Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Jury Duty

I didn't get my best-case scenario or even my second-best case scenario with jury duty, but I didn't end up doing a trial, which was good. I was in the second group called up to a courtroom and had to go through the jury selection process for a felony case. Fortunately, I was in the last twenty or so of the whole panel, so they'd have had to strike a lot of people to put me on that jury. Not that people weren't trying. I'm hoping some were exaggerating for effect in hope of getting struck because this world is truly sad if they were really that ignorant.

I got there very early because when I used to commute to near the courthouse, it was nearly an hour-long drive in rush hour, so I allowed myself plenty of time to get there, get a parking spot and get through security. It took me twenty minutes to make the drive this morning, so I was there about 45 minutes early. But hey, no line at security and a parking space on the first level, next to the exit of the garage.

I wasn't even too sad about being called up to a courtroom so soon because there was a woman sitting behind me who would not. shut. up. She was blabbering on to the poor guy sitting next to her, and she came across as a complete idiot, and probably a bigot, to boot. I'd thought she sounded like an older woman because she was talking like someone who came along long before political correctness or cultural sensitivity were things, but then she mentioned her age, and she was several years younger than I am. I noticed that the man she was talking to was on my panel, and I was tempted to ask if he was glad of the escape. On the other hand, the woman sitting next to me was reading a Harry Potter novel. It reminded me of the time I had jury duty the Monday after a Harry Potter book release, and almost everyone in the courthouse had their faces buried in that book. Except for me because I'd finished it over the weekend.

The case sounded odd enough, from the questions they were asking and the wording of the indictment, that I was almost curious enough that I might not have minded being on the jury to get the real details and see how it came out. Mind you, almost. I still barely restrained a fist pump when they named the final juror and it wasn't me. I got home about 3:15, and now I'm trying to catch up on the things I usually do during the day. Back to somewhat normal tomorrow.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Post-convention Slugfest

With the end of FenCon, I think my conventioning is over for the year. I do have fun at these, and it's my chance to feel almost kind of sort of famous (except when I'm in tech crew mode and am doing such glamorous things as climbing ladders and hanging things from the ceiling), but they're also a drain, even aside from the physical labor. I thought this would be an "easy" year for me because my programming schedule was pretty light, but somehow I still ended up busy, in part because of the "PR director" role, in which I was facilitating interviews with some of our guests of honor. It was probably a good thing I was doing that, because it was about the only interaction I had with most of our guests, aside from telling Timothy Zahn where to set something down when he pitched in after the hotel disregarded our contract and we suddenly needed to move everything out of the main programming room an hour and a half before we were supposed to.

I would like to be a slug for the day, but I have to make a quick grocery run, and I have to do some business-related stuff, as well as do some laundry.

And then I will be a slug.

I don't even have the brainpower at the moment to do any kind of convention report. I'll have to organize my thoughts. So expect a return to normal posting later in the week, depending on how the jury duty goes. My dream scenario is to spend the morning reading in the central jury room before I get sent home. But that's never happened to me in criminal court. They have such a huge caseload and such a huge no-show rate that just about everyone gets used, and some who are sent up for one trial and not selected get sent back down to wait to be sent up again. Second-best scenario would be to get sent up later in the morning, only to have the defendant accept a plea bargain while the potential jurors are still waiting outside the courtroom, and then they send the potential jurors home from there. I will be extremely happy if I can avoid setting foot in a courtroom.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Daydream Vacation

I'm in pre-convention panic mode, in which I realize that there are probably lots of media outlets I didn't get convention info to, plus I need to prepare promo material, reading stuff, questions for panels I'm moderating, decide what to wear, pack, etc. But when it comes to my convention PR job, I figure that the convention will happen regardless of how well or poorly I do my job. The difference is in how many people show up, and I'm not even sure that good PR makes that big a difference because I don't think that most convention attendees learn about conventions via traditional media or even online calendars. So, time to de-stress and focus on other stuff, like getting cookies baked and getting supplies for the weekend, plus an emergency yarn run.

And then there's children's choir tonight, so I need lesson plans. At least the laundry is already taken care of, so I have that out of the way.

Meanwhile, there's my regular work, which includes coming up with a series title that's catchy and marketable. Right now, my brain isn't doing "catchy." Really, right now my brain is struggling with "remember to breathe."

I'm already planning that next weekend -- maybe even starting Thursday morning after choir on Wednesday night -- will be a writing retreat/staycation. I know that sounds contradictory in that it implies work while relaxing, but it's more of a brainstorming thing. The trick is to get relaxed enough that the ideas start to flow. I think I have too much going on right now for real creativity to happen. As soon as the thought process starts, then suddenly the to-do list pops up and reminds me of other things that need to be done.

I never got around to making arrangements for that real vacation I was talking about. I sent off for that location's vacation planning guide and never received anything, so I guess they don't want me there. I have a very bad habit of planning all the details of a trip and then daydreaming about it until it's so vivid that I feel like I've already gone, and without the expense, time and effort of actually going. Now there's another location I could get a reasonably decent hotel rate for, though it also involves air travel, and I'm kind of tempted. It would be more of a splurge, but also possibly more tiring. And now I'll visualize that trip and never actually take it.

But before I start a daydream vacation, I'd better get all of today's to-do tasks done.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fall TV Part 1

I'm hoping today will be a lot more productive than yesterday, but I have a good start in that I actually slept last night. The night before, I was wide awake at 3 a.m. and didn't get back to sleep until about 5, so I was groggy all day. I forced myself to power through with minimal afternoon caffeine, in hopes that I would actually manage to sleep at night. And I guess it worked. So now we'll see if I can focus on things.

One thing I need to work on is coming up with an umbrella name for this new series. My agent and I are disagreeing because she wants something pretty distinctive that's not already obvious from the cover, and I think that simple and obvious are probably better because most people don't even remember the official name of a series and instead either call it by the name of the main character or the name of the first book. Those are the search terms that are most likely to be used on Amazon.

While I was in my sleep-deprived zombie state yesterday, I put in some quality sofa time for the start of the fall TV season. Some thoughts on what I watched:

Gotham -- I was a big Batman fan as a kid. In second or third grade, I used to run home from the school bus stop every afternoon so I could be in time for the afternoon Batman reruns (the campy 60s show). But I wasn't as big a fan as my little brother and his best friend, who used to ride their Big Wheels around the neighborhood, singing the Batman theme at the top of their lungs. I'm not a comics reader, so I never knew that version of the story, and I was hit-and-miss about even getting around to seeing the 1990s series of movies (saw the first, then saw the one with Val Kilmer, and I think that's it unless I caught them on cable and used them as background noise). So although I can see where the dark and gritty thing is appropriate to the character and situation, my favorite version had a sense of campy fun to it (because, to be honest, it's hard for me to take villains who dress up in costumes all that seriously). Gotham is a prequel to Batman, following the future Commissioner Gordon when he's a rookie detective investigating the murder of young Bruce Wayne's parents. The cast is good. The villains aren't yet wearing silly costumes. Some of them aren't even yet villains. But it's just so very bleak. Remove the Batman roots and it's just another series about how cities suck, crime is out of control, and some of the cops are worse than the criminals, with the one good cop teetering on the balance and trying to maintain some integrity while still getting stuff done (and not getting himself killed). There's nothing else I want to watch in that slot, so I may stick with it for at least a while until it becomes so depressing that I can't take it anymore, but I'm not sure I'd actually make an effort to watch it.

Sleepy Hollow -- I thought the pilot to this series last year was brilliant, and there's still a lot I like about it, but it went downhill along the way for me. I'm just not a huge fan of Impending Biblical Apocalypse stories, and I'm so very over demons from the underworld (this is the reason I finally gave up on Supernatural). This season's premiere had some fun twists and managed to maintain a lot of that fish-out-of-water humor with Revolutionary War soldier and spy Ichabod coping with our modern world, which is the main reason I keep watching. I'm mostly tuning out all the big-picture plot stuff and watching for the characters. If I only focused on the plot, I'd probably hate it.

Forever -- I actually wasn't planning to watch this, but it's on the channel where I usually watch the news, so I was turning there after Sleepy Hollow because the local news was coming on that station and I loathe their news team. I was avoiding pain by changing the channel rapidly to the station I'd want to be on the next time I turned on the TV, and there was our lovely Horatio Hornblower, all grown up, so I kept it on until I finished the row I was knitting, just to listen to his voice doing narration. And then I started another row. I kept saying I was going to turn it off and go to bed, but I ended up watching the whole show. This is yet another Immortal in the City show, but at least he's not a vampire, and I've liked the non-vampire takes on the trope, which never seem to last (like New Amsterdam from a few years ago). In this case, he was a doctor on a slave ship who refused to throw an ill man overboard and got sent overboard himself (something I found mildly amusing, since Ioan Gruffudd played William Wilberforce, one of the people behind ending Britain's slave trade, in the movie Amazing Grace, so it's an odd little bit of typecasting). Only he didn't die, and now he can't die permanently. Every time he gets killed, he finds himself in water, alive again. Now, a couple of hundred years later, he's obsessed with studying death and is currently working as a medical examiner. This show is mostly a collection of the tropes we've come to expect from this sort of thing -- the close friendship with an older man who seems fatherly to him but who is more of a son (though the revelation of the real relationship was actually rather surprising and touching); the vast knowledge base because of being alive for so long; the likely to become romantic relationship with the cop who may be closing in on his secret. The thing is, though, that I like those tropes, which may make this something I end up enjoying. The problem is that the regular timeslot is going to be a killer and I'm never home then, so I'll have to catch this OnDemand. It may fall into my Sunday-afternoon comfort TV slot, or may go in the pre-Grimm slot to make my own Friday-night paranormal lineup.

Tonight, I should be able to watch NCIS before ballet. The New Orleans spinoff was extremely annoying when they did the backdoor pilot episode for it, so I suspect I'll be skipping that one. I won't be home anyway, but I doubt I'll make any effort to watch it later. Then I'll have to decide what to watch OnDemand after choir Wednesday night, since Chicago Fire, Person of Interest and Forever are all in that late Tuesday slot that I'm now missing due to the later dance class. I think I'm most interested in seeing what happens next on Person of Interest (and the resident Mary Sue on Chicago Fire was already getting on my nerves, so that show is close to being struck off the list entirely), so that may go higher on the priority list.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Crazy Con Week

It's FenCon week, so it will be rather busy, as I not only have to get ready for my author guest role, but I'm also doing PR and helping with setup as an auxiliary member of the tech crew. Then there's my usual weekly stuff, including ballet on Tuesday and children's choir and a choir rehearsal on Wednesday.

For the author stuff, I only have a couple of programming items a day -- two panels on Friday, a panel and an autograph session on Saturday and a reading and a panel on Sunday. I think I'm going to read a prologue to the book that's about to launch. This is something like a DVD extra because it never made it into the finished book. It was something I wrote because the incident is referred to, and I wanted to have something concrete for the characters to think about. It may have made it into the book for one draft but was almost immediately cut out because I wanted to start with the present.

The weekend was busy, but nice. I find visiting nursing homes to be a rather daunting experience, probably because it's a big reminder of mortality. The first place we visited was a facility for more severe cases. Most of the people were in wheelchairs, and some of them didn't seem to be entirely aware of their surroundings. But then they perked up when we started singing, and some that hadn't seemed verbal started singing along. Music really does have a lot of power. The second place was more of an independent living facility that's right around the corner from my house (I walked there). They have a swimming pool, putting green, and a lot of activities. I keep seeing their van when I'm out and about. I've joked that I need to learn their moviegoing schedule because I've had a blast when I've ended up at the same matinee with their group. Maybe I should adopt some grandparents since I no longer have any.

Sunday we had a cookout after church, and that meant the big church lady competition of whose desserts would be most popular. As our new choir director said, it would be a shame to hurt anyone's feelings, so it was probably best to try one of each. I brought my usual world's best chocolate chip cookies.

I may do some research and brainstorming in any moments of spare time this week, but I'm giving myself permission not to be too productive in that area since there's so much else going on. Productivity will happen after jury duty next week.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pulsating Green Glows

I celebrated the new audiobook deal (and a nice royalty check from the existing audiobooks) by buying myself a nice, new electric toothbrush like my dentist recommended. Do I know how to live it up, or what?

Funny thing about that toothbrush: When it's in charging mode, there's a green light that blinks on and off. It was still doing its initial charging when I went to bed last night. The bathroom door is directly across from my bed, and most of the walls in the bathroom are mirrored -- a wall of mirror over the sink, then the closet doors that make up two of the walls are mirrors. That meant that just about any direction the toothbrush was turned, that blinking green light was reflected, and then that reflection was reflected off other mirrors. I didn't think much of it until I rolled over onto that side during the night, had one of those "what time is it?" waking moments, and saw a pulsating green glow emanating from the bathroom.

Fortunately, I was awake enough to realize what it was and didn't incorporate it into a dream about aliens invading or monsters climbing up from the sewer. I just got up and closed the bathroom door.

This could be really fun to play with when I have company.

I've got a busy weekend ahead of me. My church is celebrating its 135th anniversary by doing a day of service projects in the community. I'll be joining the children's choirs to visit nursing homes in the morning. Then we have our final panic/get ready meeting to prepare for FenCon. And then Sunday is the anniversary service and church cookout.

Which means tonight will have to be a recharging night to get ready for all this, though hopefully without the pulsating green glow. That's more likely to happen Sunday evening, when I collapse.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Decisions, Decisions

I'm working on cover designs, and wow, but it's hard -- and I'm not even doing the work. I'm just choosing between options and offering feedback. So many choices! And is what I like what will really look best and sell best? We've settled on a font, and now I'm trying to pick a color and style. I'm leaving the options up on my screen to look at every so often and see what strikes me.

Weirdly, I keep wanting my name printed smaller. It just looks weird in huge type. I guess that means I'd better never be a bestseller whose name gets printed bigger than the title.

And I need to come up with a name for the whole series, since it's smart to do that up front and control it and then brand all the books rather than to figure it out after the fact after people have already decided what to call it. So far, everything I've come up with has been way too "high fantasy" instead of contemporary fantasy. Though I guess this is kind of a blend of high fantasy and contemporary fantasy.

I had a good session with the choir kids last night. They were still a little crazy, and there was one kid who was just so tired he started crying, but I actually ran out of time for things I wanted to get done, which is better than running out of activities while there's still time left. I found one game they kind of liked, so we may do that one again (playing something kind of like Simon Says with the body scale -- the notes go up and down depending on whether your hands are on your knees, waist, shoulders or head). I was able to use my in-depth knowledge of Disney Princesses to get one little girl to feel better about being there. She was sulking because she didn't want to come, but then she lit up when I asked her about her Frozen pin and we started talking about our favorite princesses. That warmed her up to the point she started participating.

We also got our new choir director last night. He used to be in our choir before he got a job directing the choir at another church, so we already knew him, and I think he's going to be a lot of fun as director. We seem to have the same taste in music, which is good.

Now to go make up some cookie dough, research a book, brainstorm tag lines, start fine-tuning a plot and choose a cover design. It's a busy work day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Idiot Plotting

Since I'm in the process of plotting a book, I thought it would be a good time to discuss some plotting pitfalls (mainly as a reminder to myself!). One big pitfall is what I call "Idiot Plotting." That's when your characters have to act like idiots in order for your plot to work -- they have to abandon all common sense, forget their training and experience, and otherwise do things no person with more than two brain cells would ever do. Otherwise, you'd have no story because they'd solve the puzzle or stop the bad guy in the first chapter, or they'd never get into the jeopardy required for a climactic scene.

In horror movies, this is when people go into the dark basement alone. In amateur sleuth mysteries, this is when the protagonist goes alone into the villain's lair without telling anyone her suspicions about the villain's identity. In fairy tales, this is when the heroine does the one thing she's been explicitly told not to do. In romances, this is the Dreaded Misunderstanding, in which the characters don't have the one simple conversation that could resolve everything and are willing to throw away their relationship rather than have this one conversation.

And yet, you'd have a pretty boring story if everyone always did the smart thing and always made the right decisions. How can you keep the plot going without making your characters into idiots? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Withhold information from the characters -- they can only make good decisions based on the information they have available, so make it harder for them to get the right information. Make sure they're still trying to get information, but discovering clues is a good way to throw in plot twists that make them realize they made bad decisions earlier. This gets tricky if the audience is in the know while the characters still aren't because it's easy for readers to forget that the characters don't know everything they know.

2) Let the reasonable precautions fail -- Let the characters do the smart thing and try to prepare themselves, only to be stymied by factors out of their control. The lights are actually on in the basement, but the villain cuts the power once the hero is down there. The amateur sleuth calls the police officer, but he's caught up in another crisis on his way to join her at the villain's lair. The batteries in the phone or flashlight fail at a bad time (goodness knows, this happens enough in real life. Just don't overuse it). Someone else swiped the thing the character was counting on being there in a crisis. The person who was supposed to stall the villain fails in the task.

3) Provide adequate motivation -- One plotting exercise I've seen recommended is to think of something your character would never, ever do, and then try to come up with a reason to force that character to do it. That's a good way to avoid an Idiot Plot. Have there be stakes that explain the bad decision. The sleuth has to go into the villain's lair NOW because there's someone in immediate jeopardy. There's actual evidence for the Dreaded Misunderstanding, and it ties into something in the character's background or experience. Doing the one thing that's forbidden is the one way to save someone else. Make it clear that the character has no other choice but to do this thing, regardless of how stupid or dangerous it might be. The readers should feel like they'd have done the same thing in those circumstances. The more drastic actions require more drastic motivation.

4) Make the villain smarter -- You can avoid a lot of Idiot Plotting by creating a villainous scheme that isn't so easily foiled. That way, the heroes can be smart and still fail. The villain can plan for the things the heroes are most likely to try. After all, Idiot Plotting applies to the villain, too. You've got something of an Idiot Villain scheme if the heroes could foil it in chapter one by just being reasonably intelligent.  This is when I generally refer people to the infamous Evil Overlord List (http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html). One big problem I see in Idiot Plots is the villain acting like a villain and the heroes not noticing. If the villain is subtle and reasonable, then it's okay if it takes the heroes a while to figure out the villain's identity or to unravel the evil scheme. But if the villain is mwa-ha-haing all over the place, then the heroes need to at least suspect something. If the villain is gloating about his evil scheme, the heroes should be proactive and have a head start on stopping it instead of being caught by surprise at the last second.

5) Set it up properly -- if you've established through the rest of the plot that the hero has a weakness or blind spot, that his technology is often unreliable, that his sidekick panics in a crisis, that his cop ally is seriously overworked, then you can get away with making things go wrong in order to get your hero into jeopardy for the climactic scene. The trick there is to not make it something the hero reasonably should have corrected -- if his phone has been cutting out off and on through the whole story, then there needs to be a good reason he hasn't paused to get a new one that works. If he knows his friend is unreliable in a crisis, there needs to be a good reason he resorts to depending on that friend. Using the hero's weakness or blind spot works best if the hero is conscious of the weakness and deliberately trying not to play into it -- and that's the one time when the weakness would have helped him avoid trouble. The weakness or blind spot doesn't work as well when you feel like the hero should have learned from previous mistakes.

In general, avoid any plot that has readers shouting "you idiots!" at the heroes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reading, Writing and Knitting Projects

I have a new knitting challenge. In addition to making a Christmas present, I'm going to start doing some hats. My church has a group that serves a hot breakfast at a homeless shelter every Christmas morning, and there's usually a collection of gifts that goes with that (stuff like socks, blankets, toiletries, etc.). This year, we're trying to get at least 400 stocking caps to pass out as gifts, preferably handmade. That's something I can do with my epic yarn stash, and it's a far more portable project than the blankets and throws I'm usually making. I don't know how many I can do between now and Christmas, but since it's not my usual elaborate lace, it seems like something I could knit pretty quickly. And then I can use all the baby yarn in my extensive inherited stash to make baby caps. The county hospital needs them and the knitters at the church have also taken that on as a project. We had a women's ice cream social last night to let everyone know about the various social and mission opportunities, and I ended up chatting with the knitters. Other than the gifts (I do have a bit of a waiting list from family and friends), I mostly knit for the sake of having knitting to do, so this provides me with a healthy outlet for my habit. And having multiple projects going means I can switch when I get bored with one (a hazard of the bigger projects).

I've been remiss about discussing recent reading, but I've mostly been catching up on series in progress where I've discussed earlier books in the series. I read the third book in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. Now there's just one more (until the next one is published), and I may wait a bit before reading that one. And there was the second book in Sherwood Smith's "Prisoner of Zenda"ish series about the ballerina fencer and the magical European kingdom. She's going to be the guest of honor at ConDFW in February, so I'm kind of excited about that.

Otherwise, I'm doing research reading as part of the brainstorming process on a couple of projects. It's weird having two vastly different books percolating in my brain.

I should soon have a cover reveal and more definitive release info on the new fantasy series. I'll admit that I'm nervous about this because it's an odd book to begin with, and then it's a new series with new characters in a new "world," and I don't know how well my fans will react to it not being the other series they love. There are some authors I've happily followed from series to series, but I'll admit that I've sometimes resisted something different from an author, especially when I was madly in love with the characters from another series and wanted more about them.  I just hope readers will give this a shot instead of boycotting because it's not about the other characters, and maybe I'll find new readers who'll then discover the other books.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cracking the Nutcracker

We had a semi-fallish weekend, so I spent a lot of time outdoors. There was a moderate walk on Saturday and then a rather long walk, with picnic lunch, on Sunday. I may have overdone it on Sunday, with at least four miles, since I rubbed a sore spot on the bottom of one foot. It didn't quite become a blister, but it would have with just a little more walking. I was very glad I opted to drive to the trailhead because I would have had a big blister in a bad place if I'd hoofed it from there. It's a 20-30 minute walk to get there, depending on which route I take, but a five-minute drive, and I figure that if I make that drive, I can walk more in the interesting place instead of doing half the walk just going through the neighborhood.

Then this morning I walked to the post office to mail my quarterly tax payment. Fun. But that's three days of walking in a row. I love it when the weather reaches the point where I can leave the house without bursting into flames.

But I did get home from the post office to find the final cover painting for my new fantasy book, and I'm kind of in love. I almost hate to mess it up by putting my name on it. I'll have to suggest to the artist that she sell prints of this painting. Because I want one. It did end up being almost a spoof of the traditional urban fantasy cover, with a non-tattooed chick who's not wearing black leather. But I think it transcends that.

I need a writing topic for this week, and I'm kind of drawing a blank. Any suggestions or questions?

I think the next couple of weeks are going to have to focus on research and brainstorming because there would be little point in starting to write. I have a busy weekend this week that I have to gear up for, then Fencon, which pretty much eats a week, and then got called for jury duty the Tuesday after FenCon. Maybe after that I'll be ready to start writing words.

A lot of the research will involve watching various Nutcracker productions. It seems that there are so many variations that I can probably make up just about anything. Some versions just use the corps de ballet for the snow scene, while others have a Queen of the North Wind soloist. Some just use the corps for the Waltz of the Flowers, some have a Dewdrop Fairy as soloist, and one of the Russian versions has every woman partnered, so it's like a group pas de deux (I think they're just showing off that they have that many men). My character is going to be one of the soloists because I figure that's the most logical thing for doing an emergency last-minute substitution without having to rearrange the whole cast -- grab someone who used to dance the role who'd fallen out of the scene and who has recently returned. Part of me wants to create a new holiday season ballet because I really hate the Nutcracker. Actually, I don't mind it once it gets going, but there's almost zero dancing in the entire first act. It's just people walking around miming a party. The dancing doesn't really kick in until about 40 minutes into the ballet. But it's so iconic, and hating it may be part of the fun, plus the fact that it's full of kids raises the stakes when wonky things start happening. I just haven't decided if my character should be the Queen of the North Wind or the Dewdrop Fairy. And then I get to mentally design a costume. This is taking me back to second grade, when I went through a ballet-mad phase and spent a lot of time drawing ballet costume designs. I think I was more interested in tutus than I was in actually dancing, since ballet class meant black leotard and pink tights (funny, that's what I wear by choice now), and it was mostly exercises, with no real dancing (I've since learned that I probably didn't have a very good teacher). I prefer the romantic tutu (the longer one) to the classic tutu (the short, puffy one), but they generally seem to put the corps in the long one and the soloist in the short one (I love dancing in the longer tutu. The short one interferes with my arms). I may get wild and crazy and do something like a gauzy, floaty dress instead of a traditional tutu. And yes, this is a minor detail, but I think it's going to be the mental image the entire book hangs upon. Once I get this solid in my head, the other pieces will start falling into place.

Friday, September 12, 2014

First Taste of Fall

The front we were supposed to get yesterday finally seems to have arrived, and we've got a cool, rainy day -- perfect for reading/brainstorming/research. I found a DVD of the Russian version of The Nutcracker at the library, which I don't think I've seen. I'm trying to decide which version to use as the production my heroine will be in and decide what role she'll dance. I can't really use the Balanchine version, in which Clara also does the Sugar Plum Fairy stuff, since that's so tied to the NYC Ballet and I'm going to be making up a ballet company. Though I think I'm going to have to make up a ballet company that dances at Lincoln Center, since that's the place I'll be able to see if/when I go, and that seems to be the big venue for ballet in Manhattan. Hey, it's a world where creatures from the fairy realms wander in and out of the city, so making up a ballet company that replaces the real-world one is only a minor deal.

Anyway, my work today will involve watching ballet, research and brainstorming. Plus maybe some baking, since it feels almost like fall. This is probably my favorite part of the writing process, when all the possibilities are open and it's pure play. It only becomes "work" when I have to start putting it into narrative.

I've seen the initial sketches of the covers for the first two books in this series, and it's funny, but now I kind of want to write the books that go with them. They're more impressionistic of the theme/tone of the stories rather than depicting actual scenes from the books, and while they perfectly fit these books, like most art, they leave open the possibility of other stories and other interpretations. I can't wait to see the full paintings. I may end up having to see if I can buy prints from the artist so I can hang the actual art (rather than the book covers) on my walls. It would be cool to have art that I actually commissioned (as opposed to the Renoir print I have now, as much as I love that piece of art -- and it's fun to say I have a Renoir over the fireplace).

Otherwise, I've been scrolling through Amazon to look at fonts/title treatments so I can direct the cover designer once the art is done. It's funny, but I had a very vivid mental image of what I wanted, and when I finally found that, I didn't really like it. So I have a bunch of examples of things that I think might fit and will see what the designer comes up with that's probably better than what I imagined.

As for my weekend, the weather's supposed to be glorious, so I will be outdoors as much as possible. I'm limiting my social activity somewhat, since the next two weekends will be crazy, but there may be some outdoor activity because it feels kind of like fall.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Back to Kindergarten

I survived the first night with the new batch of kindergarteners. I had eight kids, and there are three more on the roster who weren't there. One of them probably won't come much until later in the year because right now there's a conflict with soccer. The beginning of the school year is always a bit of a challenge with kindergarteners because they're getting adjusted to a full day of real school and they either have a ton of pent-up energy at the end of the day or they're exhausted. Half the group was running around like maniacs and half the group was lying on the floor and claiming they were too tired to do anything. I asked one kid what he'd done that made him so exhausted, and he sighed and said, "Eight hours of school."

This group does seem to be a little more receptive to doing what the whole group is doing than last year's bunch. I'm not going to be naive and say it's going to be easier, but I don't seem to have a particular Problem Child with true behavioral issues who ends up affecting the rest of the class. I know just about all of these kids already, which helps.

I also had my first regular choir rehearsal of the season. We've got some fun music to start with, and we get our new director next week (this is music he's already picked out for us). And as a bonus, one of my choir friends who's been seriously ill made it back last night.

So now my "regular" year is back in session. It's even starting to feel like fall, as a front is coming through. I will celebrate with a walk to the library this afternoon.

And then Haven premieres tonight. I hadn't been crazy about last season, but I found when watching the DVDs that I really enjoyed it. I think there were just so many twists that I had to wrap my head around them and get over the shock before I could get into it. One thing I can say about that show is that it always surprises me. This isn't one where I can guess where it's going from the opening scene.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Wacky World of Publishing

I kind of went from only the vaguest idea of a book idea to a fairly fleshed-out concept in one day yesterday, just starting from the idea of "maybe I ought to take a trip." Though I think that already having a deal in the works for the book provided a lot of incentive. It's nice to be writing a book for a "publisher" with an advance and all that, even if it's not the usual kind of deal. In this case, the audiobook deal came first.

This tells you how crazy the publishing business is these days. You practically need a chart to keep up with which of my books are traditionally published and which are self-published, and in which formats and locations.

For the Enchanted, Inc. series:
Books 1-4 in the US were traditionally published. They're also traditionally published in translation and in audio. But in overseas markets, the English version is self-published.
Books 5-7 are self-published in English worldwide but were originally written in a traditional deal for the Japanese publisher and are traditionally published in audio.

Now I've got a new contemporary fantasy series that will be launching this fall. I made a deal with Audible yesterday for the audio version of the first two books that are written and for a third book I haven't yet written (and didn't even have a solid idea for until yesterday). I will be self-publishing these books in print/e-books.

Because I've had traditionally published books, I generally count as a "real" author when it comes to stuff like conventions, and I've already got my SFWA membership. But when it comes to promo, a lot of web sites still won't review or promote self-published books. I wonder where these books would fall, since I've got a traditional audio deal, even if the print/e-books are self-published.

And then the steampunk book is entirely traditionally published, both print and audio. Though if the publisher doesn't pick up the option on subsequent books, I do plan to self-publish the rest of the series.

It's nice to have a lot of options and not have all my eggs in one basket. If one thing fails, I have other things to fall back on.

So for now, I need to get this new book written. I found out that our local Nutcracker is at the same time I'm thinking of going to New York, so that rules that out. Not that I think it would teach me that much. I've spent enough time on stage to kind of have a sense for it, even if I wasn't doing ballet at the time (aside from the infamous preschool dance recital "I see my daddy!" incident). This weekend may be a big immersion retreat to get my head into the right space. It'll be nice weather for walking and thinking or reading on the patio.

But for today, I have to finish my lesson plan for tonight and try to wake up from the allergy grogginess. And there's some housework to be done and some other business stuff to take care of.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Planning Ahead

I think it's going to be a busy Tuesday because I was a slacker on Monday. Well, not entirely slacking because I had non-writing business stuff to do, and then I got some good business news that got me sidetracked for a while. My career has really turned around in the past year or so, to the point I'm having trouble wrapping my head around it. Not that I've vaulted into the stratosphere of fame, but a lot of little things have come together and snowballed into something resembling momentum. It's the long, slow slog of patience way to making a good living as opposed to overnight success. I've been so used to worrying about making it through the year, and now I'm pretty much set for the next year unless the new things bomb miserably. And even if they don't do that well, I still have my living expenses pretty much covered, so any worry at this point is for two years from now. I don't expect my life to change that much. I just should be able to worry a lot less and try to enjoy myself more. I can even be (gasp!) frivolous.

In other book news, I have a release date for Rebel Mechanics, my YA steampunk book. It's currently scheduled for July 14. That seems like so long away.

Part of my distraction/thinking yesterday was working out my writing plan for the next year or so. For the rest of this year, my priority will be working on the third book of my new contemporary fantasy series (since Audible has already made an offer for it and it only exists in a few scenes and a vague idea) while gearing up to write the second book in what I hope will be a trilogy in the steampunk series. I'm doing some research for that now (and ideas are really starting to flow based on the research). Then next year I'll probably go ahead and write book 3 in that series, since even if the publisher doesn't want more books I'm planning to self-publish them. I also have a standalone more traditional YA fantasy/romance book I want to write. Then I think my next adult book (probably a series) will be something that bridges the two genres of my career -- it has a present-day plot that's contemporary fantasy, with the characters in the present learning about what went on in the Victorian era, and that part told as a parallel plot line. My goal is to have that ready to submit around the time the steampunk book launches, so if it's a success I can capitalize on it and maybe get some adult books out from a traditional publisher even as I continue doing some others on my own.

Sorry, still no new Enchanted Inc. books. Nothing is coming to me so far. I haven't even been able to dredge up story ideas involving secondary characters. There used to be a time when I thought about these people all the time, but they're being really quiet. I know anything I write in that world would sell, and sell well, and the Japanese publisher and the audio publisher are asking for more. I just don't have it. You can bet that if something does strike me, I will write it.

I'm thinking I may have to go for a Christmas/holiday setting for the third book in the new contemporary fantasy series. And that may require a research trip to New York in December (I know, the Christmas season in New York. How awful). That's where wrapping my mind around having money (for a change) is difficult. I'm so used to traveling on the cheap that I can't get used to the idea that I can afford things like a nicer hotel room. I may even see if I can get a ticket to the Balanchine Nutcracker. I find the Nutcracker to be a rather boring ballet, but if you're writing a book about a ballerina set at Christmas time in New York, you kind of have to deal with the Nutcracker. I can get some of the behind-the-scenes research via the company at my ballet school, and there are enough former pros around who can probably give me some scoop about rehearsals and timing, but seeing the real thing at that level would be cool. I may even check on our company's schedule and see if they might still need adults in the party scene because actually performing in a Nutcracker would be excellent experience.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Week Ahead

My weekend passed in something of an allergy fog blur. For instance, there's a conversation I had Saturday that I remembered yesterday, but I couldn't remember who I had it with until this morning. I remembered the details and the action item that came out of it, but there was this weird blur over the face of the person I was talking to. I tried mentally plugging in everyone I could think of, and the actual person never occurred to me (and was really the most obvious one). By Sunday, I was a little worried about going to church because my eyes were so red and watery that I looked like I either had a raging case of pinkeye or had been on a serious bender the night before. Fortunately, that cleared up after an afternoon dose of Benadryl, but this morning I still have that tired, foggy feeling, and I have some lovely dark circles under my eyes. I love fall, but fall really hates me and tries to make me suffer as much as possible.

Today's task is a bunch of research reading and doing some editing on the flap copy for the steampunk book. This is my first "flap" copy as opposed to "cover" copy, since on a paperback they put the description on the back cover, but on a hardcover it goes on the inside front flap. I guess I'm moving up in the world. I can't wait to share this cover when I get a final version (I've just seen what's essentially a paste-up without the high-res graphics).

This week's fun is starting my new children's choir. I think I know most of the kids already, and most of them know me. I get back my geeky Doctor Who fan teen helper, and I get a new one -- the pastor's daughter, so I guess I have to be on my best behavior. As if I wasn't already. I can't make jokes about duct taping the kids to the wall anyway because there's a day care center in this area that just got busted for duct taping kids to their nap mats. When it really happens, the joke isn't funny anymore. I also go back to regular chancel choir rehearsals. Summer really is over and I'm back to my "school year" schedule.

And then we get the season premiere of Haven on Thursday. I'm frantically marathoning season 4 to get ready. I don't remember liking last season that much when it was on, but I'm surprised by how much I enjoy each episode as I rewatch it. We're getting a real fall cold front that day, which should help in setting the appropriate viewing mood, as long as I don't lose power in any storms that come with the front (they're mostly talking rain and cooler temperatures, but this is Texas, so storms are a possibility).

So, that's my week.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Going Global

Wow, the ragweed hit me like a brick mid-morning yesterday. Even with allergy drugs, it was a non-stop sneezefest. Today it's a little more under control. I just have the grogginess and fatigue but without so much sniffling and sneezing.

Even so, I got some work done yesterday. I managed a good amount of research reading and came up with a few ideas. And I even did a little business stuff. I talked myself out of a grocery excursion this morning because I realized I was just going to get things for making tonight's planned dinner, and I don't really feel like cooking tonight's planned dinner. Instead, I have some pesto I made yesterday (the basil was getting out of control) and I'll throw that in with some pasta. I also need to make a peach cobbler because the peaches are now teetering on the verge between "ripe" and "bad" (and yesterday they were firmly at "not ripe"). That's assuming I manage to stay awake long enough to do any of this.

I've been remiss in posting this because I forgot to follow up and see if it was all actually up and working, but those outside North America should now be able to buy legal (non-pirated) digital English versions of the first four books in the Enchanted, Inc. series. They should be available in your local version of Amazon and other e-book retailers like Kobo. The contract with Random House was for North America only, and all the foreign sales have been for translation, so the only way for English readers to get the books outside the US and Canada was to get imported hard copies (or pirated versions). But now we've made the digital versions in English available worldwide. The content should be more or less identical, though the layout/typesetting had to be redone. The cover art is mostly the same, though the covers and cover text are slightly different (we couldn't just take the stuff Random House did). We set the prices to match the US versions, but booksellers and local taxes and fees may alter that. So, now you can get your non-American, non-Canadian English-reading friends hooked. Tell the folks you know in England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, etc., or anyone else who reads English. I'm global, baby!

And now I need to research overseas book blogs and maybe do some PR, but that should probably wait until I'm a little more coherent. I'm barely communicating in English at the moment.

Usually it's the first whammy of ragweed season that hits me hard and makes me useless, and then the drugs kick in and my body gets a little more used to it and I'm more functional. The season started a bit earlier this year, so I'm hoping to get the whammy out of the way before the fall stuff I want to do gets started.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Workplace Injuries

I suffered a terrible writing-related workplace injury yesterday. I'm doing some preliminary research reading and apparently spent too long sitting in the wrong position. As a result, I've got a kink on one side of my neck/shoulder. This seems to happen to me about once a year. Last night after children's choir I sat with a heat wrap around my neck, and I think I'm about to break out the electric neck massager. This afternoon will be swimming pool time. It's not as bad as it usually tends to be. It's not actually painful, just a little stiff so that I can't turn my head as far on that side. I'll have to break out my reading back support pillow that forces me to sit straight instead of curled slightly to the side. Though it's also possible that this comes from sneezing violently at a bad angle (ragweed season is upon us).

The book I'm reading is one on history that I grabbed from the new books shelf at the library because I had this vague sense that it might give me ideas for the sequel to the steampunk book. Then I started reading it and thought I might be wrong. And now I've had a couple of good plot-shaping ideas and some sense of some of the character types I want to deal with. I actually think that the book that this one is a follow-up to would be even more relevant to this project, but of course my library doesn't have it. I'll have to check Interlibrary Loan, or maybe suggest it for purchase because there's little point in having the part 2 without the part 1.

But it looks like I have plenty of time to work on this book because it seems the first book is going to be a summer release. That's probably good because it's during the summer when teens will be out of school, and it falls during convention season, but I'm still impatient, since I started work on this book in 2010. I was hoping to have a sense of sales results on that book before I start house hunting, but this way, it's possible that I could be moved before I have to deal with a book release. This just means I have to work harder on my other books.

So I should probably start brainstorming the next book in the new contemporary fantasy series, which is currently scheduled to launch in October. I can get a couple more books done before the steampunk book is published.

I have this grand plan of trying to achieve a reasonable work/life balance in the fall, getting in my writing time but still making time to do the fall stuff I love to do. We'll see how that goes because I think I've said this for the past several years. I have pages of plans for this sort of thing in my planning notebook, and none of them have come about. Maybe this year! But first fall has to actually get here. In the meantime, I will enjoy the remaining days of swimming pool weather.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Getting Started

I start getting closer to my regular "school year" schedule this week. Children's choir gets kicked off tonight, but it's just the pizza party/registration/meet the teacher night, with no lesson plan required. Next week's really back to normal, with a regular children's choir class and the start of chancel choir rehearsals for me. Now, if only the fall weather would follow …

Since it's the start of a new school year, it's a good time to talk about getting things started. If you've decided you want to start writing, what do you do? How do you get started? Some people would say to start writing short stories. Others might tell you to outline a novel. I think my advice would be to write what's in your head and don't worry about what to call it.

Chances are that you're not going to be able to sell the first thing you write, anyway, so why worry about what market niche it fits into? Forcing yourself to try to write one particular thing may only stifle you, and you won't be able to tell what kind of writer you are until you start writing. Although there's a lot of advice about starting with short stories in some genres, short story writing and novel writing are two very different disciplines, and shorter isn't necessarily easier for everyone. At the same time, an entire novel is pretty daunting, and the idea in your head is probably not enough to sustain an entire book on its own. It will require development.

But really, at this stage, the important thing is to write. It's about exploring. Start with whatever you've got in your head and see where it goes. Play with it. Write a character vignette and see what you learn about that character. Write a scene. Write a description. Write a story. Write a chapter. When you've got something written, you can decide where to go with it. Does it stand alone? Is it part of a whole? Is it about a place where things can happen? Is it about a person who might do things?

Depending on the kind of writer you are, you may want to just keep exploring. Or you may want to pause and do some research, brainstorming and outlining before you develop it further. Or you may realize that this idea isn't as awesome as it seemed when it only lived in your head and put it aside to work on something else.

That's okay. While you will eventually have to finish something in order to sell it if that's your goal, when you're just starting out the idea is to develop your skills and to figure out what your talent is. You may write thousands and thousands of words before you hit your stride and start to feel like you've found your voice. You may start and discard a dozen ideas before one really works. What I often find is that two partial discarded ideas will suddenly merge and click into a viable story concept. I wouldn't have had that concept if I hadn't at least tried to develop those ideas.

The important thing is to keep at it and not be discouraged when you don't produce something of bestseller quality with your first attempt. Your first steps were probably pretty wobbly, and you likely fell down rather quickly. The same thing applies to learning just about any new skill. Writing may seem like something anyone can do because you already do it, but writing fiction isn't the same as the kind of writing you've done for school or work. So give yourself a break and let yourself play enough to know where you want to go with it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The New Non-School Year

Even though I've been out of school for a long time and even though I'm not sure I ever went to a school that didn't start until after Labor Day, there's something about the Tuesday after Labor Day that feels almost like a second New Year's Day. It's a fresh start, a chance to get myself together and regroup to move ahead.

So I started the "new school year" by getting my cable fixed. It turned out that there was a system problem, which they had fixed over the weekend. Then there was a bad connection in the outside box where the lines to individual homes in the neighborhood branch off. And my converter box was bad. He redid the outside connection and I have the next-generation converter box (apparently the old one was the first generation of HD boxes). I don't think I really had true high-def before because wow, the picture is so very different. The one downside is that my VCR is now mostly irrelevant. I used to be able to record things off the converter box, but the new box has no coax output. I don't record that much, though it was nice to get archive copies of some shows off OnDemand for Internet argument purposes until the DVDs came out or to record things to watch if I was going to be out and didn't want to wait until the next day for OnDemand.

While we were waiting for the new box to boot up, the cable guy and I had a nice discussion about Doctor Who.

I had a supremely lazy Labor Day weekend. I read two books, slept a lot and continued my DVD marathons. It was the kind of weekend that actually leaves me anticipating diving into the work week because I feel rested and eager to get started. So today I will be editing that short story and starting some research for a new novel. This month's work focus will be on novel prep work and doing some marketing/PR stuff. I've slacked off on that, but with a couple of new series launching, I need to get back on track.

I just kind of feel like I should be doing this in stiff new shoes that I spent a lot of time selecting.