ask us not to wear perfume for rehearsal or performance because it can affect people's breathing, and I know that someone who usually sits behind me is particularly sensitive.

I really should force myself to go through my closet because I still have clothes from that era that are probably just as ill-suited to the person I am now, whether or not they still fit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Great Rage-Induced Tea Purge

Yesterday was spectacularly unproductive, work-wise, but I did get my kitchen mostly cleaned, managed to get the old wax out of some glass candleholders, and purged the tea cabinet. When people know you like tea, you tend to get a lot of tea as gifts, in gift baskets and the like. But that tends to be flavored and herbal stuff, and I mostly like tea-flavored tea or spiced chai, so the fancier stuff sits in the cabinet. I finally threw out boxes of blackberry and chamomile herbal tea with "best enjoyed by" labels in the early 90s. I think I got them as part of a college graduation gift, along with some other tea accessories and a book on tea. This means I've moved them twice since the expiration date (not that I've drunk any in all that time). Who knows what else I'll find when I delve into the cabinets. I'm going ahead and boxing up some of the seldom-used glassware, like vases and candleholders, just to get them out of the way.

Oddly, as big of a hassle as moving can be, I'm kind of looking forward to the process because it will be a chance for a fresh start and maybe I'll be able to start in a new place with some systems established for keeping things more in order after doing a good purge. I think that's part of my current problem -- I'm so used to moving every few years and using that as an opportunity to purge and re-set that I never thought of how that works when you live in the same place for as long as I have. This move's going to be different, though, because it's not just a case of finding a new place and then moving since I have to sell this place, and that means having it ready to show to potential buyers, so I can't just purge and pack, unless I somehow manage to find a new place and move and then get the old house ready to sell. I may just pay off the balance of the old mortgage so that it becomes no longer an issue in getting a new one.

This is my last week of "normal" extracurricular activities, with dance and choir (but not children's choir), so the holidays are about to begin, and I really do want to give myself some "holiday" time. I've started watching the Christmas movies (look for a post on that soon) and I've got what I hope will be a good Christmas-set book ready to read. I just hope it's not another case of the first few chapters taking place during the lead up to Christmas, and then it abruptly skips ahead to mid-January (I hate it when books do that, and it happens way too often).

I think some of yesterday's cleaning frenzy was spurred by my intense rage at the mid-season finale of Once Upon a Time, which had some of the worst execution I think I've ever seen committed by so-called professionals. It wasn't the actual events that were sheer shark-jumpage, but rather the way they were written, with terrible pacing, no emotional payoff, and the failure of Chekhov's entire arsenal. Not every gun has to eventually be fired if you're using one as a misdirect, but at least one should be, and all of them should be if they do relate directly to the plot. In this case, it was a whole bunch of things that were set up and that ended up not mattering at all. Then there was a massive logical leap that I can't figure out how they got from A to B with the information they had available. Any editor I've ever worked with would have sent that back with some massive questions about how all that worked. It was so frustrating because the setup was interesting and they totally fumbled the payoff. The post-finale interviews the writers have been giving show that they don't even see what was wrong. Maybe I should write up a detailed critique and send it to someone because boy, do they need help.

Meanwhile, once I finish the hat I'm knitting, I will be taking a break from hats. Our church was trying to get enough stocking caps to pass out to everyone at the homeless shelter on Christmas morning, and I hear we passed the goal. This is the last week to turn them in. I'm working on #11. Someone said we're doing it again next year, so I can start earlier and spread them out. I like the pattern I've been using (it has cables. I like cables), and it makes a good portable project, but I'm ready to do something else. I've got the yarn for a lace shawl I want to make.

And that's the exciting life of a Very Important Author-Type Person.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Decoration Failure

The 99 cent price for the e-book of Enchanted, Inc. has now made it into the system. I would guess that if you're reading this, you've probably already read it, but in case you wanted a chance to encourage someone else to try it or in case you now have a tablet or e-reader and wanted to get a cheap copy to have with you at all times, it's there until the day after Christmas. We've also matched that price for the non-North American English e-book edition, so anyone in the world who reads English can get the same price (subject to local taxes, fees, etc.).

I made it through my crazy weekend of parties and choir events. Now I'm rather dead tired. But my shopping is done, most of the obligations other than one choir rehearsal and Christmas Eve services are done, and I can do the fun stuff. I did have a bit of decor failure, though. When I got my second apartment out of college, it had a fireplace, so for Christmas I wrapped some pine-ish garland in little white lights and a long strand of pearl-like beads to put on the mantel. This garland moved with me to the next apartment and to the current house. The current mantel is really narrow and doesn't have a projecting shelf, and it's really long, so instead of draping, I just put the garland on top of the mantel until I got the clever idea of getting some of those Command hooks with the temporary adhesive and hanging it that way, which worked. Until this year. The adhesive failed on a couple of hooks, and the garland came crashing down, but I was out of adhesive strips, so I took it all down until I got more and put the hooks back up. Then the lights didn't work when I plugged them back in. I found another set of lights on the old little Christmas tree I'm not using this year. They didn't work. I took a set of lights that I'd had hanging in my office. They were dead. And to top it all off, the new adhesive failed and the garland without lights came crashing down. So for the first time since I've had a fireplace, there will be no garland on it this year. I just have a row of the frosted glass globes from the old ceiling fan with electric tealights inside. I don't want to buy new lights since I'm planning on this being my last Christmas in this house and I don't know what the new setup will be. I might want to get wild and crazy and change my decor. Although all of these lights were pretty old, it was getting weird that every single strand has failed. I took it as a sign. And, yes, the outlet does work. Other things plugged into that outlet work, and the lights don't work when plugged into other outlets. I've also gone down the strand, making sure each bulb was fully inserted and that none of them had come loose.

So, now that the busy is over, I need to get my house in some kind of order (my kitchen looks like a war zone after weekend baking), do some writing, start doing some more work toward preparing to put the house on the market, and make time to let myself enjoy the holiday season. One thing I've noticed that I seem to have stockpiled is bath-type products -- I get gels, lotions, scrubs, etc., as gifts, when I stay at hotels and when I need a little pick-me-up (when I had no money, a sample size toiletry item was my chosen form of cheap self indulgence). And then I barely use them or think I'll save them for a special occasion that never comes. So I may give myself an epic spa week to help clear out the bathroom cabinets.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Enchanted, Inc. -- Chapters 5 and 6

In talking about choir yesterday, I forgot to mention that just as I'd started wishing for more performance opportunities, there was a request for backstage backup singers for the youth musical this spring. Our church puts on a Broadway-style musical that's open to participation throughout the community (our people run it and it's in our performance space, but anyone can try out, whether or not they attend the church), and this year they're doing Mary Poppins. There was a bit of a hiatus for the past few years, so this is a rebuilding year and the cast is perhaps not as strong as they'd like (a lot of junior high kids), so for some numbers they'll want some of the adult choir members singing the chorus part backstage to give it a little more oomph, especially for the parts where the kids onstage will be dancing. That could be fun. They've said there will be minimal rehearsal time for the adults, just enough to learn the music, and then probably a dress rehearsal and the performances. It sort of fits into my dream of performing in musical theater, but without the time commitment, and I imagine I can spend a lot of time just sitting backstage and knitting. And since I have a YA book coming out soon, something that makes me part of a youth event could even be considered promotional activity for work. My editor took me to see this show on Broadway when it was in previews, so I've seen the original cast, and it'll be fun to see what the kids do with it.

Supposedly, today was going to be the day Random House started a two-week promotional price drop of the e-book version of Enchanted, Inc., but it doesn't seem to have propagated through the system yet. Of course, if you're reading this, you probably already have this book.

But it seems like a good occasion to get back to my re-read commentary.

Chapter Five was my big moment of Mimi catharsis. Wow, I must have been working out a lot of frustrations there. Mimi was kind of a combination of everyone I've ever worked for or with and hated, and it was a fantasy quitting moment. I have had a couple of chances to quit a job I was really unhappy with, and turning in that letter feels so good, though I never made a public scene like that. I certainly fantasized about it. I came up with the idea for this book at a time when I was really unhappy at work and dealing with a supervisor who seemed threatened by me, so the wonderful job offer was a big fantasy at the time, then I wrote it a little more than a year after I got laid off from that job because the supervisor who was threatened by me lost us our biggest client (funny, she got to stick around -- though the client ended up hiring me as a freelancer). I seem to recall enjoying writing that scene.

The group blind date was loosely based on a real date I once went on. I'd been introduced to him at a group outing, and he seemed pretty cool then. It was when we went out one-on-one that things got weird because he just didn't talk. I'm a slow eater anyway, and if I'm having to carry 100 percent of the conversation, I'll never finish my meal. I tried asking him questions, but he didn't seem to have any interests that got him passionate enough to say more than a sentence. I felt like I was interrogating him and needed to get out the torture implements. I finally told him that if he ever wanted me to finish my meal so we could leave the restaurant, he would have to say something. Instead, he got up and went to the bathroom. At least I got to eat.

So I guess I was working out frustrations there, but most of it was to introduce Ethan. It was also one of the "chick lit" elements I was fitting in as I both blended the genres and spoofed the genre. In later books I didn't really worry about that so much, but with the first book, I thought my best bet for selling it would be to sell it as chick lit, so I was consciously including those elements.

In Chapter Six I was introducing the magical company, and I can tell looking back that I was trying really, really hard to make it Magical! There's a lot of stuff I threw in that I practically forgot to use later because it no longer seemed quite so important to highlight the magical nature of things. Like those crystal balls. I think that came out of the idea of what magical people would use for intra-office communication or something like the Internet. I had to keep remembering that they were supposed to be there in later books.

We also meet Jake, Owen's assistant, in that chapter. He was basically human scenery, but little details about him just seemed to come out as I wrote that made him come to life (and I didn't plan most of it). I don't think there was enough to him to ever make him a focus, but he was fun in the background, and I did later enjoy giving him a bit of a hero moment in book 7.

And now I think today is going to be a Great Day of Cleaning because the state of my house is being a distraction. That's a good way to think and let my subconscious get to work, and I think that having things neat and organized will help me get through the crazy weekend. At least the hiking trip got cancelled because everyone else was busy.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Caroling, Caroling

I survived my last children's choir session of the year last night, and it was a challenge because one of the preschool teachers is out of town, so since we're singing together Sunday we decided to just combine the two groups. I never had them still long enough to count them and each class took their own roll, so I'm not sure how many there were, but most of my kids were there, so we may have had more than twenty, ranging in age from three to six. We had three teachers, three teen helpers (though all of them were sixth graders, so rather young), and two parents hung around because their children were being clingy (I think one of the preschool kids whose dad stayed is special needs and he always stays). In the 45 minutes we had them, we needed to remind them of the song we're singing in church Sunday that they haven't practiced since before Thanksgiving, then rehearse in the sanctuary with the pianist. And then they went stark raving insane. There's Christmas excitement, there's the fun of that many kids in the room, and a number of them had younger siblings in the other group, so when the siblings were together they went crazy. My plan was to do a Christmas carol singalong, but after we tried a couple of songs without getting much attention from the kids running in circles, my co-teacher suggested we go caroling.

So we headed out to the fellowship hall to sing for the people getting dinner ready (and a few of the parents who sit out there while their kids are in choir -- a lot of phones came out to record them). We sang for a couple of Bible studies. The kids suggested singing for the babies in the nursery, so we went there, too. But I think they mostly wanted to play with the toys in the nursery. Some of the toddlers just went about their business of playing and didn't pay us much attention, except for the one with an older sister in our group, who gave off the "don't cramp my style, sis" vibes. There was one infant who just stared at us with wide eyes and a hilarious "who are these people and what are they doing?" expression. Then I had to confiscate nursery toys from my kids as we left. We got back to the room just in time to pass out candy canes and hand them over to their parents. I think I got bonus points from a parent for telling a kid who asked if she could eat the candy now that she needed to talk to her mom first and let her mom tell her when she could have it (the mom mouthed a "thank you"). The kids were surprisingly in tune. I started them off on each song, then backed off and sort of whisper sang so they'd be the ones heard, and they sounded pretty good.

And then I went to dinner and collapsed before having to go to my own choir rehearsal (there was some wine when I got home). Next week I just have to go to choir rehearsal, and then the following week it will be Christmas Eve. Yikes! Where did this year go? I do have my Christmas stuff up, but I still have shopping to do and some baking to do. I should know by now that starting a book at this time of year is not the smartest idea ever. I should let myself slow down a bit and enjoy the season. But first I have to get through this crazy weekend -- possible morning hike, mid-day get-together with friends, and evening party on Saturday, children's choir in the early service Sunday, my choir in the late service, then Christmas concert that evening, with "dress rehearsal" beforehand (since the choir hasn't practiced with the orchestra) and the choir's Christmas party between rehearsal and concert while the other groups in the concert do their rehearsals and sound checks. For some odd reason, the sopranos always get assigned the appetizers. Cookies, I could have handled easily because I'm already baking. I think I'll just pick up a cheese ball and some crackers at the grocery store. Or does being a second soprano mean I'm almost an alto, so I can get away with bringing dessert?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lessons I've Learned

I took a bit of a break from the writing posts because of the Thanksgiving holiday and then because I had a new book releasing that day. I think this will be my last writing post of 2014 because of holiday craziness and because I'm in the middle of a first draft, so my brain isn't functioning at normal levels.

No matter how many books I write, I seem to keep learning as I go. Here are some things I've learned about writing and publishing this year:

The action really needs to kick off earlier in the book and then be paced steadily throughout. You'd think this would be obvious, but it's the thing I always seem to have to fix after a first draft.

If you find that you've created a really great character, it's a good idea to introduce her earlier in the story and then give her more of an active role.

An outside eye can really help you spot things you never would have noticed, whether it's that great character or that wrong word you used (that somehow made it through a beta reader, an agent, an editor and a copyeditor before the proofreader caught it).

Setting unrealistic production goals can actually decrease your productivity. When you surpass a goal, it feels good to keep going and do even more. If there's no way you're going to meet a goal, it's too easy to just give up earlier. All that counts is what you actually accomplish, not what you dream you can accomplish. (I keep having to re-learn this.)

A story needs an antagonist or villain. Figuring out who the villain is and what the villain wants is rather important to plotting a book. I should know this, but it keeps coming up again. I guess I'm far more interested in the heroes.

You need to love anything you write enough to re-read it dozens of times. You're going to have to if you want to make it the best it can be.

Traditional publishing can be a very slow process. Really, really slow. Writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Writing can, however, pay off over time once you have a certain amount of work out there that's selling steadily and have it in a variety of markets.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Reading Update

I think that my huge burst of productivity last Monday may have done more harm than good because it ended up setting an unrealistic standard. When I didn't do that well on subsequent days I felt like I'd failed, and that sense of failure then made it harder to get back on track. So I'm setting more reasonable goals, and if I exceed them, then that's great but I'm less likely to feel like a failure.

I ended up getting really back on track yesterday, but this book keeps surprising me. There's a scene that in my first concept for this book was the climax, then when I started plotting it became the midpoint, and now it's moved way up to become the initial threshold crossing that kicks the plot into high gear -- the event so big that they can't pretend there's no problem anymore. I pretty much saw the movie of this in my head as I was waking up this morning, so I should be able to write it properly.

I'm behind on talking about my reading (and behind on my reading -- I'm not going to make my reading goal this year unless I drop everything else and do nothing but read for the rest of the month).

In one case, I want to talk about an author rather than a particular book. I do still miss chick lit because I liked books that were more like a romantic comedy movie usually is than like the traditional structure of romance novels. However, I tended to mostly prefer the British stuff, and I leaned toward the smaller-town stories rather than London stories. I liked the things about friends and family as opposed to drinking and sex. Fortunately, some is still getting published, and one author I've been rationing to myself (because I don't want to run out entirely) is Jill Mansell. Basically, most of her books are along the lines of the movie Love Actually in book form, though not necessarily set at Christmas (I'll admit to being a wee bit disappointed in the book she did set at Christmas, but that was mostly because I was reading it for Christmas purposes and the book pretty much skipped over Christmas entirely. I might like it if I read it at another time). There's a big cast of characters that's all interconnected, and they all have their own stories, not all of which are romantic. There's usually one central character, and then she has friends, co-workers, relatives, and sometimes even kids who also have plot lines. I suppose it doesn't really qualify as "chick" lit, since her heroines tend to be a bit older -- they're often single moms with teenage kids -- and that may be one reason I like them at this phase in my life. It's very much make a pot of tea and settle in for the afternoon reading, after which you feel a nice warm glow.

I also found a good entry in the "intimate fantasy" (no, not in that way, get your mind out of the gutter) category -- by that I mean focusing on a few characters and their lives rather than the horde of armies. Crown Duel and Court Duel by Sherwood Smith were reissued in one volume, which is how I got them, and I think they might read better as one book, while I'd have been disappointed if I'd just read the first one as a standalone because the story seemed incomplete without the second book. It's first-person narration, so it only shows us what happens through our viewpoint character, and that humanizes some massive events. She's the daughter of the lord of a remote province in an oppressive kingdom, and when her father dies, he makes her and her brother swear to rebel against the regime. Things don't go entirely as planned, to put it mildly. No one is who they seem to be, and the situation isn't quite what they expected. And then they have to deal with the aftermath of their actions. The first book is mostly an adventure story of all the things this young woman has to go through. The second is almost a comedy of manners as she has to adjust to life in what seems like an entirely new world for her. There's also a really satisfying romantic thread woven through the two books. Sometimes you want to bop the heroine on the head (though it's not like I'm allowed to criticize anyone else for being stubborn), but she does eventually figure things out.

Sherwood Smith is the guest of honor at ConDFW next year, so I imagine there will be some fangirling taking place. I already loved her contemporary fantasy Zenda-like series, and now I need to dig into her other fantasy series.

Speaking of Christmas-set romantic/chick lit stories, I'm starting to contemplate maybe novelizing that holiday movie screenplay I tried writing last year. I wonder if there's a market for sweet contemporary paranormal romantic comedy.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Road Not Taken

I had a minor epiphany this weekend. I've generally been okay with the path my life has taken. I'm doing one of the jobs that I've dreamed of doing since I was a little kid, and I'm now actually making a pretty good living at it. But there are still the moments when I wonder what else could have happened with a different path. I've also always had an interest in music, though very little opportunity to develop it other than school band. I didn't even realize until I was an adult that what I was able to do in singing was at all unusual. Even as a little kid, I could match pitches when singing with a record, and then I could sing those songs on my own without the record and still carry the melody. I might not always have started with the pitch as on the record, but I was able to maintain the proper intervals from that starting pitch, and once I heard a song, I could sing it. It might take me a little longer to learn the words, but I had the notes down. When a friend was talking to a music teacher about her kid being able to do something like that, the music teacher got excited and said she had to get that kid into some kind of music classes.

So that's made me wonder what opportunities I might have missed by not getting the training. It's not even purely a "road not taken" thing because even if I had decided I wanted do this, the chances just weren't there where I was. You had to already have a certain degree of training to even get into a university music program. I couldn't have shown up with some raw talent, a bit of time in church youth choirs and a serious case of stage fright and been accepted as a voice major at any university. So, yeah, there has been some occasional resentment at having a talent that wasn't allowed to be developed until it was already probably too late to go anywhere with it.

This weekend, I went to the holiday concert of the University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab band and Jazz Singers. The band gets nominated for Grammy awards all the time, and this is one of the better music schools in the nation and probably the best school anywhere for jazz, so their student concerts are like hearing top-level professional performers. I hadn't heard the Jazz Singers before. They're a mostly a capella group, though in this concert they did some pieces with the band. And I was in awe. They blended so perfectly that they sounded like one voice. And I sat through their whole set just aching to do that kind of thing. I was having a massive case of wanting a do-over on my entire life.

I mentioned this to some friends, who suggested that maybe it wasn't too late to go back to school. I don't think that's really practical, and even now there's no way I could get into a music program at UNT, and even if I could be allowed to take some classes just for fun, those ensembles are insanely competitive. But then I had the realization that I don't actually want to do that with my life as a profession. Even as a solo performer, music requires a lot more interacting with people than I really want to do in order to do it for a living. I'm too much of an introvert for that. I think what I really want is to be a lot better at something I do for fun, and I would love to find more opportunities to do more interesting kinds of things as a hobbyist. That's the challenge. The church choir is fun, and we do get to do some challenging things occasionally, and there's always variety, but there are limits to what you can do with a group that accepts everyone who wants to be in it. I jokingly suggested to the director that we could do the kind of music the Jazz Singers did, and he laughed. I don't know of any more selective groups around that might do more intense stuff, and even then, the rehearsal and performance schedule are probably more than I could deal with.

I am thinking of starting some serious voice lessons (I did a six-week session in college, then have taken a few voice classes over the years, but that's about it) once I get the whole house buying/selling/moving thing over with, but that will probably just amount to being better at singing in the choir and in any ensembles or solos. My solo and ensemble opportunities just about dried up with the new director because he's doing less of it and since he used to be in the choir here, he's calling upon the people he knows, and I hadn't made it past the stage fright when he was here, so I guess he doesn't think of me. I'll just continue to make myself available and look for bigger community things like the Mozart Requiem I did a couple of years ago.

But otherwise, it's nice to come back to the realization that I'm on the right path, that I didn't miss out on anything, and that I wouldn't have wanted the life that came with any other path, even if I'd had the opportunities.

Now to go lock myself in my cave and happily write with no one around me to bother me.

Friday, December 05, 2014

More Fairy Tale Stuff

I think I got myself back on track yesterday. I didn't get the word count I wanted, but I figured out the scene I was working on and did a little backtracking to make a better transition. I now know the next few scenes to write, too. The early part of a book can either go quickly because it's all pent up or it can be a slow discovery process.

It looks like all the book versions are up on the major sites, and Amazon now has the paperback (which turned out really pretty!), e-book and audio versions linked on the same page.

In case you're interested, here's some info on the reader for the audio version (I don't know if they include this in the audio book, but I thought it was interesting):
Suzy Jackson is an actress and voice-over artist whose voice has been heard on numerous audiobooks, commercials, video games, and cartoons, including The Winx Club, Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon Chronicles, and Chaotic. Suzy has performed on stage with The Aquila Theater Company, New York Classical, CAP 21, and The Classical Studio. Film work includes To Be Perfectly Honest opposite John Turturro and Spike Lee’s She Hate Me. Suzy is also a teaching artist with Opening Act, a nonprofit organization that brings free theater programs to NYC’s most under-served public high schools.

And if you want more info or to see more work from Kirbi Fagan, the artist who did the cover, here's her web site.

And speaking of fairy tale stuff, there are two movies that I'm looking forward to.

First, the movie version of Into the Woods. I'm a little nervous about this because I love the stage show (and I have the DVD of the original production that was shown on PBS in the early 90s), but the trailer looks pretty good:

We'll just see how much of the singing does or doesn't make me cringe.

And then there's the live-action Disney version of Cinderella. It looks lovely, and it's directed by Kenneth Branagh.

Now I kind of want them to give this treatment to Sleeping Beauty. Just imagine a live-action version of snarky Prince Philip fighting a dragon …

I've barely seen any movies this year because there haven't been a lot that interested me all that much, but this stuff will lure me to the theater.

And now, it's cookie day, in which I bake my annual batch of Spritz cookies for the church cookie sale, in between writing bouts.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Back to Work

It's Book Day Plus One, and it seems to be going pretty well -- not necessarily burning up the bestseller lists but rising steadily, and people who've mentioned reading it seem to like it. My back is almost back to normal, and I suppose all this means I need to get back to work. I wrote most of a scene yesterday, only to realize the scene was all wrong. It was a nice enough scene (and I could see it playing out in the movie in my head), but I don't think it needs to be what's happening at this point. I'm not really sure what does need to be happening at this point. I will have to do some serious thinking.

So today's exciting plan is to walk to the Indian market to restock on tea (and possibly get some British chocolate), which might work as a meditative exercise for brainstorming. Then I need to figure out what to write and write it. I also have to clean the kitchen for tomorrow's cookie-baking extravaganza for the church cookie sale. All this means I'll probably be working at least some of the day on Saturday because I'm way behind.

I suppose I should decorate my Christmas tree at some point. The tree is up, but it's bare. I also need to get out the Nativity scene and clear off a spot on a table or counter for the Christmas cookie jar.

Or I could sit at my desk all day and check my Amazon rankings. Not that I'm obsessing, or anything.

But since it looks like it will rain soon, I'd better get up and head to get tea. Not that I'm in danger of having a tealess crisis. I just won't have my usual plain black loose tea. I think I may get some cinnamon sticks and lemons while I'm out, since those make for a good non-caffeinated hot beverage. Actually, I can go nuts in the spice section of this market. This store is on my list of the reasons I want to stay in this neighborhood when I buy a new house.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

New Book Day

It's new book day! It looks like A Fairy Tale is up at both Amazon and B&N. The Audible version started showing up yesterday, but I'm not finding it again now, so I don't know what's up with that (hmm, it looks like it's currently just available as part of an Audible membership, not to purchase separately). At any rate, share and enjoy! And tell a friend (or 100).

I think I was wrong to blame my sore back on my writing marathon. I was trying to stay sort of mobile yesterday and was working on my ongoing organization project, which I did a fair amount of on Monday, and the position that I got into to work on it immediately triggered the pain, so I think that may be the problem. I need to sit and reach up instead of standing and bending over. Some rest and the heating pad have made things somewhat better, and I have no excuse for not writing much today. I mean, other than the obsessive need to keep checking my Amazon ranking. It's actually been pretty steady for the past couple of days. No huge surge, no huge drop.

Fortunately, I don't have children's choir tonight. I'm not sure I could deal with bending over to try to hear what little people are telling me. Most of the time they're so loud, but when they want to tell me something directly, they suddenly get really quiet.

Back to the book … It's been a long journey, from a glimmer of an idea in 2007 or so, to actively brainstorming, researching and writing starting in 2009, to a long time on hold and finally bringing it back to the surface to work on in 2012, to submitting it to publishers in 2013, and now to finally deciding to have faith in it and publish it myself. I just hope I'm not the only one who likes this oddball book.

If I didn't have bad allergies, I'd be totally tempted to adopt a bulldog and name him Beauregard. But I don't think I'd do well with a dog in the house and I'm rather fond of breathing. Instead, I guess I now have an imaginary pet. I get to write about him, but I don't have to vacuum up hair or take him on walks, and I don't have to listen to him snoring.

So, happy new book day to me, and new series day. I'm going to celebrate by writing and taking Tylenol.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Audiobook Day

It's audiobook day! Supposedly, A Fairy Tale was going to be released by Audible today, but I'm not finding it on Amazon. However, the mp3 CDs for the entire Enchanted Inc. series are available today. I imagine that most people these days just do the digital download and this is mostly for libraries, but if you want to request that your library get the series on audio, that would be cool.

Meanwhile, I got a good start on the new book yesterday, with more than 5,000 words written. I need to figure out what happens next, though, because things didn't quite happen the way I planned. A character showed up earlier than I expected, and that's going to make things interesting.

Today I may have to see if I can manage to write while sitting at my desk, in spite of the lure of the Internet. I must have been sitting in a bad position yesterday for all that writing because my upper back is stiff and sore this morning. I'm making myself sit with good posture in my desk chair, and I have a feeling that slouching on the sofa all afternoon would be a very bad idea. The last book I wrote mostly sitting at my desk was Don't Hex with Texas. Otherwise, I've taken a laptop to various places in the house.

Tomorrow is the Big Day of the New Book, the launch of my first new series, when I find out if readers are willing to follow me to something new or if they just want to read that one thing and don't want me to move on to anything else. I'm rather nervous about this. I think that people who like things like Enchanted, Inc. will like this, but it is different.

What's similar?
The heroines are small-town Southern girls in New York. There's a mix of real-world and fantasy elements. There's not really much swearing and no sex. There's a hint of potential romance. There's some humor.

What's different?
There are multiple viewpoints, and it's written in third-person rather than first-person narrative. I like writing first-person, but there was no way to make that work with this book because there are parallel plot lines and because I wanted to play with the difference between the way someone is perceived and the way someone really is on the inside. The heroines aren't quite the "girl next door" types that Katie was. The romance is more in the "potential" than in the "building" category. There are characters you might want to see together, but they're nowhere near ready to actually get together. While there's humor, it's not outright comedy. Much of the humor comes more from the characters' perspectives than from funny things actually happening.

So, if it seems like you might like this sort of thing, give it a shot. Then leave a review at your online bookseller of choice, Goodreads or wherever else you talk about books. It would also be nice if people would mention it on Twitter, Facebook, tumblr or wherever else you talk to people. It's harder to promote self-published books because a lot of book sites won't deal with them. This one is kind of a grey area because I am a traditionally published author and the audiobook is through a publisher instead of self-published, but it's probably not beneficial to try to split hairs with someone over their policies. Trying to be A Special Snowflake isn't likely to help my cause.

And for those who have preordered who may end up with a download on your Kindle at midnight, I really hope you enjoy it. I love this book in all its weirdness, so I hope others like it, too.

Monday, December 01, 2014

New Book Week Begins

It's new book week! Tomorrow the audio edition comes out, and then Wednesday the print (e-book and paper) editions are available (it looks like you can now also pre-order the paperback from Amazon). I've updated my web site to include the new book info, including an excerpt.

I had a good holiday. There was a minor pie-related injury that seems to be healing well and the pies came out very well. I had a good visit with my family. I read a lot and got a start on decorating for Christmas.

In the rush to head over the river and through the woods for the holiday, I seem to have forgotten to do any kind of Thanksgiving post. I really do have a lot to be grateful for. This has been a good year. I've struggled a lot in the past, but this year I really broke through, and that's opened up a lot of other possibilities and has made it possible to start giving back. I have a family that makes me feel safe and secure. I have more friends than I really know what to do with (a problem for introverts -- spending time with everyone who wants to spend time with me is sometimes a bit more than I can take, but that's a good problem to have) and I have people in my life I know I can count on. I'm doing what I love and what I've always dreamed of doing. And next year should be even better (assuming the new books don't tank).

In addition to a new book coming out this week, I'm going to start writing a new book today. This is my favorite part of the writing process as well as the part that most terrifies me (well, aside from the part where it comes out and people get to read it). It's a moment of infinite possibilities. And then words come out and it becomes a real thing. I have the opening three scenes kind of planned out, and then we'll see where it goes from there. I know who the villain is and I know what's going on. I hope everything else comes into focus once I get some scenes written. That's how it usually goes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Final Flurry of Activity

I made good progress on yesterday's epic to-do list. Today's is just as long, but I already have a good start, and a lot of the items are things I just have to set in motion, and then I can do other stuff in the meantime. Mostly, I'm baking. I have two pies to make for Thanksgiving. I have the dough for one crust made and chilling.

I've figured out that a lot of the clutter in my office now comes down to two things: stuff that I need to shred (that got pulled aside in recent purges) and books I need to get rid of. I made a good start on both yesterday, taking two bags of books to the library for the Friends of the Library book sale and getting a few years of old tax documents shredded. You only have to keep seven years, and I had twenty years. I still need to figure out what to do with the extra foreign editions. My neighborhood has a large Asian population, so I bet I could donate a set of the series in Japanese. Then I'll need to talk to some teacher friends to see if the German department in the high school would be interested in a set in German. I'm not sure what to do with the Dutch books, as they don't seem to teach Dutch in the local schools and we don't have much of a Dutch community here (if I had some Finnish or Swedish copies, that would be nice because those are the other two ethnic enclaves in my neighborhood).

I also have some stacks of boxes I was planning to take to the recycling center, but now that I'm planning to move, I probably ought to hang onto them. I should probably use them to pack up stuff I need to keep but don't really need to use in the next few months, and then I can stash those boxes out of the way.

After probably a final flurry of activity tomorrow, I'll be at my parents' house for the holiday, where my main tasks will be helping in the kitchen, communing with the horses in the pasture behind my parents' yard (they see me out there and come over for nose scratches) and playing with my brother's dogs.

And then, I have a book to write.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Short, Busy Week

Even when you're self-employed, a short work week gets busy. In my case, I'm wrapping up as much stuff as possible so I can return from the holiday and plunge into a book. Today's to-do list had twelve items on it. Some is stuff to prepare for the holiday, like an oil change for my car before I travel. Some is stuff to prepare for the time after the holiday, like some housework and trying to get back to my uncluttering/organizing project (I'm planning to take a couple of bags of books to donate for the library book sale today). Some is work stuff for various books in various stages of the publication process. And meanwhile, I've decided I'm really serious about selling this house and buying another, so I'm looking into some things like whether it would be a good idea to pay off this mortgage in full before I start applying for a new mortgage or whether I should just not bother with that and make a bigger down payment on the new house.

Anyway, it's a lot of stuff to think about and deal with, enough that crawling back in bed sounds like a good idea.

But I'm carrying on! One bit of work stuff already dealt with, one load of laundry in the washer.

I had a delightfully relaxing weekend, though. It rained off and on most of Saturday. I had a leisurely breakfast, then spent much of the day reading and listening to music. In the evening, I watched Winter's Tale on HBO OnDemand, and now I'm trying to decide if I want to read the book. A lot of the reviews of the movie mentioned that the book was considered unfilmable, which leads me to believe that a lot was left out or oversimplified. It ended up being the kind of thing you might have seen on the Hallmark channel if you threw in a Christmas tree or two. It was pretty, and it made good background noise for knitting. But I do like that kind of oddball magical realism and seeming time travel, so I may have to look into the book. Maybe that'll go on the January reading list.

Sunday was nice, and after singing for two church services, I did a little more relaxing but also did some work on the patio. The morning glory died in last week's freezes, so I pulled it up and untangled it from the trellis. I also tried to sweep up some of the leaves that were blown in by the Saturday storms.

Now to finish the laundry and do some kitchen cleaning before lunch, after which I'll head out for the errands. Or take a nap.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Still More of the Origins

I think I've figured out why I've been so sluggish for the past few days. I seem to be coming down with a cold. Yeah, just in time for Thanksgiving, but maybe I'll be over it by then. It looks like it will be a delightfully dreary weekend, so it will be perfect for huddling under a blanket on the sofa with a pot of tea and a book or my knitting. I might even let myself jump the gun on the holiday season and start mainlining all the TV Christmas movies. This year, I not only get Lifetime, ION and ABC Family, but I now have UP, Hallmark, the Hallmark Movie channel and the Lifetime Movie channel. By the end of December, I will possibly have overdosed on sappy TV holiday movies. Speaking of which, Lifetime made a Grumpy Cat Christmas movie. I am not making this up. It's for real, not a joke. Here's a link to the trailer, in case you want to verify it for yourself. I suspect that you get the gist of it and get all the good stuff (like the part where Grumpy Cat apparently sprays a department store with machine gun fire) in the trailer.

Now, back to giving some introductory info about the upcoming book (yikes, just a couple of weeks away!).

When it came to the story to tell using folklore about fairies, one story that comes up a lot is the Tam Lin tale, which is about a woman saving her lover from captivity in the fairy realm. There are also stories about men saving wives or saving random women who become their wives. But since I wanted any romantic relationship to be developed on the page rather than already established, I took it in another direction and made it be about sisters, perhaps inspired by the Christina Rossetti poem "The Goblin Market," in which a sister saves her sister from being in thrall to "goblins" (though the goblins in the poem sound a lot like the common folklore about fairies). So, that's the basis of the plot -- a younger sister is abducted into the fairy realm and her older sister sets out to rescue her.

Though there's more to it than that, and that's why the book took me so long to write. It took me a while to figure out why the sister was taken, what the backstory was and how it all fit together. I'd get midway through the book before I figured out what was actually going on, then I'd have to rework everything, and then I'd realize something else. I don't normally work that way, so it got frustrating at times. The second book was the same way. There seems to be something ephemeral about this world that makes it hard for me to capture.

The third main character (other than the two sisters) is the guy. Since the heroine is very much a take-no-prisoners type (but very polite about it), I needed a stronger guy, and since he's our outsider who doesn't have magical powers and isn't in the know about this stuff, that made it difficult for me to write my usual beta man without him looking like a wimp next to all the strong women in the story. So I made him a cop -- a police detective. That gives him a certain skill set and mindset, even though he is basically a nice boy-next-door kind of guy. In fact, that's a running joke about him with his police colleagues, that he's too nice to be a cop. He's in a kind of emotional limbo because he's also lost someone and hasn't given up on finding her again.

I had fun with creating the fairy world because I made it very dreamlike. I also imagined how fairies who don't quite get the concept of time might incorporate things they glimpse from the human world into their lives. Might they sort of keep up with the times? At least, they might not all still be stuck in a medieval guise.

I started the basic research for this story in the summer of 2009. That's when I was doing a lot of reading about fairy folklore, as well as reading a few memoirs by cops to get that mindset. I took a research trip to New York in late August and walked around a lot to find potential settings. I was working on writing it off and on for the rest of the year and into the next summer. I had a completed draft then but didn't like the conclusion. Then I was invited to speak at the annual conference of the Mythopoeic Society, and I got some ideas from the sessions I attended that told me I was on the wrong track with some things, but I knew it was going to take more work. At the same time, the steampunk idea was brewing and I thought it might be more marketable than this weird, vague book, so I put it aside and started researching the steampunk book, then wrote it. And then there was book 6 of the Enchanted, Inc. series, then a rewrite of the steampunk book, and then book 7, and then I finally got back to this book and got it to the point I was ready to shop it around.

As I feared, the publishers didn't know what to do with it, so I made the decision to self publish it. Oddly, it's going to come out before the book I put it aside to work on, but timelines in this business can drive you nuts.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Fairy Tale Origin Story

One slight correction to the list of coming attractions: The audiobook for A Fairy Tale will actually be out one day before the text versions. We set the release date based on what they wanted, then they realized they always release on Tuesdays after we'd already set up the release date in all the systems and we couldn't change. So this may be the rare time that those who like audiobooks get a book first.

Meanwhile, the hardcover for Rebel Mechanics is already up for preorder at Amazon and B&N. There will be an e-book, but since it's so far out they don't have that up for preorder yet (I guess they don't have to worry about how many copies to print). I don't know how much pre-orders from consumers really matter (it's pre-orders from bookstores that are huge in letting a publisher know how well a book might do), but if you're planning to buy the hardcopy, pre-orders certainly wouldn't hurt in sending a signal to booksellers that there's demand for a book. If B&N sees that people are eager for it, they might be more willing to stock it in their physical stores.

I have been dragging all week, for some odd reason. I really had plans to start writing the new book this week, but I haven't had the brainpower (and I can't entirely blame the proofreading). Now I may just do a last burst of intense brainstorming and hold off until after Thanksgiving because stops and starts don't help matters. I can get my life sort of in order, do some resting and do enough thinking that I can't wait to write instead of feeling blank. And right now I feel very blank. The movie isn't yet playing in my head.

But with the first book coming out soon, maybe it will help if I talk about that one and start teasing it.

This was a very odd book for me. Normally, I'm pretty plot-centric as a writer. I may have ideas for one or two characters, but mostly I have a story concept and build the characters that are needed to play out that story. I do a lot of plotting ahead of time, and though there may be some adjusting along the way, the basic bones of the story are more or less the same.

This book started with a mental image. I'm not sure if it was in a dream or just something that popped into my head, but I had this very clear image of a very feminine woman walking a bulldog down a city street that looked a lot like the Upper West Side of New York, and then they vanished into a kind of mist. I knew there was a story in there, and I wanted to tell it, but this isn't my first attempt at teasing a story out of it. I originally had this odd concept of fairy tale characters being banished into our world, with the heroine an ER doctor who started seeing these cases of people who were considered crazy -- and yeah, a woman in modern  New York who thinks she's Red Riding Hood would seem crazy -- but when there's an epidemic of them? And meanwhile there's a kind of fairy tale playing out with her, as she's a proverbial "princess in a tower" -- the daughter of a wealthy and prominent person who defied her family to go to med school and work in a public hospital when they just wanted her to find a good husband and be a society wife. And her love interest was the only other doctor who agreed with her about the odd goings on, with him being the proverbial poor boy made good who could win the heart of a princess. But the story never came to life for me. I workshopped the idea in an online class, and it just felt like a class assignment, never like a real story, so it never got written, and I even mostly forgot about it.

Funny, though, just writing that description brought it all back, and now I've got that "ooh, idea!" tingle, so maybe I'll have to put it on my list. I will also point out that I was doing all this brainstorming and development in 2007, so I was thinking about fairy tale characters banished to our world long before the TV series Once Upon a Time.

Anyway, that mental image never went away, even as I worked on other things. The rejections I was getting at the time for other work were always along the lines of "we were hoping for something more like Enchanted, Inc.," so I figured I needed to come up with something that maybe had the elements people liked about that series but in a different series -- the mix of magic and the real world, the Southerner in New York, a touch of romance, some humor. And that was when a lot of idea fragments started colliding.

I'd done a lot of research about folklore related to the fairies for an earlier stalled idea (that I may yet write) about a kind of Indiana Jones about folklore -- a professor who studied the folklore but secretly knew that these creatures really existed and helped deal with the negative or destructive ones. I started thinking that this might provide a way to do a "portal" fantasy, which I've always loved the idea of, since in a lot of the folklore, the fae have their own realm. That would also give me a magical premise distinct from the magic corporation from Enchanted, Inc.

Meanwhile, I'd had a particular character living in my head since I was in high school, in search of a plot but never being quite the right fit for anything. I had a dream in which I was this person, having all kinds of crazy adventures. She was entirely unflappable while being this odd mix of sweet and snarky, and she was rather petite and dainty looking, so people underestimated her. This character starred in a lot of my daydreams over the years, and every time I got a story idea, I auditioned her. When I was brainstorming this idea, I finally had a role for her to play. She was perfect. However, her name had to change. The name was part of the dream -- Alex Drake. But then the writers of the TV show Ashes to Ashes used it and I had to come up with something else. Now she's Sophie Drake, and I think that actually is a better fit for the person she ended up becoming once she was in this story. Part of the development of this character was me being a bit snarky about the Generic Urban Fantasy Book Cover with the chick in black leather and tattoos and deliberately writing a heroine who could never be portrayed that way on the cover. But I still wanted her to be tough and strong, so I made her a ballerina. I'd been dancing about a year at that time and was realizing that although ballerinas look pretty and frail, they have to be incredibly strong, and they can take a lot of pain (this article sums it up nicely). I did end up with a cover that kind of spoofs the Generic Urban Fantasy Cover because you could possibly remove my pretty ballerina (and apparently the model for the painting is an actual dancer) and insert a tattooed chick in black leather and get something closer to the generic. But I like mine better.

So, that was the starting point. To Be Continued ...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Editing and Proofreading

I had a question from a reader about the editing/proofing process. A lot of how this works depends on the publisher, the editor, the book, and how much time there is before publication. I'm sure there are rush jobs with big-name authors where they know the book will sell well anyway and they're losing money with each day it's not in print that have minimal editing -- just run that sucker through spell check and go. A smaller press with an editor who only does a few books a year may do a very detailed check every step of the way. I've had books where I didn't see anything from the editor from the time I turned in the manuscript to the time the book was in print, and I've had a book go through four rounds of edits with the editor, then copyedits, then proofing of the typeset pages.

A general standard seems to be that the editor does at least a line edit -- sometimes tightening pacing or revising a scene but not necessarily changing the story while also adjusting wording, as needed. The author gets to see these notes and is the one to actually make the edits based on the suggestions. The manuscript then goes to a copyeditor, who checks for grammar, spelling, punctuation, continuity, house style (if there's more than one right way to do things, which right way does this publisher use?) and general flow (repeated words, clarity, etc.). The copyeditor also puts in the code for any type treatment like chapter beginnings, italics and special characters. The author gets to review these edits and accept them or argue with them. Sometimes the author may find another way to make the suggested correction. At this stage, the author can still make other changes that might come up. This is really the last phase where actual "writing" can happen. These changes are then incorporated, and the book is typeset. At that point, the book is proofread by a professional while the author also gets a copy to review. Here's where they check to make sure the copyedits were inserted properly without messing something else up (and if the edits were done by hand on hard copy, sometimes mistakes creep in because of handwriting issues). The proofreader also looks for awkward line breaks, bad hyphenation on line breaks, too many hyphenated line breaks in a row, "widow" or "orphan" lines (awkward paragraph breaks between pages), and this is one last check for stuff like grammar and spelling. Sometimes there are things that only come up once the book is typeset -- like there might be a small, common, "invisible" word used twice in a paragraph, which usually wouldn't be noticed except when the words line up perfectly two lines in a row in the typeset version. The author may or may not see what the proofreader does at this point, and the author is strongly discouraged from changing anything that's not an actual error (no rewriting). Then there may be one more check to make sure these edits don't mess up something else.

I find that seeing edits is very educational for me because it gives me something to look for in editing myself. One thing to look for is repeated words. I don't think it's necessarily a crime to use some words more than once in a paragraph or on a page, especially if they're smaller, common words and if writing around the use of that word would actually be more awkward and obvious than repeatedly using the word. One I've run into is "out" and "outside." There's not really another good way to talk about where the things happening on the other side of the wall are happening. You look out the window or go out the door to see what's happening outside when you hear noise coming from outside. Still, it's worth pausing to think about in case there is a way to reword it.

Then there are your personal pet phrases or words. Sometimes they're unique to the particular book because of the situation, relationships or voice of your narrator and sometimes they're your own favorites. Look for words that seem to come up a lot, then do a search for them and see if you can find other ways to express those thoughts. There may be things that need to repeat -- a character's catchphrase, for instance -- but you still don't want to overdo it to the point that it gets annoying. I keep a list of words I tend to overuse so that I'm more conscious of them in the future and know to search for them.

Make sure the word you're using means what you think it means -- if you're at all unsure and are using a word that you've seen used elsewhere and have figured it out in context, look it up. Also look for typos that make words -- I seem to have a bad habit of typing "thing" when I mean "think," and vice versa, and spellcheck will never catch that.

I still think that reading a manuscript out loud is one of the best ways to catch a lot of these things -- you'll find awkward phrasing, and it will be more obvious that you've repeated words when you actually hear them out loud. That's also given me some of the reasons I've argued with an editor because the way they change it doesn't fit the way it should sound when read aloud and it doesn't fit the character's voice.

And you have to get used to the idea that no matter how precise you think you are, no matter how careful you are in editing your own work, someone will find an error. Even after multiple levels of other people have gone over it, a new person looking at it will still find errors. And after all this editing and proofreading, there will probably still be an error or two in the finished book (that some reader will kindly e-mail the author about). This is a business where perfectionism helps, but it will also drive you insane.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Coming Attractions

I got the proofreading done yesterday. Now to edit my notes and send back to the editor. I may leave in some of the snark for entertainment value (since I'm sure going over all this stuff is even less fun for the editor than it is for me).

My calendar is filling with book stuff.

December 2 is the release date for the Enchanted Inc. series audiobooks on CD. I imagine most people these days are just doing the digital downloads from Audible, so this won't be a huge deal, but it does make the audiobooks available for libraries. So, if you want to hear the audiobooks but don't have an Audible membership or don't want to buy them, you can request that your library purchase them.

December 3 is the release date for A Fairy Tale, the first book in my new series. Things seem to be in order for the e-book, the trade paperback and the audiobook to be available that day, though it may vary by sales outlet. I'm pretty sure it will all be in place at Amazon and Apple. There can be a bit of a lag at other places. If a lot of people buy on release day, that increases the chances of making a bestseller list, so that then more people can see it.

On December 12, Random House is going to start a promotion to price the e-book of Enchanted, Inc. at 99 cents, and that will last until the day after Christmas. So, if someone you know gets an e-reader or tablet for Christmas, there will be something handy for them to try out. And then they will be hooked and want all the books. Mwa ha ha haaaaa! And then I will rule the world!

We're looking at getting the sequel to A Fairy Tale, To Catch a Queen, published around February. The cover art is done and the book is with the copyeditor. We'll just have to sync up with the audio people once the text is final so we can set a release date. And now I really need to get to work on book 3, which doesn't yet have a name.

Then Rebel Mechanics is coming in July, in hardcover and e-book, and I sold the audio rights, so it should be in audio, and with this much lead time it really should come out in audio at the same time.

That's what I have on my plate at the moment. I have two sequels to Rebel Mechanics planned, and I will write them and get them published whether or not the publisher wants to continue the series (and that will depend on how well it does, and possibly whether the other books boost my profile). The Fairy Tale series is pretty open-ended. Most of the "arc" stuff is wrapped up in book 2, and from there it will likely become more like a mystery series, with a "case" in each book and the personal stories and relationships arcing between books.

And then I have a lot of other ideas bouncing around, but I'll figure out what to write when I get to that point. But in the meantime I'm hoping to get my house on the market early next year and buy a new one and then get moved and settled in, which will likely hamper my writing for at least a month (and this process will be helped if the books sell well enough that I can let myself just hire professionals to do the hard work).

Monday, November 17, 2014


Ah, Monday. It was kind of a cold, dreary weekend, but we had our first (very light) snow and my choir sang Vivaldi's "Gloria." It's supposed to warm up a bit this week, but then be rainy next weekend, which I am totally okay with. It looks like I might have a no plans, no obligations weekend on the horizon, which will be good for leading up to Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I have work to do. On Friday, I got the "first pass" page edits from the proofreader. This isn't a phase I've had to go through before. Normally, I see the copyedits and get to go over them and accept or argue with the copyeditor and make any other changes. Then those changes are input and the manuscript is typeset. I get to see the typeset manuscript and notice any actual errors (because changing things at this point is bad). Meanwhile, there's also a professional proofreader going over the typeset book. Well, this time I get to see what the proofreader said. This one did catch a few things that I can't believe made it this far without anyone noticing (and a thousand blessings for doing so). But she (?) also was trying to play editor and even attempting some rewriting at this point, asking worldbuilding questions (mostly for stuff that doesn't even really matter and that isn't important to the story -- I do have answers for the questions, but those answers don't need to be in the book) or mentioning if the same word shows up more than once on a page (or in some cases, every 20 pages). So I'm going through the book and either accepting suggested changes or explaining why the change would be a bad idea. And apparently there will be another pass of proofreading after these changes are inserted, mostly to make sure that making the changes didn't mess up something else, which does happen.

And, you know, even after this many people going over the book with a fine-toothed comb, I can just about guarantee you that within days of the release of the book, I'll get an email from a reader pointing out a typo or punctuation error somewhere in the book (I will definitely get at least one email pointing out a perceived error that isn't actually wrong).

It's a good thing I love this book because I went through at least four drafts on my own, a couple of rounds with my agent, four rounds of revisions with my editor, copyedits, page proofs, and now proofreader questions before probably one more pass. Then I may never want to read it again, though I will still look at the cover and sigh blissfully.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chapters Three and Four

I don't know that the new book is going to get started today, after all. It still feels kind of unbaked in my head. I may play around with some possible openings and see if it starts shaping up. However, I've learned that there are some questions from the proofreader on the steampunk book coming, so I'm likely to have distractions anyway. I swear, that book is the jealous younger sibling who has to jump up and demand attention exactly when I'm about to work on something else. I also didn't get as much work on the web site done as I wanted. I updated some of the information, but I'm going to need to entirely rework the opening page, and I'm not sure how I want to do that yet. The Enchanted Inc. series covers are the main graphic on the page, but do I want to entirely replace them with the new book, or should I keep them in some way while highlighting the new one, offering some continuity? I'll have to think about it.

In the meantime, the Enchanted, Inc. reread continues, with chapters three and four.

It was a real blast from the past to reread chapter three, the one where Katie first really meets Owen during that informal job interview meeting. I'm pretty critical of my own work, but I really like the writing for that scene. That was also the scene where Owen came to life and started taking over. I really didn't have grand plans for him at that point. He mostly existed to contrast with Rod, the unattractive guy everyone else seemed to find irresistible, as the attractive guy no one noticed. But once he appeared in the scene, he really came to life and I fell a bit in love. That was a case of sheer character alchemy because I did next to no pre-writing character development on him, no planning. He just stepped onstage and came to life. I did more work on him later, but it was more about teasing out what already seemed to be there than about creating it. I knew I had something when the friend I was sending chapters to responded rather strongly and wanted to know all about him.

The magically somewhat hidden office building was another detail that came from my research trip. I wanted the company to be based in lower Manhattan, as it would have been the kind of thing there from some of the earlier settlement. There are some old buildings in that part of town, and I did a lot of wandering and taking pictures. But I didn't find the building itself until I got home and got my film developed (yes, this was in the Dark Ages). I'd been taking photos at the park in front of City Hall because there were actual gaslights, and I thought that was cool. But in the background of those photos was a building on a narrow side street that had actual turrets. I'd walked past it and had taken all those photos without even seeing it. It's actually a fairly modern building built in an old style, but I figure that's just the cover the real world sees. A building I only saw when I looked in the background of a photo I took of something else seemed like the perfect candidate for my headquarters.

The magical farmers' market was an addition that came in copyedits. I'd visited the market during my research trip and wrote in that visit. Then after I sold the book, I took another trip to New York for additional research and to meet my new editor, and I headed to the market, only to find that it was closed that day of the week -- which was the day of the week I had Katie visiting it. I told my editor about this when we met, and we decided that, duh, it was a magical market the rest of the world didn't see, so I added that bit when I got the copyedits, and I think it even strengthened Katie's decision to make the leap to the new job, since she'd learned enough to realize what was really going on and knew she'd never really be "normal" again.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Winter Has Come

I'm letting myself have one more day of preparing and brainstorming before I actually start writing the new book. I'm normally a big plotter, but I've learned with this particular series that I have no idea what it's about until I start actually writing each book, and then I have to go back and rewrite it, so I may as well start writing and get a sense of it instead of spending time planning that will end up being redone.

Otherwise, today's big task is to update my web site to reflect all the new stuff. I don't know if I'm yet up for a big redesign. That may come later in the month after I figure out how I want to incorporate the new series, since the current design was built around the previous series.

I've decided not to take that New York trip I was thinking about. I kept putting off pulling the trigger on it, and it turns out that would have been the week of all the Perfect Storm stuff -- the release of the new book, the CD release of the Enchanted Inc. series audiobooks and possibly the price promotion on the digital version of Enchanted, Inc. There's not as much to do with a primarily digital release as for a traditional release, as there's no visiting bookstores, but I do hope to have some promo opportunities. And there's always obsessing over Amazon rankings. Meanwhile, that's also a busy time, holiday-wise. I figured it was a sign when I made one last check and couldn't get the hotel I wanted on those days, and then I felt relieved. I've done a research trip at that time of year, so it wasn't critical, and I think the idea of the trip did its job in inspiring the idea for the book. Actually going wasn't really necessary.

Besides, I'm getting my fill of cold weather right now. There was sleet last night. Today it's just bitter. I went walking briefly yesterday and came back with a numb face. Fortunately, I had an emergency pair of knit gloves in my coat pockets. We seem to have skipped fall entirely and gone straight from summer to winter. But I'm sure fall will be back soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

No Sympathy for the Devil

Winter has arrived here. At least, some cold weather has, and as usual around here, it was very drastic, going from nearly 80 degrees one day to 40 degrees the next. I went from going out in short sleeves one day to having to wear my winter coat on the next day. I think we got a freeze last night -- my outdoor thermometer gave the low as 36, but it's in a sheltered location close to the house. This being Texas, it will probably be in the 70s next week. The good news about a freeze is that it makes hiking a lot safer. We can get off the paths without worrying too much about things lurking in the underbrush. And since it's supposed to be cold all week, there will likely be some serious baking going on. Not today, since I have choir, but tomorrow night's dinner will be chicken pot pie, and I may make apple turnovers because there was a sale on all varieties of apples and I have a bunch I need to use. Ever since the heavens opened and the secrets of pastry appeared to me, I'm looking for excuses to make pastry.

The first review for the upcoming book has come in, and it got five stars (out of five), with some very positive comments. This was from a librarian, so I hope that bodes well. I've been nervous about this book because it's different from my previous series and is a bit of an oddball. Seeing some positive feedback helps.

Meanwhile, I'm developing the next book in this series. I was plotting yesterday, trying to come up with possibilities of things that could happen in each stage, when I suddenly realized that although I knew the things that were going on and what the good guys were doing about them, I didn't know who the villain was or what the villain was trying to achieve.

I guess that says a lot about my mindset. I'm definitely not a "sympathy for the devil" person. I don't generally care about the villains in a story other than as someone for the heroes to push against. I don't care if the villains are charismatic or sexy. I tend to think of the "misunderstood" thing as them just making excuses (it's very, very rare for a villain to truly be totally misunderstood and not actually bad at all), especially since the heroes usually have had just as sad a backstory as the villain but didn't respond by doing bad things. As far as I'm concerned, the perfect villain stirs up trouble for the heroes to deal with in ways that really challenge them to rise to the occasion, but mostly stays offscreen so we don't have to waste any actual story time on him/her. The villain needs just enough character development to make some sense, but I care more about what his/her plans are because of how that affects the heroes.

And I realize this apparently puts me in the minority these days, when even the writers are more excited about their villains than their heroes, the villains get the sympathetic backstories, heroes get torn down to make the villains look better or provide some moral relativism (we're all just gray, no black or white), and the villains have the most vocal fanbases. It's cool to cheer on the villains, to want to be in Slytherin House, to be hypercritical of the heroes. So I'm very, very uncool. But that's okay. I don't think I write very good villains because I can't get into that mindset and I can't make myself care about them or be sympathetic toward them, so it's probably for the best that I keep mine offstage most of the time.

I did figure out who the villain is and what he/she wants. And it's not at all misunderstood or sympathetic. This person may be on stage more than my usual villains because this person is kind of a wolf in sheep's clothing and will really challenge the heroes in personal ways, but I hope no one will come away from this book liking this person or wanting this person to get a happy ending. It's rather amazing how much better the plot started falling together once I knew who the villain was. Duh.

I may one day redeem a villain, but it will require a real redemption arc that puts them through hell first.