Friday, June 27, 2014

On the Road Again

I'm about to head out to ApolloCon in Houston, so if you're going to be there, I'll see you there. It looks like I'm doing a lot of programming about media trends and fairy tale elements. They seem to have given me an entire hour for a reading, so I may do either a big chunk from the beginning of the upcoming steampunk book or from the beginning of the upcoming new contemporary fantasy series, depending on who's there and what they want to hear. I'll have my laptop, so there will be lots of material to choose from.

I spent the last couple of days fixing the formatting and accepting the copy edits on Book 4 so we can do digital releases outside the US. Then those who read English in the rest of the world will be able to get legal e-books of the first four books in the series. I got all nostalgic while doing that because I did the location research for that book en route on my first trip to ApolloCon, and I was writing the early chapters while I was there. I'd forgotten how much fun I had writing Katie's family (and they are not based on any actual family members of mine).

But even rereading that book didn't spark any ideas for more books in that series. Strangely, I found myself suddenly getting ideas for entirely unrelated short stories while I was working. I'm afraid that particular door really may have closed, unless something pops up later down the line. I was reading that book as a "stranger," without the sense of having written it, aside from remembering my research and the act of writing it.

Now for the last-minute out-the-door travel stuff, like taking out the trash and unplugging electronics (there's a chance of thunderstorms while I'm gone).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tackling the To-Do List

This feels like it's been a short week. I barely got home, and I'm having to get ready to leave again. I have a rather epic to-do list, but it's gradually shrinking. Most of the items are quick little things. One, I'll be able to strike off: watering the outside plants. It's been raining so much lately that I don't think that will be an issue. Of course, it'll stop raining entirely the moment I leave the house, so they'll still dry out while I'm gone.

I probably shouldn't have stayed up past one in the morning to finish reading a book. I didn't even like it all that much. It was pretty much the generic self-congratulatory, quasi-literary book club bait kind of thing that I checked out of the library because something about the cover and the description gave me the impression that it was going to turn out to be magical realism or "soft" fantasy. It wasn't. As the "literary" cliches kept piling up, I kept reading because I was sure there would be a twist that would upend the expectations, but it did exactly what I was afraid it would do. It was a book that seemed to have been planned on the basis of a "get critical acclaim/be selected for book clubs" checklist. In spite of being a big reader, I'm not a big fan of books that hit you over the head with the "I'm so superior because I read the right things" message.

It was a relief to dive into a real fantasy next. I have no problem with books in which the characters are better prepared for what happens to them because they read a lot of fantasy novels. Maybe I'm a hypocrite, but then I don't think I'd like a book with the "I'm superior because I read the right fantasy novels" message. Literary snobbery irks me.

And now I kind of want to write a fantasy novel involving a bookstore. Bookstores are figuratively portals to other worlds. What if it were more literal, and you could actually travel to other worlds based on which book you took off the shelf?

Now I need to print up some more bookmarks, do some laundry and bake some cookies. I already got supplies (ahead of the anticipated afternoon storms). And I probably need to think of some selections to read from to be prepared, depending on who's at the reading and what they want to hear.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


I took a couple of days off to visit my parents, and now I'm back for a couple more days before I head off to ApolloCon in Houston. I have a truly frightening to-do list before I leave town, so I suspect half of it will remain undone as I give up entirely and end up curled up somewhere with books, DVDs or the Internet to block out the dread of all that I have to get done.

Actually, the kitchen is clean, so that's a start, and the laundry is done. I have a few business things to take care of, and other than that, everything else is non-essential.

The fruit fly infestation seems to be over. Nothing is flying around, annoying me, and nothing new is falling into my traps. I experimented with a lot of different things, with varying results. The fly strip I bought was very effective, but really unwieldy. In the bathroom, where a lot of the flies were congregating, a little sherry in a Dixie cup with cling wrap with holes in it over the top was really effective. When I did the same thing in the kitchen, only one fly went in. What worked in the kitchen was the cider vinegar with dish soap in an open cup, except it didn't start working until I added a splash of balsamic vinegar. Then they were lining up to dive in. Strangely, when I put actual fruit in one of the traps, they completely ignored it.

In other news, I saw How to Train Your Dragon 2 last weekend. I might have spent a lot of the movie muttering "You know nothing, Jon Snow." I also found myself disagreeing with that essay I posted a link to a week or so ago. I agree with the general premise about interesting female characters, but I don't think it applied to this film. In this case, it had nothing to do with gender and was really about what happens to mentors in stories. The point of a mentor is to prepare the hero and then step back and let the hero take the lead.

Now I'm going to attempt to walk to the library since I made it through all my books. The "attempt" part is related to last night's ballet class, in which the teacher expected me to leave the ground when jumping. I know, unreasonable, right? It did look prettier, and I felt like I was dancing, but then there was the landing part, which my legs weren't prepared for. I don't think the problem is really my knee joints but rather the overall strength in my legs. I really need to get in better shape. It may be time to dig out the old jogging trampoline and plop it in front of the TV, under the ceiling fan. I did that a few summers ago and it made a lot of difference. The trick is finding something I want to watch enough to distract me from the jogging but not something I care about so much that the jogging is a big distraction. The summer I kept up with it, I was catching up on the entire series of CSI on one of the cable channels. There's bound to be something moderately interesting that doesn't require a lot of attention either OnDemand or on at a good exercise time. I also need to do some overall conditioning and stretching.

Friday, June 20, 2014

This Means War

What did I do on my first "free" day after finishing a draft? I ran errands, got my car's oil changed, and waged war on fruit flies. The other day, I bought a fresh pineapple, and apparently it came with some little friends. It was still sitting in the grocery bag, and when I opened the bag, a swarm of flies came out. So I bought some flypaper strips, and battle commenced.

I'd thought flypaper was maybe something sticky on one side that you could lay down on a horizontal surface, but the only thing I found were these "ribbons" you have to hang up, and they're sticky on both sides. Very, very sticky. Like, those strips for waxing your legs. And they're rather long. That makes finding a place to put them a challenge. I ended up sticking one to the underside of the "bar" formed by the back of the kitchen counter, behind the sink, and I put the shopping bag with the pineapple on the floor next to it. Unfortunately, that's also near the laundry closet, and when I stepped back to open one of those doors to get something, well, I may have trapped myself. At least I got a bonus leg waxing out of it.

But so far I've counted more than 20 flies on the strip. I've also tried what a Facebook person suggested, leaving a tiny bit of wine out in a cup. Supposedly, in the morning I'd find a bunch drowned in the wine. But my fruit flies are either wine snobs or Baptists. I'm leaning toward Baptist, since I found them all perched on the edge of the cup, apparently inhaling the fumes without actually drinking. I switched to a little sherry in the cup, since the fumes can make me tipsy. I now seem to have a few very drunk fruit flies, but they still haven't fallen in.

See what happens when I'm not writing?

But now I'm going shopping because I have a convention next weekend, and I've realized that I hate most of my clothes, mostly because I've been wearing them for so long. I need to refresh my summer wardrobe.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Done! (For now)

I finished draft one yesterday. I already know a few things I want to change, including one big one that I think will add motivation to the ending, but I'll wait for overall revisions to make sure I'm really setting it up right. Then there's the thing that happened near the ending that kind of surprised me, and I need to go back and lay more groundwork for it. It's something that should fall into the category of "finally!" rather than being a surprise. I need to figure out what these characters were doing behind my back while I was busy with other people.

But it will be about a week and a half before I get into the revisions. The rest of this week, I'm getting my life in some kind of order and letting my brain rest. Last night I cleared off my sofa, which tends to turn into a rat-like nest when I'm working. This morning I took care of some errands, and I may do some more this afternoon. Then I want to finish cleaning house and do some reading. I'm going to visit my parents early next week (before they forget what I look like), and then next weekend is ApolloCon in Houston. After the con, I can get back to writing and maybe it will be somewhat fresh so I can do better revisions. I seem to be thinking about the book now more than I did when I was writing it.

In the meantime, I may also need to get to work on coming up with a cover concept for this series. And then there's cover copy. And finalizing the non-North American digital release of the Enchanted, Inc. series. So it's not like I'm going to be a slacker.

It does feel good to have that giant thing off the to-do list.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Writing Advice I've Tried

There's a lot of writing advice that tends to float around, and I'm firmly of the opinion that even the best advice doesn't work for everyone. I generally am willing to try just about anything that might improve my work, so I thought I'd do a roundup of things I've tried and how they work for me, which may help others figure out what might work for them.

1) Morning pages
Back in the late 90s, a book called The Artist's Way was all the rage in writing circles. It was all about unlocking creativity. I tried it and stalled, mostly because I found it to be kind of victimy -- it's about finding and blaming all the people who've kept you from being creative. I figured out that I'm the only one I can really blame, and I didn't think that writing nasty letters to myself was going to help matters. One element of the program that really caught traction even among people who didn't bother with the rest of the program was something called "morning pages." The idea was that you could clear your mind by handwriting three pages of whatever came to mind, first thing in the morning. It was kind of like a diary, but with no structure or topic, just whatever popped up.

I've tried this a few times, and I never got very far. I'm not a morning person, so the first thoughts in my head are along the lines of, "uhhhhhhhh," and who needs three pages of that? I've tried a few modifications, like doing the pages after breakfast or before I sat down to work for the day.

While it still didn't stick, there are elements from it that I have used. When it comes to brainstorming, having a set amount of space you have to fill so that you have to keep going even after you think you've found what you want is a good idea. The best ideas come after you push past your first impulses. I've used the three pages thing in brainstorming characters, forcing myself to fill at least three pages with information about a character, even if some of the stuff I add to fill space might get silly. There's a similar technique of making a list of 20 things, and you have to keep going to 20 even if you think you've found your answer.

A brain dump can also be handy on a distracted day. If you're trying to work and your thoughts are straying, get out a piece of paper and write down what's on your mind. This is great for that shiny new idea that pops up when you're in the middle of a first draft -- you get the idea out of your head, and it's generally obvious then that you don't have enough to start writing then and there, so you may as well finish the current project. It's also good for other distractions -- to-do lists, hypothetical vacation plans or anything else that starts spinning around in your head to the point you can't find your story anymore.

So, while I don't make a habit of morning pages, freewriting can be a useful technique for either brainstorming or clearing your mind. I use it on an as-needed basis.

2) Collaging, mind-mapping, etc.
Another trend that swept through writing circles a while ago was the idea of organizing your thoughts visually by making collages of images related to a story or doing some form of mind-mapping. The success of this will depend on what your thinking/learning style is. It seems like it's a good way for non-plotters to do some pre-writing planning. It's also good for visual people or possibly to force non-visual thinkers to get more specific about visuals. I have to admit that it's never worked for me. I occasionally find images that resonate with me, and I do have some mental casting, sometimes (but not always). I'm more likely to do a soundtrack -- a kind of music collage that helps me get into the emotions of a book. It's worth trying to see if it lends anything to your process, but don't feel like you have to spend the time if it's not doing anything for you because it can be very time-consuming.

3) The Hero's Journey
This swept through the writing world like wildfire in the late 90s, probably because of Christopher Vogler's book The Writer's Journey (and I believe he spoke at a widely attended conference, which helped spread it). He took the hero's journey from the work of Joseph Campbell and distilled it for modern fiction writers. The structure has come under a lot of fire as being formulaic, and you can sometimes tell when a writer was perhaps too consciously using it without maybe understanding it, but I have to say that I owe my current writing career to this concept. I really didn't understand plot until I heard someone speak on this and then bought the book. I've since read the Campbell book, which involves a lot of Jungian theories, and then I've gone on to read and study a lot of Jung, and it just clicks for me. I'm a lot less slavish to it than I was in the beginning, but it makes for a great jumping-off point in creating a plot, as well as a way of checking a plot that isn't working. But I think to really make it work without coming across as formulaic, you have to delve into it. If you just have the list of stages of the journey and go from there without getting into the elements behind those stages, it's probably not going to work as well.

4) Contests
This may be more prevalent in the romance writing world, where a lot of Romance Writers of America chapters sponsor contests as fundraisers and the national organization sponsors a manuscript contest, but I've seen contests hailed as a fast track to publication. I have seen people get a boost from a contest that got a manuscript in front of an editor or agent, but I suspect the editor or agent would have been interested in that manuscript, regardless. Sometimes publisher-sponsored contests with publication as a prize offer far worse contract terms than you'd get from submitting, so it's important to read the fine print. I've also seen writers get so caught up in the contest whirl that they never manage to get anything published. They polish their synopsis and first three chapters in a way that's going to appeal to contest judges, win a lot of awards, but never sell a book. I've been part of conversations among agents who say that they seldom get anything they want from a contest because the things that tend to win the preliminary round are often bland -- they make it past the first level of judges because they tick off certain boxes on a form, while the really interesting stuff probably violates some unwritten "rule" that means at least one judge will hate it, so the editors and agents judging the final round never see the stuff they'd find interesting.

However, some contests can be good for giving feedback or giving a boost when you need it. I sold fairly quickly, so I was rendered ineligible for most writing contests before I got going, but I did win a couple of manuscript contests that gave me an emotional boost. They had nothing to do with me selling a book or moving up in the publishing world -- in fact, I never sold those books -- but when I was just starting, the mere fact that someone thought my work was good gave me the encouragement to keep trying. So, even if the contest isn't going to get your work on the desk of a top editor, it may be worth it to give it a shot, as long as you keep your expectations reasonable.

If you're looking for a contest, here's a plug for one from an organization I'm involved with. The science fiction convention FenCon sponsors a short-story contest every year. You'll find the rules here: There's also a contest for young writers in grades 3-12. Here's the info: This isn't going to be your ticket to fame and fortune, but you might get some pleasant validation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Report: Princess Stories

I'm getting an early start today because I very soon have to go sing for a funeral. The deceased, in planning what he wanted during his illness, apparently decided that he wanted something joyful and exuberant, so we're doing a lot of classic African-American gospel music (for a crowd that will be the country-club set -- should be interesting). And there will be a bagpiper. Because that's what he wanted.

It's possible that I could get to "the end" of the book today, but I'm not going to say so because I know how it goes. I'll write 4,000 words and the end will still be 4,000 words away. I'm coming up on the book's emotional climax, a scene I've known was coming since I was working on the first book, and I'm a little afraid of finally writing it. Part of me suddenly wants to change the outcome even though the outcome makes sense and is necessary for the rest of the series (if the first two books do well enough to warrant continuing, but at least it's up to me to make that decision).

I read a fun book last week that's worth sharing. It's non-fiction, but it reads like a short-story collection. It's Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie. The title is something of a misnomer, as not all the princesses were truly "behaving badly," but the idea is that it's a collection of accounts of princesses from all over the world, throughout history, who behaved in a way that doesn't fit the "Disney Princess" mold. There were those who seized kingdoms, those who went rogue, those who were devious, those who really did behave badly, those who went mad and even those who were just posing as princesses. It's fascinating reading, with a breezy, entertaining writing style.

I think it does kind of skim the surface, but it seems meant more to provide an introduction to the idea that real princesses are nothing like the storybooks. There's a pretty good bibliography at the end, so if a story piques your interest you can delve into more detail. The intro mentions the Disney princess craze, with this book as an antidote, but most of the stories are pretty sordid, so it's not really good alternative bedtime reading for little girls with a princess obsession.

I think I have some ideas for future fantasy novel characters, though …

Speaking of women in stories, this article showed up in my Facebook feed, and I thought it was interesting. I'm not crazy about the idea of the "strong female character" because too often it means Rambo in drag, and generally it's the traditional masculine traits that are considered good and strong, while traditionally feminine traits are considered negative and weak (one reason I felt compelled to write a book about a sweet Southern belle ballerina you do NOT want to mess with). The result is that "good" female characters are the ones who act like men. But as mentioned in this article, even when a female character is really strong, there seems to be a tendency to just throw her in for demographic purposes and then shove her to the sidelines. I haven't seen most of the movies mentioned, and as I've said before, I tend not to even notice if there are no women in a movie if there's not an obvious role for them. But I do get annoyed when there are cool characters (regardless of gender) who are just there for decoration and don't get to do anything. It's worth thinking about.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Nearing the End

I'm getting to that point near the end of a book where I keep thinking that today will be the day I finish because I'm almost out of story, and yet at the end of the day I still seem to have the same amount left to write. In this case, that's kind of a good thing because an unexpected development occurred during Saturday's writing session that amplified the situation the characters were in. It will make for a more exciting book, but it seriously delayed the "the end" part. I'd thought that this book was going to come in really short, but it's looking like it'll be right about where I want it for a first draft, where I can flesh out anything that needs it and cut anything that needs to go and still have it end up being a good length for a novel.

I think I'll likely finish the draft on Wednesday. I have a funeral to sing for tomorrow morning and a rehearsal tonight for that, which may eat into my productive time (it's not someone I knew, just a need for singers, though I am acquainted with the widow).

Then I'll take some time to wrap up one of the other projects still left on my plate, do some reading and house cleaning and then it will be draft two time. I was rewriting along the way (one reason it's taken so long), so most of the taking apart and putting back together has already been done. I think it will mostly be a fleshing out and trimming revision, not a rewriting the whole book adventure.

And then I'll have to figure out what to write next. That will probably come in a talk with my agent about strategy. I'd like to get another book done in summer/early fall so I can take some time off during the good part of fall. I know I say that every year, but my publishing schedule seldom cooperates. I'm planning to be in research mode for some new things during that time, in addition to taking some time to just go hiking, sit on the patio and read and otherwise enjoy the brief phase between bursting into flames when you go outdoors and turning into an icicle when you go outdoors.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Mamma mia, I'm old

I didn't get as much writing as I hoped done yesterday because I hit another one of those annoying specificity points where I had to figure out exactly what's happening. In the big-picture plot outline, this scene was "the heroes confront the villain." When I planned the scene, this section of the scene was "the villain poses a difficult dilemma to the heroes." Now I'm at that point and had to figure out what the difficult dilemma was. That took me the better part of the afternoon, and then it was time to go to the show.

I had a lot of fun on the girls' night out. We caught the train heading downtown, then had dinner at the little cafe in the music hall before the show, and I only knew a few of the people in the group, so I met new people. I think I was the second youngest, and I felt a little out of place carrying my Target purse when everyone else had Coach and Prada bags. Then I had a very disturbing realization while watching Mamma Mia: The "old" characters in the show should be about my age. The daughter in the show is 20, and the mother, her friends, and the men were all supposedly in that backpacking around Europe/being beach bums in the Greek isles phase of life, so you'd think they'd have had to be under 30, more likely mid-20s. Which would make them in their mid-late 40s at the time the show takes place.

However, they don't seem to cast it that way (and I notice the casting has edged upward since the movie, which was cast about ten years too old), probably because most of the punchline of the show is "old people in spandex are funny." The show seems to be set around 2000, since the 20-year-old daughter was conceived in 1979. But the way the show seems to be cast, the "young" generation in the show and the "old" generation are on two different timelines. The young ones are in 2000, 21 years after 1979. But the older ones seem to be in 2014, so that they were in their early 20s in 1979 and are now in their late 50s, supposedly too old to wear spandex and old enough to throw out their hips when they do vigorous dance moves. I guess the target demographic is Baby Boomers, and so the main characters must be played by Baby Boomers, which means they keep getting older.

It does change my perspective on the show to think in terms of it being about people my age, even if it was a generation before mine. I was a child, not an adult, when I was singing "Dancing Queen" into a hairbrush (well, when I first did it while the song was a hit. We won't talk about how old I might have been the last time I did it). Now I'd kind of like to see a production for which the casting people showed their ability to do math and cast accordingly.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Almost There!

I made a lot of progress yesterday, but I'm still not done with the big, climactic scene. It's turning into a real showdown. Since today will be a shorter working day, as will tomorrow, it's looking more and more likely that I'll need to skip my Saturday plans. By then, I should be down to one good day's work to finish this draft, and I'd rather keep the momentum going instead of taking a whole day off.

Normally by this point, there's some other book that starts bouncing around in my brain to distract me. This time, it's vacation plans. Or hypothetical vacation plans. I find myself wanting to research places to go. I have a spot in my calendar in late August when I could get away briefly, but I'm not sure if I will be tired of convention travel. I like traveling in the fall, but I'm still thinking of that as a good time for the research trip, and after that trip I might not want to travel for a vacation. You see why I've spent so many years talking about this hypothetical vacation without actually having taken it. Maybe if I make it a late fall vacation, I can go somewhere closer and do more of an outdoorsy retreat thing -- a bit of hiking, a lot of sitting around, reading and enjoying the scenery. There are some minor mountains in Oklahoma not too far from here.

Tonight, a group of women from church are going to see Mamma Mia. I've seen it before, but I'm a huge ABBA fan, so it's good to just hear the music, and it should be interesting seeing it with a multigenerational group of women. Of course, wouldn't you know it, a line of possibly severe storms is set to hit our area right about the time we're meeting up to head to the train station. However, the local former TV weather geek (taking time off to work on his doctorate but still posting weather stuff online) just amended the forecast. He thinks the storms will actually flare up to the east of us so we don't get the serious stuff. I'm mostly worried about having my car out in the station parking lot, but glad not to be parked at the music hall. The last time a really big storm hit during a production there, a wave of water came through the parking lot and washed all the cars there up against a fence. Now there's a train that runs just from the edge of our town right up to the music hall entrance. That would have made things so much easier when I had season tickets.

Now, though, I'm going to take advantage of a gap in the radar to run to the post office and then get to work. Rainy days are good for productivity.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Discovering New Muscles

Well, the new ballet teacher isn't really a ballet Nazi because he's quite nice and very encouraging, and he kept insisting that we needed to relax because this is supposed to be fun. But I am in terrible pain at the moment. I think every part of my body hurts, down to my little toes and pinkie fingers. After all this dance, I thought I knew every muscle in my body, but I have discovered new ones. And they hurt most of all.

It's not so much that the class was tough (which it was). But he's very precise and focused a lot on technique. We were doing more difficult stuff, but he was making sure we were doing it exactly right, and I think we'd all gotten into some lazy habits or maybe hadn't quite learned it the right way in the first place (in my case). These were tiny adjustments that ended up making a big difference in how things worked, but they meant that slightly different muscles or muscle groups were being used. I was also pretty tense because it was a new teacher and I was by far the oldest student and the least experienced one and I am something of a perfectionist. That's probably why my shoulders and back are sore.

My normal teacher mostly tells us what to do with our feet and legs with some suggestions about arms, and then we can do what works for us. This guy was telling us exactly what to do, right down to head and hands, which meant retaining and processing a lot more information. I will probably be a far better dancer by the end of the summer, but for today, I'm barely mobile.

But that's okay because this is going to be a writing marathon day. I'm so very close to the end of the book, moving into what should be the Big, Climactic Scene of the whole story. Unfortunately, the end of the book fell into a busy week when I can't just shut out the world and finish. Today I have nothing going on (so I hope to make progress), but tomorrow evening I'm going out with a group of women from church to see Mamma Mia, then there's a concert I want to go to Friday night, followed by the weekly explosions at the lake, and then my friends are planning a big movie day on Saturday. Depending on book progress and whether I'm socialed out by that point, I may or may not make it to the Saturday event.

I'm already getting the other "near the end of the book" symptoms, like suddenly wanting to Clean and Organize All the Things! And wanting to make plans for other stuff. Strangely, another book hasn't yet popped into my head, demanding to be written. That may mean it's a good time to take a little time off and clear my head (and clean my house) before jumping back into a new project. This week, I should pass the number of hours I spent writing all last year, so I'm doing pretty well, but that also explains why I'm a little tired.

I mean, other than dancing tired this morning. There was one funny thing from class: I was having trouble with a step because it's essentially a waltz-like step, but I'm so used to ballroom dancing the waltz that it's hard for me to do it forward (since the woman dances backward most of the time in a ballroom). When I said that, the teacher got me in a dance hold and we waltzed around the classroom. I still had trouble with the step, but a waltz was fun.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

More Signs of the Impending Apocalypse

We really seem to be celebrating the great holiday of Send Money to Shanna Day (or week). Just yesterday, I got my royalties on my self-published books, which really went up after the price on the first book in the series was dropped, plus the second half of the advance on my steampunk book. The audiobook royalties will be coming later this week. And I got a check from the last Worldcon, reimbursing my membership fee since I was on programming. Plus, I got a Starbucks gift card in the mail as a thank-you for leading singing in the preschool Sunday school department. My bank balance makes me grin. But quarterly taxes are due next week, and I have a lot of business expenses over the summer, so I can't go totally nuts.

I'm still making progress on the book. I'd say I'm probably in the "the road back" phase of the hero's journey. I know what the next couple of scenes will be, but then I'll hit another big scene and I need to figure out what that will look like.

Tonight's the start of summer ballet and I'm a little nervous because I'll have a different teacher than I usually do (since the regular teacher should have had a baby this morning -- I haven't yet seen the announcement on Facebook). I'm not sure why I'm so nervous, since when I first started dancing my teacher went on maternity leave after just a few months, and the sub was the rather strict teacher who normally worked with the very advanced students (I called him the Ballet Nazi). He was very tough on me, but I mostly just laughed it off and we got along great. But that was when I was a beginner. Now I'm in the intermediate/advanced class, and I'm worried that the teacher will have real intermediate/advanced expectations. Most of the other students are of the sort that danced all their lives, maybe even did a little professionally, and are getting back into it after having kids. I'll likely be the oldest in the class, and I didn't start (other than the occasional class here and there) until I was older than most of these people are now. So I'm likely to both get hyper-competitive and push myself and have my self-esteem dealt a serious blow. Or it could be fun. Who knows. I don't think I've ever met the summer teacher.

But back to publishing … I think we've had a potential Sign of the Impending Apocalypse. Apparently, there's been yet another person getting a huge book (and movie) deal for a book that was originally written and posted as fan fiction. But in this case, it wasn't fan fiction of a book, movie or TV series that's having the serial numbers filed off and the names changed. It's a work of real-person fiction involving the members of a boy band, who, of course, are all kind of in love with an author stand-in. The story apparently isn't about them being a boy band, though. It has the same people doing something else, so I guess it becomes "original" just by changing the names. Though I wonder how that fits into the "this is a work of fiction, it's purely an accident if any of these people resemble any real person" disclaimer, since the whole point of the book is that the characters are based on real people, and that's going to be a huge part of the marketing hook -- maybe not overtly, done by the publisher, but the author achieved this success by pandering to fans of the band. If it had just been a story about characters, with no relationship whatsoever to the band, it probably wouldn't have gone anywhere.

But, yeah, this is the kind of thing publishers are currently throwing millions of dollars at. It's kind of depressing. Or it would be if it hadn't been Send Money to Shanna Day. It's not millions, but I can live on it.

To cheer myself up, here's a look at what conversations might sound like if people talked to everybody like they talk to writers. I think I've had just about every one of these conversations, but they forgot a few common lines. There's "I've thought about writing a book. Maybe you can introduce me to your editor or agent." There's "Oh, you write fantasy novels. I wrote a how-to book about a technical topic. Maybe you can give me some pointers about getting it published." (Sometimes it's "I've written and illustrated a children's book.") And the ever popular "You should give me a copy and I can tell you if it's any good." But those are mostly from strangers. For people I know, my favorite is "I've been wanting to read your books, but I can't seem to find any copies in the used bookstore."

Monday, June 09, 2014

Adjusting Mindsets

It's nice and rainy (and even cool!) today, so I'm hoping for a really productive writing day. I'm somewhat inspired by yet another piece of financial good news (my latest royalty statement). Seeing your work paying off is excellent motivation. This business can be so iffy, and it can take a while to see the payoff. The audiobook money is the result of work I did starting more than a decade ago. That's why it takes a lot of perseverance to make it in this business. There may be people who dash off a book, throw it up for sale online and then instantly rake in the bucks, but I'm on track to have my best earnings year ever because the cumulative effect of work I started more than ten years ago has finally built into a decent-sized snowball, and I'm hoping to build on that with new books.

I do seem to be having trouble adjusting my mindset about money, though, after so many years of just getting by. I already know that I'm in "living comfortably" territory for this year, regardless of what else happens, but I still find myself functioning as though I'm living off my savings. Which is how I made it through those years without having to scramble for work or find another job, so I don't want to go crazy now in case there are more lean years ahead, and I have some long-term, big-picture goals that are more important to me than buying lots of stuff now. Like getting a new house that has more of the features I want. But if there's something I need, I can buy it without worrying, and giving myself a few treats won't kill me.

I may let myself take an actual relaxing vacation at some point -- that trip I keep talking about where I'm not going for any particular event that will require being on any kind of schedule, to a place that has some fun things to see and do but that isn't  so packed with stuff that I wear myself out, and that is relaxing and reviving rather than exhausting. I haven't figured out quite what that is yet, though, since travel itself is rather tiring. There's not much within a short drive, but flying can also be tiring and stressful.

And I think I may bite the bullet, renew my expired passport (I'm actually at the point where I need a whole new one) and start thinking of a trip to England in the fall. That counts as work, though, because I'm researching some things.

But before I take time off, I have to finish a book.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Confronting Dislikes

Jam was achieved. All the jars sealed properly, so now I'm set for at least the summer. I may do another batch at the end of the summer when they put the last of the season's strawberries on sale, depending on how much I use during the summer. Normally, the jam is for getting me through the winter, since that's when I'm more likely to bake stuff like scones and homemade bread. But I discovered last night that since this is a rather soft jam, not a firm jelly, it makes an excellent ice cream topping, so I may go through more of it during the summer than I usually do.

I did not, however, get to the end of the story, mostly because the end moved on me, thanks to the insight I had while writing yesterday's post. I'd been worried I was setting myself up for a Return of the King type ending -- the big, climactic battle, and then an hour of resolution as we tie up each character's individual story and say our good-byes. Though in this case, it was big, climactic reveal->big, climactic rescue->big, climactic battle->sad farewell->resolving one character's personal story->some happy farewells. I had written up to the big, climactic battle and thought all I had left were the personal resolutions and farewells. Now, though, it goes more like big, climactic battle->resolving one character's personal story, which leads to gaining an additional ally->final confrontation with the villain->farewells. I spent most of yesterday figuring this out and rewriting the big, climactic battle so that it was actually more of a battle than a "y'all stop that." I still have some work to do on that. And then I have the final third or so of the book to write. I may still have to flesh things out a bit -- in re-reading the previous few scenes so I could figure out my next moves, I added more than 500 words just to clarify the action.

I will be commemorating D-Day tonight by watching stuff blow up (the weekly fireworks show at the lake). I discovered recently that I now have the American Heroes Channel (I think it used to be the Military Channel), and they're carrying all the WWII programming the History Channel used to have when it was actually about history, so I've spent way too much time this week watching D-Day-related programs. This is making me realize that it's been 20 years since I had knee surgery. I had the surgery in late April, but in early June I was still on crutches and still doing physical therapy, and I remember watching hours and hours of 50th anniversary commemorative programming while doing my home exercises or lying collapsed on the couch because just getting through the day was still rather exhausting. The scope of D-Day and the enormity of what those men did boggles the mind.

Then Saturday will be a working day, and I have an early Sunday because I'm singing in a quartet for the early service. I teased the choir director that he was trying to torture me because he knows how much I loathe this particular song. Really, it's the style of music I'm not fond of. It's a pop-style praise song in a choral arrangement, and that just doesn't work well (trying to get 50 people to sing together in random, irregular rhythms and patterns never works unless they're highly trained professionals). I figure that I'm allowed to have one kind of music I'm really not crazy about singing. I get ecstatic about early music. I'll sing Baroque and classical. I actually kind of like the modern tone-poem stuff. I'll sing opera and Broadway, old-timey Southern gospel and rocking African-American soul gospel. I'll sing in Latin, Spanish and French without complaining. I've even tackled a bit of Hebrew (probably badly) and could deal with German. I'll do Sacred Harp a capella stuff. There's very little they can dish out at me that will make me groan and roll my eyes. In fact, there's many a time when I'm the only person in the choir grinning about a piece of music. So I'm allowed to have one kind of thing that I really don't like. I guess it's good for my soul to have to confront my dislike and still do my best. What's funny is that the alto assigned to the quartet also doesn't like it. When the other people in the choir were saying it was just like you hear on the radio, we were the ones saying we don't listen to that kind of stuff on the radio. We listen to the classical station (and for me, also the big band station).

Ooh, I just found out what my first quarterly payment for the Enchanted Inc. series audiobooks will be, and I should have bought some champagne while I was at the grocery store this morning. It's far more than I expected, and far above what they were offering as a flat up-front payment for ten years vs. a smaller advance and royalties. I'm very glad I took the smaller advance and royalties.

Though the champagne may have to wait because I need to write and I have that early Sunday. I may have a nice me party when I finish the book, though. And I may finally buy that new dishwasher -- a purchase I've been putting off for four years now.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Epic Accomplishments

Today should be a day of Epic Accomplishments (I figure it deserves the capitalization). It's possible that I could get to the end of the story in the book I'm working on, since I don't have that much more to go. Unfortunately, I'll be about 20,000 words short of my target for this kind of novel. I already know that I kind of breezed through many of the more climactic scenes because I was anxious to see what happened. It's the writer equivalent of rapidly turning the pages to see what happens, only to have to re-read that part of the book because you didn't catch it all, you were reading so fast. Only, instead of re-reading, I have to go back and rewrite to put in all that stuff you don't catch the first time when you're frantically reading. You know, things like details, description and emotion.

I think I may also have made things a bit too easy for my heroes in places, and that altered my pacing. I'd planned this one part to be the big midpoint, then had other stuff for them to deal with, and then there would be the big, climactic confrontation with the villain. But when I wrote it, the confrontation with the villain happened very quickly after that big midpoint scene, and then the one other "oops, guess it isn't over" part got handled with what was essentially a "y'all stop that now, you hear?" scolding. So that will require some rethinking. Is that one scene really the midpoint, or is it part of one big climactic sequence? This book has what will probably be a longer-than-average resolution because there are a couple of things that beating the bad guys won't take care of, and there are some farewells and new life plans, etc. I guess you could say there's a physical climax and an emotional climax.

Ooh, and I just figured out that I need to switch the order I deal with those resolutions. That gives more of a punch at the end and provides a motivation for the decision one of the characters has to make. And one may even be moved to fit during the physical climax. Thank you, blog, for helping my writing process. This is often the time when I'll call my mom and talk it through and then I figure it out just from talking. I'm not sure she even has to be there. She could put the phone down and wander off and it would help just as much. Writing about it seems to do the same trick.

But my other accomplishment of the day will be my annual batch of strawberry jam. It probably wasn't the best planning ever to make jam on the day I'm hoping to finish a draft, but on Sunday I caught a sale on the berries that means all my ingredients for the entire batch that will last me nearly a year will come to about $5, and the berries might not have lasted another day. It's also a process that tends to last until late in the day because this recipe requires the jam to cook, cool, refrigerate for a couple of hours, then boil again before canning, and I'm planning to go out tomorrow evening. So, today it is. It's the kind of thing that takes all day, but most of that time is spent in the cooling process. The thing that's really labor-intensive is that it requires cleaning the kitchen before, during and after, since it takes up a lot of space and each phase makes its own kind of mess.

The jam is already cooked and cooling, so now it's time for round one of kitchen cleaning -- washing the food processor, clearing a countertop and making room in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Researching a Novel

I've got yet another reader question on writing (and I'm running out, so if there's something you want to know, ask). This question was about researching a book.

In my process, there are two kinds of research. There's the research I do before I start writing to help build the world and shape the plot and characters, and there's the research I do during writing or after the first draft to fill in the details.

Before I start writing a book, I like to do a lot of research on the setting and anything that might be appropriate for the situation. At this point, I have a vague idea of what the story's about and who the characters might be, and this research helps me firm it up. This is usually when I do any research that involves travel. Before I started writing my Enchanted, Inc. series, when I had just a general sense of what the story was about, I took a trip to New York and did a ton of walking just to soak up the atmosphere and to narrow in on where I was setting it. Buildings seemed to jump out at me as places where things might happen. Once I figured out approximately where the characters lived and where they worked, I took the subway routes and I walked it and timed it. As I walked around the city, the story and the characters really took shape in my head, so I was ready to start writing when I got home.

I also read a lot of books on topics that might come up in the story. Since I was basing the general idea of the magical corporation on the software industry, I read memoirs by people who worked in that industry and books on the various corporations. I don't use everything I read. I'd had this general idea of a difficult environment where a woman would struggle against the old-boy network and read some books about that topic, but it ended up not fitting when I started writing. I may also read things that might help me get into characters' heads. One of the characters in my upcoming new series is a police detective, and I read a lot of cop memoirs in preparation for this book. I wasn't looking for specific facts, more the general mindset and the way that kind of job might shape the way someone thinks, and that then influenced the character I developed.

Then once I have a more detailed plot and more specific characters, there may be things I need to research more directly that are good to know before I start writing. I've seen a lot of writers tripped up by legal system issues, for instance, or something like what's required to get a marriage license in that particular state. If you know your plot is going to have your characters get married, you need to know that. I've known of at least one romance novel that fell apart because much of the plot revolved around finding a sneaky way to get all the requirements for the marriage license in secret, only it turned out that most of those things weren't required in that jurisdiction. If the author had looked that up before she started writing, she wouldn't have had to rewrite most of the book.

Once you're writing, there may be things that pop up along the way that you need to know or figure out. You may need a specific idea for a restaurant for the characters to visit or a dish they might eat. You may need a train or airplane schedule to see if it's physically possible for them to get from point A to point B or to properly strand them. This is where you have to make a judgment call. Do you absolutely need to get this straight before you can continue writing, or can you fill in the blanks later, once you've finished a draft?

That's because research makes an excellent procrastination tool. If you aren't sure what happens next and you're feeling stuck or if you're just tired of writing and want to play on the Internet, then research allows you to take a break and still feel like you're working. Never mind that you're getting increasingly sidetracked down the Wikipedia rabbit trail. But research can also help with the good kind of procrastination, allowing you to work things out in your head before you plunge into writing. I've found that if I just jump into writing the moment I come up with an idea, it tends to fizzle out. The more time I spend in pre-book research, simultaneously absorbing information relevant to the story and letting my subconscious play with the idea, the more successful the book seems to be. The trick is in knowing when you're just stalling and when the research is actually necessary, and that's a fine and very fuzzy line. For during-the-book research, the deciding factor is whether that detail will affect the plot. If it's just about the color of the bellman's uniform at a particular hotel, I can flag it and look it up between drafts. If it's whether or not it's possible to get a train from point A to point B at that particular time, then that will affect the way things happen, so I need to know before I write that part and then either have to change plans or change the set-up.

Research really is important because it's often factual errors that make readers give up on a book. It's hard to make readers believe the stuff you make up if you don't get the "real" stuff right or if you don't manage to make things feel real. We all know it's fiction, but while we're reading a book, we like to have the illusion that it could really happen.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Frustrating Reading

I've had a rather frustrating reading week, with books that were almost good but that ended up being disappointing. I'm not going to name names or get into specifics (too much potential awkwardness from ending up on convention panels with someone who's been the target of snark), but I think there might be some big-picture lessons here.

One book was the first in a fantasy trilogy. I liked the world building -- it seemed like a different world with different cultures that weren't so obviously Not!Asian, Not!Middle Eastern, Not!European, etc. They were just cultures that didn't seem based on earth cultures, and in traditional fantasy, that's pretty rare. I liked the characters. There were four main viewpoint characters whose stories converged through the whole book, until they were all present during the climactic scene. I love that kind of storytelling, where you can imagine how various characters might interact, and then actually get to see it. However, the book had a serious pacing problem in that the entire book seemed to mostly serve as the set-up for the series. The main conflict in this book was easily brushed aside with the revelation of something potentially bigger, and most of the action really should have been the first three chapters of a novel -- the entire book was the "refusal of the call" part of the hero's journey, with the heroine not actually crossing the threshold until the end of the book.

But I liked the characters enough to be curious about what happened next, now that all the characters were finally together, only it turns out that the library doesn't have the rest of the series, and I'm not sure I liked it enough to pay full price for the rest. The Amazon reviews made me doubt because they brought up some things that would really bother me. For one thing, the rest of the series doesn't involve all these characters working together now that they've been brought together. They're scattered entirely, and my favorite apparently only gets a cameo in book 2 and a minor role in book 3 that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot. And then there were a number of mentions of an unsatisfying ending to the series.

I've discovered that one thing that will generally make me lose interest in a series is when a group is split up with little hope in being reunited. That may be why I have that three chapters into book three problem with epic series, because that's often where the core group gets scattered. I'll only really stay interested if there are at least a few character combinations that work in the new configuration. If each character is going off alone, then they need to meet someone interesting really quickly. I'll be really annoyed if we've spent a whole book getting a good group of people together, finally, and then they're immediately split up in the next book. I guess I like teams (funny, considering what an introvert I am and how much I hate teamwork).

Then I read a new book by a classic chick-lit author who can be hit or miss with me. I actually kind of enjoyed it and definitely turned the pages fast, but at the same time I wanted to throw one of the characters against the wall. The plot of too many of these books requires that the heroines be too stupid to live. If they weren't getting really drunk and making very bad decisions, there wouldn't be much of a plot, I guess, but it's still frustrating to read. Then again, I've had friends and co-workers who were capable of making decisions that bad, so it's not all just exaggerated for fiction. It is possible to have one of these stories work with someone who makes good decisions (or decisions that seem good given the information available at that time), but it's much harder to write than someone drinking too much and falling in bed with someone inappropriate and then taking too long to realize that he's not Mr. Right.

Reading two books in a row that I found mildly annoying has put me in a hyper-critical mood that's making it hard to choose the next book. I'm reading the last book in the current library stash and having a hard time getting into it, not because of the book but because of that "show me" attitude. Then I may try a few things from the to-be-read pile.

Monday, June 02, 2014


You'd think from the way I was dragging around this morning that I'd had one of those weekends with one activity after another, so I was seldom home at all other than to grab a few hours of sleep before rushing off to do something else -- one of those "I need a weekend to recover from the weekend" weekends. Except it wasn't. I didn't leave the house from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. I did stay up a little late Saturday night (the "I'm not leaving until they turn off the servers" Television Without Pity wake) and got up early Sunday morning, but I took an hour and a half nap on Sunday afternoon, went to bed early Sunday night (though I turned the light out at about the usual time because I was reading), and still slept late -- and that was without waking up earlier and deciding to close my eyes for a moment, only to wake up again an hour later, or even a middle-of-the-night insomnia spell. I'm not sure I even moved from the time I fell asleep to the time I woke up.

I guess my body needed the rest. Or maybe my brain did.

I spent much of Friday figuring out the big, climactic part of the book, and I came up with one of those "oooooooh!" twists that I didn't see coming and that definitely falls into the category of "think of the worst thing you can do to your characters and then do it to them." Then while I was writing I came up with yet another element for this sequence. It's going to be sooo much fun!

If I can wake up enough to write it. But since my primary form of time wasting is no more (sniff), I'm hoping to be more productive this week.