Friday, January 31, 2014

A Good Month

I finished proofreading the YA steampunk book last night, so that will go to my editor on Monday (I hate to send things like that to people on Friday. I'd rather at least give them the illusion of a cleared desk before the weekend -- and I really hate it when people dump things on me on Fridays). In the future, I will have to make a point of avoiding getting into any other creative projects just as I'm trying to do something like proofreading that requires focus because that was a challenge here. I'd read a paragraph, then get a book cover idea and rush off to look up stuff.

My attempt to make work a priority has done well for me so far this year. I'm already more than a month ahead of where I was last year in time worked (it was more than a month later before I'd worked this much time), and this month I've finished a screenplay, revised a novel and plotted part of a novel. If I can keep this up all year, I'll really rock and roll. Next week I'll get back into the book I was working on, which is the sequel to the one I was talking about yesterday. One benefit of self publishing is that you set your own publication schedule and aren't having to work around other books in the list, so you can put out two books back-to-back. Imagine, only waiting a month before the sequel! But that means I have to finish the book.

I do love the idea of spoofing the generic urban fantasy book cover, but I'm not sure that's feasible because it would require commissioning an original painting, and that gets expensive, probably beyond the budget we're working with. But I did describe the idea to my agent, so we'll see if she knows a way to get it done.

It's very hard to come up with an image that says "whimsical fantasy adventure, with fairies, but not the cute kind, and a dog! But also with some serious women's fiction elements, like family roles and obligations."

In other news, they announced this week that Haven has been renewed for essentially two more seasons. Technically, it's one "season," but it's 26 episodes when they usually do 13-episode seasons, so it looks like a way to get one more season in before they have to renegotiate five-season contracts. I'm very relieved because I was worried about ending things on that particular cliffhanger, and I haven't been able to mentally write my way out of it because I have no clue where they're heading (and that's what I like about it).

Now, though, we're in a TV dead zone because of the Olympics. I may catch up on a lot of OnDemand stuff and do a lot of writing. I tried watching the first episode of BBC's Atlantis, but it was standard-issue bad British fantasy cheese, and not really the good kind, so I'm not sure I'll bother unless I get really bored.

My plan for the day is to pick up some books on hold at the library, wash dishes, and nap. My plan for the weekend is to read, maybe do some housework, and nap. The nagging allergies have really worn me down, and I'm hoping that some slightly more moist air and some rest will help.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Fitting the Cover to the Book

I think dealing with the kids last night set my health back. I was getting better, but trying to speak loudly enough to get their attention and then having to move around to keep them from killing themselves and each other got me started coughing. The panic when Problem Child climbed on top of a stack of chairs and then proceeded to throw himself off onto the floor didn't help matters. I even had to use the Mean Voice when the tactic of turning off the music and just standing there, glaring, didn't work on all the kids. It's frustrating when I have a few who are eager to cooperate and participate and then there are a few others who ruin it for them. When I just went silent, those few good ones immediately noticed and stood still. A few others never even noticed. But I get a week off next week since we're doing a children's service instead. Our group is singing for that service, but I don't have to come up with lesson plans or be responsible for controlling them.

In the meantime, as I wrap up proofreading the latest round of revisions on the YA steampunk book, I've been doing some strategizing with my agent. We've decided that the problem book isn't going to find a home with a traditional publisher because it doesn't really fit into any niches, so we're going to publish it ourselves. So now I'm looking at cover design ideas, and I'm starting to see why publishers were leery since there's no really obvious cover design for it. I've been browsing through Amazon in all the categories this could fit into, and there's no cover or even cover style that has me thinking that it would be a good fit for this book.

I guess that's my fault for writing a contemporary fantasy for which it would be impossible to put a tattooed, leather clad tough chick on the cover. My heroine is a ballerina (and, seriously, talk about tough, ballerinas are probably tougher than any urban fantasy chick) and very feminine. She wears floral, floaty dresses. So that usual cover look won't do. Though it might be funny to do a spoof of the standard-issue urban fantasy cover, but in pastels instead of blacks and greys and with the pretty ballerina in the tough-girl pose. I'm not sure that would sell, but it's funny to imagine.

There's a dog in the book, a bulldog named Beauregard who's usually just about inanimate but who proves himself pretty useful in the fairy realm. I love him, and so does my agent, to the point that she's all "The cover must be a picture of a bulldog being cute and funny!!!! It will sell lots of books!!!!" (She's a dog person.) I'm less sure because the only books I've seen that had covers consisting of pictures of cute dogs were chick lit and contemporary romance when those genres were waning (and it was cheaper to put stock photography on covers than to commission illustrations). A cute bulldog doesn't really say "fantasy adventure" to me.

The title is A Fairy Tale, and it's kind of a play on words because it's about actual fairies -- more from British and Celtic folklore than from Disney movies and Victorian whimsy, so they're scary, not cute -- but a lot of plot elements from fairy tales pop up -- rescuing someone under a spell does require a kiss, there's an enchanted palace covered in thorny vines until the spell is broken, etc. The characters are aware of the tropes and use them. I've described the plot as kind of like Tam Lin, but it's a sister, not a lover, who has to be rescued from fairy captivity. It's not quite as funny and outright humorous as the Enchanted, Inc. books, but there's still a lot of whimsy and I tried to write the dialogue with the tone of the old screwball romantic comedies. There's a low-level romance element -- a couple that can't get together now, but that you kind of hope might someday. Yeah, I love my slow builds.

And I have absolutely no idea what cover would say all that. While I love the work the illustrator I've been working with does, I want to do something different here because I want to keep the look very distinct from the other series (I don't want anyone thinking "Hey, the next Enchanted, Inc. book!"). I guess this kind of thinking is why the publishers make the big bucks.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Getting Feedback

It's writing post time again, and I had a reader question about getting feedback on your work.

Whether or not you need some kind of feedback or editing depends on your skills and what you plan to do with your work. If you're a fairly advanced writer who's a good editor and you're submitting to agents or editors, you may not need to get someone else to look at your work before you submit it. Keep in mind, though, that today's editors are less likely to be willing to edit. Unless your concept is so absolutely brilliant that they think it's worth the work, if a book isn't close to being ready for publication, it may get rejected. An editor won't read too many paragraphs of awkward sentences or poor grammar to find out that the story itself is wonderful. If you're planning to self-publish, you absolutely need additional eyes on your work before you go public, and preferably at the professional level (someone you hire who does it for a living). While there are authors who have sold novels that no one other than the author looked at before they were submitted, you generally can benefit from getting feedback along the way.

There are different levels of feedback that come at different times in a book's development. You can get feedback at the concept level -- brainstorming the idea itself and its viability and originality.

There's developmental editing, which generally happens at the first draft stage, where you get feedback on the story, the structure, the characters and the overall tone of the piece, without even getting into stuff like grammar or sentence structure. Would the story work better if you moved events around? Is there a character who just doesn't work? Are there plot holes? Are there too many scenes that are too similar? Is there some untapped potential in the story -- something readers might want more of? Getting this feedback can help you structure your revisions to create a stronger book.

Line editing helps with the actual words -- are you using the best, most vivid words? Are you being too wordy? Do you really need that sentence? This is the wordsmithing part of the process, though it may also address some plot, character and continuity issues.

Copy editing is the nitpicking part of the process -- checking grammar, spelling and punctuation, making sure you don't use the same word too many times, making sure terms are consistent. It shouldn't change the story, tone or voice of the book.

Proofreading checks for typos or errors that may have arisen while inserting changes from copy editing or during typesetting. Changes should only be made if something is incorrect.

You can get each of these done on a variety of levels, depending on your own skill and the resources you have available to you. There are critique groups or partners, where the feedback is mutual -- you read their work, they read your work -- or there are beta readers -- it's a one-way street where they read your work. These mostly work at the concept or developmental level, possibly up to line editing. You can also find professionals who specialize in concept coaching and developmental or line editing. Copy editing and proofreading are part of the publication process. If you're dealing with a publisher, the publisher will take care of it (though the manuscript you submit should be as clean as possible). If you're self publishing, you need to get someone to do this for you to create a quality product.

If you're hiring a professional, make sure you make clear the kind of edit you want. There's no point in line editing or copy editing a book that needs significant rewriting at the story level, and it's a waste of money and the editor's time to try to fix the words when the story doesn't work. Whether you're working with professionals or with friends, you need to check your ego to get the benefit of feedback. If all you want is praise, you're wasting their time. The idea is to do what it takes to make your book better. That doesn't mean you have to accept all feedback, even when you're dealing with a publisher. It's ultimately your book. But you do need to thoughtfully consider suggestions. Even the best writer benefits from feedback at some point in the process because it's hard to objectively judge your own work.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Judging a Book by its Cover

I think I now have the second half of the next book plotted. I'm now starting to see "movies" of scenes in my head, which is a good sign. Before, it was rather blank. Even when I knew what would happen in a scene, I couldn't see what it looked like.  I have to say that this is a case where giving myself a time quota for work helped. It was like the idea of forcing yourself to make a list of 20 things that can happen, so you can't just stop at the first idea that seems good. In this case, forcing myself to continue thinking until my time was up instead of stopping when I thought I was done resulted in coming up with an additional idea that pulled it all together.

I've been doing some strategizing with my agent, so look for some potential news in the near future. We've made some decisions about how to handle a "problem" (doesn't seem to fit into publishing niches) book, and I'm really excited about it, but it does mean having to make some other decisions that will require research.

Which brings up some questions: What kind of book cover is most likely to catch your eye? Are there any particular things you love/hate/are sick of seeing? Is there a cover you absolutely love, enough that it made you take a look at that book?

In other news, I've finally finished the last library run stash, and I didn't realize it at the time, but just about everything I picked up turned out to be some kind of family saga, usually quite serious and a little bit soap opera-like. There was some payoff, as some of those books sparked an idea that may lead to my Next Big Thing, but I think I need to find something a little lighter. I have two books on hold at the library that probably fit the "fun" quotient that I'll need to pick up this week, but it's very cold today (well, for Texas) and I still haven't entirely rid myself of that annoying cough, so I will not be venturing out today. I may have to force myself to start working through the To Be Read shelf. I think I still have some of the contemporary romantic comedies from the late 90s when that was a trend. If I start one of these books and can't get into it, I'm giving myself permission to get rid of it. Or, now that I think about it, I might even have some of those 70s-early 80s gothics from British publishers that I got from a former boss's wife.

Though the main thing I'll be reading today is my own book.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bad Boys vs. Nice Guys (again)

The weather has gone roller coaster on us again, which isn't helping the ongoing sniffles/cough. 70s yesterday, 30s today. I will spend much of the day burrowed under a blanket, trying to plot the rest of the book I've been working on.

I need to make a slight amendment to the post griping about the traditional gothic. If the heroines were real people, I should say that they shouldn't be obligated to go for the nice guys just because they're nice. Really, "reliable" and "not a potential abuser" should be a baseline for romantic partners. There's a lot of other stuff that goes into attraction, and not every nice guy is going to be someone who attracts every woman. I am alarmed, though, that these heroines always seem to go for guys who don't even meet that baseline. But since these heroines aren't real people and are written by authors, I do find it interesting that the authors aren't willing to pair their heroines up with men who meet a certain minimum standard of decency. I suppose it might be that old idea about the bad boys being more interesting, but then we've got a chicken-and-egg situation -- have writers always written things that way because that's what readers like, or have readers been programmed to like this because that's the way it always goes?

It comes back to some of the stuff I said last fall about a convention panel on bad boys: If your good guy is boring, it's not because he's good. It's because you haven't done a good job of writing him. Defaulting to the bad boy because he's more interesting is lazy writing. It's easy to make the bad boy complex and interesting. You've got real chops if you can do that for someone who isn't always crossing the line and who's trying to do the right thing.

Now to go plot the rest of a book involving a cop who's such a nice-guy straight arrow that his nickname is "Rev" (as in "the reverend") and whose colleagues at the precinct instituted a fine for anyone who swears in his presence. He's given up protesting, since the fine jar is used to buy lunch every so often.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Liking the Idea of It

Of course I'd have to get one of those "ooh!" ideas for a project that will take a lot of research and world building before I can even start writing just as I'm at the point in a project where I need to be totally focused. But I should finish this round of revision today. I could have probably finished yesterday, but I'd done my time for the day and caught myself starting to drift, so I figured I could do the last two chapters today. Then it will rest and I may send to Mom for a sanity check, and then I'll do a quick read-through before sending back to the editor and moving on to the next book. The "resting" time falls on the weekend, and I've got a convention meeting and kick-off party. Meanwhile, I think I need to muck out the living room. It's looking rather tragic.

I was thinking more about those old gothic books, the ones from the 60s and 70s that always seemed to have the woman in a white nightgown fleeing the spooky old house/castle at night during a storm, and I've realized that what I mainly liked was the idea of that kind of book, the potential of it. I love the idea of the atmosphere, the old houses, the secrets and lies and having to figure out who to trust, the romance amidst the danger. The books themselves, however, usually drove me nuts.

For one thing, it seemed to be practically a rule that the heroine had to be a complete ninny with absolutely no common sense and zero self-preservation instinct. The villain could be twirling a mustache and cackling, and the heroine would be convinced that no one so well-placed in the community and so well-dressed could possibly be wicked. Actually, she wouldn't even suspect enough to go through that thought process. She'd completely miss all signs of villainy without having to rationalize it. The fleeing in a nightgown scene on the cover was probably never in the books because fleeing in a nightgown during a storm would be too sensible an action for these idiots to take. That would mean they figured out that there was a danger and fled, even if it was a poorly planned departure. Nope, these chicks usually bumbled right into the danger and had to be rescued.

I also didn't like the romantic heroes, the guys the ninnies ended up with. They were all dark and brooding and behaved in such a way that they were the first suspects. When a man's previous four wives have all died mysteriously and he loses his cool whenever anyone dares challenge him about anything, you do start to wonder about him. But after the heroine's gotten herself in terrible danger by hanging around even after suspecting him, it's all okay once it turns out that the jealous housekeeper has been killing his wives. The brooding and anger is no longer a problem, and it never seems to occur to anyone that maybe he should have started looking into things after the first couple of mysterious deaths. Meanwhile, there's usually the nice "safety net" guy who helps the heroine out of terrible danger, is levelheaded enough to figure out that something's wrong and alerts someone in time to save her and who she trusts absolutely when she doesn't know where else to turn. Although he always seemed like far better boyfriend material, this guy never gets the girl.

There were a few authors who could deliver the kind of book I hoped for. Mary Stewart's heroines usually had a few functioning brain cells, although they did have an alarming tendency to fall for the guys with all the potential abuser red flags while ignoring the trustworthy, reliable guys. Madeleine Brent played with the genre by keeping the spooky house of secrets while turning the whole thing into an adventure and giving the heroine mad skills. She (he, really -- pen name) also played with that good guy/bad guy thing by sometimes making the dark, brooding guy actually be under cover and playing a role, while the seemingly nice guy wasn't that reliable. Or sometimes the nice best-friend type would get the girl. At any rate, I was always satisfied with the outcome.

Maybe that's why I've always wanted to write this kind of book, to write the book I wanted to read but seldom found. My steampunk book (the one I'm currently editing) initially started out as this kind of thing, but all the gothic trappings fell by the wayside once the story developed. There are only a few remnants left.

Now, though, I need to get a few things written even as I start the research reading.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

When Ideas Collide

I had to resort to my stand-by desperation move with the kids last night: musical chairs, the one activity that keeps them occupied for ten whole minutes. We had three adults, since the other teacher made her husband join us, and two teens, since the usual teen helper brought her stepsister, and we still had a hard time keeping them corralled. The new teen wants to be Abby from NCIS when she grows up, so I'm thinking she'd know good ways to make a body disappear …

Problem Child was back, and there has to be a Jekyll/Hyde thing going on with that kid because when he's good, he's the most adorable thing, so sweet and so smart, and then he can turn on a dime and be nasty. When he showed up at class, he came straight to me and stood at attention, so I saluted him and said he was reporting to duty. He saluted back, then he handed me a love note he'd written for one of the girls in the class. Then in an instant it was like his eyes flipped around and turned black and suddenly he was talking about poop at every opportunity. And then he did something really clever that actually fit the assignment and took it a step further, and then he was demonstrating with pipe cleaners what naked people look like.

Yesterday I was flipping through my business notebook, looking at the stories in various stages of development to decide what I should be working on this year, and I had one of those fun moments where two different ideas collide to create a new idea that gets me excited. I guess this was sort of brought up by talking about maybe making a trip to England. One of my justifications is research for a story idea I've been playing with, a classic gothic with a twist or two. At one point last summer, I found myself thinking about the traditional cheesy gothic novel cover -- the woman in a white nightgown fleeing from a spooky house or castle as a storm rages. I started making up a story behind that image. What was she running from and why was she out in a nightgown during a storm? What happens next? In spite of that image being on the covers of dozens of books during the heyday of that kind of story, I don't think that actual scene was ever really in any of the books. Next thing I knew, I had this whole thing in my head of a secret magical security/investigative service, like the MI-5 of magic, keeping tabs on possible evil wizards, and the woman was one of these agents, sent undercover to work as a governess for a suspected evil wizard and spy on him, and her contact/handler was the neighboring landowner. She's running in her nightgown because she's just been snooping, discovered the incriminating evidence, almost got caught, and the only way out was to climb out the window and down the wall, and now she's running to the neighbor to tell him what she's found. It grew and expanded from there.

Then after talking about those books that have a framing story in which someone in the present researches a story in the past, yesterday I had the brainstorm that this would be an ideal story to do that with -- someone inherits an estate, or possibly is a museum worker in one of these old estates that's being turned into a museum, and finds something odd while going through the old house. That then turns into a research project that uncovers what happened in the past and reveals the secret magical agency that still exists. It does lack the WWII angle, but I suppose I could get really complicated with it and have part of the research involve interviewing an old person who spent the war in that house as a child and finding out what that person discovered, so there's the story within the story within the story. At any rate, it might make a nice bridge between my contemporary fantasy work and my steampunk, since the framing story would be contemporary fantasy and the story within the story would be Victorian.

Now I've got a lot of research to do in preparation for writing something like this. There's probably a year of reading and development before I write a word. And it definitely will require some travel (yay, tax write-off!). Oh dear, visiting great houses turned into museums. What a terrible ordeal that will be.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Planning the Year

It would be easier to get over the cough/cold/sniffles if the weather would pick a climate and stick to it for more than one day. The constant roller coaster of temperatures and the constant shift in wind direction is not helping. Today's a "warm" day after yesterday's "chilly" day and before tomorrow's "cold" day. I was well enough yesterday to get through about seven chapters. I want to do as much today, but I have choir this evening. I'll do the children's choir because that's an obligation, but then I may not manage the adult choir rehearsal because singing isn't my strong suit at the moment. It tends to set off the coughing, especially as it gets later into the evening.

If I'm really good, I'll finish this round of revisions this week. I'm re-reading without the editor's notes so that I don't know what was her suggestion and what was my change, and then I'm polishing to make sure it all still flows and that the wording isn't awkward. Then next week I may do one more read-through. And then I can get back to the book I was working on in the fall. After that, I have a number of possible options to play with and I'll have to decide which project to tackle first. A lot may happen between now and then that will determine that.

One thing I also need to think about is my convention schedule for the year. I'm still wavering on WorldCon in London. I want to go to London, but I'm not sure I want to go there at the peak (and most expensive) travel season and then spend most of the time I'm there sitting in a convention center. It might be better to do several domestic conventions instead, and then I can travel to England on my own. I have several things to research there, if I'm at that point in my writing. I like being in England in October, and it's much less expensive and less crowded then.

So I'm thinking of going to the Nebula awards weekend for networking purposes, since most of the attendees are published writers and editors. The World Fantasy Convention is near Washington, DC, this year, and that's one of my favorite places, which I haven't visited in forever. That's also a good networking event where I may or may not be able to get on the program. Since WorldCon is abroad, there's a North American convention instead, which is in Detroit this year. That may or may not be something I do. I haven't decided on any regional conventions outside my close radius that allows me to stay at home instead of in a hotel. It seems like all the conventions in the general area draw the same people, more or less, so there's not a lot of advantage to going to Austin or Houston in addition to the Dallas events. I have a release next year, so I need to start building some buzz, but I haven't yet decided if doing a lot of travel in the summer will help toward that, since people may forget by the time the book is out.

I guess I should throw this out there. What events do you know of where I'm likely to meet lots of cool people who will then want to buy my books, where there will either be existing fans or people likely to become fans? Where do you go to meet authors or learn about books you want to read? Bonus if you're on a convention committee and can make sure I'd be able to get on the program. I'm generally fairly amusing on panels, and I do pretty good readings.

Of course, a lot of this depends on the budget for the year, and a lot of that depends on some decisions in the next couple of months that will be made by me and by other people.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Report: Family Secrets

After a two-hour nap yesterday afternoon, I feel tons better. I even caught myself singing as I cooked dinner, though I didn't quite have full control of my voice and wasn't right on pitch, so I had to stop before I annoyed myself. I'm wavering on dance class tonight. The remaining symptoms are below the neck (a sporadic cough), which usually means exercise isn't a good idea, and it's rather cold out. It might be a good night to stay inside and watch the next installment of Klondike on the Discovery Channel -- a miniseries about the gold rush, filmed on location, so the scenery is wonderful. I did an emergency yarn run this morning (the yarn I need for the bedspread I just started was half off) and returned my library books, so I'm set for the day. I do think I'll dive back into work today, since I feel rested and non-groggy. The next project is starting to stir in my subconscious, so I want to finish these revisions and move on.

In the last week or so, I've found a new-to-me author who writes one of my brands of literary crack -- there's some framing story of someone learning about a family secret related to WWII and starting to research it, and then the narrative also tells the story of what was happening during the war. It cuts back and forth between the two storylines as the present-day character comes closer to learning the truth. So, yeah, throw in a ghost or some magic and do a little more romance and you've basically got the perfect book. Except the writing is more literary, which is both good and bad. On the plus side, it feels more like An Important Book than like literary crack, so there's a slight sense that maybe this is even good for me, but on the minus side, it does sometimes slow things to the point that I find myself skipping ahead to find the next big twist.

The author is Kate Morton, and the first I read of hers was The Distant Hours,  which is about a young woman in the early 90s who learns that her mother was evacuated from London during the war to a castle that was the home of the author of her favorite book from childhood. Now the three sisters her mother lived with are still living in the castle that's crumbling around them, one of them having descended into madness decades ago, as they all suffer from a terrible family secret that's touched many lives. The next one I read was The Secret Keeper, in which a woman finds a photo of her 90-year-old mother as a young woman, next to a friend -- and the friend turns out to be connected to a strange incident that happened when the heroine was a teen. She starts researching her mother's history and that of the friend so she can find out what really happened.

I liked The Secret Keeper best of the two because it was more fun, less warped and more hopeful, though I did figure out the big twist less than halfway through the book. I would call these rainy-day books, the kind of thing it's fun to read when it's cold and gray and the winds are howling around you. Curl up under a blanket and dive in. Though you may need chocolate near the end because while there's a positive ending, to a large extent, it's not what I'd call a happy ending. I would also not recommend reading multiple books by this author back-to-back because her patterns and quirks become pretty obvious that way. I'm going to have to take a break before I dig up more of these, but I will be digging them up.

And now I kind of want to write my version of this sort of thing, the one that includes a wizard, a ghost and a happy love story.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Raising the Game

I had one of those weekends that felt more like work, so that I feel like I need a weekend to recover. The workshop I went to was incredible, but a little draining. It was a workshop for church musicians of all sorts. The nice thing was that they repeated the entire program from Friday on Saturday, so you got a chance to do other things that were scheduled opposite each other. Friday I went to the sessions on preschool music, and I got a ton of ideas of games to play and some classroom management techniques. I'd planned to try some of the elementary sessions on Saturday, although I wanted to go to the main adult choir stuff out of pure selfishness because they were presented by the director of the choir at St. Olaf's College (known for their PBS Christmas specials) and I thought they'd benefit me as a singer. Then the children's music director for my church (the one who signed me up for the workshop) said his sessions were phenomenal and encouraged me to go, so that's what I did Saturday. While I did learn a lot I can use as a singer, he also addressed a lot of stuff that applies to children's choirs, and I learned some things I might be able to use with my kids, so it worked out.

The one problem was that I managed to get sick at a very bad time. The sniffles and sneezes from earlier in the week had migrated so that I had a sore throat. I completely lost my voice on Friday, which was frustrating because between class sessions, they had what they called reading sessions, where they passed out a booklet of music to everyone, and then we all sang it while various directors conducted. Most of the people in the group were professionals with music degrees, so the sound was amazing, and I wanted to participate so much, but I couldn't sing at all without pain. I was better on Saturday, and by sheer willpower I managed to sing in the demonstration rehearsal conducted by the St. Olaf's director. I learned so much there as a singer, and it was fun to sing in that kind of choir, doing that kind of music. I was a little outclassed, as a moderately gifted and slightly trained amateur surrounded by highly trained professionals, but that's the sort of thing that raises your game. It's like the way I dance better when adults who used to dance professionally attend my ballet class.

And then I lost my voice again as the cough moved lower still. Since there's so much worry about flu right now, I kept mentally running through the checklist, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't the flu. It came on gradually, unlike the flu, which hits hard and fast. I didn't feel all that bad, and if I'd had the flu, I wouldn't have been able to drive across town in rush hour and sit through a whole day of workshops. When I've had the flu, I've sometimes had to stop in the bedroom and rest when going from the living room to the bathroom. I also never ran fever. So either it was a head cold that migrated or it's all just allergies. Now I've still got the cough, but strangely, only at night and first thing in the morning. As long as I'm mostly vertical, I'm fine. The coughing at night was making me tired, so last night I resorted to the good cough syrup (prescription, from my last bout with bronchitis), which meant I slept all night, but I woke up groggy. I wouldn't try singing or talking today, and I'm going to try to take it easy, but I don't feel too bad.

Today is technically a federal holiday, and I'm wavering on whether to allow myself to take the day off to fully rest. Most of today's tiredness has to do with forcing myself to stay awake to finish the book I was reading because I had to know how it ended, even after I'd taken the good cough syrup and was barely awake.  I may just deal with some other business stuff, as focusing isn't my strong suit at the moment. It may be a thinky day to mull on some decisions about the book I'm revising.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Sanity Check

I had to give myself a sanity check scolding yesterday. I finished going through my editor's suggestions on the manuscript in a much shorter time than I had allocated for my writing time of the day, and then I started fretting about meeting my goal for the week. I need to let the manuscript rest before I take another pass at it because I'd like to be able to forget what in the current version is the editor's suggestion and what I wrote, so I can polish it without bias. That generally means putting it aside until next week, since the deadline isn't that tight. But I hadn't put in my time! And I'm going to be out Friday, so I was supposed to be working more each day! Did I need to find something else to work on?

And then I realized how silly I was being. One of the things I hated about the day job was that I was stuck at the office even if I was really efficient and finished my work. Why was I doing that to myself? This whole goal/quota system is in place for times when I'm not on a deadline and don't feel pressured to work, or when I do have a deadline but it's so far off that it doesn't feel like a deadline. It's for overcoming procrastination and the don't wannas. It's not for adding stress when I'm being good and am ahead of schedule. The whole benefit of working for myself is that I can treat these things with common sense. So, I'll take care of some business stuff this morning and then let myself play this afternoon, and I won't worry about being out for the choir workshop tomorrow. The idea of giving myself "vacation" days is to make myself take the occasional day when I don't even try to work (or feel like I should be working), to step away for a while.

I don't really have any funny choir stories from last night. There was an even number of boys and girls, and one of the boys started making crude noises and jokes (as boys do), which the other boys then picked up on because they thought it was hilarious. I think it was easier when I just had a room full of girls who wanted to dance instead of doing anything else. Then there was the kid who came into the room singing that song about what the fox says (I know of it, but have avoided actually being exposed to the song itself). And there was the one I had to stop from head-butting me and everyone else (the way he was doing it, I was terrified he'd break his neck or do some sort of spinal damage). Somehow I doubt the choir workshop will be of much help in dealing with that sort of thing, but maybe I'll learn some new activity ideas to keep them distracted.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Your Writing Resolution

First, some news. I'd been waiting to announce this until I knew more, but these people don't mess around and it turns out it's already happened without me knowing. Last fall, I signed a deal with Audible to do audiobooks of the Enchanted, Inc. series, and it looks like the first three books are already available. The rest will be coming. I could swear it was just before Christmas that they e-mailed to ask how my name is pronounced. So, if you've been looking for something to listen to on your commute or if you have a friend who only listens to audiobooks that you can now hook on the series, then there you go! They show up in the listing at Amazon, and you should also be able to get them via the Audible subscription service. I know there's a lot of worry about Amazon and its subsidiaries in the publishing world, but as I said, they don't mess around. They move at Internet speed, while the rest of the publishing world makes glaciers impatient.

I'm kicking off my writing posts for the year. In case you're new, I do posts about writing every other Wednesday (aside from holidays, travel, etc.). You can read them on my blog, or subscribe to get them via e-mail at I'm always open to suggestions or questions, as long as I think I can contribute something on the topic. Since this is the start of a new year, when we're all full of enthusiasm and trying to live up to resolutions, I thought I'd first tackle the topic of setting writing goals.

The tricky thing about writing a book is that it's a big project, a long-range goal. It's something you can work on for months without finishing. If you resolve to write a book this year, that gives you a lot of leeway, which means it's easy to give up. As with most big projects, it helps to break it down into chunks so that you can feel a sense of achievement and completion along the way, and that then motivates you to do the next part. Whether you set daily or weekly goals depends on your life. I see a lot of advice to writers about how you have to write every day or you're not a real writer, but that always seems to come from bestsellers whose job is writing. I write full-time, and I still sometimes have trouble writing every day because life gets in the way. If you can only write on weekends, then set goals for each weekend. Take into consideration your other obligations and schedule when setting goals. If your life is sporadic and you don't know when you can write, set weekly goals so that you don't have to worry about any particular day as long as you get it done eventually.

Writing is also a lot like exercise, in that it requires some preparation and development before you can go all-out. You don't run a marathon or compete in the Olympics the first time you decide to do something physical. It requires training and practice. There are some people who can just plunge into a novel with no idea of where they're going, but for most of us, we're a lot more successful and a lot less likely to fizzle out in the middle if we have even the slightest blueprint of where we're going, so it's worth it to take some time at the beginning to think about your book -- who are the characters, what is their conflict, etc. Once you start writing, start with smaller goals you're sure you can achieve, and then you can build from there. Whether your goal is an amount of time spent working or an amount of work produced is up to you. Starting with time might be a good idea until you get a better sense of what you can produce, since you can control how much time you devote, but it's harder to produce a certain number of words on command. Once you have a deadline, you may have to set productivity goals, but until then, committing time is the important thing.

Set rewards for yourself, even if it's just allowing yourself to goof off once you've met your goal. Allow yourself to celebrate when you've met a milestone. It sometimes helps to make your progress visual -- something like one of those fundraising thermometer graphs that shows how many hours you've spent working, or sticking gold stars on your calendar for each day you meet your goal.

It can sometimes be difficult to get other people in your life to buy in to your commitment. If writing is something you do in your spare time, it looks like a hobby, and others may feel that should take a lower priority or is something you can just drop if something more fun comes along. Even with writing being my job, I do sometimes have to deal with people who think I have tons of free time and can take off whenever I want. That's because it's such a solitary process and other people only see the results, not the hours of work it really takes. You have to take your work seriously before you can expect others to take it seriously, so you may have to be firm or set particular hours that you treat like an appointment.

I have to say, there's nothing like the feeling of hitting "the end" on a novel, so keep at it until you do.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Downstairs from Pride and Prejudice

They said on the news last night that mountain cedar pollen levels were high, which explains everything. If it had been a cold, the symptoms would have progressed to stuffiness by this point, but instead, the sniffling and sneezing has eased up a bit and Allegra seems to be taking care of it during the day, with Benadryl at night (which means I'm having really fun dreams). In spite of the sniffling, I managed to meet my usual daily writing time goal, plus some extra time to try to make up for being out on Friday.

My reading last week was an interesting book that kind of falls into the category of "published Pride and Prejudice fan fiction." There's practically an entire industry of books spinning off from the classic -- sequels in which the remaining sisters find love, mystery series in which Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are the sleuths, additions of zombies or vampires, etc. Longbourn is a more serious, literary approach, focusing on the servants of the Bennet household. The original story serves mostly as the setting and situation, happening in the background while a story about the servants unfolds. A few of them are named in the original book, while others exist without even being given names. This book attempts to flesh them all out and give them their own stories. It all kicks off at about the same time as the original, with the announcement of a new rich, single man as neighbor that sends the household into a tizzy. Meanwhile, a new footman has been hired under what seems to the housemaid to be mysterious circumstances. She sets out to learn about him, and that gets her started thinking about a lot of things that make her question her lot in life.

To be honest, I'm not sure how much I liked this book. I found it interesting more than anything else, but a lot of detail is spent on describing just how difficult it was to be a servant in that era and how even "good" employers could be pretty thoughtless toward them. I would caution P&P superfans who absolutely love the original book (or the 1995 TV miniseries) because this book doesn't look so lovingly upon the characters. Lizzie and Jane come off pretty well, being mostly kind to the maid, but they're still pretty oblivious to the fact that she's a human being with her own hopes and dreams. Some of the others get some character assassination, with story elements and character traits that are pulled from thin air. And I got the feeling this author didn't find the relationship between Lizzie and Darcy to be all that romantic.

I guess I'm mostly just alerting people to the fact that the book exists. If you're into history and want the gritty realism about the era, you might find it interesting. If Pride and Prejudice is your favorite romantic story ever, you may or may not want to read it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

On to Week Two

After a stellar start to the new year last week, this week may be a bit more of a struggle. I seem to have come down with either a bad allergy attack or a mild head cold. It fits the timing pattern for a cold picked up from the kids -- hitting Sunday afternoon -- but I was also outdoors for a while in some pretty gusty winds Sunday after church when we had a groundbreaking ceremony for a new building, and that could have set off allergies. I have that church music workshop on Friday and Saturday, so I need to be well by then. Basically, the treatment is the same, with antihistamines and lots of liquids. I still need to get work done, so that will be my challenge, going over the editor's suggestions while sneezing and sniffling. I was hoping to do a little extra work every day so I don't have to use one of my "vacation" days (I really am hoping to set and stick to a policy this year) for the workshop on Friday. One of my policies is that doing something work-related (like a convention) counts as work, but non-work things would be treated the way non-work things would be in any other job. We'll see how long this lasts, but I have good intentions at the moment.

Fortunately, other than the sniffling and sneezing, I don't feel that bad. I have energy and am in a moderately good mood. So maybe it is just allergies.

Over the weekend I did some OnDemand TV catching up. I think I'm finally up-to-date with Almost Human, the series about a cop teamed up with an android partner, and I'm enjoying it. It's not really to the point where I'd feel a loss if I missed an episode, but I enjoy it when it's on. The key thing about the show is the relationship between the two partners. I'm a sucker for buddy cops when it's done well, and this is done well with some nice twists. I'm not so thrilled with the world building, as it doesn't always make sense to me (and I'm not a huge fan of "the future is going to suck!" science fiction), and the plots can be so-so, but the two main characters are golden.

I was very ho-hum on the pilot for Intelligence, which is basically a serious version of Chuck, without the Buy More. There's the guy with the computer in his brain and the sexy, bad-ass woman assigned to protect him. The pilot struck me as very paint-by-numbers, where I felt like I could see the screenplay right there on the screen -- there's the exposition speech in which one character lays out the premise to another character, there's the point of manufactured conflict between the two main characters, there's the moment of bonding between the unlikely partners that will form them into a team. It looks like they got past the conflict pretty quickly, so that bit in particular seemed to come from some checklist of things they thought they should be doing (though I bet there's still a bit of pointless bickering). I'll watch the next episode, but if I'm still seeing the screenplay superimposed over the actual action, I'll give it a pass.

Meanwhile, I don't know what the heck is going on over at Downton Abbey. There doesn't seem to be a storyline I care much for this season. I guess the main appeal to that series for me, aside from the clothes and setting, was the relationship between Mary and Matthew. Now that we're in the 20s and I don't like the clothes, and with Matthew out of the picture, there's little to keep my interest other than the Dowager Countess's quips.

I may ease off on the organizing this week, since I have to take Friday off and since I'm not feeling great and need to get well before the weekend. It's probably best not to be stirring up more dust.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What is it About Thursdays?

I know the "I never could get the hang of Thursdays" thing has become a cliche, but it's so very true. There's just something about Thursdays that seems to trip me up. It may be that my enthusiasm for the week has started to wear off, or that I'm tired after Wednesday night, or that the things that didn't get done earlier in the week because of whatever thing I was focusing on have piled up and must be dealt with, and then that keeps me from dealing with the thing I was focusing on. At any rate, meeting my work time quota was a bit of a struggle yesterday and stretched into the evening, but I powered through and did it. Today I may skip my organizing session to do some other housework and laundry. I'd been using online episodes of BBC radio dramas as background noise to time my work sessions, and that forced me to do them every day, since the stories I was following were about to expire. Now I've made it through the ones I wanted to hear, and that means I have a little more flexibility. I do need to find some other online things to listen to, though, for future work. I think I need to catch up on Welcome to Night Vale, for one thing.

I still have some time management issues, since I'm still not getting everything done that I'd like to. What has helped is making the things that should be a priority a priority. I know that seems blindingly obvious, but somehow it can be really hard to function that way. I have a book on dealing with procrastination, and its suggestion was to schedule the stuff you want to do, leaving open time for the stuff you need to do. That takes the pressure off the things you need to do and limits the time you spend on "time wasters." That worked up to a point, but I think the way it got ingrained into my head was making the time wasters into a priority. This time around, I've identified the things I'm most likely to waste time on and set up rules for dealing with them, mainly that I don't until I've reached my writing goal for the day. That means I actually reach my goal and I have an incentive to do so.

One nice thing about pushing myself to focus on work during the week is that the weekend now feels like a weekend. When you're self-employed and work at home, there's a danger of turning into the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey: "What's a weekend?" You may end up getting lots of work done on the weekend. Or you may play during the week. The days start to blur. Now I'm looking forward to a couple of days without the to-do list.

I'll still be busy. There's a women's group brunch at church on Saturday morning, then a "meeting"/social gathering with friends Saturday afternoon. And then there are some special events at church Sunday that will extend the day.

Now, off to do dishes and laundry and then settle down for some more revisions so I can maybe relax this evening.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Enchanted, Inc. Origins

It's a good thing I wrapped up that screenplay because last night I came home from choir practice to find a package on my doorstep that was the next round of edits and revision notes on the YA book. Time to dive back into that one! And I had just re-read the book that was so rudely interrupted by revisions the last time and was eager to get back into it.

The children's choir got interesting. My lesson plans went right out the window. We had a shortage of teachers and youth helpers in preschool, so we were spreading teachers out and I ended up helping in preschool because that teacher didn't have help and had more kids. Meanwhile, I couldn't get our CD player to play properly. I could sometimes get it to play some tracks on the CD, but not the tracks I actually needed. But hey, that means I already have lesson plans for next week, since we didn't do anything I had planned.

I made it through the boxes in the office closet and found a lot of hidden treasures, things I haven't been able to find but knew I wouldn't have thrown out. One of these was my initial notebook when I first started working on the idea that became the book that became Enchanted, Inc.

A few funny things I remembered/discovered from flipping through that notebook:

The first book I read to research the series was a history on the House of Morgan. At that time, I didn't know what the magical corporation would look like, so I was looking into businesses that had been based in lower Manhattan for a long time and that might have a multinational presence, which mostly meant banks. Reading that book told me that banking wasn't that magical, though I did eventually use that research for the third book, when Katie was helping Philip track down what had happened to his family's business.

I think I was initially planning the business to be more incompetent, to do a Dilbert-like satire of the American corporation. In fact, I read a Scott Adams book on the workplace. Also something to the effect of "when smart people work for dumb bosses." I ended up using that for the Mimi part of the book, and while there was some corporate idiocy at MSI, I couldn't make myself make the whole operation be incompetent, not once I'd decided that Merlin would be the CEO.

I have a few scribbled notes from my initial research trip to New York, mostly about stuff that happened on the train on my way into the city. Then I have a point-by-point list of things you'd pass walking from the approximate location of the office to the approximate location of Katie's apartment.

I had a real Twilight Zone moment from looking at my initial list of potential characters. I first wrote them down as roles, stuff like "good-looking guy at new office." Then there are a few more notes to flesh them out. When it came to naming them, there's a list of potential names in the margin as I tried them on and then discarded them until I found the name that fit perfectly. I've joked that I like the TV series Haven because it's like alt universe fan fiction for my series, where Katie and Owen are cops in a small town in Maine, since we've got the snarky gal who's immune to magic and the painfully shy but smart and professionally competent guy with a troubled childhood. The TV series characters are named Audrey and Nathan. Well, I'd totally forgotten this, but the first name I have written down for the character who became Owen is Nathan. It's then crossed out with Owen written beneath it. There are already way too many parallels in characters and plot points between the two series, but that almost extended to names?

I'm not accusing anyone of stealing anything because I doubt anyone associated with the show is even remotely aware of my books, and it was in development a long time, and some of the plot elements that have come out that eerily mirror my books happened on-screen between the time I wrote them and the time they were published, so we must have been writing those things at about the same time. No one but me ever would have known about the name thing, the notebook with that information has been buried in my office closet since at least 2007, and I'd even forgotten it. I may need to look into a tinfoil hat, though. Or else contact these writers and say that since we've apparently been collaborating psychically, maybe we should do so deliberately.

Now I need to find new homes for all the stuff I unearthed so I can find it more easily in the future.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Continuing Virtue

Yet another day of virtue. I cleared out another big box from the office closet and just have one more to go. I also de-Christmassed the house and got everything back to the garage. The stuff that gets stored in the house hasn't been put away yet, but it goes in the office closet, so I want to finish clearing it out and arranging it before I put more stuff in it. However, I didn't meet my writing time goal for the day -- but that was because I finished the screenplay. I figure that finishing a project automatically counts as meeting the goal for the day, since I don't really want to dive into a new project for just 45 minutes.

The screenplay will require a lot of revision, I'm sure, but that will go on the back burner while I work on something else. Even if I don't end up doing anything with this screenplay, I think it's been a beneficial exercise. For one thing, it was a different form of writing, so it forced my brain into new patterns. It made me focus on action and dialogue to convey absolutely everything rather than being able to rely on narrative. It made me look at how to create more active, condensed scenes instead of using summary. After I get some other stuff done, I'll take another look at it, do some revisions, then talk to my agent about the viability of seeing if maybe the agent who represents my books in Hollywood can do anything with it. If not, I may novelize it and self-publish it as a Christmas season release.

Now, though, I need to get back into that book I was working on. Today will mean re-reading what I've written to get my head back into it, to see where I was going and to maybe replot it (using what I learned from structuring a screenplay).

Meanwhile, choir starts again tonight, so I need to come up with a lesson plan. We have the man who collects flutes coming, which will eat up some time with an activity, so I don't need much more. I'm sure a lot of time will be spent with the kids eagerly telling me what they got for Christmas. Next weekend, I'm going to a workshop on choral directing, with a lot of sessions about little kids, so maybe that will give me new ideas of things to do with them.

I think I'm going to re-start the writing posts next week. I don't have any ideas burning to get out, so I'm taking questions or suggestions. What do you want to know about writing or publishing? Is there anything you want tips about?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Holiday Reading Book Report

My first real workday of the new year went reasonably well, but there really is only so much virtue one can cram into a single day, so I didn't quite get everything I wanted done. I did manage to meet my writing time goal, and I spent half an hour sorting through one of the boxes in the office closet, with almost all of it being trashed. And I deleted a couple of hundred e-mails from my in-box. If I meet my writing time goal today, I might finish the first draft of the screenplay. It's definitely going to need a lot of rewriting. I'm likely going to come up a bit short, but then there are some scenes that may need fleshing out because I've been so afraid of having more story than time and haven't developed things fully. Once that draft's done, I have some editing work I need to do on something else, and then I may get back to that novel I was working on.

Now, for some book discussion. I read a lot over the holidays, and there were a couple of things I wanted to discuss.

I read The Cuckoo's Calling by "Robert Galbraith," JK Rowling's attempted stealth book before she was outed. I saw it on the library shelf and thought I'd heard of it, then didn't realize what it was until I took it home. I have mixed feelings about the "outing" of the author. If she wanted the book to be judged on its own merits and to try something different, then she had that right. But on the other hand, I might never heard of this book otherwise, and I really liked it. It feels like the start of a series, and I hope the experience of having her authorship revealed doesn't sour her on continuing the series.

One other good reason for taking a pen name for this book was that it's so very different from the Harry Potter series. If you're expecting whimsy and magic, it's not there, and it's rather gritty and adult, so I can imagine the outrage if some clueless parent just grabbed a book off the shelf for a child because JK Rowling is the child's favorite author. Basically, this is a hardboiled detective novel with a few twists. We've got our bitter, down-on-his-luck PI and his plucky Girl Friday assistant, but in modern London and with resources like cell phones and the Internet. The plot was twisty enough that I didn't figure out the bad guy, although all the clues were right there. The red herrings all seemed really viable. I like the main characters and want to see more about how they progress, as this was essentially an origin story, showing how the Girl Friday arrived and how that turned things around for the PI. To some extent, it's as much her story as it is his, as she's a small-town-girl-trying-to-make-it-in-the-city temp who happens to fall into the job of her dreams and finds that she's surprisingly good at this sort of thing.

I haven't heard any rumors about any more books about these characters, but I want them.

I also read The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, the author of The Historian. This is another of those literary mystery-type books, with a story within a story, as the book tells the story of someone uncovering another story. This one wasn't quite as twisty or layered, though, and there isn't a fantasy or supernatural element (though I kept expecting one). It's the story of a psychiatrist who takes the case of a prominent painter who was arrested for attempting to slash a painting in a museum. He won't talk, he keeps painting portraits of a particular woman, and he has a stack of antique letters to and from an obscure French artist. To learn more about what's going on with him, the doctor tracks down the man's ex-wife and ex-girlfriend and has the letters translated. The narrative skips around from the doctor telling his story about his investigation to the ex-wife telling the story of their courtship, marriage and divorce to the ex-girlfriend telling about their relationship, all with the letters interspersed. I have to say that some of the stories strained credibility because in some cases they were supposed to be someone telling a story in conversation, except the language is so literary and focusing on the kind of details that come up in writing, not in speech. These people tell all kinds of stuff in a way that sounds like something in a novel, not the way you'd expect a person to talk to a psychiatrist. I'm still not sure I understand what was really going on, and the resolution didn't quite work.

But it was still a really compelling read, especially as it built toward the end and we found out what had happened in the past. It also, strangely, made me want to do something artistic. I'm not very visually minded and am no real artist, but my parents gave me various art supplies over the years, and I went through phases of playing with them. I was rather decent at drawing at one time. I've even had a drawing published -- when I was working on the school newspaper, I sold an ad to the town's preschool and drew a little illustration for the ad. They started using that art in all their ads and as a logo (technically a copyright violation, but I'll let it slide). There's a cafe in town that has local business ads on the tables under lamination, so it's fun to go eat there and see my own artwork on the table. I haven't really done anything artistic in years, but while reading this book, I caught myself looking at the continuing education art course listings for the community college, until sanity prevailed and I remembered that I don't have the time to devote to that sort of thing. But maybe I'll get out the pencils and pastels more often because it's good to use that side of the brain every so often. Anyway, I like it when a book spills over into my real life like that and makes me want to do something, so I consider that a mark in this book's favor. So, if you like books about research and are interested in art, it could be enjoyable. Just don't set your expectations high for the kind of twists and shocks that were in The Historian.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Kicking off the Work Year

So, today's the first real workday of the new year, the one in which I'm going to change everything, and I haven't made such a great start, since I slept rather late due to staying up reading rather late. At least this time the book I stayed up to finish only disappointed me rather than infuriating me.

I did have a very productive weekend, though. Saturday was nice and warm, though very windy, so since my patio is sheltered, it was a good day for getting work done out there. I got the space cleared off and then assembled my storage box and put everything away in there. I also swept off the patio and pulled the dead moonflower vines off the trellis. Then I got in a good half hour of office organizing. Sunday there was a drastic temperature change and the headache that always comes with it, so I was a bit less productive, but I still did some office organizing. I'm very close to being done with sorting everything.

I've discovered that the Emergency Clean seems to have been the cause of most of the office mess, as that's what most of the boxes have been. When I need to drastically clean the living room quickly, then everything that's sitting out gets shoved into a box and tossed into the office. That's stuff like newspapers or magazines that have something in them that I want to clip and keep, clippings or documents that need to be filed, or things that need to be shredded. And then the box gets forgotten. I've now thrown out, clipped and filed all the stuff in those boxes, and I have a big stack of things to shred.

Now I'm down to the Clean Sweep boxes. There used to be a home improvement reality show about organizing in which professional organizers and decorators tackled a problem room by forcing a clean sweep. Everything in the room was removed and dumped on the lawn, where the victims were forced to sort it into "keep," "sell" and "toss" piles, with the "keep" pile limited by the size of the tarp available for it (and sometimes they had to go through that pile and sort it again). There was the usual manufactured reality show drama of couples or families arguing over things to keep, and then they did silly competitions for the yard sale. Meanwhile, the organizers and decorators would re-do the room and arrange storage for the few things they were keeping.

Well, the summer that Enchanted, Inc. was on submission, I got bored and stressed and needed a distraction, so I decided that the way to clean and organize my office was to play Clean Sweep. I didn't move out all the furniture, but I removed everything from the desk and put it in boxes that I moved out onto the loft. Then I was gradually working my way through the boxes and putting things away. But midway through that project, the book sold, and then I had to deal with copy edits and had to write the sequel, so the boxes sat there on the loft, and whenever I needed something in them, I'd have to go digging. Then in an emergency clean moment (I think when a reporter wanted to interview me in my home) they got shoved into the office closet. I think at least one box is keepsakes, but we'll see how much I want or need to keep. The keepsake thing is going to be my problem because I keep finding things that I don't necessarily need and might not miss if I forgot they were there, but finding and seeing them gives me joy so I can't make myself deliberately toss them.

Weirdest thing found in yesterday's cleaning: My contractor badge from a former client, where I sometimes had to work on-site. The weird thing about it was that the sweater I was wearing in the ID photo was the same one I was wearing yesterday when I found it. I guess over the years it got demoted from work attire to wear-around-the-house attire.

Today I need to meet my writing time goal (and I'd like to get closer to finishing this Christmas movie screenplay now that the holidays are over and I'm no longer in the mood). I also need to do some marketing/publishing work and do another half hour or so of office sorting, though first I probably need to put away some of the things I found that were very out of place (like the screwdriver I found in one box). So far, I'm being good and sticking to the work rules I've established, and I need to coast on that enthusiasm long enough to make it a new habit.

Friday, January 03, 2014

The Reading Year in Review

I kind of failed at my day of fun. I was in the car, heading out, when I suddenly got a raging case of the Don't Wannas, and since it was supposed to be fun, there was no point in forcing myself. I went as far as the grocery store and then stopped off to pick up some bread and some pasta (good thing, since I wouldn't have had enough for dinner otherwise) and then went back home and indulged in some office cleaning. I've now made it to the boxes that have been sitting in my closet for ages. I also surpassed my writing goal for the day, so I think I'm going to attempt my full goal today.

I've tabulated my year in reading, so here's a wrap-up:

I read 100 books (just barely making it under the wire). Only 7 were re-reads, which may be a new record for me, and most of those were reference books relating to something I was writing when I decided that I needed a refresher from the books themselves rather than just a look at notes taken from them. By far, my biggest reading category was fantasy, with "women's fiction" (broadly lumping together things that are kind of romance-like but not published as genre romance) coming in second, but still with half as many books as fantasy. There was some overlap because I counted those fantasy-like books that are shelved as mainstream in both categories. I didn't have any particular author who dominated my reading this year. The most I had by any one author was four books, and there were a number of authors in that category. I'd say my biggest reading trend was that women's fiction/fantasy crossover, mostly because I was reading for market research and trying to categorize the book I was getting ready for submission and help my agent with the targeting. Overall, I think my reading was fairly diverse, with a mix of "literary" and "commercial," and a mix of historical and contemporary among the various genres.

The stand-out books of the year (my reading, not necessarily published in this year) were The Rook by Daniel O'Malley and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Those were the ones that really lingered in my mind and made me want more. The new series that really caught my fancy was the Tufa books by Alex Bledsoe. I devoured the first two and will eagerly grab any more that come along.

I was trying to do better about reading new fantasy books as they came out so I can be a better nominator and voter for the various awards. I don't know how well I managed that. Maybe I should track release dates in my reading log.

I read some interesting stuff late in the year that I need to do a full report on in a separate post.

My latest library haul was relatively serious, but I think that had more to do with the fact that they were already pulling books off shelves prior to the remodeling and I was just grabbing what was immediately visible. I have a book on hold that I need to pick up, so I guess I'll get to test the pick-up window. I was going to drive through yesterday, but they had the drive blocked with construction stuff, so I couldn't tell if it was meant to be open.

I'm hoping to do a lot of reading this weekend. It's my last free weekend for a while, with two very busy weekends ahead of me. Saturday is supposed to be nice, so I may get my patio storage unit set up before the next cold front hits.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Happy New Year!

The next couple of days for me will be the gradual transition back to post-holiday "normal" time. I've got some fun planned for today but will also try to hit at least half of my targeted work goal for the day. I was surprised to find that some of the TV networks are going back to normal so soon after the holiday. There's a new Elementary on tonight and a new Grimm tomorrow night. And then Downton Abbey is back Sunday night. We'll see if I forgive them for the way they ended the last season. As I recall, Downton Abbey had a lot to do with the start of the knitting obsession because I needed some form of stress relief while watching.

I had a quiet start to the new year. I ended up skipping the annual party in part because I had a case of sniffles that I was afraid was the start of a possible cold and in part because I just plain didn't really want to go and was eager for the excuse. I needed quiet, and spending hours surrounded by people -- even people I like -- didn't appeal much to me. I rewatched the Doctor Who Christmas episode and rewatched the first Hobbit movie on HBO. Rewatching that movie has made me less interested in seeing the second part. These movies are so bloated that they've lost the original story. I found myself dozing off during the pointless (and endless) action scenes and perking up during the quieter moments that actually came from the book.

On New Year's Day, after watching the Rose Parade I got back into cleaning/organizing my office. I'd found out that they were re-airing the BBC Radio version of Neverwhere. I'd heard the first episode earlier last year, then got sidetracked, and the rest were gone from streaming by the time I went back to it. I cleaned and sorted around my desk while listening to the first couple of episodes and may make that a habit until I finish the series. I got my desk sort of cleaned off and organized the office supplies cart. Then I started sorting through boxes.

I found a big stash of pages I'd torn from magazines during what must have been a previous purge of said magazines. I subscribed to Glamour during my twenties and thirties, and it looks like I must have been looking to it as some kind of guide for life when I was in my 20s (though at the time I was writing contemporary romance novels, so I suspect a lot of the things I pulled were meant as research material). They used to have a feature at the end of each issue that was a list -- things like "things every woman should own" or "things you should get rid of." A lot of them were stuff like "things every woman should do before she's 30." I figure I passed the expiration date on those. Looking back at those lists, the "every woman" stuff irks me, because a lot of it was based on their idea of an ideal lifestyle that doesn't apply to everyone. In some respects, I guess I fell short (on just about everything to do with romantic relationships), but by 30 I'd had multiple books published and had bought a house and traveled abroad, so I think I did pretty well without having the requisite number of relationships, including one I'd be willing to go back to (I don't have any exes I want anything to do with -- that's why they're exes. I've run into a few former crushes, and that pretty much ended the crush).

Needless to say, that whole box got tipped into the recycling bin. Now I'm sorting through a box of recipes, and I'm finding some keepers there. I also found the instruction book for an appliance in there, so I definitely can't just toss the whole box. I need to force myself to try at least one new recipe every week or so to work through all these things I've saved. Most of them, I'll admit, fall into the category of "why did I save this?" but there have been a few where I remembered why it sounded good.

Now I need to get into a habit of shredding things because at least one box I found in the office was essentially a "stuff I need to shred" box. I have to remember to do that in small batches so I don't burn out the shredder. And I need to not lose interest in the project before it's done.