Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This Year's Schedule

I should finish my read-through today so I can send the book and some related material off tomorrow. And then it's back to other work because I've got to get through the copy edits on the next book to be published, since Audible already wants to do it as an audio book, and then I've got to finish the sequel. And work on covers. And get stuff done for foreign releases of the Enchanted, Inc. series. And hope I can get all this done before I get copy edits for the steampunk book and have to drop everything again.

I've pretty much firmed up my summer convention schedule, so here's where I'll be:
ApolloCon in Houston, June 27-29
DetCon 1 in Detroit, July 17-20 (I haven't had official confirmation of being a program participant there, but I'm getting e-mails for program participants, and I'm friends with the programming person, so I guess I'll be speaking in some capacity)
ArmadilloCon in Austin, July 25-27
FenCon in Dallas, September 26-28

I may see about adding another in the fall, depending on how things are going and what comes up. If you're involved in a con where you think I might be a good fit and get to meet a lot of fans, let me know. I'm not even angling for a guest of honor type invitation where my travel is paid for. I just rationalized that I could hit multiple US cons where I could meet existing fans and make new ones for the cost of going to WorldCon in London, so I might have the budget to make one more out-of-area trip this year, and it could be fun to expand my horizons beyond my usual stomping grounds. Of course, I'm totally open to guest of honor or toastmaster type invitations, as well. If you're willing to pay my travel expenses, I won't argue.

Now I have to get ready for my final night of children's choir (aside from two more events of attempting to get the kids to sing in public). And finish the book. And keep my voice in some kind of reasonable singing condition. I'm planning a quiet weekend to mix some work and some relaxation before a very stressful Sunday morning.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Book Report: Follow Ups

I got a good start on my re-read yesterday, but I need to be a little more diligent today. I had a bad case of distraction. Still, I met my goal. And I still love this book. This is why the best writing advice I've ever heard is "write what you love." Because if you don't love it, you're going to hate it. You'll probably go through several drafts on your own before you submit it, and you'll need to proofread it at least once. Then, depending on your editor, you may go through a lot of revision rounds and have to proofread each time. You'll go through copy edits and galley proofs. By the time a book is published, you'll have read it at least a dozen times (with this book, I think I'm up to about 20). Write the kind of book you'd enjoy reading dozens of times, even if someone else wrote it.

I finally got mostly caught up on my reading, so I have a book report of young adult books that are follow-ups to things I've read previously.

First, there's The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty, which is a sequel to A Corner of White, the book about the girl in Cambridge who finds a note in a parking meter and starts communicating with a boy in another world. It's hard to give much of a plot description of this book without spoiling the first book, but it picks up where that book left off and focuses a bit more on the other world part of the story, so that the boy in the other world is the main character. He gets drawn into the midst of the action, and his communication with our world is key to the plan, but it's also dangerous because in his world that's an offense punishable by death.

I may have liked this one more than the first book. Now that we know what's really going on, the story can take off. We see a lot more of this magical world with its oddly shifting seasons and color attacks. Our hero visits the magical north and an edgy city that celebrates darkness, and goes diving for spells in an enchanted lake. I enjoyed it as an adult, but I'd have probably become obsessed as a teenager. I'd have started leaving notes in parking meters (well, if my town had them). Because I got this one soon after it was published, I'm going to have to wait for the sequel. Bummer.

On an entirely different point on the reading spectrum, I next read Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, which is a follow-up to Code Name Verity, one of my favorite books from last year. It's not really a direct sequel, but the heroine of this book is a good friend of one of the heroines in that book, and characters from the first book show up some here. This is another teen WWII thriller about an Air Transport Auxiliary pilot. Rose grew up with a flight instructor father, so she's been flying her whole life and is probably a better pilot than a lot of the men fighting in the war who've been thrown into a cockpit and taught the ropes. But as a girl, all she's allowed to do is ferry planes around. Then, after the liberation of Paris, she gets to start taking planes to France. But on one trip, things go wrong, she ends up being forced to land by the Luftwaffe in German territory, and she gets sent as a "political prisoner" to the Ravensbruck concentration camp.

I don't think this book was quite as powerful as Code Name Verity, but then I'm not sure what could be. Some of that might be because I tore through it really quickly because I had a day to read it before I had to return it to the library, and it didn't get a chance to dig into me. But it's also a very different kind of story, less about the surprise reveals and more about consequences. We know near the beginning of the story that she survives and escapes. The main part of the story is how these experiences affect her. Nearly as much of the book is devoted to what happens afterward as it is to what happens in the camp. That keeps it from being too bleak, but at the same time, the fact that these things linger keeps you from having the "escape, hooray!" kind of experience. It doesn't have the emotional punch in the gut effect of the previous book, but it is very haunting while also being life-affirming. This is published as young adult, but I'd recommend it for adults, too.

Monday, April 28, 2014

All that Jazz

After a fun weekend, I have to plunge back into revisions today. I'm going to re-read the whole book and make sure the latest changes flow and don't create any continuity ripple effects.

I spent all day Saturday at a jazz festival -- twelve hours straight of sitting under a tree, listening to jazz. Mostly big band, though most of that was more modern than the classic "swing." There were a few smaller ensembles in the morning, including one that focused on dance music of the 20s and 30s, which meant some different instrumentation. They had a tuba instead of a string or electric bass, a banjo instead of guitar, they had a violin, and they used a lot of clarinet in addition to saxophone. I really wanted to do the Charleston.

There was a really cute and very talented Swedish trombone player who was in several of the groups, and I kind of wanted him wrapped up to-go, until I realized he was probably half my age. That was depressing.

I also got my special-occasion funnel cake (I only ever get them at events like this) and a burger grilled by the Elks Club.

Of course, I was drained the next day, but the choir had the weekend off (which is good because I had no voice).

This week, in addition to finishing revisions, I have to get the voice in really good shape because next weekend is my Sunday of much singing. I have the soprano solo in the choir anthem, with much of my part going above the staff. Then I'm singing lead in a women's ensemble -- in Spanish. A capella. Actually, the Spanish isn't so hard for me. I wouldn't say I speak or understand Spanish, but I can read it and pronounce it, so I know what I'm saying and how to say it.

It's also my final real week of children's choir, and I've already got fun stuff planned. So, on with the week!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Familiar Strangers

I got through all the editor's notes yesterday. While I griped about a few things she just didn't seem to get, she did have a couple of suggestions that gave me "ooh!" tingles. Now I need to read through the whole book to make sure there are no continuity errors from the ripple effect of changes and to proofread the changed sections.

One thing that baffled me was the editor's assertion that she couldn't believe someone could have met someone and not know who that person was. I do that all the time. I can have in-depth conversations with someone and never find out their name. I've even done this with moderately famous people. I had a very nice chat in a convention green room with a very interesting lady before I found out it was Lois McMaster Bujold. If someone else hadn't called her by name, there's a very good chance I might have run into her later and then had a duh moment when I learned that's who she was. In the book, there's a situation where a downtown bookstore serves as a clandestine drop-off point for conveying things to the rebel group. There's an upper-crust, uptown, young man who's secretly providing things for the group. They don't know this about him. I figured it made perfect sense that he might have dressed in rougher clothes and gone to a part of town someone like him wouldn't frequent to drop things off, and all they'd know was that a young man was their contact. They could refer to having met him without it meaning they knew his name and position. The editor didn't believe this was possible and was requiring a lot of complicated writing to show how this could be true. I decided to delete the reference and suggest he used a courier to drop things off (in my head, it's really him). It's not like it matters to the plot. I just found it amusing that the rebels were thinking that all people like this character were awful without realizing that they already knew and trusted this guy -- it was sort of the sense that we're all the same beneath the outer trappings.

I kind of wish I were able to know who everyone I met was because that would have spared me a lot of embarrassment over the years. I'm terrible at recognizing people out of context. I've had way too many "smile and nod" conversations where I have no idea who I'm talking to and am living in dread that someone else will join us and I'll have to make introduction. Or worse, at booksignings where the person clearly knows me but I can't remember their name to write it in the book. I've been in a situation where I was with a group of people chatting with the governor-elect of the state, who was already a very public figure, and after he left, someone said, "He was really nice. Who was he?" Fortunately, in that case I knew who I was talking to, but it was possible for a famous person to have a casual chat with someone who thought he was just some random guy.

But after this, it should be going in to copy editing, and then I'll be mostly done with the book other than reviewing copyedits and checking page proofs. I'm hoping to start seeing some cover ideas before long.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Unintentional Stripes

I got about halfway through inputting the editor's changes on the manuscript yesterday, so I should finish that phase today. I also need to write a foreword to set the stage for what is alternate about this alternate history. Strangely, she wants this to explain an area of history that's not even relevant to this story, but she for some reason thinks that it would be offensive not to mention this part of history. I did have it mentally worked out even if it isn't relevant, so it's not like I'll have to create something to explain elements that mean nothing to the story, but I thought that was a little odd. Fortunately, I'd already written this kind of introduction and will just have to add the irrelevant (but potentially interesting) information. She did thank me for being patient with her through all this, and there were some nice notes in the manuscript about things I changed the last time around, saying that this was a really good revision and she liked the result.

So maybe I'll remove one of those pins from the voodoo doll.

Last night's kindergarten choir was rather fraught. One kid burst into tears when he didn't get to do what he wanted to do and had to do what he didn't want to do (sing). He claimed he didn't know how to sing, so he didn't want to. I think he was mostly just tired, and the exhaustion came out in tears. He's in kindergarten and already playing multiple sports, plus doing church activities at two churches (he actually goes to another church, but his mother is friends with our organist, so they do music stuff at our church). It was one of those times when it was best to just let him sit aside and cry until he got it out of his system, and then he seemed to be a lot better and back to his usual self. I just have one more normal session with them, then the program where they sing for the parents, and then I'm free!!!! I also get done with my choir earlier this year, so we may get a longer summer break.

It's getting warm, so I took the big comforter off the bed yesterday and put on the new knitted bedspread. And then I noticed that there's a goof in there where I got off the pattern briefly in a couple of spots, so there are unintentional stripes. It's not really obvious and it took me a while to even notice or figure out the problem, but now it bugs me. I keep saying that it would be a huge amount of work to undo it to that point and fix it, and I have something else on those needles at the moment, and since I'm currently using it, it would be a bad time to take several weeks to fix it, but I have a feeling that it might get reworked next fall. I might make it a little longer, while I'm at it.

Here's the foot of it, showing the border. If you look really closely, you can kind of see the shadow of the unintentional stripe near the top.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Writing When You're Busy

I'm going to have to dive into those revisions today because I need them done next week. Eep! Since I took the jazz class after ballet, my body is currently angry at me, so sitting and working is probably good. And then I get to go chase kindergarteners. More eep.

Today's writing post is appropriate to stuff I'm dealing with now. I have a reader question about writing when everything else in life is going crazy, like a busy holiday season.

How you handle this depends on your situation. It's more serious when you have a contractual deadline. You have a lot more leeway when you're working on your own and it's more of a personal goal.

If possible, you can avoid some stress by setting realistic deadlines. Sometimes, you may get revisions from your editor and a request to have them done in a week, and you don't have much choice in the matter, but generally when it comes to completion of a manuscript, I'm given some say in setting the due date. I tend to pad my deadlines in a big way, which takes away some stress and makes me look brilliant when I'm very early, but I take a good look at my calendar and make sure the deadline doesn't fall around a major event like a convention or a holiday season when I'm sure to be busy. I try to set my deadlines before such events because if you are coming up against a deadline and need to put on a push, you don't want that to be during a week in which you have events every night and a lot of errands to run.

If something comes up and it looks like you won't meet your deadline, it's best if you let the editor know right away. I know my previous publisher also padded deadlines because authors so often missed them, but it does help in their scheduling if they have time to plan. I had that issue come up a couple of years ago when I was ill for nearly six weeks and it completely sidetracked my writing. I let the publisher know while I was still sick that I might be late with the book, and they were able to work things out.

If you do have to get work done during a busy time, you need to give yourself permission to let other things slide for a while. Focus on the things you're required to do -- your work and whatever's making you busy. Then let yourself live on takeout and frozen dinners for a week, don't worry about the house getting messy, and dig deep into your "laundry day" clothes. If you have a chance to prepare for a busy run, do the laundry in advance and stock up on quick and easy meals. Let your friends know that your social life may need to be put on hold for a while, though it doesn't hurt to give yourself an occasional break so you don't snap.

If the deadline isn't urgent and you don't want to just give yourself a writing break during the busy spell, adjust your expectations. You may not hit your usual time or word count goals, but doing any work at all can be an achievement that allows you to maintain some momentum. If you're really distracted, to the point that writing is hard to focus on, this could be a good time for brainstorming or research so that you're thinking about your story even if you aren't adding words to the manuscript.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Reading Influences: Star Wars, Alan Dean Foster and Science Fiction

Another round of revisions arrived this morning, so guess what I'll be doing this week. If you guessed "searching the manuscript for stray hairs and making an editor voodoo doll," you might be right. You would also be right if you guessed I would be working on the revisions, possibly with much muttering and the occasional exclamation. But I haven't opened the package yet, so there's a chance this could be pretty mild. Supposedly, it's the last pass before copy edits. My mantra is "it's all about making the book better," even if four rounds of edits seems a little excessive. A pin goes into the doll for each time a correction suggested on a previous round gets deleted -- editing your own edits gets into wheel-spinning territory.

Since my reading has been very slow lately (I blame the allergy medicine that makes me fall asleep instead of doing bedtime reading), I don't have anything to talk about this week, so it's time for another reading influences discussion.

I saw Star Wars the first time early in fourth grade (we were late to the party, but even in September 1977, the lines went around the theater for every show), and it really was life-changing. I'd never been into science fiction or space stuff -- in fact, the night we went to the movie, I campaigned to see a Cinderella movie that was playing on the other screen in the theater -- but got into the movie within about 30 seconds and had my mind utterly blown. Now that I know more about story structure and all that, I know that it's essentially a fantasy story in a science fiction setting, which may be why I liked it, but I remember thinking at the time that I wanted to tell stories like that. Although I'd always entertained myself by making up stories, this was the first time I think I formalized the ambition.

This was back in the Dark Ages before home video was a thing, so if you loved a movie and wanted to see it over and over again, the only way was to go to the theater. That wasn't an option for me. Instead, I had the novelization and read it over and over again. My parents, who were science fiction readers, finally gave me another science fiction book and suggested that if I liked Star Wars, I might like that. The book was one of the Flinx series by Alan Dean Foster. What I didn't find out until many years later was that Alan Dean Foster had actually written the novelization of Star Wars, even though George Lucas's name was on the cover, so it was an even better transition than my parents realized because it was just another book by the same author.

That got me into science fiction in general, but the Flinx books were definitely my gateway. I branched out into his other novels, particularly the Icerigger books. Alan's real strength is worldbuilding, so half the fun of his books is seeing what crazy environment his characters will be thrown into and what life forms they'll encounter. Because of these books, spaceships and aliens on a book cover became almost as big a draw as magic and wizards.

One of the big thrills of becoming a writer, myself, is the chance to meet so many of my literary heroes, and I've met Alan a couple of times. He was a guest of honor at FenCon, where I got to be on a panel with him (actually, I was moderating, and one of the other panelists was Jim Butcher). Then I ran into him again at the Random House party at WorldCon a couple of years ago. I was feeling kind of wallflowery when a guy walked up to me and said, "Hi, I'm Alan," and we started chatting, then he remembered having met me before. Soon, I was in the middle of a group instead of alone. If he hadn't already been a hero, he would have become one then.

I may not write about aliens and spaceships, but I'm not sure where I'd be as a writer if I hadn't had my imagination fueled by these books during a formative age. That was also what directed me into the science fiction and fantasy section of the bookstore, since before I'd been reading children's books and these were shelved in the adult genre section. There, I discovered a lot of other books. This was also my first exposure to Darrell K. Sweet's book covers, and I've picked up many a book because I recognized the artist's touch (come to think of it, he was also at that same FenCon, and it was fun seeing the original painting for that first Foster book I read).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dancing Peter Pan

I made it through the Easter weekend and today would be a bit of a slug day if I didn't have errands to run (groceries!) and some house cleaning to do because tomorrow morning's my semi-annual AC/furnace check-up and I need to make it easy for them to access the units. I did let myself sleep until nearly 10 this morning to make up for yesterday's very early morning and interrupted nap.

I also want to get back to work after a lost week last week. I think my head will be back in the game by tomorrow.

I spent my Easter afternoon watching a ballet version of Peter Pan on PBS. It seemed to be an original score, not using either the Disney or the stage musical music, and story-wise, they seemed to be sticking with the original story, though seemingly set in a different time period. I came in about 7 minutes late, and it seemed to be in the middle of an air raid, and the adult characters in the Darling household were wearing 1940s-ish clothes. That didn't seem to factor into the plot at all (and they were definitely not observing blackout procedures). It may just have been because it's a lot easier to do ballet in a swingy knee-length skirt than in Edwardian attire. I found the costumes interesting, in general, because they were more "theatrical" than "ballet." The costumes, aside from the pointe shoes on the women, would have worked in a regular dramatic or musical production. The men were dressed like pirates, Lost Boys, etc., in loose or baggy pants rather than in the traditional ballet tights. The closest thing to a tutu was Tinkerbelle's outfit. I think the costume design was largely based on the original illustrations in the book, so very non-Disney.

Unlike in the stage musical, Peter Pan was played by an adult male dancer (instead of a woman). Wendy was also danced by an adult, which lent a very interesting (and a little uncomfortable) vibe to things. They had a pas de deux that wasn't all that romantic -- it was romantic from her part, but not so much from his. And then Tiger Lily also danced with Peter, this time getting kind of sexy. There was another pas de deux with Tiger Lily and Captain Hook, but more angry than romantic, and I was impressed that he was able to partner her with one hand. He held the hook hand out of the way.

It was a fairly interesting take on the story, though with far too much pantomime for the amount of dancing. They spent most of the time walking around and gesturing. Ever since Once Upon a Time turned Peter Pan into a villain, I've found the character kind of creepy, even as originally written, so I was very skeptical of him here. As they do in the stage musical, the same person played the Darling father and Captain Hook. He was kind of hot as the dad, but since this was a more traditional Captain Hook, he wasn't nearly as hot as the TV version.

I'm hoping I feel up to dancing tomorrow night because watching this made me want to dance.

Friday, April 18, 2014

One Way to Deal with a Busy Week

I'm starting to think that this might have been a cold instead of just a severe allergy attack because of the way the symptoms have cycled. In which case, I may have infected the whole choir and everyone will be sick on Easter. Then again, I probably caught it from someone in the choir because those are the only people I've been around in a while. Or else yesterday's light rain eased the pollen, so I'm now just dealing with the consequences of the allergy flare-up. At any rate, I'm still a little stuffy and have a bit of a cough, but I still have a voice, so I'm going to try to make it to church tonight.

Proof that I'm really a soprano: It's the high notes that I can sing right now. The low notes are rough and break, but it's on the upper half of the staff and above that I sound okay.

I suppose this was one way to deal with a busy week: Get sick, so most of the activities went by the wayside. I've gotten no writing done because of the fog. We'll hope that this means my subconscious has been busy, and when I snap out of it, suddenly the story will come pouring out of me. Today I think I'll try to do some outlining, but there will also be some napping. And then tomorrow will be a complete slug day so I can make it through Easter.

I put the new bedspread on the bed yesterday to see how it looks, and it's rather gorgeous. Now when the weather gets warm, I can put the comforter away for the summer and have something lightweight. I started a new project that's something of an experiment, making a pattern as written but using different yarn and needles, so it should come out a different size. It's a pretty tricky lace pattern with a 43-stitch repeat, so there's lots of room for error, but it's absolutely lovely the way it comes together. I'm in awe of how you can take just a few basic stitches and put them together in so many different ways to make amazing things happen.

Sorry, all I've written about this week is how sick and foggy I am. That's why it's probably best that I didn't try writing on the book. My characters would have all been sneezing and sniffling and whining about it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

London Bridge

I definitely had an answer to prayers last night, since I only had four kids and none of them were the really difficult ones (and two of them belong to the other teacher). We worked on the songs we're learning, then used those songs as music for some parachute games, then played some other games and then did some coloring. We introduced them to "London Bridge" last night, and one kid thought this was the best thing ever. He normally doesn't get too into anything, but he just came to life with this and wanted to do it again and again. When it was his turn to get "locked up" he giggled hysterically. Strangely, though, it completely freaked out one of the girls, even though her mom was part of the bridge. She wouldn't go under the bridge at all and started crying. So we had one kid who wanted us to stop, NOW, and one kid who never, ever wanted to stop it.

True confession about "London Bridge": I grew up listening to the My Fair Lady soundtrack and saw the movie just about every year (it used to show on TV every year at Thanksgiving, I think) and knew it well before I was ever exposed to nursery rhyme type games, so when I learned "London Bridge is Falling Down," I thought the "my fair lady" part was about the show, and I couldn't figure out how it fit together. I'm sure the show got its name from the song, but when I was a kid, I kept trying to put Audrey Hepburn into the nursery rhyme. Then there was a cartoon on the history of London Bridge they showed on the Wonderful World of Disney that left me fascinated. Of course, the "real" London Bridge is no longer in London, and the current London Bridge is just an ordinary bridge (I've crossed it, just because). And it's a common misconception that the Tower Bridge is "London Bridge," but it isn't (I've walked across that one, too, but not on the upper level).

I made it through the choir rehearsal last night and even got through my solo, though I cracked a little on the high A. I'm just amazed I was able to sing, as much as I was sneezing. Today I hit Target first thing in the morning and stocked up on cold and allergy supplies. As always seems to happen, the gunk in my head when I get the allergy attack is trying to get into my chest, which tends to trigger bronchitis, and I'm not going to let that happen. So, I'm hitting it from all angles today. I may not make it to tonight's service, but I'm not singing for this one and I need to be able to sing the rest of the weekend. The stuff that works best doesn't allow me to drive.

I have a new favorite Target checker, though. There are so many I like at this store that usually at least one of my favorites is on duty at any time. This was a rather motherly British woman. Since the store was fairly quiet, she had time for a chat, and I got the vibe that she really thought she should be offering me a cup of tea. It was very soothing. I guess having so many favorites means that if the store isn't too busy, I can pick based on which experience I need that day. There's the cool, fun guy, the very prim and proper older lady (she always asks, "Did you find everything for which you were looking?"), and now the motherly British woman.

I think today may be a sofa and movies day, with sporadic napping.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Four-Dwarf Day

I'm still sniffling and sneezing and kind of exhausted because it's hard to sleep when you're sneezing. It's a Four-Dwarf kind of day -- Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy and Dopey. I will probably have to take a nap before I can go to choir.

I finished my epic knitting project last night, a bedspread I've been working on since January. But I haven't yet spread it over the bed to see how it looks. I'm already twitching a bit about deciding what to make next. I want to make a baby blanket for a friend who's adopting, and I have tons of baby yarn, but I don't have enough of any one type to make anything I have a pattern for. I may have to improvise. There's a circular shawl pattern I want to play with, and since you start from inside, I can just go until I run out of yarn, and then I can use a second color for the border. That might make a cute "play on the floor" mat. It's funny how twitchy and restless I feel without a project in the works. It's like I don't know what to do with myself. But I will hold off on starting something complicated with lace until I'm a little more coherent. I can go on autopilot with something I've been working on for months, but starting a new lace pattern requires focus and concentration.

Speaking of which, I may be even less focused than the kindergarteners tonight. This should be fun.

I'm sure I had more planned to say today, but the thoughts aren't coming, and I just ran out of tissues so I need to run out to the garage to raid my stash. I'm glad I bought one of those giant packs of multiple boxes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Redeemed Rogues

Wouldn't you know, during a busy week when I have to do a lot of singing, the allergies have decided to kick into high gear. Spring came late for us, and it's coming with a vengeance. I'm almost out of Allegra, so I'm going to have to drag myself to Target this afternoon. I'm iffy on dancing tonight because I can't go without a tissue for more than about 30 seconds. That could make pirouettes kind of messy.

I finally have a book to talk about! I read the latest Terry Pratchett Discworld book, Raising Steam, but there's not much to say because if you're into the series, you'll already be reading it. It's a Moist von Lipwig book, and this time he gets put in charge of getting a railroad going, a task made more difficult and more urgent by an internal struggle among the dwarfs, with their "Taliban" group that opposes progress being a problem yet again. I like the von Lipwig books because it's fascinating being inside the head of this scoundrel and con artist who's now using his talents for good, and I love the way he and Vetinari work together. I'd been rewatching the previous season of Game of Thrones and found it a little disturbing that I was hearing Vetinari's dialogue in Charles Dance's voice, but then I remembered that he played Vetinari in one of the TV productions, but then when I looked it up, I found that I haven't seen the production in which he played Vetinari. I guess it's just spot-on casting because I was hearing "Tywin Lannister" in my head (though Tywin makes Vetinari look like a marshmallow).

I kind of love the redeemed rogue stories, the character you start out opposed to and gradually get to know and then like as he finds more positive ways to channel his energies. That's a lot of why I've been digging the Captain Hook storyline on Once Upon a Time lately. I need to add that to my literary bucket list. I don't know if there's room for this kind of character in any of my planned stories, though. Maybe in that multi-generational gothic thing I want to write.

I think I have the rest of my book worked out. I got stuck on figuring out what should happen in the next scene. It was a complete blank. And then I realized I didn't need the scene at all. It's a travel scene, but I can just jump to the arrival because in this case, the journey itself isn't important. If you can't think of anything that needs to happen in a scene, you don't need the scene. I don't know how much writing I'll actually get done, though, because the allergies are really doing a number on me. This may be a time to put on my "soundtrack" and watch my mental movie a few times.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Crazy Week Begins

I survived part one of Crazy Week: Two services, the children singing, and a rehearsal (all with potential storms looming but that fortunately didn't hit here). The kids were adorable and did quite well, though I had to separate a couple of them. They had their own silly little inside joke going, cracking each other up. In addition to the separation, it also helped that I got their inside joke, and it ruins those secret little things if the teacher knows what you're talking about. They were on a tear about Ducky MoMo from Phineas and Ferb, and I know all about that, so once I played along and they realized I knew about it, it became less fun. (And then that got the main episode involving that stuck in my head, the one about the science fiction convention, which involved Ferb dressed as an elf, which made last night's Game of Thrones scene involving the actor who voices Ferb dressed in a very similar costume a lot funnier than it was intended to be.)

One thing that's funny is that it's often the kids who give me the most trouble who are the most affectionate, which may be how they stay alive. Since it was Palm Sunday, the kids did the procession down the aisle with palm branches, and then they were supposed to go sit in the front pew until it was their turn to sing. The adult choir sang a prelude before the procession, so I sang with the choir, then ran down from the choir loft, through the choir room behind the sanctuary, and then got to the other side of the church in time to direct the kids into the right pew. New Problem Child (who turned out to be wrong about not being there -- his mother made sure of that) ran to hug me when he got into the pew. Awww.

Now I just have to get through another rehearsal, two services during the week and three services Easter morning. In addition to other stuff. There will likely be utter collapse at about 12:30 Easter afternoon.

I did a bit of brainstorming over the weekend and may have figured out the rest of the book. It turns out I was wrong about the groups realigning because once I started figuring out who would go with whom and why, it became obvious that the mix-up was only because it would be interesting to play with and not anything organic to the decisions the characters would make. Plus, the relationships that need developing are between other characters. There was no real drama or emotion in putting the sisters together. They'd just have fun with it. Today is suddenly cold and gray, so it's a good day for putting on some music, making some tea and really having a good think. After I get back from the post office.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mental Movies

I've realized that there's one good thing about all the activities I have scheduled in the next week: A lot of them involve meals, so between the pulled pork and the quasi-Indian curried chicken I made last night, I shouldn't have to cook for a week.

I discovered yesterday that while I had outlined the rest of the book I'm working on, I've changed a lot as I've been writing it, so it doesn't really all fit anymore. Even the soundtrack I made for the book no longer fits. I got a start yesterday on outlining and planning, but I think today is going to be a big brainstorming day -- put on some music, get out the blank paper and colored pens (maybe even crayons) and go to town. I need to see the movie of the story in my head before I can write it or else the scene will be lifeless. So I need to go to the mental movies today.

I do have a start on it. Once one good image comes up, it seems to breed more images and spin off more ideas. Just changing the location of a planned scene opened up some plot possibilities. Then plugging a plot hole I noticed spun things off in another direction that provides some opportunity for fun. One thing I'm really looking forward to is switching some characters around. I have two parallel plot lines going, with the characters split into two groups. Midway through, the groups meet, merge, then split again, but they split along different lines, and that creates some interactions I haven't really used much before. For instance, two of the main characters are sisters, and each is the lead of her own plot line, but they've seldom interacted because of that (I guess it's like Frozen in that respect, but I wrote the first book of this series long before that). In this book, they're going to end up working together, and that should be so much fun to write.

I ended up bowing out of all Saturday activities, so I'm looking forward to a retreat kind of day, with writing, reading and maybe some pampering and other relaxation stuff. Or, you know, playing on the Internet all day.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Crazy Juice

All the children I had to deal with last night survived, but it was a close call. Even the good kids were being kind of naughty. The other teacher whose twin daughters are in the class had to go "mean mom" on her girls, who are usually quite well-behaved. I asked the kids if they were served crazy juice for lunch. We could get them quiet, and then they'd be going nuts before I could finish my next sentence. I'd planned to play musical chairs, but I said they weren't behaving in a way that showed they could handle it, and we didn't have enough time because of all the time we'd had to spend waiting for them to stop talking long enough for us to give directions.

I may have lost my problem child, but a new one is rising to the occasion. He really doesn't want to be there but his mom is making him go (she's involved in another activity for adults during that time), and so since he doesn't want to do these things, he tries to make it impossible for anyone else to do them. We're singing in church on Sunday, but he can't be there, so he decided we didn't need to practice. He complains if we sing any song more than once or do any activity more than once (and by that I mean once, ever, not even more than once in a session -- meanwhile, the other kids want to do the things they like over and over again). Last night, he brought a pencil with him -- a very sharp, long pencil -- and when the other teacher told him he needed to put it down, he put it in his pocket, where we could just see the imminent disaster, so she confiscated it and said he'd get it back after class. He spent the next ten minutes whining about his pencil (it was just a yellow #2 pencil, nothing special) and started crying because he was afraid he wouldn't get it back after class and we'd forget it. I finally got tired of the whining and crying, got the blue painters' tape and taped it to the door frame so he couldn't forget it. His mom was mad at him for having the pencil when she came to pick him up (he'd apparently been told not to bring it), but she found it hilarious that I'd taped it to the door frame after confiscating it.

Unfortunately, that tape isn't strong enough to hold a kid, and we're not supposed to use anything else on the newly painted walls. Otherwise, I'd have been tempted last night.

Today, I had a calendar freakout when I realized how full my next week or so is. I've got a very early start Sunday, with two services and the preschool music, then a dress rehearsal for Easter that afternoon. Monday is free (yay!), then dance is Tuesday, an extra-long choir rehearsal Wednesday, church services Thursday and Friday, possibly a meeting Saturday, and three services on Easter Sunday. There's a social gathering this Saturday that I'm thinking of bowing out of because it's a long way away and I wouldn't be able to stay long. I figure you should at least stay longer than it takes to get there and back, and that would put me getting home later than I'd like, considering how busy Sunday will be. I could use a day to just chill out and not have to be anywhere.

I sent the book off to the editor yesterday, so now I'm down to just doing some formatting for the global release of the early Enchanted Inc. books and writing the first draft of the second book in my new series. I couldn't concentrate yesterday, so I'm hoping I can get something done today.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Quoting Others

Here's another writing topic suggested at Facebook: How do you use or quote material from other sources in a book? This would include stuff like song lyrics, movie quotes, poems, or passages from a novel.

I've avoided using any material that would require permission, so I'm not going to try to get into how to do that. Instead, I'll talk about how to avoid doing something that requires permission. Keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer or an expert, so you might need to consult an expert, depending on your case. I'm basing this on observation from years in the industry, some workshops on the subject, and a semester of media law in journalism school.

First, I want to clarify a couple of definitions: copyright infringement is any use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder -- even if you attribute the source. This can include not only the actual words but also things like characters and settings. I can't write books about the continuing adventures of Harry Potter, even if I write them all in my own words, and I can't write books about the next generation of students at Hogwarts, even if they're all original characters. Plagiarism is stealing someone else's words and passing them off as your own.

But there are some ways in which you may be able to use attributed material from others without getting permission.

1) Fair Use
The Fair Use doctrine has a lot of gray areas, but it generally allows you to make references or allusions to other works -- your characters can talk about movies, books or TV shows. Satire and parody are also considered fair use, but you may wind up going to court to prove that it really is satire or parody and not a copyright infringement. You can also quote small amounts that aren't a substantial percentage of the work. With a novel, movie or play, you can quote a line or two because that's a tiny portion of the whole work. Now, I have seen lists of "used with permission" for quotes in books, so this may be something handled on a case-by-case basis, and it probably depends on how it's used (this is when you need an expert). Because songs are so short, it's generally considered that quoting any part of a song lyric is considered using a substantial portion of the song, so to use song lyrics or quotes from non-epic poems, you'll need to get permission from the copyright holder, and for songs especially, payment may be involved. The more well-known the song, the more you may have to pay. You may be able to work out a deal with an independent, up-and-coming songwriter to use lyrics in exchange for a link on your web site and attribution in the book, but if you want to use Rolling Stones lyrics, you'll have to pay for it -- and it usually is the author, not the publisher who has to handle this.

2) Titles
But there is a way around the process of getting permission to use song lyrics. The title of a work is not considered to be under copyright, so you can name all the song titles you want as long as you don't quote the lyrics. If it's a well-known song, that generally does the trick. If you write something like, "'Bohemian Rhapsody' came on the radio, and she cranked up the volume and sang along, hitting all the high notes with Freddie Mercury," you probably have the song pop into your head even without the lyrics. In fact, quoting lyrics generally just slows down the story (and, frankly, makes something read like fan fiction written by a teenager).

3) Public Domain
Meanwhile, there's a vast library of material that's no longer under copyright that's fair game. You can quote from it, use the characters, use the setting, write sequels or even publish your own editions. Properly attributed, of course. Copyright laws keep changing, so it depends on when a work was written when it goes out of copyright, and some authors or their estates manage to renew copyright on a work. In some cases, elements of a work may be trademarked, which means those elements can't be used even if the original work is in the public domain. A good guideline is that something available at Project Gutenberg is in the public domain, but you'd need to verify this before using some work.

Most "classic" literature falls into this category, as do many hymns and folk songs and most folklore, mythology and fairy tales. But there are some cautions.

Some things we think of as "classic" are more recent than you think. The hymn "How Great Thou Art" seems like an old standard, but it was written in the 1950s. With folk songs and hymns, new verses may have been added, and those verses might be under copyright. If you're using something that has been used and adapted often, like a fairy tale, you need to be careful to work from the source material, not the more recent adaptations. For instance, you can write about Snow White and the seven dwarfs, but the "Doc," "Sleepy," "Grumpy," etc. personalities are from the Disney film, not the original fairy tale, so you could be in trouble if they show up in your work. Or there are times when most of the popular images associated with a work are from an adaptation that's still under copyright. L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is in the public domain, but most people are more familiar with the 1939 movie, which is under copyright. Dorothy's slippers in the book are silver, but this was changed to red for the movie (I guess silver was considered a waste when shooting in the new, exciting color format), so the red shoes are from a copyrighted property (and I believe MGM has also trademarked them). That's probably why in the TV series Once Upon a Time, when they delved into Oz, the slippers were silver instead of the red that a lot of people expected.

Translations are another issue with works not originally written in English because even if the work is in the public domain, a particular English translation may be under copyright. Beowulf is well out of copyright, but you're only safe using a fairly old translation. Ditto for the works of Cervantes or Victor Hugo. The Bible is ancient, but many of the more modern translations are under copyright. The King James Version is safe to use, though.

Using others' material is a decision you have to make depending on how critical it is to your story. Really, quoting long passages of anything makes for boring reading. A passing reference may be all you need to give you the right flavor, and it requires far less paperwork.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Reading Influences: Narnia

I was so very good yesterday, getting to everything on the to-do list. Today's list is a wee bit more ambitious, so we'll see how I do. I've reached the end of the parts I'm reworking on the current book and will be plunging ahead into the unknown.

I still don't have any reading I'm ready to talk about -- the book for the last couple of weeks wasn't bad, but I don't have anything to say about it and am not sure I'd recommend it, and I haven't finished the current book. So, I'll talk about more books that influenced me.

I guess I'd always read fantasy in some form or another. I had the books that went with the Disney fairy tale movies (what we had to do in the Dark Ages before home video -- there were also records with the songs and a narrator telling the story), and I had "real" fairy tale books. I went through a phase of checking out every book with "witch" or "magic" in the title, but oddly, I don't remember any individual books. I know I read The Hobbit in fourth grade, but at that time, nothing clicked in me to say "this is the kind of book I like," perhaps because I was at the height of Star Wars mania then and was getting into science fiction.

What turned me into a fantasy reader was the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I'd actually read The Horse and His Boy sometime in early elementary school, probably in second or third grade because it came during my horse phase, when I'd check out anything that had anything to do with a horse, but it didn't click with me then, probably because it was such a one-off and I was far more focused on the horse than on the fantasy. But I clearly remember when I started the series and really discovered the world of fantasy. I was in sixth grade and for some reason I had to meet my mom at her office after school instead of going straight home (I don't remember if there was some business thing we had to do or if it was meant as a treat). I had to ride the shuttle bus from the neighborhood where my school was to the post where my mom's office was. She'd bought a copy of The Silver Chair for me, probably to keep me occupied until she got off work. I was instantly hooked.

There was a quest, a long journey, giants, magic and all those wonderful things that come with fantasy. My imagination seemed to totally explode, and my brain went into overdrive imagining more things that could take place in a land like Narnia. I was very disappointed that I had ordinary closets instead of a magical wardrobe. I remember being reluctant to take off my nightgown and embroidered house slippers in the morning because that seemed like an outfit closer to being appropriate attire for a fantasy world. Of course, I had to get the rest of the series, but I rationed them because I knew there were only seven books and the author had died before I was born. To help spread them out, I started looking for other books like that and read The Lord of the Rings (I had no idea at the time that the authors were friends).

The funny thing is, in spite of me having grown up going to church and reading the Bible, I never caught on to all the Biblical allegory until I was in college and taking a "parageography" class. In one of the lectures, the professor got into allegorical worlds, including Narnia, and I had the big "Oooooh" lightbulb moment. I had just read it at face value as fantasy. Now it's hard not to see it. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the most obvious parallel, but the Gospel message is more subtly woven throughout the other books. I have to admit that I really intensely dislike The Last Battle. That book just doesn't work for me, on so many levels. I'd put off reading it for months because I didn't want the series to end, and then when I finally let myself read it, I was very upset and disappointed. I can see what he was trying for, but I think it has the opposite effect on many (if not most) readers. Most of the people I've heard dismissing Lewis entirely have used things from that book as a reason.

As an adult, I've gotten more into Lewis's theological writings, and I think his writing style is actually better suited for that than for fiction. But Narnia is a special place, and it was my gateway into fantasy. I doubt I'd be doing what I am today if I hadn't read that first book. The Silver Chair remains my favorite, perhaps because it's more of an adventure story and less preachy. Jill, our designated "outsider" character does get her "conversion" experience, but she wasn't a horrible person to begin with (unlike Eustace in the book where he played the "outsider" role). She didn't have to dramatically change, just learn to have faith. It seems that the film version of The Magician's Nephew is still in development, and I'd thought it odd that they were going out of chronological order to go back and do that one after Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but part of me kind of hopes that they're letting the kid who played Eustace (who was wonderful) grow up a bit so they can add a teen romantic subplot to The Silver Chair. When I read the book now, they're just kids to me, but when I was eleven, I totally read a romance into it.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Tea and a Book

I had a pretty good weekend. I spent most of Saturday working and finished this pass of revisions, then went on a brief walk/hike (there was some minor "hiking" content on a more rugged trail, but most of it was a paved path). Sunday was deliciously cool and rainy, the perfect day to spend with tea and a book.

There's nothing like coming home from church on a cold, rainy day to the smell of dinner cooking in the Crock Pot -- except that the dinner was timed for the evening meal and was nowhere near done at lunchtime, so I got that smell upon coming home and then had to reheat leftovers for lunch. But dinner was awesome when I got to it. I had a pork loin I was cooking for pulled pork, but I ended up taking some slices off it before I shredded it and just had it as regular meat. I'd planned on slaw to go with the barbecued pork I'd been planning, but since it was cool weather, I braised the cabbage instead. I'll have to get more cabbage to do slaw later because this pork will last me a while. I'm going to have to freeze some of it. Oh, it was good, though. The one problem with Crock Pot cooking is that the house smells like what you're making all day, so you spend the whole day hungry.

Today will be mostly devoted to business-related stuff. I've broken down the big tasks into smaller daily bites, so there's not going to be any one day that will have to be totally taken over by icky stuff. I want to get back to the book I was writing today. I may or may not give the steampunk book another pass before sending it to the editor. Right now, I'm letting it rest. I may go back over the places where I made more significant changes, but I'm not sure if another complete re-read would be worthwhile. And I need to work on my map.

My incentive for getting through the to-do list today is that I still haven't finished the new Terry Pratchett book, in spite of yesterday afternoon's reading session. I think I'm trying to savor it because I keep forcing myself to take breaks.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Too Busy for Fun!

I made a lot of good progress yesterday, so I'm hoping that if I really buckle down, I can get through this round of revisions today and tomorrow, then on Monday I can take a "break" and finish my taxes before I do a round of proofreading.

I have a ton of TV catching up to do this weekend. We get new Grimm tonight and Continuum also returns tonight for some time traveling fun. I'm hoping last night's Once Upon a Time in Wonderland is available OnDemand because we got about fifteen minutes before they interrupted the rest of the hour for storm coverage. It would be a shame to miss the series finale, especially since the storm was nowhere near me (I got about five minutes of rain and one clap of thunder loud enough to make me jump). Game of Thrones returns Sunday, and I still have two episodes to rewatch as a reminder because I get mixed up about what's in the show and what's in the books. I still haven't watched last Sunday night's PBS shows.

It's sad when you're too busy to be properly entertained.

On the other hand, busy is good when it means there's work to do that leads to making money, and I can feel the book getting better, which is nice. Better to have the editor nitpick it while I can still fix it than to have readers nitpicking it and finding flaws after it's published.

Now for a library trip and then work!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Girls in Books

My productivity hit a wall yesterday. I got through the rest of the edits, but then couldn't switch mental gears to work on the other book and wasn't quite up to the focus I'd need to go back to really rewriting this book. So I came up with lesson plans for choir and did some online reading. Today, I'll take the laptop to the sofa, open the blinds to look at the rain (it's going to be a stormy day) and dig into revisions. I'll just have to find a place to move the knitting. The down side of knitting something big like a bedspread is that when it's close to being done, it takes up the whole sofa.

I had a first last night in choir: one of the kids fell asleep on me. A few of the kids were fake sleeping (they claimed that one song was boring, so they laid down on the floor and started snoring loudly), but that didn't last long because fake sleeping means being still. One kid, though, remained slumped against the wall, his mouth hanging slightly open, and he didn't stir during the rest of the session. We left him alone because yay, stillness and quiet, but also if he conked out like that, he was likely very tired and needed the rest.

I've been thinking more about the girls in books issue and the current claim by what one of my friends calls the "social justice warriors" brigade that females aren't represented in books, with a lot of cheering for the dad who changed Bilbo into a girl when reading The Hobbit to his daughter. And, you know, even though I was a kid of the 70s before political correctness was even a thing, and even though I read mostly from the library, so I wasn't necessarily reading the latest things, I never felt any absence of girls in the books I read.

I was reminded not too long ago by some of my kindergarten girls about the Ramona books and the Amelia Bedelia books. There was Harriet the Spy and the Judy Blume heroines. But I suppose they don't count because they're "real world" and not adventure or fantasy. So for adventures, there's Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames and the other girl detectives (Cherry Ames even served in World War II). I have a fat book of "Adventure Stories for Girls" that were all about women flying airplanes, exploring the jungle, etc. For fantasy, most of the books I read when I was on my kick of reading every book with "witch" or "magic" in the title had female main characters or had both male and female protagonists.

If you're going to thinly slice things, what about fantasy quest stories? Well, there's Dorothy in the Oz books, later joined by Ozma in the same series. That whole series was female-driven. Lucy was the primary protagonist in the early Narnia books, and later Jill took on the key role in a Narnia quest story. This may be self-selection bias, but almost every book that stuck in my memory from childhood other than The Hobbit had a major female character.

So I suppose that if you're talking about fantasy quest stories involving hobbits and elves, then maybe you'll have to gender switch a character so your daughter will have someone to identify with. Otherwise, maybe you need to broaden your reading horizons.

I do think females are less well-represented in epic-style fantasy written for teens and adults, but that could also be selection bias because I discovered epic-style fantasy in my early teens, at the age when I was a lot less concerned about having girls in my books than I was about finding a good book boyfriend in every book. Unless there was a hot guy questing with her, I'd have had zero interest in a girl's quest and so either wouldn't have bothered with such a book or wouldn't have loved it enough for it to stick in my memory.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Leaping to Conclusions

I got through my to-do list again yesterday, so yay, me! I just have a few more chapters of edits to get through, and then I'll need to go through the whole book again to do some tinkering. I've got a bit of a problem, though, in that one thing the editor is really confused/concerned about and asking for some rewriting is actually based on an assumption she seems to have made, since I can't find a single place in the text where there's even a hint that what she thinks is going on is going on. Since there's no suggestion there, it's hard to fix. I suppose what I'll have to do is put in specific counter-evidence. In the book, there's a Scarlet Pimpernel-type character who's so highly placed that no one would suspect him of being the secret bandit. This bandit is helping fund the rebels. The editor has decided that since the rebels know they're getting funding from the bandit, they know who the bandit is. There's nothing in there to give that assumption (in fact, they're surprised when they learn who he is, but that's the scene the editor wants rewritten because she thinks they already know), but maybe I can add something to the earlier scene about the rebels being curious about who the bandit is, with maybe some details about how he covers the tracks of his identity.

I suppose if an editor who has read this book multiple times was able to leap to an incorrect conclusion, it's possible that a reader rushing through the book with multiple distractions in the background could come to the same conclusion, so I have to do something to fix it instead of just saying, "You're wrong!"

Tomorrow, I may have to put aside the other book for a while and really delve into this one, but I'm at a good stopping point where I've reached the end of the stuff I'm rewriting and ready to jump forward.

In other news, after reading my way through the Nebula ballot, and especially the teen books, this parody of the dystopian teen novel is almost too true to be funny. I thought the fantasy books were excellent, but all the science fiction books were so bleak and grim. It was hard to judge the quality of the book when I just didn't like the story and when I'm likely to roll my eyes at anything taking place in a dystopian future, especially if there's some kind of sorting into teams or public exhibition in which someone's chosen for something.

I do have this vague idea of a dystopian past-set fantasy book, where the world is like the Dickens London with a Stalinist-type ruler. But without any sorting into teams or public combat, or anything like that. Just people desperate to escape and doing what it takes to be ready to escape.

Finally, I registered for DetCon, so I'll be coming to Detroit this summer. I figure I need to expand my geographic horizons and introduce myself to fans in other parts of the country (and maybe start getting on the radar for being invited to other conventions if I ever make it big enough).

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Reading Influences: Nancy Drew

I was rather productive yesterday, doing everything on my to-do list and still having time to spare. Can I do it again today? I've already done a Target/grocery run.

Normally I talk about books on Tuesdays, but I'm in the middle of a very long book, and I'm not even sure I will end up talking about it, so I thought it would be fun to talk about books or series that have been big influences on me as a writer and as a person.

Recently, I've seen a lot of columns/essays/blog posts about women in fiction, or the lack thereof -- a father who made Bilbo female when reading The Hobbit to his daughter so there would be a girl in the story for her to relate to, a woman who realized as an adult that she'd let herself become a "manic pixie dream girl" because she didn't know she could be the hero of her own story, since fiction was always about men. These concepts were foreign to me. For one thing, while it's sometimes fun to have something I can relate to in a story (that seems to work best with comedy), I mostly read fiction to experience something that's different from my own life. And I can't imagine not realizing that you could be the hero of your own story. Then I figured out something that probably accounts for this: Nancy Drew.

The Nancy Drew books are by no means great works of fiction, but I think they had a huge influence on my life. I think I was in maybe third grade when I discovered these books accidentally. The TV series Bewitched was something of an obsession among the girls in my school (it was in weeknight syndication), and as a result, I would read any book with "witch" or "magic" in the title. I saw a book on the shelf called The Witch Tree Symbol and checked it out. It turned out to be about the Pennsylvania Dutch, not magic, but it was my introduction to Nancy Drew.

Nancy was very much the heroine of her own story. Yeah, she's a raging Mary Sue because she's good at everything, but if you're going to read about a Mary Sue, elementary school is the time to do it. Nancy was quite independent, traveling the world on her own or with her close friends, maybe occasionally with her dad. She solved crimes better than the local police force wherever she went. She could dance, sing, paint, play the bagpipes and escape from ropes. From her, I learned to make your captors drop their guard by going limp (which actually worked on the school playground when the bully mean girls ganged up on me) and how to hold your wrists when you're being tied up to make it easier to escape later.

I devoured these books, trying to read them in order (not that order mattered all that much). Even if I could guess the solution to the mystery, the real fun was in the adventure along the way. I preferred the older editions because I liked the 1930s-1950s illustrations. The 70s illustrations were just tacky. And I think because I absorbed so much Nancy Drew during a formative phase, I was able to not care whether or not there were girls in other books I read and it would never occur to me that I couldn't be a heroine in my own right. I've tried re-reading some of these books and can barely stomach them, so I just hold onto the way they made me feel when I was eight or nine.