Friday, August 29, 2014

Short Story, Long Weekend

I finished a draft of my short story yesterday, so I'm now giving myself a long weekend, which I'd been planning for a while. I don't know what I'm going to do other than read, but that's sort of the idea, to have nothing scheduled, nothing I feel I have to do.

I've been asked why I'm bothering writing a short story and what the problem is with it wanting to turn into a novel. Part of it is as a writing exercise. I know I tend to meander, so it's good for me to focus on telling just one little story without letting it blow out of proportion. In this case, I'd tried starting a novel based on this concept, and there wasn't enough to work with. It was trite and meandering. This is a reboot with the same essential concept but without turning it into an epic quest. The characters came out different, too. Part of it was to have something new to read at conventions, since the novels I have coming out soon I've been working on for years, so I've read from them over and over again. Unfortunately, this may have come out a little long for that. I'll have to see if I can edit it down, or maybe do a reading version. And part of it is professional insecurity. There seems to be an attitude in the science fiction/fantasy world that "real" writing is short story writing, and if you haven't done that, no matter how many novels you've written, then you haven't earned your stripes. Even though short stories don't pay that well and there aren't so many magazines publishing short stories (though there are an increasing number of online outlets these days), the Old Guard sticks to the idea that the way to break in is to write a bunch of short stories, sell those, and then write your novel. Skipping the short story step means you don't get taken as seriously. And that's the way to get awards, too, to have enough stories out to get known in those circles and then get some award nominations. Not that I think this story is necessarily award-worthy, but I do think it's a good exercise to do as a palate-cleanser between novels.

I'll confess, though, that after discovering these characters while writing this story, I kind of want to write a novel about them. I'm just not sure there's enough material in there. I might be able to expand it to novella length and get just the right amount of stuff in, but then it's way too long to read at most cons and that narrows the market possibilities. And I'm not sure if there's a market for it. It's not nearly romancey enough for the romance people and the fantasy people are likely to say it's too romancey. But I think I like it. It started out as a funny story and ended up making me cry.

But that's for later. For now, I'm going to make lunch, then I'm going to spend the afternoon goofing off. Tonight is the last night of summer fireworks, weather permitting, and then tomorrow I have more strenuous goofing off planned.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Insane Cable (and other problems)

It occurred to me later yesterday after my little excursion down memory lane that I first started working in earnest on the book that became Enchanted, Inc. on Labor Day weekend in 2003. I'd had that conversation with the editor at the conference in July, but at the same conference another editor had asked for a book I already had written, with some modifications. I got on the modifications immediately, and meanwhile I came home from that conference to find a request for a manuscript on my answering machine and a positive response to a query letter in the mail. So I dealt with all that stuff (that all ended up going nowhere), and finally at the beginning of September I had time to focus on this new idea. I may have read a couple of books for research before then, but that holiday weekend (and I remember it being a rainy one) was when I did a kind of "retreat," not only reading books for research but also watching the first Harry Potter movie (I think that was the only one on DVD at that time), Bridget Jones's Diary and a few romantic comedy/chick flick movies set in New York.

That started a tradition of spending Labor Day weekend on a reading/movie binge, though I missed the last couple of years because WorldCon was on that weekend. I don't really have a theme for this year's weekend because I haven't yet decided for sure what the next project will be. I do have some reference books for the sequel to my steampunk book, and I suppose that some of the other books fit the contemporary fantasy/romantic comedy theme. My weekend viewing, other than Doctor Who, is likely to be continuing my alternating marathon of Haven and Once Upon a Time (which starts to get freaky when they blur into one seriously crazy small town in Maine -- I'd kind of like to see Audrey take on the Evil Queen, and Nathan and Captain Hook could have the battle of the Sad Blue Eyes).

I'm just hoping I can watch Doctor Who because my cable kind of went insane. I apparently am getting a bad signal for some reason, so it's not strong enough for my converter box to deal with. But it's very intermittent and random. Sometimes I'll get all the channels perfectly in good HD. Sometimes I can watch the standard definition versions but not the HD versions, but only of some channels. But there are some channels where I can watch the HD but not the standard. Some channels are sometimes in perfect HD while others won't come in at all and others are only a few pixels on a black screen and others are kind of coming in but stuttering. It got worse this week when they redid the channel lineup and eliminated standard definition. Now everything's HD unless the channel isn't available in HD, so suddenly I wasn't getting much of anything, and there was no fallback to SD. It stumped the customer service person, so it got escalated. They're apparently working on something from their end because they just called to have me check. At the moment, I'm getting SyFy and BBC America (I had my priorities of what to check), but not the local broadcast networks. Supposedly, they should have it fixed by this evening, but I've got a service appointment for Tuesday morning. It's been going on for a while, I think, but it took me a long time to notice because I've mostly been watching DVDs lately. The only thing I was watching much of on TV was the local news, and for a long time, I thought it was the local station having problems.

But before I let myself retreat, I have a story to finish. I started writing the middle section, then reached what should be the turning point that leads to a resolution and didn't know what should happen, but I figured out the beginning, so I wrote that. Now my beginning has met up with my initial starting point, and I still need to figure out how it will end. I think the ending that keeps coming to mind is a little too obvious. Planning may now be required.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Enchanted, Inc.: Before the Beginning

A few weeks (or more, I guess) ago I brought up the idea of doing an Enchanted, Inc. series reread in which I go through a chapter at a time and give kind of a DVD-style commentary on it. There seemed to be some interest in that, so I'm giving it a shot. I'd thought about doing that on alternate Wednesdays, when I'm not doing writing posts, but then I realized it would take a year to get through a single book if I only did a chapter at a time. So I think there will be no set schedule and will be something I do when I don't have another topic in mind (so now you'll be forced to check in here often!) and when I've had a chance to read a chapter. I may also do more than one chapter, depending on what I can think of to say.

I'm going to start with a preamble of what went on in the process before I wrote that first chapter. I may have told various bits of this in interviews over the years, but not everyone has read everything I've had to say about the series, so I may as well re-tell it, and there will likely be different details.

The first spark of an idea for the series hit me sometime in January of 2002. The chick lit craze was ramping up in the US, but I'd been devouring the books I'd picked up in England. I was also trying to write something like that. I'd gone to England in October 2001, and I think most of my souvenirs had been books. There was the "Buy 2, get one free" sale at the Borders in Cambridge, and then I'd bought still more in the airport while waiting for my return flight, when I figured I might as well spend my remaining British currency. But I'd also picked up a couple of the Harry Potter books (I'd bought the first one on my previous trip) because they had "adult" editions with different covers that I liked. While I'd read the first book and liked it, I hadn't moved on with the rest of the series. I'd finally read all three of the books I had during the Christmas holidays, so in January I was thoroughly hooked and had put the fourth book on hold at the library, hoping to devote an upcoming weekend to a book binge.

I guess the two things started merging in my head. I loved those "single girl in the city, with a touch of romance" books, but I also liked the whimsy of the Harry Potter books, and in the earlier ones there was more of a juxtaposition between the "real" world and the magical world as we saw Harry, who'd grown up among Muggles, reacting to magical things and trying to relate them to his own experiences. I basically was Hermione as a girl, so I really related to the normal side of her story. I recall vividly the day I was climbing the stairs to my home office and found myself thinking that what I wanted was a more adult version of the Harry Potter kind of books, where it was about work instead of school, like those chick lit books but with some magic and fantasy elements. Then the phrase "Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter" popped into my head, and I was distracted for the rest of the day.

It didn't help that I hated the job I had at the time. I'd gone through a brief period of loving it -- I was getting to telecommute, I had a great boss who supported that and a supervisor who really knew how to use me as a resource. Then my supervisor transferred to another office and the boss quit. We were in limbo for a while with no overall boss, and my new supervisor saw me as a threat to her position, so she shut me out of everything. I had almost nothing to do, nothing to justify my position, but I was still expected to put in the hours and have something to show for it, and that was really frustrating once I had this great idea I wanted to play with. But I didn't have that frustration for long because I got laid off a week or so later -- just in time for that reading binge I'd been planning.

And yet, I didn't get straight to work on that book. I think I wanted to read it more than I wanted to write it, so I went in search of something like that. When I didn't find anything, I worried that there was no market for it. "Urban fantasy" as we now know it didn't really exist other than with a few of the snarky single woman vampire books (like the Undead series). There were very few contemporary fantasy novels, and most of them were dark and gritty, and I'd yet to read any chick lit with fantasy elements. So I shoved the idea aside and concentrated on trying to write a normal chick lit book (with zero success).

But I still took out the idea and played with it every so often. The idea of magical immunity came from me being a brat about the cliche of books like that almost always having the main character learn early in the book that she has magical powers (and often that she's the Destined, Chosen One With Magical Specialness). So I decided to turn that upside down, and that led to the idea of the ordinary girl, everywoman character. I didn't do much more with it until mid-2003, when I was chatting with an editor at a conference and mentioned this idea. She got excited and handed me her card, saying she wanted to see it. I hadn't written a word at that point, but I went home and started researching and brainstorming. Some of my research went off in tangents that I ended up not using, but by late September, I had a better sense of where I was going, who the characters were and a basic sense of the plot. I was going to meet up with a bunch of Firefly fan friends from around the country in New Jersey, so I made plans to go to New York and do location research afterward. I did a lot of outlining and character development on the plane on the way up there. And that's where the first line was written.

Now I need to re-read that first chapter so I can comment on it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Funny Fantasy

I believe ragweed season has struck. Aside from the itchy, watery eyes, my main symptom is total exhaustion. So I fell asleep shortly after 11 last night and woke up at 9 this morning and could still probably go straight to sleep if I let myself.

I spent a lot of yesterday online shopping for a character so I could give the artist a good sense of what she should look like. It's funny how firm an image I have in my head, and yet how unspecific it really is when I'm asked for details. It's really impressionistic, more about a sense and a feel. So I had to find specifics and find a way to search for something that's in my head so I can put it in someone else's head. Maybe this will make me better at description.

Meanwhile, after all my whining about wanting fun, funny fantasy, I found one! Dragon Princess by S. Andrew Swann was laugh-out-loud funny even while being a good fantasy novel rather than a spoof or satire of fantasy novels. Our viewpoint character, Frank, is a thief who got himself in trouble with the Thieves Guild, and doing a job to get himself out of that trouble got him in trouble with a scary magical cult. So now he's on the run and running out of places to run. That makes the offer from the court wizard in a minor, impoverished kingdom more attractive -- the princess has been kidnapped by a dragon, and the man who saves her will get her hand in marriage and end up ruling the kingdom (since they don't have the budget for a reward). The usual knights have failed, but a thief might be able to sneak in, and if he's heir to the throne of a kingdom, that would put him out of reach of the people coming after him. Except it turns out it's all a setup. The wizard just wanted a patsy to swap bodies with so he could claim to be the daring young man who rescued the princess and then he'd get the princess and the throne, and the dragon was in on it all along. But the spell goes wrong, and Frank wakes up to find himself in the body of the princess, and he discovers that the princess is now a dragon. The two of them have to find the others (the dragon and the wizard, whichever bodies they're in) and then find a way to get back in their proper bodies.

So it's kind of a mystery/quest/adventure story with a lot of humor as Frank adjusts to being a petite young woman and everything that goes with it. This body is great for thievery because he can slip into smaller spaces. On the down side, just about every man he runs into either wants to rescue or rape a woman traveling alone (or seemingly traveling alone -- the dragon is quite the nasty surprise, and she's not in favor of her body being abused). The narrative voice lends a lot of the humor, as it's written in first-person, with the narrator having a very dry and sarcastic wit. I will say that the ending is somewhat disconcerting in that it's not at all the expected cliche trope of the genre, so it takes a while to wrap your head around it. I can't tell if this is a standalone or the start of a series. It could stay where it is, but there's an element added at the last minute that seems like it might be sequel fuel.

The forecast for this weekend is calling for a decent chance of rain on Saturday, so I'm planning a big day of reading the stack of books I got from the library.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Weekend Fun

I've already done the main task on my to-do list for Monday: A dentist appointment. Now my teeth are clean. No cavities and praise instead of a lecture on flossing.

I had a fairly full weekend. Friday I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, and it wasn't quite what I was expecting, in a good way. I guess I was dreading some kind of comic book superhero thing (and I'm so over that trend), but it was more of a space adventure thing. I've seen comparisons to Firefly, and while I can see some similarities, it didn't quite strike me in the same way. But it was a lot of fun, and it's been a long time since there was a fun movie involving spaceships and space battles.

I did end up going to and staying at that party because I was enjoying myself. I got to catch up with some people I haven't seen in ages and meet the other people who later met the same fate as I did (or worse) at the same place, plus a bunch of other interesting people. The host is a big gardener, and I got a tour of his garden, which is designed to attract butterflies. That meant the house was surrounded by flowers and butterflies, which was rather magical. I think I'm inspired about what I could do when I get a house with a yard.

Then I watched my recording of Doctor Who when I got home. I'm terribly fickle about Doctors -- the current one is always my favorite, and my loyalties switch pretty quickly. I can't quite tell if my loyalties will switch fully with this one because I adored Matt Smith's version, but there's a lot I like about the new one. I'll have to rewatch to be sure because it was late when I watched and I was very tired and distracted.

Today I want to get back to my short story, and I want to do some office cleaning because it's kind of out of hand and spilling into other parts of the house.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Yay, it's Friday, and Saturday starts the new season and the new Doctor on Doctor Who, though I may have to catch the late-night re-airing because a former co-worker is having a party that evening, and he lives far enough away that in order to be sure of getting home in time, I'd have to barely stay for the first hour or so of the party. Though I did warn him that I might have other obligations that day and might not be able to stay long. If I don't know most of the people there and am not having fun, I've already created an out. If I am having fun, then I can catch the later showing. I wonder how many people I used to work with will be there. Apparently, this is going to be a big "invite everyone we know" affair.

I'm already planning a kind of mini staycation for next weekend. After Friday night, I won't have plans for the rest of the holiday weekend, and then most of my weekends in September are already booked, so I'll need to recharge a bit to gear up for a busy month. I have a stack of books from the library and some new DVDs. The house is mostly clean (except the office), so I can relax.

I got a good start on a short story yesterday, though I started in the middle. I've since then figured out how it should start. I'm still not sure how it should end, and I should probably plan that before I start overly complicating things and it turns into a novel. The viewpoint character has a very fun voice to write in. I'm getting to unleash all my inner snark, and not in my usual nice Southern Belle "bless your heart" way. I think it will be very fun to read out loud. Getting it published somewhere would be a bonus. Assuming I finish it and it doesn't fizzle out. There are reasons why I've only ever successfully completed one short story.

I'm taking a partial day today to have some afternoon and evening fun, so I guess I'm sort of in vacation mode already anyway, in spite of doing some real writing. Yesterday, I hit the swimming pool for the first time this year that wasn't at a hotel or someone else's house. One thing I'll miss if I get a new house is having access to a pool, and I don't think I use it often enough to justify the hassle and expense of having one to myself. Still, it is nice to have when I want a swim. I'll probably get most of my pool time for the year in the next few weeks, with the kids back in school (so no screaming or splashing when I'm trying to exercise or relax) and the weather still hot.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Getting Away

I may have to get back to writing today because dialogue from a story started pouring into my head last night. Strangely, I don't have the beginning of the story, so I may do something unusual for me and not write linearly. I may just write what I have now and then fill in the gaps. This is mostly for fun and as an exercise, and if I get something workable out of it, then that's a bonus.

Meanwhile, I've taken a step toward planning that vacation I've been talking about for ages but haven't gotten around to. I was doing research for a location online and decided to actually send off for the location's vacation planning guide. I could probably find all the same info online, but their web site is annoying, and having hard copy would allow me to peruse from my sofa and see all the options. Plus, it reminds me of when I was in fifth grade and we had a class project to write to all the states for information. I think a lot of it was an exercise in writing a business letter, and then we had to pick one of the states we got info from to write a report on. Since we were military kids in Germany, it may also have been a way to keep us in touch with our home country and get a lot of mail. It certainly helped ease my transition. So now I have mail to look forward to that isn't a bill.

I'm not going to say where I'm thinking about going until after I've been there, not that I really have stalkers, but you never know, and the point is to get away. But I did decide against a city vacation for the fall. This is going to be more of a hills, lakes, trees kind of thing. I've found a waterfront hotel where I could get a room with a balcony overlooking a lake. There are hiking trails nearby and there are boat tours on the lake, and otherwise I could sit on the balcony, drink tea and read. The real question is whether I'll have so much fun planning that I never actually take the trip. I'm very bad about that.

I guess if I'm also going to try to go to England this fall, I need to start planning that. For one thing, I need to renew my passport, and while I'm in the timeframe when I would surely have it in hand before I travel, I might not have it before I need to book tickets, so I probably should have procrastinated less. I guess the expediting fee won't kill me. I should probably start looking into things like dates and airfare, etc. The books I want to research aren't immediately in the queue, though, so maybe spring would be a better time. Fall is feeling rather crowded right now, and maybe I should write the next couple of books before I start researching the ones that come later.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Is Self Publishing for You?

One of the big debates going on in the publishing world involves the rise of self-publishing as a viable business and creative model. There's the traditionally published side that thinks self-publishers are amateurs and selling themselves short, and there's the self (or independent) publishing side that thinks that traditional publishing is an outdated business model. Since I have a foot in both camps, sometimes even with the same book, I thought I'd take a look at some reasons you might consider self-publishing -- and whether those are good reasons.

Red Light -- stop and reconsider
You're impatient --  why waste so much time getting an agent, then submitting and selling a book, then waiting to get it slotted in by a publisher when you could have it up for sale next week? While timing is a benefit of self-publishing, rushing into it because you just can't wait to be a published author is a bad idea.
The publishing industry just doesn't understand your genius because you are a special snowflake -- good books do get rejected, but if you're getting poor responses to your writing from publishers, there's a good chance readers will react the same way, and if you can't deal with rejections from publishers, then reader reviews could send you over the edge.
You want to call yourself a published author -- don't go into any kind of publishing to give yourself validation, and you're in for some harsh surprises if you think that posting something for sale at Amazon will send you into some elite group where you'll get the secret handshake.
You want to get rich quick -- yes, some people have made tons of money with self-published books, but you hear about them because they're unusual. Most people don't make massive amounts of money, and it takes time and effort to build a readership.

Yellow Light -- Caution -- if these things apply to you, you might need to have a lot of other stuff work in your favor, so do some research
You don't write genre fiction -- most self-publishing success has come in genres like romance, fantasy, science fiction and mystery. So far, literary fiction and non-fiction haven't done quite as well.
You don't write quickly -- self-publishing success seems to be a snowball thing, with more books available leading to more sales of all the books, and readers expect new books frequently. It would be hard to sustain a career with a one-book-a-year pace.

Green Light -- Proceed if the way is clear (but look both ways first)
You write quickly and can produce a book every few months -- this is different from impatience (under Red Light). Most traditional publishers will only deal with a book a year from an author (with some exceptions, like category romance). If you can produce more than that and maintain quality, you could possibly take advantage of setting your own publication schedule.
You mix genres -- if your books could sit on the mystery shelf or the fantasy shelf or the romance shelf, you may be more likely to find readers via online booksellers where you don't have to pick a single shelf.
Your books are in a genre that's now passe in traditional publishing -- publishers have a bad all-or-nothing tendency. If something does well, they want a lot more books just like it and glut the market, then when the existing audience can no longer support that many books the trend tanks and the publisher doesn't want anything else like that anymore. But the readers who bought books like that in the first place probably still like that kind of thing and can no longer find it. Self-publishing can target that niche with books traditional publishers wouldn't touch. Most publishers consider chick lit to be dead, for example, but I understand that books like that sell very well for those authors who've kept writing and are self-publishing.
Your books fit a niche underserved (or unserved) by publishers -- I was surprised to learn that sweet romances (no sex scenes) do really well for independent authors, but it makes sense because it's really hard to find romance novels without sex these days unless you go to the inspirational market. If you want no sex and no religion in your books, you won't find that in traditional bookstores, and it would be a hard sell to a publisher. But apparently you can find an audience if you self-publish.
The rejections you get from agents or publishers have nothing to do with the quality of your writing but are along the lines of "I'm not sure I could sell this" or "I wouldn't know what to do with this" or "There's not really a market for this." -- A big publishing company has very different business practices and profit/loss expectations than an individual, so a book that would be a big loss for a publisher could still be profitable for an individual. Big publishers tend to be risk-averse, and a rejection that's more about the market than about the writing may not mean the book isn't viable.

If the Green Lights apply to you and you're honest with yourself about any potential Red Lights, then you might have the potential for self-publishing success with the right book and with professional-quality production.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fun with Point of View

I got the book done yesterday, so now just about everything writing-wise is with someone else. I need to do a little more thinking about cover art for a discussion with the artist. This is probably the hardest part of self publishing for me. In a way, it's so much easier to just give the publisher ideas and then accept what they give me (so far, I've been very lucky. Have I mentioned how much I love my new cover?). I keep forgetting that I can now give a lot more direction instead of taking what they give me and suggesting a few tweaks. I like what she's done, in general, but it seems like she wants more specific feedback, which is good. It will just take some thought because I'm really not a visual person. In fact, when I gave her the info on the book and the characters, she had to ask me for physical descriptions because when I described the characters, I told her their traits and personalities. Yes, to the artist. Who has to draw them.

I read a very frustrating book over the past few days. It did something very interesting with point of view that I think I'm going to steal, but then didn't use it, and by the time the plot got to a point where it got interesting, I'd lost interest because of the stuff that came before. I'm not going to name and shame but keep it vague because it's more about concepts than about this particular book.

The basic plot is that a princess runs away from an arranged political marriage to live an ordinary life as a commoner. The prince she was supposed to marry (and has never even seen) tracks her down, as does an assassin from an enemy country who was sent to stop the marriage from happening. Where it gets interesting is that it's all told in first person, with each character getting his or her own viewpoint chapters. In the guys' chapters, they're initially identified in the chapter heading as "the assassin" and "the prince," which means no names or physical descriptions are given, so that when they both show up and we see them from the heroine's point of view, we don't know which one is which. We know one of them is an assassin and the other is her erstwhile princely fiance, but she doesn't even know that anyone's after her, and the assassin doesn't know the other is the prince, and vice versa. Once they've told her names, sometimes their chapters are labeled with those names if those chapters are about events we've seen from her point of view, but it goes back to the titles if they're thinking about their reasons for being there.

That's an absolutely delicious setup because it keeps us guessing. Which of these two guys is which? Will she figure it out? What if she's trusting the wrong one?

Except this is a YA book so what happens is a love triangle with lots of misunderstandings. Both guys fall in love with her almost instantly, and their chapters mostly consist of them thinking about what a special snowflake she is and how she's not what they thought she would be like, that she's not like other girls who are only into girly stuff, but she's actually strong and capable, blah, blah, blah, and she's drawn to both of them but unsure which one she likes best because they both have their strong points. And they compete over her and I start to lose interest, so by the time we're halfway through the book and the assassin reveals himself (and I guessed right which was which), I no longer much cared what happened. I think, though, that my expectations were entirely based on the use of point of view so even though the story itself became more interesting, I was less interested once I knew who all the characters were.

So I think I'm totally going to steal this approach and use point of view to hide who's who, and I'll use it for suspense purposes rather than love triangles, and I may not reveal who's who until near the end. I just need a story idea to go with it because I'm not sure it fits any of my existing proto ideas.

By the way, I am getting so tired of the "she's cool because she's not like other girls who are all girly" trope, particularly in children's and teen fiction. I guess it came from trying to shatter gender norms and show that it was okay for a girl not to be all pink and princessy, but they went too far so that the message that comes out is that being like a girl is bad, but a girl who's more like a boy is cool -- the awesome girl is the one who swordfights and uses a bow and arrow and rides like a boy, while the girl who does needlework and likes music and wears pretty clothes is icky. We don't get a reversal of the trope for boys. I can't think of a case of the boy who likes sports and fighting being icky and boring because he's like all the other boys, but hey, it's awesome that this one boy can sew a perfect stitch and play the lute (unless he's the gay best friend, but then he's awesome as a replacement for a girl and in more or less a girl role rather than being an object of romantic desire). I suppose in fantasy it comes in handy if the girl can join in on the adventure with some skills, but when someone tears his pants, they'll wish they had the girl who can sew.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wrapping Things Up

I had the sheer bliss of a whole Saturday with nothing specific I had to do -- no meetings, no appointments, no plans, no obligations. I haven't had that in about six weeks. I would say that I wasted the day, but I think I needed a day for wasting. I did some laundry, cleaned the top of the stove and wiped down the outside of the refrigerator, but otherwise I played on the Internet, caught up on Orphan Black OnDemand, shed a few tears during the Disney Channel's tribute showing of Aladdin and read a little. And did some knitting that ended up having to be undone, but I'm currently working on a project that's just for the sake of having something to knit, so undoing a lot was more of a feature than a bug because it delays the time before I have to think of something else to knit. I also did a lot of sniffling and sneezing, which was concerning because I had to sing a duet Sunday morning.

That duet may have been one of my more interesting performances, and the things making it interesting had nothing to do with me. A big storm hit right after I got to the church, so there was thunder and lightning and a torrential downpour that could be heard on the church roof while I was singing (that town got more than three inches of rain during the service). It was enough rain that we discovered that there are some serious leaks in one part of the roof, so there was a waterfall cascading from the ceiling into a big trash bin in the sanctuary. Then I had to stand back from the microphone at the lectern so I didn't drown out my duet partner, since my part was rather high so it carried well and it was at the sweet spot of my range, so it's right at the part of my voice where it just flows easily, and the other person was singing alto, so it didn't carry as well. But standing that far back but still in range put me right on top of the air vent. Fortunately, my skirt had a lot of beading on it and was rather heavy, so there were no Marilyn Monroe moments in front of the church, but I did have a constant breeze. And to top it off, they showed a slide show from the music and art camp while we were singing. That could explain why I had almost no nerves. There were so many other things to be distracted by that I forgot to be nervous and just sang. I think it went pretty well. I had fun doing it. It's a song I love, John Rutter's "For the Beauty of the Earth," and the soprano part is tricky, but like all his music, once you learn it, it's really fun to sing.

The storm died down just before it was time for me to drive home, and the flash-flooding seemed to have eased, too. I would have been okay if the rain had stuck around because it would have made it a perfect afternoon for tea and a book.

Today I need to re-read the parts of the book I did the most rewriting on and do a global search for this book's pet words that I started to notice, then I'll ship that one off to my agent and I will have all my writing work temporarily off my plate. Then I need to look at the illustrator's concept sketches for the covers and give her some feedback.

So, for a quick summary of projects I've been juggling this year:
The YA steampunk book has been copyedited and is being typeset. I've seen the cover concept (and yowza!) but still don't have a firm release date other than spring 2015.

Tomorrow (though it may take some time to propagate through all the various retailer systems), I'll be releasing digital versions of the English editions of the first four books in the Enchanted, Inc. series outside North America. Random House only bought North American rights, which meant that people in the UK, Ireland, Australia, etc., couldn't get legal e-books. I'm rectifying that. The cover art is mostly the same, though the cover layout is a bit different and the book descriptions are different (because I couldn't steal those from Random House). The typesetting inside is different, but the content is very close to identical (unless something was changed in the galley phase that didn't make it into my files). So, if you know English speakers outside North America you think would like these books, they should be able to get them starting this week, and that makes the whole series available in English everywhere in the world. If you're in North America (US, Canada, Mexico), you get the Random House version. If you're outside the US, you get my version. We tried to keep the prices the same everywhere, but exchange rates, local taxes, retailer policies, etc., may affect prices.

And I'm wrapping up book two and working on covers for my new series. I'll know more about release dates when we wrap up the covers. I just (like a few minutes ago) got concept sketches from the artist. I'm working with a new, up-and-coming illustrator I met at Detcon. I saw her work in a slideshow and it just clicked that this was what I needed for these books.

I'm going to take a little bit of a break from novel writing to clear the palate. There's a story I want to write just for fun and to give myself something new to read at conventions. Then I have to decide whether to write another book in the new series or the second book in the steampunk series.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wonky Morality

I know I said I wasn't leaving the house again until Sunday morning, but I made a Target run this morning. It was mostly futile, as the main reason I went was because they had all their jeans on sale and I desperately need jeans, but I seem to fall between two sizes, where one is big enough to gap but the other is embarrassingly tight. I guess I'll have to hit the Levi's outlet eventually, since they usually do fit me. However, I did get some potting soil so I can repot my basil that outgrew its pot and is now so top-heavy that it keeps toppling over (when it's not being attacked and strangled by the morning glory).

I ranted last week about the TV series Once Upon a Time, which on paper seems like it was written just for me but that in execution often drives me insane. Their lack of worldbuilding and use of the world they have built is frustrating, but the thing that keeps driving me nearly to the brink is the really wonky morality that mostly comes from turning their villain into a raging Mary Sue, with the result being a lot of villain woobification, "redemption" that skips a lot of steps, and victim blaming.

In the first season, our villain was the Evil Queen from the Snow White story, who's after revenge against Snow White because of some vague thing Snow White did in the past. In flashbacks, we see that she's arranged the murder of Snow's father, sent the huntsman to cut out her heart, and when he refused and helped Snow escape, she ripped out his heart so she could control him (and immediately ordered him to her bedchamber), and did the traditional curse with the poisoned apple. When she's foiled at every turn, she resorts to casting the Dark Curse that requires her to sacrifice the thing she loves most, so she murders her own father, the one person she loves, in order to send the whole kingdom to our world to live a Groundhog Day kind of existence with no awareness of who they really are so she can watch Snow White suffer eternally as a spinster schoolteacher. In other words, this is not a nice person. She spends the first season in the present day part of the story terrified that the curse will be broken when Snow White's daughter, who was prophesied to be the one to break the curse and who grew up outside the curse so that time has passed for her and she's an adult, comes to town and turns out to be the biological mother of the son the queen adopted when she got bored with living in a town full of people with no free will. She uses her own son to try to thwart our heroine, and ultimately the curse is broken because she tried to curse our heroine with a poisoned apple tart that her son then ate to prove his point about who his adoptive mother really was, and it was a mother's kiss that both woke him and broke the curse.

And then things went downhill as apparently the writers fell in love with their own creation. I guess on some levels, the evil queen is fun. She gets a great wardrobe in both existences and she gets all the fun, snarky lines. But they kind of forgot the part where she was actually evil, where she destroyed an entire civilization, slaughtered villages, sent children to their doom and broke up families in order to get her way -- and it turned out to be over something Snow White did as a child that she thought would help the queen but that backfired. She did all this over a child's mistake.

But when she backs down from doing something evil to kill everyone, she gets called a hero, and the good guys are made to look like jerks when they don't invite her -- the person who's been tormenting them and trying to kill them -- to join them for dinner. When the people in town aren't thrilled to have her come to a party, she gets her feelings hurt and gets all weepy. She gets to be all heroic again when she sets in motion something to kill everyone in town other than herself and her adopted son, but it gets hijacked by other bad guys and she gets caught in it, so she manages to stop it. Then somewhere along the way, she starts hanging out with the good guys and being part of their group. Mind you, she's never once apologized for the things she did to them or tried to do to them, never said anything about realizing she was wrong, never even said anything about being done trying to kill them. Meanwhile, they've apologized to her repeatedly for even imagined slights. The kid who spent the first season trying to convince his birth mother that his adoptive mother was really the evil queen and who was emotionally abused by his adoptive mother, who tried to convince him he was crazy and who then tried using the entire town as hostages to force him to live with her, now is totally okay with her.

Then the craziness really hit in the second half of the latest season, in which we found that this woman whose heart was shown to be so blackened by the evil she's done was so loving she could break a spell with True Love's Kiss and could suddenly wield powerful light magic (remember, she destroyed a civilization and hasn't yet acknowledged that this was a bad move or apologized to her victims). In the finale, there was a time travel adventure in which our heroine played Back to the Future and had to make sure her parents met, during which she ran into a woman who was about to be executed by the evil queen for helping Snow White. Without thinking about the timeline, she brought the woman with her when escaping, then decided that to save the timeline, since this woman was supposed to have been executed, she can bring her back with her to the future and it won't change history. One problem: she turned out to be Maid Marian, and the evil queen had just started dating Robin Hood, who thought his wife was dead (and she was, in the original timeline). But the show painted it as our heroine having done a Very Bad Thing to ruin the queen's happiness. A lot of the fans are furious with her and saying that the queen deserves happiness. Never mind that she turned out to be dating a man whose wife she executed in the original timeline. That's just gross. And then there's the fact that she murdered her last lover (who was forced into being her lover since she controlled him magically) because he tried to leave her. She's torpedoed relationships among the good guys deliberately, but now it's this terrible, horrible thing that one of the good guys accidentally tanked her very new relationship by saving the man's wife's life.

I enjoy a lot about the show, but you could create a drinking game (and then die of alcohol poisoning) out of the number of times the villain gets a close-up of her looking all sad and weepy because she's not getting something she wants or the number of times one of her former victims is painted as being a terrible person for not being 100 percent in her corner. I'm actually leaving out a lot more examples of the wonky morality. I'm all for redemption stories, and they do know how to write them as they've done a great job in turning Captain Hook from a villain into a romantic hero, but redemption needs to start with some acknowledgement that the bad things they were doing were wrong. Otherwise, why are they bothering to change? And if they haven't actually changed their attitudes, they aren't redeemed.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Brain Drained

I have survived my crazy week -- the music and art camp and the audition rehearsals for music director candidates. Now I'm contemplating a nap. I did a lot of heavy lifting today, having to move kids from one place to another, and then there was the one who had clingy spurts and came back to me as a kind of security blanket until he built back the confidence to run off again on his own. I also became the target of attack when they were doing a creative movement thing where they were being dragons to go with the music. Suddenly I came under dragon attack. There may be bruises.

But now I get some quiet for a while. The pastor and I were commiserating about that today as the kids were leaving. He's also been coming to the audition rehearsals and singing with the choir, so we've all had a busy week.

I really need to finish this book, but I'm tempted to take a short nap first because I know I'm not alert.

I know there's more stuff I should probably say, but I have very little brain left. I really don't know how people who have children at home with them all day function. I would go insane.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dragon Hunting

And another day with kindergarteners survived (barely). The shy girl has become rambunctious and barely shuts up (but is still hit or miss on actually participating). There were some clingy tears this morning when one boy didn't want his mother to go, but he eventually got over the pouting. The crisis of the day was the search for Toothless. One kid had brought his How to Train Your Dragon toy with him yesterday (even though he'd been told not to -- apparently the dragon stowed away), but the toy didn't make it home, and the mom asked if I could keep an eye out for it. Because the toy frequently got in the way, I knew for sure the last time I'd seen it, so I started tracking it from there and narrowed it down to two places it could have been left, but didn't find it there. It turned out that his big sister (one of my choir kids from a couple of years ago) was also on the lookout and spotted it first, so big sister saved the day and there was much rejoicing. I got thanked for looking for it and apologized to for it having come with him to cause so much trouble.

It does make me feel old when I've got the kids I remember as diaper-wearing toddlers who gazed enviously into the choir room when I had their older siblings. Funny, but they're a lot less eager when it actually is their time. I have a couple of kids who would have eagerly stayed and gone to choir when they were two and their big sisters were in my choir, but now they cling and cry for about five minutes after their mothers leave (maybe it won't be so bad when regular choir actually starts).

Now I just have to get through one more day of this and one more potential director audition night tonight (but we know this particular candidate, so the event should be highly entertaining).

The bad thing about having a choir rehearsal every evening is that it makes every day feel like Thursday, and then it's disappointing when it isn't. But tomorrow really is!

I spent yesterday giving info about the book to the cover artist. Now I need to get back to revising/editing. It's hard to do that when I'm so tired, but I really want to get it done so I can move on to something else. I've got a short story brewing that I'm pretty sure won't turn into a novel because I tried writing this basic idea as a novel and it just felt stretched out. I think it might actually work better in a shorter form where I can focus on the one main thing that's happening instead of trying to build too much around it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Energy Vampires

I made it through day two of music and art camp. Some things improved -- the shy girl participated, the kids who yesterday cried and didn't want to stay when their mothers left today came eagerly, with no tears. But on the other hand, once the kids get a comfort level, the behavior tends to go downhill as they get louder and rowdier. But only two more days to go.

I've decided that children are energy vampires. I went to bed early last night and woke up before my alarm went off this morning, which means I was well-rested. By noon, when the parents came to get them, the kids were still running around like maniacs, and that's after twenty minutes on the playground and a twenty-minute "movement" session (dance and movement-oriented games to teach things like coordination, balance and rhythm). On the other hand, I'm now fighting to stay awake. I think they sucked all the energy out of my body. And I still have a short choir session tonight (an audition rehearsal for a music director candidate) and a ballet class. If I get the most urgent work done today, I may allow myself a brief nap.

We got to do a run-through of the duet for Sunday last night, and it looks like it will be a tricky one because it goes back and forth pretty quickly, which takes some mind reading with the duet partner to come in at just the right time. Half the song, the soprano line is essentially doing a descant that has very little to do with the alto line other than coming in as a kind of echo, but with different notes and rhythms. It's not just singing along, but popping in from time to time. This song is in cut time, and a lot of the soprano lines start after an eighth rest at the beginning of a measure. That's not even a rest, that's a stutter. I'm really good with pitch, but rhythm isn't my strong suit. I can keep a beat, but counting can be a struggle, and when it comes to complicated counting, I mostly just have to get a feel for it and go by instinct. With this piece, my instincts seem to be about half a beat behind. So, I have work to do. Fortunately, I found on YouTube that there's a version that's just the piano accompaniment and the soprano line. It's for the four-part choral version, but the soprano part and the accompaniment are identical. Maybe if I get the entrances nailed against the accompaniment, I can sing better with the alto.

On the bright side, I do have the notes nailed, including the octave jumps and the bizarre intervals.

Now to see if I can describe a book in a way that will help an illustrator give me the cover image that I didn't even realize I wanted.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Music Week

It's music and art camp week, so I'm out in the mornings Monday through Thursday. I have kindergarten this year, so I'm getting a sneak preview of the kids I may have in choir this year. I already knew most of the kids in the group, and then I also have my ballet teacher's son, which makes me feel old because she was pregnant with him when I first started taking ballet classes. I really could use a nap, but I have a busy day ahead of me, with a lot of business stuff to deal with, a book to finish revising, and then a choir rehearsal tonight. And then I'm singing a duet Sunday morning, so I have music to learn and practice. I actually know the song and have sung it before in the choral version (we're doing the soprano/alto version that was probably written for a boys choir, which is just about identical in the soprano line), and that may actually be the problem. It's an earworm of a piece, and even though it's been years since I last sang it, it pops into my head from time to time, but over the years of not having heard it or seen the music, the version that pops into my head and that I find myself singing around the house has mutated. Now I find myself having to re-learn the real music and force the mutation out of my head.

My Friday-night birthday surprise turned out to be seeing the Dallas Theater Center's production of Les Miserables, which is apparently making news around the world because it's the first non-traditional staging of the musical. They haven't changed the text at all, but instead of it being set in the actual historical period, they've put it in a very near-future dystopia. So the clothes are mostly modern. The soldiers are wearing police riot gear. The student revolutionaries are hanging out in a coffee shop, with paper cups with those cardboard sleeves and plastic lids, and there's a laptop on the table. It actually works pretty well. It's also a very intimate staging, in a fairly small space with a thrust stage, so the stage is mostly surrounded by audience. We were on the second row, and it was amazing to see this show in a setting where you're making eye contact with the actors. They even interact with the audience. The revolutionaries go into the audience to pass out leaflets during the "Do You Hear the People Sing?" number, and some of the people on the front row got propositioned during the "Lovely Ladies" number (and in this version, not all the "lovely ladies" were actually female). It definitely worked to make me notice the show in a new way even though I have it memorized. It's a good thing I was dragged out of the house to go because it would have been a shame for someone who's as big a fan of the show as I am to not have seen this one rather avant garde production of it.

Now off to take care of a bunch of stuff.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Build Your World, then Use It!

I had a rather low-key birthday mostly spent working, though I did make a nice dinner and allowed myself dessert (a chocolate cupcake, fresh cherries and chocolate ice cream). In addition to the mail organizer, my other present to myself was a new teapot. Not that I really need more teapots (I have two functional ones and two decorative ones), but this one was too pretty to resist, and it's a small two-cup size, for those occasions when I don't want a whole pot of tea. It's white and has little sculpted porcelain roses on it. There was a matching creamer I was tempted to get, but I'd picked up more things than I planned and couldn't physically carry one more thing, and I didn't want to go back for a cart. But I may get the creamer later if they still have one, for when I want to have a really nice, fancy tea and not just pour the milk straight from the jug. Strangely, the matching teacups weren't cute at all. But that's the joy of white china -- you can easily mix and match it.

Though I really shouldn't buy more stuff that's not of an organizational aid nature when I'm hoping to move within a year. I'm supposed to be getting rid of stuff. Still, pretty teapot!  And it makes me happy.

Anyway, I mentioned that I've been marathoning Once Upon a Time. On paper, this is basically the series that was written just for me. We've got fairy-tale mashups -- Snow White and Red Riding Hood are best friends! The Evil Queen (Snow White's stepmother) and Maleficent hang out and swap spells! We've got fleshed-out fairy tales that go beyond what's in the tales and tell the "real" story -- Snow White becomes a badass fighter and bandit after she's exiled by her wicked stepmother, her Prince Charming turns out to be a farmboy whose twin brother was taken by Rumpelstiltskin to be raised as a son by an evil king, and then when he gets himself killed, the farmboy twin is forced to step into the role of prince. And we've got a crazy juxtaposition of the real world and the fairy tale world when the Evil Queen casts a curse that transports the people of the fairy tale realm to our world, where they end up in a small town in Maine (probably just down the road from Haven), unaware of who they really are until the curse is broken, and even then, they're stuck in Maine, aware of who they are but also with memories of living in our world. It's basically the story I wish I could steal, then go back in time and write it myself and do it right before they get to it (because the things I like are a bit too specific to be able to get away with filing off the serial numbers).

But at the same time, it can be very frustrating to watch, especially if you're a fantasy novelist. For one thing, they utterly fail at world building. It's clear that they're making up the world as they go, and there's no "system" behind their magical system. They keep throwing out and then disregarding the rules they establish for magic, depending on the needs of the plot and which character is involved. They keep saying "magic always comes at a price," but the bad guys (and semi-bad guys) can do just about anything with a wave of a hand, with no cost at all. They don't run out of power, they don't get tired, it doesn't sap their life force. They're pretty much invincible. They may be warned about the consequences of something they're going to do, or if they're on a redemption path they may make a sacrifice -- but then those consequences don't come about and they get back the thing they sacrificed. The guest villains, who are on for a half-season arc, are just about untouchable until about the next-to-last episode in the arc, when suddenly they're defeated pretty easily by the same people who were helpless against them up to that point. Meanwhile, the good guys who have never been villains (there are a couple of main characters who are villains who kind of function like heroes most of the time, but that's a subject for another rant and I'm just getting warmed up) have all kinds of rules and limitations on what they can do, and most of them have no access to magic at all. Those who do have magic are usually in a situation where they can't use it or where their magic doesn't work. Basically, it comes down to the magic working a certain way unless it doesn't.

But I think my real world-building disappointment is that they don't really use that juxtaposition between our world and the fairy tale world. For most of the characters, it's not a real fish-out-of-water situation because the curse gave them fake memories of having always lived in this town, and they retain those memories as well as the real memories of having lived there, so they know how to use things like cars and phones. But we don't really get any reaction from the fairy tale people to our world. You'd think there would be some comparing and contrasting going on. The Evil Queen set herself up as mayor through the curse, but after the curse was broken, there was one brief moment when she's ousted by the angry townspeople, and then she's right back in office, with no one questioning her. Is that because the writers forgot or because the people haven't wrapped their minds around the fact that they now live in a democracy? Would they try to re-create their way of life in a modern American town or embrace the new life? They've done a few little things -- Prince Charming in our world becomes a deputy sheriff, and he wears a shoulder holster with a gun and carries a sword -- but they really don't let themselves have fun with the premise of fairy tale characters in our world.

Even when they get temporarily sent home, we don't get to see their reactions to the change. Is there something from our world they might try to establish in theirs? For instance, when the curse takes Snow White to our world, she has a short pixie haircut, but in her home world, she has long princess hair. We don't know what she thinks of this -- is she horrified by losing all her hair and trying to grow it out, or does she discover she loves how easy it is to deal with? We don't know, other than that she doesn't cut her hair off when she gets back home.

Even when they do have a character who's a fish out of water, who doesn't have any cursed memories, we don't get to see them interacting with or reacting to our world. Captain Hook has traveled back and forth via portal, and his only reaction to dealing with modern America is being a bit baffled by hospital Jello. Now, some of that is in character, as he's very clever and observant and also not one to let on that he has any weakness, so he'd figure things out as he goes and not let anyone see him react with shock, but still, you'd expect at least something from a guy who's not only in a different world, but who's out of time even in his own world (thanks to a long sojourn in Neverland), and it mostly comes across as the writers forgetting that this one character is in an entirely different situation from the rest of the cast.

There's so much potential here that they've forgotten about or neglected entirely, mostly because I get the impression that the writing staff has the attention span of toddlers with ADD who've eaten too much sugar, so they're always rushing off to the next shiny story idea before they finish adequately telling the previous one. I do recognize the impulse when you get the shiny new idea midway through a story, but it really is like the moment they get a shiny new idea, they handwave a quick resolution to the current storyline and then jump to the next one.

And then there's the wonky morality, but that's another rant entirely.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

My Exciting Life

Happy birthday to me! I plan to celebrate by doing very little, though there is some shopping I want to do. I may also pick up some flowers to put on my patio, since I'll actually be home for the next couple of months and we may soon be back with the kind of weather that allows for going outdoors without bursting into flames (soon=the next six weeks or so). The real celebration of my birthday will come tomorrow, when I have plans with a friend. And then I'll see more friends on Saturday, though that's not technically about my birthday. I can just pretend it is. Next week is going to be absolutely crazy because I have music and art camp in the mornings (I'm volunteering, not attending) and then in the evenings we have audition "rehearsals" to find a new choir director (the candidates have to conduct a rehearsal with the choir, and then we evaluate them). I have a feeling that at noon on Thursday when I'm done with music and art camp, I will come home and barricade the door and not leave the house again until Sunday morning. I will be in serious need of unscheduled time by then.

Meanwhile, I'm more than halfway through this round of revisions on the book and my living room is mostly clean. The bar top that tends to be a dumping ground is fairly clear, and I'm going to get a mail organizer thingy to put on it to corral the incoming mail I have to deal that doesn't just get shredded right away. I was going to make a sarcastic remark about how exciting my life is, but then I remembered that at this time last week, I was on my way to New York. My problem at the moment is that my life has been a little too exciting.

In other news, I believe I have successfully cut myself off from Under the Dome. The first couple of episodes were fun, then it became fun to snark about, then it became full-on hate watching to really snark about. And then I missed an episode and found that it didn't at all detract from snarking about it. It's just as much fun to read the snarky recaps and forum posts, and I don't have to go through the frustration of watching all the too-stupid-to-live antics and terrible writing. Really, I should have given it up when the doorbell worked. The electricity has been cut off by the dome and people are surviving on generators (with a limited supply of fuel), and this was a central plot point in an episode. Then in the next episode, someone goes to someone's house and rings the doorbell, and it works. I can see making sure your refrigerator is running off a generator, but a doorbell is electric, and who would bother running the doorbell off a generator? Wouldn't you have other priorities when you have limited resources? And in a town with no electricity, who would ring a doorbell instead of knocking? That, right there, sums up this terrible show. And I am free of it, other than reading recaps and enjoying the fact that I'm no longer subjecting myself to it. The dome is probably saving the rest of the world from those idiots.

So instead of that dreck, I finally have the DVDs for Once Upon a Time and have been marathoning from the beginning, watching most of these episodes for the first time since they originally ran. I have such a love/hate relationship with that show, so be prepared for some epic rants. What they do right, they do very right. What they do wrong, they do oh so wrong and in very disturbing ways.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Writing Conference Tips

I got to see the preliminary cover for the YA steampunk book, and it's absolutely gorgeous. When I get the go-ahead, I'll share it, but I'm very excited. This is one I'll want to blow up and frame.

After several weeks of travel, it's time to get back to writing posts, and since my last trip was to speak at a writing conference, I thought I'd offer a few tips on what to do -- and not to do -- at a conference.

1) Keep an open mind -- but not too open
All writers and all careers are different, so not everything you hear will apply to you. On the other hand, no matter how much you think you know, you don't know everything and can probably learn something. Listen to the sessions with that attitude. If something clicks for you, give it a shot, but don't force yourself to do anything a speaker tells you is absolutely necessary. It may have been essential for that person, but it may not be right for you.

2) Be wary of advertisers and exhibitors
There will usually be people at conferences wanting to sell you stuff, and their sponsorship helps make the conference happen, but not all that stuff is essential or even helpful. Industry magazine subscriptions and professional organizations, maybe. Services to help you find an agent, utterly useless. Self publishing services, generally iffy. I've found that the people who are really helpful (copyeditors, designers, artists, etc.) are freelancing, so they're probably not sponsoring conferences and spending the day sitting at a booth. Look at the displays, but don't be seduced by the sales pitches or convinced that you can't get published without their help.

3) Don't mob the presenters at the front of the room at the end of a session
When attendees who didn't get their questions answered or who want to "network" rush to the front of the room at the end of a session to talk to the presenters, it can throw off the conference schedule because that presenter can't get out of the way so the next presenter can get set up. It also makes the presenters feel trapped. At least let the speakers get away from the podium or panel table before you approach them. Most conferences incorporate some social or networking time for you to talk to presenters. There may be fewer opportunities at conferences in New York with industry speakers, where the speakers dash over from their offices for their sessions and then get back to work, but then again, what kind of impression are you going to make if you're delaying them while they're trying to get back to the office? I can pretty much guarantee that you're not going to sell your book by grabbing someone right after they speak at a conference. If you have a question that wasn't answered during the session, many of the speakers provide contact info, so try e-mailing it.

4) Don't ask anyone to read your book
There are often formal pitch session in which it's implied that you're asking an editor or agent to look at your manuscript. Otherwise, this is a big no-no. Outside a formal pitch, an editor or agent may ask you about your book, but you shouldn't be the one to bring it up. You can ask questions like "What do you have coming out that you're excited about?" or "What big trends do you see coming?" or "What are you looking for that you're not seeing?" and then if it fits, you can say, "Oh, that sounds a lot like my book." Then they may ask you about it. It's really, really bad form to ask people to look at your book and give you feedback, unless maybe you hit it off with one of the other attendees and agree to critique each other.

5) Don't use a Q&A session as the opportunity to pitch your book
The thinly veiled "question" that's obviously designed to make the speaker say, "What a brilliant concept! Please send me your manuscript immediately!" will only make people roll their eyes. Ask a question if you've got a question. Use your own work as an example if you must. But if you're only asking a question as an excuse to pitch your work, don't bother.

6) Don't just assume that the speakers are the only people worth networking with
Your fellow attendees could have a lot to offer. A conference is a great place to make friends with other people who have similar plans and goals. You can form support groups or critique groups, and you never know where these connections could take all of you. Really, you're seldom going to sell a book just because you went to a conference. Go there to learn and to be around like-minded people and you'll get a lot more out of your conference experience.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Airplane Reading

I got to do a lot of reading while spending several hours on an airplane two days in a row, so I finally have books to discuss!

I pulled a couple of books off my to-be-read shelf. At least one of them had been there possibly since high school or college. I think a friend gave it to me, and I just never got around to reading it. The other, I'm not sure where it came from because it doesn't look like the sort of thing I would have chosen to buy, mostly because of the really bad 1970s cover. Maybe it just spontaneously appeared on my bookcase. If that's happening, it would explain a lot about the condition of my house. I can't help the overflowing bookshelves if I somehow attract books.

Anyway, one of them was worth talking about, The Silver Sun by Nancy Springer. This was a very traditional, old-school fantasy drawing upon Welsh folklore (particularly The Mabinogion) as source material. I believe it was published in the very early 1980s. When I was craving old-school fantasy but wanted something more intimate than epic not too long ago, this was the kind of thing I was looking for. The heroes are really, really good people, no real shades of gray or angst or real temptation to the dark side. The villain is offstage for most of the book and we just see the effects of his activities. There's a war later in the book, but most of the book is about the quest of two young men, not for an object, but for discovery and alliances. One of our heroes knows he's a prince (no apprentice farmboy who discovers he's the Destined, Chosen One) but hates his evil father and is trying to put together alliances to help him hold the throne against his evil father's minions when the time comes, so he can set things right in the kingdom. I will admit that as much as I like good good guys, the main characters in this were sometimes a bit much for me, but I think some of that has to do with conditioning because it's so different to read now in the age of "only the villains are interesting, so we'll make the heroes more like the villains" writing. I'm not sure this book would get published today, though. I think if I had read this book as a teenager, I would have fallen madly in love with both heroes and possibly become obsessed with this series.

Then I finally found the second book in the Rivers of London series in the bookstore in Grand Central (my library is missing book 2 in the series and I haven't found it in any store around here). The clerk at the store mentioned that I was the second person that day who'd bought a book in that series and asked me about it. That's why I love Posman Books. You get the feeling their clerks read, and they aren't snobs about it. They were also really supportive of my books. Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch continues the story of police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant, who works in Scotland Yard's equivalent of the X-Files unit. This time, he's investigating mysterious and sudden deaths of jazz musicians. Meanwhile, there are hints that there's a powerful dark wizard and possibly an apprentice out there, doing some twisted things with magic, and Peter and his mentor need to track this down. I may have liked this one better than the first book in the series because the world is already established and we can just plunge into the action. I think what I enjoy most is the narrative voice and all the witty asides or clever descriptions and references. There are a lot of geek in-jokes where you have to be a bit of a nerd to catch all the cultural references. The author is a former Doctor Who writer, so there are a lot of related jokes. In general, it was the perfect thing to read on an airplane because the time passed quickly while I was off tracking down jazz vampires in London. It was almost a rude awakening to land in Dallas.

Monday, August 04, 2014

New York

I'm actually home on a Monday morning! It's very exciting. And I should be home all week. I had to restock the cupboards and fridge yesterday because I had to resort to mac and cheese from a box for Saturday dinner when I couldn't face another restaurant meal. But now I have good, nutritious food and maybe I can shed a few of the pounds I've discovered I put on this summer while eating out way too often.

The trip to New York was wonderful -- just long enough to feel like I was there, but not so long that I had time to totally wear myself out. The bus/subway thing for getting into and out of the city worked brilliantly, other than a few unexpected delays (they were doing some construction on the railways at one point that slowed things down and kept the express trains from running), but I think it was still faster than a cab would have been if there had been even the teeniest bit of traffic on the roads. I had to fly Spirit on the way there, and it was like flying on Greyhound, so I won't willingly do that again. It's not so much the airline as that it seems to attract people who don't fly often, so everything takes twice as long. Like, getting off the plane took forever and I wasn't even that far back.

I had lunch with my editor at a little French place just down the street from the Flatiron Building, then after checking into my hotel I went uptown to the Museum of the City of New York, where they had an exhibit on Gilded Age New York (research!). From there, I visited the Conservatory Gardens in Central Park, then did some general park wandering, ending up at Bethesda Terrace, which is one of my favorite places in the world. I'd been thinking of heading down to one of my favorite Italian restaurants for dinner, but I was tired and hungry and had been walking too much, so I splurged on dinner at the Loeb Boathouse overlooking the lake in the park. I had a salmon dish that was to die for and totally worth the money. It was also a lovely atmosphere, though the tables were so close together that I felt like I was a fifth wheel in what seemed to be an early-in-the-relationship date going on at the adjacent table about six inches away. They were holding hands across the table, but he seemed to be working way too hard to impress her and seemed to be hinting at wanting the relationship to be more than it was, while she was a little aloof, other than the handholding.

And then I went back to my hotel and crashed. I was staying at the Roosevelt, which is a 1920s hotel very near Grand Central. The lobby was spectacular, and the room wasn't bad for an old hotel in New York, though definitely wasn't the kind of hotel room that it's relaxing to lounge around in.

I spent Friday at the conference, where I picked up a few ideas, though the conference was aimed well below my career level (otherwise there would have been no point in having me speak). I think my session went well, but it was hard to get a sense of the crowd response. The session was in a gorgeous Jazz Age ballroom, so it may have been the most beautiful place I've ever spoken.

Then my flight home was delayed by weather, so I got in very late. I startled the parking shuttle driver, who thought the airline had lost my luggage. He couldn't believe that I had all my luggage, even if it was just for one night. I did acquire one book on the trip since I finished one of my airplane books on the plane and the bookstore in Grand Central had a book I've been looking for. Good thing, too, since all the delays meant I finished my other travel book before I got home.

And now I may actually be home for a while. I have a lot to get done this month, but I've told myself that if I accomplish the to-do list, I get to take an extended Labor Day weekend "staycation."