Friday, May 30, 2014

So Misunderstood

Day One of my writing retreat was rather successful. I managed more than 5,000 words. I'd like to top that today, but I have some thinking/brainstorming to do. I've reached a part of the story where I know what the outcome needs to be, but I'm still fuzzy on the details of exactly how it will happen. Now I need specifics, both in actions and in the sense of what it will look like. I've been looking forward to this part of the story for ages, so I'm eager to see it play out, while also a little nervous about it living up to my expectations.

I've already done the grocery shopping, and I resisted the urge to buy snack foods. I don't need that, even if it is fun. Instead, I can make popcorn if I need food for thought. If I'm really desperate, I can make brownies.

This kind of productivity as I near the end is pretty much my process. I can spend months on the first half of a book, then write the last half in a week.

However, I may not be entirely coherent at the end of that week.

I was slightly tempted by the opening of Maleficent this weekend, but the newspaper review used the word "misunderstood," and that dampened my enthusiasm. I'm so tired of the villain who's really just misunderstood. Yes, that does sometimes happen, where people fear things they don't understand, and that worked very well in Frozen. But is there possibly any good but "misunderstood" motivation for cursing a newborn infant? I really, really hate it when they make it so that it's the good guy's fault that the bad guy is evil, and often the writers are so unaware of what they're doing that they undermine their own premise, so that the good guy suffers just as much as the bad guy without turning into a psychopath, and yet we're supposed to feel sorry for the bad guy for making really bad choices in response to his/her suffering.

Any writer who claims that the villains are more fun/easier to write and that writing good characters is boring is a lazy writer. The good characters can be far more interesting and complex if you're doing it right because it's easy to have someone respond badly to bad events. To me, there's a lot more meat to work with in exploring how and why someone uses a bad event as an opportunity to turn things around and get even better. I read an interesting psychology book a couple of years ago about how the emphasis on PTSD has had some backlash because now people expect to have problems after trauma. But it's actually more common for people to use trauma as a means of getting better, stronger or more compassionate, and yet no one hears about this. When they started talking about this possibility with combat veterans, their outcomes improved significantly because they realized they didn't have to be victims of their experiences. Yes, there's trauma, and that needs to be acknowledged and treated, but the outcome doesn't have to be negative. So, to me, exploring the psyche of a person who's had negative experiences and made positive choices in response to them is more interesting than delving into someone who uses negative experiences as an excuse for bad behavior.

Now to go figure out what happens next.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Another Day of Distractions

I was going to criticize myself for getting very little done yesterday, but while I didn't add words to the manuscript, I did a more detailed map for my other book and sent it to my editor (which involved a lot of yelling at my scanner because it only wanted to give me part of the map), and I planned out the next two or three scenes (one scene is going to end up merged with an earlier scene, so while I planned three, the result will be two).

Otherwise, it was a day of distractions. I found out that our choir director is leaving us at the end of the summer. It's one of those things where it's a great opportunity for him but a sad day for us that we kind of knew was coming eventually. He started as a fill-in when our previous director left in the fall, since there was no way we'd find someone during the build-up to Christmas. He'd been our tenor soloist and was doing this kind of work while he was working on a doctorate in another field after deciding to make a career change. Then after Christmas, he decided to stay until Easter, because it's hard to find someone to change jobs during the build-up to Easter. And then he decided to just stay, so he's been here several years. He finished the doctorate last year and was teaching a few classes as a second job. But now he's been offered a tenure-track faculty position and the chance to build a program -- and have just one job instead of trying to do it all. I teased him that once he got me over my stage fright, he figured his work here was done. I've probably been closer to this director than to any other I've had, in part because he's geeky enough to discuss Doctor Who and Firefly at Wednesday-night dinners and in part because you tend to bond when you spend a week together traveling across the country in a bus full of teenagers. Now I'll have to train someone new. I wonder if I can trick the new person into not realizing I can sing second soprano.

Then there was a surprise baby shower for my ballet teacher. It's weird seeing ballet people in "civilian" clothes, so it took me a while to recognize my classmates, and they really didn't recognize me. In class, I always have my hair in a tight bun, wear contact lenses and usually don't wear makeup. Last night, I had my hair loose, so it was curls to my waist, I wore glasses (since I went straight to choir afterward and it's easier to read the music that way) and had on makeup. I got to play with one classmate's baby, whose pictures I've seen but hadn't yet seen in person.

And then choir ran long because we had to discuss what was happening, and the pastor came to rehearsal to reassure us that they'd tried everything to keep the director but finally had to face that this was the right thing for him. There were a few tears. I suspect I'll say the things I need to say in e-mail because I don't want to get soppy in person.

But today is going to kick off that writing "retreat." I'm determined to make real progress over the next few days. I'm coming up on some of the meatiest content in the book, and that means I'm simultaneously excited about writing it and afraid of writing it. I want it to live up to what's in my head.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Retreating to Write

I made some really good progress yesterday, so I feel like I'm on something of a roll. Since I don't have any scheduled activities tomorrow, I may do a fake "writing retreat" for a couple of days. I'm always seeing other writer friends talking about making big progress on a book by hiding out in a hotel for a few days and writing non-stop. I don't see much point in the hotel, since I live alone and would have the same distractions in a hotel as I have at home (Internet and cable). Just figuring out what to bring and packing would eat up valuable potential writing time.

But maybe if I put myself in that mindset and shut out the outside distractions, I can move ahead. I'm a bit more than halfway through the book, so this is the home stretch. I don't need to cook because I cooked over the weekend and have a lot of leftovers, and for once I don't seem to have a lot of events or activities scheduled. However, it is the last few days of the Television Without Pity forums, so there needs to be some time online to say goodbye. After that ends, I imagine I'll have a lot more free time. Tonight's the last choir rehearsal for the summer, so until summer ballet starts in a couple of weeks, I won't have evening activities anymore. Still more time I could spend writing!

Maybe my productivity has something to do with activity levels. I've gone walking every day this week and stretched afterward. Today was a tea run to the Indian market, but otherwise I've been just taking at least a 20-minute walk every day. Studies do show that physical activity enhances creativity. It also helps that it's been kind of rainy the past few days, and I always work better on rainy days. That may be why it's really hard for me to write during the summer. Maybe I need to rig a garden hose to spray on my window to trick me into thinking it's a rainy day, with the right kind of awning to create that cloudy effect.

And now I need to go wish my dad a happy birthday.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reading Influences: How-to Books

I'm going to be having one of those "what day is it?" weeks. There was the holiday Monday, during which I did some work, but then there was also a Memorial Day concert/service at church, and being at church on Monday makes it feel more like a Sunday, which makes today feel doubly like a Monday. I don't have ballet class this week, so there goes that "it must be Wednesday because my thighs are sore" reminder. TV's in summer mode, so I can't go by that schedule. I guess it doesn't matter as long as I remember when Wednesday is so I can go to choir practice.

I managed to finally break through on the scene that had me blocked. Normally, I end up being able to fix the problem in about five minutes after days of procrastination and dread. This time, it took more than an hour and a couple of false starts. I've figured out that one problem I'm having is that my main characters may be too smart and capable. It's really hard to get them in trouble because if I go by what these people would do, they'd see the trouble coming and come up with a way to avoid it, or they'd be able to get themselves out of trouble easily. So I have to make their enemies smarter and more powerful, or I have to pile on enemies until it gets overwhelming. So now I've got lots of factions up against them, and they aren't aware of the internal politics to know that there are lots of factions, so they make choices based on bad information, and that gets them in trouble.

I'm starting to see why so many authors are guilty of writing Too Stupid to Live heroes. It's so much easier to get them in trouble and have conflicts. And I'm now seeing what a brilliant move in my last series it was to make my heroine be the one with absolutely no magic. When your heroine is a smart, powerful magic user, plotting is so much more challenging.

I don't really have any new books to discuss today (since it is Tuesday, the day I usually talk books), so I'll do another reading influences tale. This is a weird one, and thinking about it is giving me a burst of nostalgia. When I was in elementary school, in addition to reading novels, I really liked reading non-fiction how-to books. There were all sorts of fun things in the kids' section of the library, things like how to put on a circus in your backyard with your friends, how to put on a play (with several play scripts provided, along with costume and scenery suggestions), how to make a family newspaper, plus lots of craft books on stuff like batik and tie dye (this was the 70s). I also read the Girl Scout handbook cover-to-cover.

The weird thing is, I didn't actually do any of these things. I'd plan them all out in my head and imagine how they would go, but it seldom went further than that. For one thing, I didn't think my friends would be on board with acting out plays or putting on a circus. For another, I've always enjoyed planning things -- the planning is the most fun part, so I was doing the thing I enjoyed most in just reading the books and planning. I may have done a couple of craft projects I read about. There was some sewing and embroidery. And I made recipes from cookbooks I checked out. I still even have some of them carefully copied out on cards and in a recipe box.

I'm not sure where or how this influenced me as a writer, other than it being an excellent exercise for my imagination to have all these details planned in my head and then to envision how it might play out. Putting on mental productions of plays was probably a very good exercise in imagining scenes and dialogue. I learned a lot about a lot of odd things that may come in handy at some point. All this is probably also a good checkpoint of "you know you're an introvert when …" if it's more fun to read about stuff you could do with friends and imagine what it would be like to do it than it is to actually do it. Not that I was a total loner. During that phase, I was spending a lot of time outdoors, running around with my friends. We were just not structured enough to want to do something so organized as put on a play or a circus. We did what I guess you could call live-action roleplaying fan fiction improv. We'd each take a role in whatever TV show or movie we wanted to play, and then we'd have adventures that we made up as we went along.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Ballet Ache

I took the beginning ballet class last night, and I'm even more sore than I usually am after a class. I think it's because the beginning class moves very slowly, and that really works the muscles. Since I'm not learning the moves, I focus on being very precise, and that also works the muscles. I think just about everything below the waist is mad at me right now. However, I did double pirouettes for the first time. I can only do doubles on one side, and the second one isn't entirely pretty, but still, that was an achievement.

Now I have a few weeks off before the summer session starts. I'll be in a class with a lot of ex-dancers (people who danced a long time at a fairly high level and who are coming back as adults) with a different teacher, so I'm a little nervous. I'll likely be the oldest person in the class -- even older than the teacher. So I need to exercise between now and then to stay in some kind of shape.

I started today with a walk to the library. Stretching may be required later in the day.

I hope today's batch of library books will have better success for me than the last batch. One thing I've learned is that it's okay to put a book down if it's not working for me instead of forcing myself to slog through it.

And I hope to get more work done today. Yesterday did not go as planned because there were distractions, but when I gave up and just did some business stuff and some housework and listened to music, ideas started coming to me, so I think I can get back to it today. After a brief shopping trip. There's a sale at Half-Price Books, and there are some out-of-print things I've been looking for. There's a shoe store next to the bookstore, and I need to replace a critical pair of shoes that died last summer.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Finding the Bad Spot

I was very good today and took care of all my errands in the morning (though I spent WAY too much money at Target). Now I can spend the afternoon writing. I hope. I've been pretty stuck for the last couple of days. I figured out what needed to happen in the middle of the book, got it outlined, realized I'd need to cut a scene, then still couldn't come up with what happens next.

After a lot of fiddling around all afternoon, including revisiting my soundtrack for this book and realizing that I had no songs that applied to this section of the story (a potentially bad sign), I finally figured out that the problem was a little further back, that the previous scene ends at the wrong place and goes in the wrong direction. So cutting one more paragraph should do the trick. Unfortunately, I had this realization right before it was time to get ready for choir. So maybe today I can move forward.

I'm already planning on a Saturday write-a-thon. I'll do my socializing on Friday, work Saturday, rest Sunday and then on Monday I've got a Memorial Day concert Monday evening, but I can also work during much of that day. I kind of pity the alto I was sitting next to last night. The Battle Hymn of the Republic ends with a high B-flat, and now that I've been working my upper range, that's easy for me to hit, so instead of straining and coming out with it shrill, it's full-blast. She said she was worried her eyeglasses would shatter. I have to work on some music for another piece because I need to learn both first and second soprano parts and decide which one I need to sing based on who shows up. I switched to first for part of last night because it was sounding a little anemic, but I think one of the bigger-voiced people will be there Monday.

I'm going to have to hit the library tomorrow morning because the last batch of books was hit-or-miss. There was one I really liked, a couple that were okay, and two I didn't finish. One I think I might have liked, except it was written in second person (you did this, you did that), and there was no dialogue, just indirect quotes (he told you this), and I just couldn't get past that to get to the story. The other involved the "hero" shooting up heroin early in the book and I had a "no, just no" moment because I don't need that kind of edgy. Yeah, he's an immortal being and it has a different effect on him, but I also don't need a hero so dark and angsty that he needs drugs. I have one book that was on hold ready to pick up, but I'll need to find some other fun stuff to read.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Writing a Series

I've got another writing question from a reader: How do you sustain a series?

I think the biggest factor in making a series work is planning. If there's even the slightest possibility that your book could have at least a single sequel, it helps to be thinking about it up front, since if your book is successful, the publisher will likely suggest a sequel, and a series is a good way to build a readership.

One thing to think about is the kind of series that might work best for this world/cast/story.
There's the serial saga kind of series, with one big story broken up into multiple books, like the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin (known on TV as A Game of Thrones). Each individual book may not follow any of the structure of a novel and may not have a resolution. In fact, it may even have a cliffhanger ending. This kind of series might be considered to have a closed ending because when the story's over, it comes to a definite conclusion. But if your characters are still alive, it's possible to start another saga in the same world or to tell more adventures. Readers pretty much have to start with the first book and continue to the last one to get the whole story. Otherwise, it would be like reading a few chapters from the middle of a novel.

There's the more episodic kind of series, in which each book is a self-contained story, but there may be character and plot arcs that stretch across books. You see this a lot in mystery series, where each book covers a particular case, but the personal life, character development and relationships of the main character build and grow across books. A reader could pick up any book in the series and follow the main plot, but readers who start with book one will appreciate the character parts of the story more, and readers will keep picking up each book not so much for the main plots but to see what's going on with the characters.

You can also do a hybrid of these, as in the Harry Potter series or the first five books of my Enchanted, Inc. series, where there's one main villain with the same big-picture goal, but each book tells a mostly self-contained story about a particular facet of the villain's scheme, and that story is resolved in that book, while the villain lives to scheme again.

Or there's the series model common in the romance genre, where there's a large cast of recurring characters and each book focuses on a different pair of characters. The best friend of the main characters in book one may be the hero of book two, with the characters from book one taking a supporting role. We get to see what's going on in the lives of characters from earlier books while focusing on someone else. This has been done with a group of friends, a military unit, a family, or a town. I had a friend writing a family series who ran out of family members she'd established and started having to dig up long-lost cousins.

Depending on the genre, it is possible to switch series modes -- start with an episodic series that becomes more of a serial saga as the big-picture plot starts to eclipse the "case of the week" story, or close out the saga and then tell episodic adventures. I haven't seen it done that I know of, but it may even be possible to do the romance-style series until you reach the point that a particular character wants to take over, and then to continue the series focusing on that character. Still, it helps to know up front if you're going to need to have more of the main story to tell, a reason for this character to keep getting into trouble and having adventures, or if you're going to need to find the story for a secondary character. What further development does each character need to go through? Are the relationships set at the end of book one or evolving? What is there in this world that could continue to cause problems?

If you're doing a saga, it really helps to plot it in advance as though it was a novel -- who's the big bad, what's his goal, what's his plan, what are the major turning points, where will everyone end up, how will you break it into books. It would be really hard to write this kind of series as a seat-of-the-pants writer since you're essentially publishing your earlier chapters before you've written the rest of the book, and that means you're stuck with what you've established.

If you're doing an episodic series, you need to make sure you've set up a reason for your characters to keep having adventures. Not only does their situation need to lend itself to things happening, but the characters need to have a motivation to keep getting themselves in trouble. It's easy if it's their job -- they're a sword for hire, a cop, a detective. It's harder if it's an ordinary person who keeps getting swept into trouble.

In the romance model, make sure there are other characters you want to work with who will intrigue readers. You can always introduce more people along the way, but there needs to be someone in book one who's ready to have a story told in book two.

Some other hints for working with a series:
  • Keep a master list of your characters, their roles and their major traits, both physical (eye and hair color) and otherwise (tics, quirks, interests). This really, really comes in handy later. For some weird reason, it's easier to keep track of all this stuff in something you're obsessed with as a reader than in something you're writing, and it helps to have an easy reference.
  • I've heard of writers who set themselves a challenge for each book -- like using a different genre model, focusing on a particular aspect of the main character's personality, developing something in the key relationship. Readers may not even notice that this is going on, but it's something that keeps the writer interested and makes the writing fresh.
  • Really dig to explore various aspects of the main characters or the story -- what would they never do? Find a way to make them do it. What could never happen? Find a way to make it happen. What do they value most? Take it away. What do they think they value least? Take it away and see what happens. A lot of readers get frustrated with a series character who never seems to grow or learn anything, in spite of everything she's been through.
  • Put the characters in different settings -- make your main character a fish out of water, or if your character is already a fish out of water, move her to her home turf and switch roles with the other characters. Take everyone out of their comfort zone occasionally.
  • Beware the exploding cast. It's easy in a long-running series to have so many recurring characters that it's hard to fit them all in. Sometimes it helps to change the setting or find a situation that allows you to focus on one smaller group of people while the others sit on the sideline. Then in the next book you can find something for that group to do while the others get a break. This all gets really tricky in a saga with a big cast of key characters rather than one main hero because readers have their favorites and will lose interest if their favorites are offstage too long.
  • Finally, don't be afraid to end it. If you've been doing it right, your readers will beg for more, but don't keep going if you're getting tired of it, if you don't really have any good ideas or if there's something else you'd rather be writing. It will show in your work, and then your readers will be disappointed. As they say in show biz, leave 'em wanting more, and unless you killed everyone, you can always revisit that world if you find yourself inspired.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fantasy Travels

I'm going to have to tell my ballet teacher tonight that the looking up and out thing isn't going so well. I was doing that while walking around my house, which you'd think I'd know well enough to do blindfolded, and I misjudged walking past the staircase, so now I have a lovely bruise on my hipbone from hitting the end of the bannister. There may be fewer obstacles in a dance studio, but the obstacles that are there are moving.

I hit a roadblock in writing yesterday when I reached what was planned to be a pivotal action sequence and realized that I didn't know much about what was going to happen other than that obstacles would arise when there was a ticking clock. I knew stuff needed to happen, but I didn't know what stuff, exactly. It took me a long time to figure it out, and I ended up going in directions that I hadn't planned, which is good. And then this morning I figured out that this plan still won't entirely work, though it's more a problem with the execution than with the plan. I was writing it in the dullest way possible. Back to the drawing board. I know what I want to do, but it refuses to stay in focus well enough for me to capture it.

But I have been doing some reading, which is good. I mentioned that I developed an epic fantasy craving after reading Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and had started in on The Belgariad by David Eddings.

I have now remembered that it's generally a bad idea for me to try to read fantasy in omnibus form. I have a very bad track record with that. Because all the books are in one volume, my brain tries to make them into one book, so I feel obligated to read cover-to-cover. But then I burn out about two chapters into the third book, almost invariably. With this book(s), I think I would have been frustrated if I hadn't had the next volume immediately available because each book doesn't really feel like a complete novel. There's no sense of "the end" at the end. But at the same time, reading them back-to-back makes things get really repetitive. I think I'd have become obsessed with this series if I'd read it as a teenager when it first came out. The main character is a teen, and I probably would have related to him, and fantasy was a lot newer, so the travelogue nature of the series, which mostly seemed to involve traveling from place to place and seeing how varied this world was, would have been fresher. As it is now, I thought the teen read way too young and often came across as too stupid to live, and I've read enough fantasy that I've seen just about every kind of fantasy society. I don't much care about the worldbuilding other than to create a place where things can happen. I'm far more interested in the things that are happening, and it seems like there's a lot of wheel spinning in the middle books of this series. I wonder if the author was encouraged to stretch the series longer than planned because it was selling so well, and so a lot of "and then they tried looking for the thing they were pursuing in this place, which was like this, and then the main character stumbled into something and needed rescuing, so they had to flee" got added.

Maybe I've reached past a point of being able to enjoy the classic epic fantasies from the 80s. The publishing world has changed and so has my perspective.

So I moved on from there to a newer book, a recent young adult fantasy, The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke. I stumbled upon this one in a very roundabout way. I was looking for book cover concepts by scrolling through Amazon bestseller lists, and I kind of liked the way the covers for this series looked. It didn't quite fit my book, but the concept might have been applied, and I even tracked down the artist's web site. I don't think I'm going to go in this direction, but the books looked intriguing, so I picked up the first one at the library. The story's about a pirate's daughter who's being forced into an arranged marriage with the son of a prominent pirate family. She's so not up for that, so she runs away, but her prospective groom's family sends an assassin after her. But when the assassin finds her, something goes wrong, and the result is that they're magically bound to each other. He's in terrible pain if she's very far from him, and any injury to her hurts him. This isn't an arrangement favorable to either of them, so they set off on a quest to find someone who can break this curse for them.

It's very much the start of a series. In fact, I would almost say that the "crossing the threshold" part of the overall series story doesn't happen until the end of this book. But it's not a travelogue. Stuff happens along the way, and it's far more about the developing relationship between the pirate girl and the young assassin, who are similar in a lot of ways but who have very different perspectives and life goals. They both have issues that interfere with their forced partnership, and you do sometimes want to bang their heads together to make them realize that they could make a good team, even as you realize why it's difficult for them. I've already requested the next book from the library because I can't wait to see what happens next.

One caveat is that the book is written in what I guess you'd call "vernacular." It's first-person narration that's very much in the heroine's voice. It's not "talk like a pirate day" pirate talk, but it's not standard English grammar, so if you're a grammar Nazi, it may take a while to get into the book instead of wanting to correct it. It wouldn't be quite as distracting if limited to dialogue, but then again, it would make no sense for the dialogue to be the way she speaks and then the narration to sound like an English teacher (unless, perhaps, it was being written from the perspective of her future self after receiving some education). I know of people who can't deal with narration in dialect, so this is something to be aware of.

Monday, May 19, 2014

So Many Channels ...

It's really nice to have the kind of weekend you don't need a weekend to recover from. I love starting the week feeling fresh and revived. I did my social activity on Friday evening, then had a productive and restful Saturday. There was the usual church stuff and an extra choir rehearsal on Sunday, but otherwise I managed to do the things I'd planned, and I'm not starting the week feeling behind.

Even better, I have meals mostly taken care of for the week because I defrosted something that will cover at least a couple more meals, and I got a meatloaf on "manager's special" at the grocery store that I cooked last night. Last week was almost entirely vegetarian, so I guess this will be a meat week.

I did discover something new on TV this weekend while I was eating lunch/reading the newspaper/doing crossword puzzles/knitting: A Hallmark series called Signed, Sealed, Delivered. I've only watched the pilot so far, but it seems to be a quasi-anthology romantic comedy series. There seem to be some ongoing story lines among the main cast, but there's a different story for the main plot each week. It's about the dead letter office at the post office in what supposedly is (but totally isn't) Denver. The office is staffed by a group of quirky people and led by a very old-fashioned guy. When a new woman is assigned to the group, seemingly by mistake (she's supposed to be working with computers), she really shakes things up and gets them personally involved in tracking down the people and the stories around the lost letters. It's very sweet, so you have to be in the mood for that kind of thing, but if you are in the mood for that kind of thing, it hits the spot. I think they're kind of going for a faith-based approach, but so far the only nod to that is the acknowledgement that the boss is a believer who goes to church and whose faith has a lot to do with the way he approaches his work. Then again, for TV that's pretty heavy-handed, since he isn't a cop who's a lapsed Catholic confronting his faith in a Very Special Episode and he's not a villain trying to purify everyone. It's funny that there's a disclaimer at the end about how this isn't really the way the post office handles mail, and yet the US Postal Service logo is plastered all over everything, and there are lengthy monologues romanticizing the idea of letters, so I'm guessing there's some paid placement or sponsorship going on here.

I saw this OnDemand, but I recently discovered that I now have the Hallmark channel, along with a lot of others. I was theoretically supposed to start receiving them last year, but they finally showed up. And, apparently, Hallmark shows movies that are like those holiday movies, just without the "Christmas threw up all over the place" set design, all the time. Yes, whenever I want a fix, I can watch a cheesy, heartwarming romantic comedy, often with a paranormal twist.

BBCAmerica came with this, so now I don't have to wait for OnDemand or rely upon the kindness of friends when Doctor Who returns.

Though, strangely, this seems to be a case of a zillion channels with nothing on because whenever I have a viewing gap and it would be nice to just put something on for background noise, I still can't find anything to watch and have to resort to OnDemand. That's how I ended up watching this show. It looked like what I was in the mood for and it was about to expire, so it was now or never.

But I don't have much time for TV because I have a book to write. Now that I'm back in the swing of things, I'm hoping to really make tracks this week.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The End of the TV Season

I was very good yesterday, getting more than 3,000 words written and taking an extra dance class (I have some to make up from when I was sick earlier in the year). Now my thighs are a little angry with me, but they'll live. I just have one more week of dance, and then a short break before the summer term. I'm a little nervous about summer because it's a teacher I haven't had before, since my teacher will be on maternity leave. My teacher gets that we're adults, not all of us have danced all our lives, and we're doing this for fun/exercise, not to make a career out of it. When we've had subs, sometimes they're a little too intense for our group, and then it's not fun anymore. But I don't want to take the summer off because then I'll turn into a slug. I actually need to find more ways to trick myself into exercising.

The main TV season is pretty much winding down, though these days there are summer shows, so it's not quite the vast wasteland of reruns it used to be. Most of my favorite shows were renewed or are coming to a natural end. One loss was Almost Human on Fox, which I thought was just starting to get into its potential. The other is one I got into late, The Crazy Ones on CBS, but I think my main interest there was seeing when Josh Grobin would show up. I love how as a singer he's so serious and dramatic, but as an actor, he's a raging goofball who specializes in playing characters who are clueless or jerks or clueless jerks, and it was interesting to see him holding his own against Robin Williams in a comedy, even if he was just in a minor recurring role (as the somewhat psycho jingle writer). Warehouse 13 is ending Monday, and while I've loved that show, I think it's time for it to end. While there have been some high points and brilliantly clever moments along the way, I still think it peaked in the first season. It just seemed tighter and the characters seemed more real then. It became a little cartoony along the way.

The Grimm season finale is tonight, so I can't judge how it compares to everything else, but it would be hard to top the Once Upon a Time finale for sheer fun. I liked that NCIS didn't feel obligated to have a cliffhanger. When every show ends every season with a big cliffhanger, the concept of the cliffhanger loses its impact. You expect it, and a good cliffhanger should leave you with a surprised, "Wait, that's it?" moment. When a show like Grimm can follow their "to be continued" screen with "oh, come on, you knew it was coming," you know cliffhangers have become run-of-the-mill. Though I did find their "Oh #&%*$!" instead of "to be continued" kind of amusing.

Now to go make a grocery list, run some errands and get my house in reasonable order before I get a little work done and then do some late-afternoon/early evening hiking. Tomorrow is going to be a good work/reading day.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


No kids in choir stories today because I'm done with children's choir. Oh happy, happy joy. Well, until the fall because I'm a sap and agreed to do it again. I was sitting on the sofa, writing, when I had a moment of panic at the time, and then I remembered that I didn't have to go.

I only got a little more than 2,000 words written yesterday, but then about 45 minutes of my work time was devoted to brainstorming, and now I have at least the next four or five scenes figured out, and I have a few new twists that I hadn't anticipated that will make things a lot more fun. I'm really enjoying myself now.

This particular series is a weird one for me. For one thing, my process changes entirely. I do a lot more rewriting as I go, sometimes multiple drafts of the beginning before I move on. This is because I don't seem to really know what it's about until I write it. With the first book, I had one idea when I started, and by the time I was done, it had changed entirely. It's about as close as I get to "seat of the pants" writing, and yet I do extensive plotting and planning. Also, I can't seem to write it in silence. I have to leave iTunes playing on shuffle while I write. With almost everything else I write, I need total silence or just instrumental music (movie soundtracks work). With these books, not only do I need music, but I need music with lyrics. There's occasionally a pause to sing along, but when I'm really going, I can tune it out.

I just can't take as long from start to finish on this book as I did on the previous one. I wrote three other books between the time I started it and the time I really considered it finished enough to submit. I started researching in the summer of 2009, started actually writing that fall, and will be releasing it this summer. The sequel just has multiple rounds of revisions on another book in the middle of it.

It's funny how different books have different demands, and it takes a while to figure out if this is a music book or a silence book, an afternoon book or an evening book, a push to the end book or a revise as I go book. Usually, there's some process consistency within a series, but not always.

I probably need to start figuring out what to write next. Probably the sequel to the steampunk book to offer it as an option book on that contract, and then have it ready to self-publish if they don't want it. But they didn't really want to think in terms of a series, so it might be better to give them a standalone until they see how the first book does, but then that would delay publication of the sequel. This is a chat I'll have to have with my agent after I get this book done.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Looking Up

I got back into the swing of things yesterday with more than 3,000 words of new material. Yay! I feel like I've been rewriting, revising, editing and proofreading forever, but now I'm moving forward. I have a bit of brainstorming to do before I get started today because I don't think I've delved deeply enough into today's scenes to get their full potential. It's nice that I don't have children's choir tonight, which gives me an extra couple of hours, in addition to time not spent preparing a lesson plan. I was sort of joking about how every time I get started working on this book, I get another round of revisions. Well, I just got an e-mail from that editor wanting a far more detailed map than I sent. Does that count?

My ballet teacher gave me an assignment for the summer (she's on the verge of giving birth, so she will be on maternity leave for the summer session). I have to learn to look up. I have a very bad habit while dancing of looking at my feet or the floor. We were joking about how I need an Elizabethian ruff around my neck to keep me from seeing the floor. Or maybe a really big tutu. But the thing is, that's generally how I go around all the time, watching the floor instead of straight ahead. Some of it may be a factor of my eyesight. I'm nearsighted, but only slightly enough to need glasses to watch TV or drive. Just walking around, I'm okay, but that does mean my focal point is fairly close to me, and so I walk around looking at the ground about a yard ahead. It's actually kind of freaky to walk around looking up and ahead. I'm having sensory overload issues. My brain is going "aaah, way too much information to process!"

In dance, some of it may be confidence. I'm not sure my feet are doing the right thing, so I have to look down and watch them. I got kind of lost last night when I was forcing myself to look up. But in general, it's a habit, so it will take time and effort to break. My personal summer assignment is to work more on stretching and get my flexibility back. And we'll see what the summer teacher does to me.

I suppose that looking up and ahead is a good way to deal with life in general. It's easy to get focused on what's going on now, and watching your own feet is a good metaphor for self-absorption. Looking up and out at the world makes you more of a part of it. Ooh, I feel so profound.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reading Influences: War Stories

I spent yesterday re-reading the first part of the book and outlining the next scenes, so I think I'm ready to plunge back in and see how much I can get written, fast.

Since I'm still wading through the Belgariad (I'm nearly done with book 2), I guess it's time for another discussion of reading influences.

On the surface it looks like an anomaly in my general reading taste, but I've long had a fondness for war-related novels, particularly World War II. Unlike a lot of my reading influences, I can't point to any specific time or book that kicked this off. I grew up in a military family, and we lived for a while on a historic post that had a lot of museums. I remember visiting these museums with my dad and seeing things like the evolution of the army uniform, from the Revolutionary War to the present (at that time). My school bus passed the row of artillery from the beginning to the present every day. Daddy-daughter bonding time for me often involved us watching old war movies (my dad called them "training films") together. Then we moved to Germany, and I was seeing a lot of war-related stuff first-hand.

I think I read Anne Frank's diary in fifth or sixth grade (I remember what school I was going to when I read it, and I was at that school in those years), and I liked to read war-related children's books, which tended to focus on stuff like the adventures British kids evacuated from cities during the war had while staying either in small, remote towns or castles. There were a few about Jews in hiding, and as I got older and veered into what we'd call "young adult," there were books about American teens being caught in France when the Nazis invaded and having to escape.

The summer between sixth and seventh grades, we went on a family vacation to Berchtesgaden. One day, we took the Sound of Music tour of Salzburg, but the rest of the time, we were exploring the Obersalzberg, which was sort of the retreat/mountain hideout for the main Nazis. At that time, that mountain was where the American military rec area was, so we were staying in a hotel that used to be Hitler's guest VIP hotel, and everywhere you went, you found remnants of the time when that area was heavily fortified. We got to go into the bunkers, and once we got a map, we were able to figure out which blocked-off driveways led to the sites of the homes of which Nazi leaders. I think that stirred a lot of interest and curiosity because it became very real, but at the same time, I found myself trying to make sense of it all, and fiction helps with that because fiction generally makes sense.

In seventh grade, the junior high school shared a library with the high school, and that meant the children's, young adult, and adult books were all shelved together, which helped me transition to adult books. That was when I really got into reading war books. I never much cared about actual battlefield stories. I was more into stuff like espionage, capers, and secret missions -- essentially adventure stories in a war setting. I got into authors like Alastair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone) and Jack Higgins (The Eagle Has Landed). By the time I was in high school, I was reading Herman Wouk (The Winds of War/War and Remembrance) and Leon Uris (Mila 18).

As I was thinking recently while planning this post, it occurred to me that these books are actually pretty similar to the classic fantasy novel. The spy/secret mission stories involve putting together a team that usually comes from all walks of life and has different specialties. They go on a journey together, usually having to evade the all-seeing eyes of the enemy. They have to sneak into some kind of fortress, and then they either have to find something or destroy something. The Guns of Navarone and The Lord of the Rings are basically the same story, but in a different setting and with technology instead of magic. Though The Guns of Navarone has a lot less elven poetry and is a lot shorter. So, it's not so weird that I would like both kinds of books.

I don't inhale these books quite as much these days, though I have enjoyed Elizabeth Wein's WWII YA thrillers. I don't know that quite so many books about that era are being written now. When I was in junior high, the people who'd experienced the war were probably the prime demographic for writing and buying books, and most of the books I was reading were pretty old even then. Now it's more like ancient history.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Diva Moments

I got the book proofread, and it will go to my agent today. And then I can get back to its sequel, which means I'll get a package of copy edits on the steampunk book on my doorstep tomorrow. That seems to be how this works.

I had a minor trial by fire with the ensemble on Sunday morning, since the first soprano didn't show up for the rehearsal and barely slipped in at the start of the service, so I never got to practice with the full group and wasn't entirely sure which part I'd end up singing. It went pretty well, and I think I sang the right notes, or if I messed up, I likely sang the alto note, which still wasn't entirely "wrong" in an obvious way. I don't know what her deal was, if she forgot, overslept or got caught in traffic, but this is a big reason why I fit in better in the second soprano section, in spite of my voice. The stereotype of the first sopranos is that they tend to be flaky divas -- they're not entirely reliable and don't care because they know the world revolves around them. That's a bit of an exaggeration, and this girl seems nice (she's new, so I don't really know her well), so something really may have come up, but it's common enough behavior among sopranos that it's not entirely unexpected that the soprano will be the last to arrive in a group like this. Meanwhile, I'm obsessive enough to have practiced the piece thoroughly and then arrive early. I'd give myself a heart attack if I just breezed in right before a performance, and I'd be afraid the others wouldn't wait for me. I'd just assume they'd have planned around me and wouldn't want me to be part of the group if I wasn't there to rehearse.

But we got through it and sounded good. And I ended up with two Mother's Day flowers since I was in both services. We recognize all women for their role in the church (which actually was supposed to be the original idea of what became Mother's Day in the US), not just people who are literal mothers.

And then I had way too much fun with the season finale of Once Upon a Time. It worked like a nearly self-contained two-hour movie, and will be going on my swashbuckling fantasy romance shelf next to Stardust. How could I not love a fairy tale version of Back to the Future, starring Princess Leia?

I really need to write something like that.

But first, to finish the book I'm working on.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Storm Warnings

I discovered yesterday that doing work that requires a lot of concentration, like proofreading, is very difficult when the weather radio keeps going off. I had four warnings yesterday -- flash flood, severe thunderstorm, tornado, another flash flood. None of them directly affected my area, but they were in my county, so the radio went off with an earsplitting shriek and then an eerie disembodied robotic voice describing the situation. That then led to me going online or turning on the TV to find out what the situation really was. The afternoon was almost a total wash for work, so I ended up working in the evening and a little bit late at night.

Today seems nicer, so I'm hoping to make more progress. I want to get this book to my agent on Monday so I can get back into writing the sequel and get this one ready for publication. Then I'll only have a couple of urgent projects in the works, since I'm also working to get the first four books in the Enchanted Inc. series released digitally outside North America. They've been translated in some places, but the way the rights were granted to Random House kept the English editions from being available as e-books worldwide. Since I have those rights, I'm rectifying that, but that means getting the text ready, licensing the art directly from the artist, and getting new covers designed and new cover copy written (since all that was done by Random House and I can't steal their work). Getting the text ready has been a bit of a challenge because I wrote the earlier books in something closer to true manuscript format, so there's underlining instead of italics, and there's some Word formatting stuff that has to be stripped. I also put in the copy editor's changes in track changes mode so I could more easily check the proof pages, and so I have to go in and accept changes and then make sure that doesn't introduce new errors.

For those still hoping for more books in this series, I'm afraid that even rereading them isn't sparking new ideas. I still love those books and the characters, but I can now read them almost like a reader and not like the writer. That door really seems to have closed for now. I know readers want more, and I understand that as a reader, but as a writer, I'm okay with it. I told the story I wanted to tell, and it actually went on for two more books beyond what I planned. I thought I was done with #5, but the Japanese publisher asked for more, so I came up with something else, and then that gave me an idea for book 7. While writing that one, though, I think I knew all along it was probably the end. But you never know what may one day strike me, so I'm not going to say it's definitely over. Just don't hold your breath. I have a lot of other ideas begging to be written.

Which means I probably ought to get to work, huh? Oh, and there's that map I need to finish.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Farewell to the Kids

I am now officially done with children's choir for the summer. And there was much rejoicing. I did get a reminder of why I do this when I had one of my problem children sitting snuggled up against me while we waited for our turn to sing last night "because this is our last time together." Aww. The kids from last year were very excited to see me. And then there was the little girl from this year's class who kept coming up to me during dinner to tell me important things that, according to her mother, she'd been waiting all day to tell me. I'm not entirely sure what they were because she got suddenly quiet and shy when coming up to talk to me, and she has a couple of front teeth missing. I just know that she was coming up to me and very intently telling me things that I couldn't hear or understand. It was a smile and nod moment. I did catch that her class's baby chicks were about to hatch, and they can watch them on a webcam from home. Kindergarten has changed since my day.

Meanwhile, it looks like the choir director isn't going to let me slide back into a comfort zone because he assigned me to the small group singing this Sunday's choir anthem in the early service. This won't be too scary because it's a group and I'm singing the second soprano part, so no high-pitched shrieking. I don't think it even gets to the top of the staff. Still, I'll be the only second soprano, which is a slight challenge because it means finding the harmony instead of just resting on top. I think I mostly got picked because I'm going to be there and I'm the only second soprano who can sing outside a choir setting who isn't a grandmother who's likely to be busy with Mother's Day stuff that morning. But since my church recognizes all women in the church as "church moms," that means I'll get twice the Mother's Day attention, and possibly some very small children fighting over who gets to give me the flower or whatever they decide to pass out.

Meanwhile, I've made it through the copy edits on my upcoming contemporary fantasy book and now just need to do a read-through to make sure things are still consistent. I'm using the same copy editor who did the Enchanted, Inc. series, and I love her so very much. She keeps a light hand, maintaining my style, while breaking my bad habits (like overuse of "then"), she leaves funny comments about stuff she likes, and she seems to get my writing and my characters. That's why I keep using her for my self-published stuff, even though she's a little more expensive. And in this case, it didn't look like she'd be available, but she moved stuff around because she didn't want to miss the opportunity of being first to read my next book, so the love is mutual. If I get enough career clout to demand that any future publishers use the copy editor of my choice, I will demand her. She's declared herself the official Jewish mother of my books because she makes sure all my characters are properly fed and taken care of. There are actual notes on the manuscript asking when these people have had a chance to eat.

After I get this book proofread, I'll be ready to dive into finishing the next one.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Staying Motivated

Here's another writing question posed by readers at Facebook: How do you motivate yourself to write and stay motivated?

It gets easier when you're writing with a contract because you've signed a document saying you'll have the book turned in and money is involved. Even then, staying on track when the deadline seems far away and there are other things you'd love to do can be challenging.

Staying motivated can be really difficult if you're trying to break in, have no deadline and have no guarantee that what you're writing will ever be seen.

One thing that helps is to have a deadline. If you do have a deadline and it seems far away, set earlier deadlines for particular parts of the project -- say, for a rough draft, for the second draft, for proofreading, etc. If you don't have a publisher's deadline, give yourself one, and it's best if you attach it to something you can't easily change so you force yourself to be honest. Say you're going to finish the book in time to enter it in a contest, before you go to a conference where you'll pitch it to someone, before a vacation or holiday where you want to have the book done so you can enjoy yourself. Write down your deadline.

I think it also helps to set smaller goals and give yourself little rewards along the way. It can be as simple as letting yourself eat a piece of candy when you've written a page or allowing yourself to watch your favorite TV show when you've met your goal for the day. Tracking your progress is a good way to keep yourself going. Record your word or page count for the day or make a chart showing how far you've come and how much more you have to go. I sometimes like to set a daily page or word goal based on the deadline and how much I have to write, and then if I've gone over that significantly for a while, I recalculate to see how much less I now have to write per day -- and then I still try to stick with the original goal.

Come up with a big reward for finishing the book. If it helps, find a way to visualize that and put it someplace where you can see it -- a picture of the shoes you'll buy, the meal out you'll enjoy, the place you'll go for your day out. I find it also helps to put into words the reason you're writing this book -- not just for publication or money, but why you need to tell this story. That's a good thing to go back to when you're feeling stuck.

It may help to have some kind of accountability partner, whether it's just someone you tell your deadline and goals and keep posted of your word count or someone who reads the book as you're writing it. I seem to make my fastest progress when I send a chapter at a time to someone else while I'm writing. That gives me some instant feedback (not a full critique, just a comment or two) and if I'm doing it right, it leaves them eager to read more so I get nagged to keep writing and get the next chapter done. I've heard of groups that create writing challenges and post their daily word counts to each other.

When it's not necessarily a particular project and more writing in general that has me needing motivation, I'll visit a bookstore. That reminds me of what I'm doing and why, and it makes me even more eager to get my act together and get more books in the store. It can help to create some kind of encouragement file -- positive comments from critiques or contests, reader mail, book covers, etc. -- to remind you why you're doing this. I've known of artistically inclined writers who create mock-ups of a possible cover for the book so they can visualize it on store shelves.

These are some of the ways I keep myself going. Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Book Report: Fiction for Fantasy Lovers

I felt like yesterday was a mostly wasted day, but although I didn't have the focus for writing, I did manage to tick a number of things off the to-do list, so I did accomplish things. Today, though, I need to really dive in.

But I have done some reading recently. Last week's book was Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. One of the blurbs on the back compared it to The Night Circus, but I'm not sure how apt that is. Then again, it did have a similar feel. I would say that while this isn't technically a fantasy novel, it reads like one. Maybe you could call it literary fiction for fantasy fans.

It's about a young, unemployed graphic designer in San Francisco. He's out walking around the city to force himself to get off the Internet occasionally when he comes across an odd little bookstore with a help-wanted sign in the window. The front of the store seems like a typical small used bookstore, but then there are the shelves in the back, which go up three stories, reached by a ladder. One of the job requirements is the ability to climb a ladder. He ends up taking the job as the night clerk and finds that it's not really a typical bookstore. The books on those tall shelves don't seem to have any record of existence -- he can't find an Amazon listing or Library of Congress listing. The people who get those books don't buy them, but rather check them out. He's expected to keep a detailed log of who comes in and gets which book. Partially out of boredom, he sets out to solve the mystery of the store, which leads to him going on a quest with his girlfriend who works at Google, his best friend from sixth grade who's now a software mogul, and his roommate, who makes props for ILM.

This is one of those books that's hard to talk about because it's hard to put into words what was fun about it. In spite of the very modern references, it feels like a traditional fantasy novel in the way the odd group of characters comes together to achieve something. There's something of a page-turning thriller about it. I think it would appeal to fantasy fans because it's one of those "these are our people" books. The main character and his best friend bonded in sixth grade because they were both fans of a fantasy trilogy of the sort that was pretty popular in the early 80s -- you know, the Shannara kind of thing. How many of us have had that experience, of meeting someone and knowing you'll like them because they have the same appreciation you do for something you love? I think half my college friendships were formed based on the books we saw on each other's shelves in our dorm rooms. I didn't have time to read much for fun in college, but I brought certain books to display just for that purpose.

That fantasy series in the book is important enough to the characters and to the story for there to be snippets of it, and that got me in the mood for reading that sort of thing. After soliciting recommendations on Facebook and getting feedback from people ranging from high school friends to college friends to current friends and fans, I checked an omnibus edition of The Belgariad by David Eddings out of the library. I don't think I've read it, though parts of it seem familiar. I don't know if I tried to read it before and failed, if I've maybe read an excerpt somewhere or if it's just that I've read a lot of that kind of book, so it feels familiar. I've made it through the first book, and it does have those classic elements. We have the Farm Boy of Destiny, the Wise Old Man Who's More than He Appears, the Wise Woman Who's More than She Appears, the honest Man of the People, the Thief, and the Warrior Barbarian in our questing party. The business really has changed over the years, though. I can't imagine getting away with starting a novel with a long infodump prologue telling us the backstory, or spending a good part of the first couple of chapters with characters telling each other about their land's history and legends. I'm glad I'm reading this in an omnibus because I think I would have been angry if I reached the end of the first book and realized that was it (that may be what happened -- I might have read the first one and was angry enough not to look for more). Still, there's something very satisfying about reading something in the classic form, even if I allow myself to mentally snark at the cliches while reminding myself that this was written before all these things became so cliched. Writing a fantasy in the classic form is on my literary bucket list, though I'd have to do it in a more contemporary style (no backstory infodumps!).

Oh, one more thing about Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: This will only work with the paper version of the book, and I don't know if it will work with the paperback, but I had to move the hardcover I got from the library off my nightstand after I turned out the light. The cover design looks pretty simple, just a graphic representation of bookshelves and the title that looks like it's hand-written. But turn out the lights and see what happens.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Fighting the Fear

I made it through my crazy Sunday morning, and I seem to be making a start on overcoming the singing stage fright. I actually felt pretty confident and wasn't shaking violently, and I was happy with how I did. In the first service, it wasn't the best I could do, but it was good enough, and in the second service, it may have been the best I've ever done that part. In the first service, part of the problem may have been that there were some glitches with the choir part (note to choir members: actually paying attention to the director helps a lot) and part may have been that we didn't do any kind of sound check. I hadn't sung from the lectern away from the choir loft before on this piece, and the director neglected to warn the sound guy that there was a soloist. The sound guy thanked me between services for having a voice that carries, since he didn't get the mic on until about halfway through my part. With the notes I was singing, I don't think a mic was that necessary.

The kids kept forgetting to sing during their song, but they were moving around enthusiastically. They may also be part of why I was less nervous in the big service because I went straight from directing them to singing and didn't have time to sit and think about what I was going to have to do. My main worry there was that while I was singing, some little voice would pipe up "That's my teacher!" and I'd lose it. If they did it, I didn't hear it.

And then after lunch with my parents, I went home and collapsed. I was too wired for a nap, so I mostly read. Today I feel strangely tired and I woke up early. But it's nice not to have to be paranoid about allergies. I spent the weekend sealed up in my house, so this morning I ate breakfast on the patio because I could.

I may have to force myself to become a diva and request to do more solos and small ensembles because I'm afraid that if I don't follow up this positive step soon with another one, I'll relapse. I'd like to get to the point where this kind of thing doesn't panic me, to where I even enjoy it. I did enjoy it while I was doing it, even though there was some dread beforehand, and I really enjoy having done it. The main fear with this wasn't the nerves, but whether I'd be physically capable because it was hard and had forced me to really stretch my abilities.

But as they say, you never accomplish anything worthwhile from within your comfort zone. I'd like to spend today in a zombie coma, but I have to get to work on copy edits so I can have a new book out this summer.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Fun with Friday Videos

I realized after thinking more about yesterday's post (and I think I may have this epiphany about twice a year. Maybe someday it will stick) that the important thing is to generate emotion in the readers. That can sometimes be done through showing the characters' emotions, but the key is making readers care about the characters, and then they'll have feelings about what the characters are going through. A stoic character facing his fate without so much as an inner flinch can still make readers cry if they care about what happens to him. So it comes back to being mean to your characters. The art of writing good fiction apparently involves sadism because it's all about making bad things happen to people you care about, and enjoying it.

In other news, the book went off yesterday (yay!). Then I wrote a description of the book I'm working on now, which is a good way to force yourself to focus on what the story's really about. Today I think I'll dive into copy edits on the previous book in this series so we can start getting it ready for publication.

Meanwhile, I need to find a balance between resting my voice and keeping it in shape so I can sing Sunday. Here's a recording of some other group doing the song we're doing. I'm singing the soprano solo in the middle of the piece. Yes, it's pretty high, which is why I'm nervous (well, aside from all the other reasons I'm nervous):

Now for some other fun with music-related videos. I may have found my favorite version of the now-ubiquitous "Let it Go" from Frozen, which may also be one of the better actor rants to fans since the infamous "Get a Life" William Shatner sketch on Saturday Night Live. Arthur Darvill, most famous as the late, lamented Rory on Doctor Who, lets people know that he's moved on, and so should they. It's hilarious (even though I have to admit that I'd rather not let it go because Rory is one of my favorite characters ever), but what really impresses me is that the way he's looking at the sheet music gives me the impression that he's sight reading. On live radio. Though I guess you don't do Broadway and West End musicals if you're shy about singing in public. If I only had about a tenth that confidence.

The perfectionist in me feels obligated to share a less rough performance, a scene from Once, the music he's currently performing in, as a better representation of what he can really do.

On a totally different note (see what I did there?), as a follow-up to last weekend's jazz festival, here's an act they need to add: A piano duet involving an elephant, with bonus elephant boogieing. See, even elephants like jazz.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Delivering All the Feels

I finished reading through the book, so now I just have to do some work on an author's note to explain the alternate history and then I can move back to other things. I don't know how long it will be before I get the copy edits, but I want to get my other books ready for publication before then. I also survived my last night of children's choir. We had a small group and they weren't at all interested in singing, which is going to make Sunday morning interesting. Fortunately, I have a lot of other things to worry about on Sunday. By that point, I'll be willing to let the kids skate on "cute."

Because I figure that if it's worth analyzing, it's worth overanalyzing, I like to skim around the major book review sites to see what tends to get big responses, and something I'm seeing is that readers will apparently forgive a book a lot of things as long as it delivers "all the feels." Emotional intensity seems to be more important to a book's success than decent grammar and spelling, internal consistency or story logic. Some of the wildly successful self-published books are criticized for being very badly written and having terrible characters, but they're still like crack because they take readers on an emotional roller-coaster ride.

I have to admit that I give higher marks to a book that really makes me feel something, though I figure that laughter counts as much as tears. I don't like being emotionally manipulated, though. I remember the time I figured out the trick that a certain bestselling author who shall remain nameless uses. I was reading books to judge for the Rita award, and I read one of this author's books on an airplane. There was a scene near the end that brought tears to my eyes so that I was still teary-eyed when I got to the ending. And then I almost started laughing out loud when I realized what had happened. The tearjerking scene had almost nothing to do with the plot. It was like throwing in a Kodak or Kleenex commercial just before the big finale. The big finale wasn't all that emotional, but if you read it with tears in your eyes, then that made it feel emotional, and you tend to give books that leave you with tears a higher mark. Obviously, this doesn't bother a lot of people because everything this author writes becomes an instant bestseller.

I'm just not sure how to work this as an author. I'm a fairly reserved person, and I'm not willing (or really even able) to pull off these kinds of tricks, and I'm certainly not willing to write the over-the-top angst that's found in the "crack" self-published books. I also tend to write reserved characters who suffer silently. I do know that I need to be a little meaner to my characters -- they need to overcome more, and a lot of emotion comes from that. I think most of the emotional moments that have gotten to me in books, TV or movies have come from sacrifice, loss and triumph, not from characters who are over-the-top emotionally. So I guess if I don't write characters who hit every emotion at about 11, then I need to really put them through the wringer. The use of humor can help there because it creates what I think of as an emotional sucker punch -- you lower your emotional guard when you laugh, so you're more vulnerable when something bad happens next. That's why a comedy is more likely to make me cry than a straight drama that I know is going to be a tearjerker.

Any thoughts on this or nominations for books you think are really emotional in a way that you liked? This is the area where I most need to improve, so I need homework.