Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Final Flurry of Activity

I made good progress on yesterday's epic to-do list. Today's is just as long, but I already have a good start, and a lot of the items are things I just have to set in motion, and then I can do other stuff in the meantime. Mostly, I'm baking. I have two pies to make for Thanksgiving. I have the dough for one crust made and chilling.

I've figured out that a lot of the clutter in my office now comes down to two things: stuff that I need to shred (that got pulled aside in recent purges) and books I need to get rid of. I made a good start on both yesterday, taking two bags of books to the library for the Friends of the Library book sale and getting a few years of old tax documents shredded. You only have to keep seven years, and I had twenty years. I still need to figure out what to do with the extra foreign editions. My neighborhood has a large Asian population, so I bet I could donate a set of the series in Japanese. Then I'll need to talk to some teacher friends to see if the German department in the high school would be interested in a set in German. I'm not sure what to do with the Dutch books, as they don't seem to teach Dutch in the local schools and we don't have much of a Dutch community here (if I had some Finnish or Swedish copies, that would be nice because those are the other two ethnic enclaves in my neighborhood).

I also have some stacks of boxes I was planning to take to the recycling center, but now that I'm planning to move, I probably ought to hang onto them. I should probably use them to pack up stuff I need to keep but don't really need to use in the next few months, and then I can stash those boxes out of the way.

After probably a final flurry of activity tomorrow, I'll be at my parents' house for the holiday, where my main tasks will be helping in the kitchen, communing with the horses in the pasture behind my parents' yard (they see me out there and come over for nose scratches) and playing with my brother's dogs.

And then, I have a book to write.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Short, Busy Week

Even when you're self-employed, a short work week gets busy. In my case, I'm wrapping up as much stuff as possible so I can return from the holiday and plunge into a book. Today's to-do list had twelve items on it. Some is stuff to prepare for the holiday, like an oil change for my car before I travel. Some is stuff to prepare for the time after the holiday, like some housework and trying to get back to my uncluttering/organizing project (I'm planning to take a couple of bags of books to donate for the library book sale today). Some is work stuff for various books in various stages of the publication process. And meanwhile, I've decided I'm really serious about selling this house and buying another, so I'm looking into some things like whether it would be a good idea to pay off this mortgage in full before I start applying for a new mortgage or whether I should just not bother with that and make a bigger down payment on the new house.

Anyway, it's a lot of stuff to think about and deal with, enough that crawling back in bed sounds like a good idea.

But I'm carrying on! One bit of work stuff already dealt with, one load of laundry in the washer.

I had a delightfully relaxing weekend, though. It rained off and on most of Saturday. I had a leisurely breakfast, then spent much of the day reading and listening to music. In the evening, I watched Winter's Tale on HBO OnDemand, and now I'm trying to decide if I want to read the book. A lot of the reviews of the movie mentioned that the book was considered unfilmable, which leads me to believe that a lot was left out or oversimplified. It ended up being the kind of thing you might have seen on the Hallmark channel if you threw in a Christmas tree or two. It was pretty, and it made good background noise for knitting. But I do like that kind of oddball magical realism and seeming time travel, so I may have to look into the book. Maybe that'll go on the January reading list.

Sunday was nice, and after singing for two church services, I did a little more relaxing but also did some work on the patio. The morning glory died in last week's freezes, so I pulled it up and untangled it from the trellis. I also tried to sweep up some of the leaves that were blown in by the Saturday storms.

Now to finish the laundry and do some kitchen cleaning before lunch, after which I'll head out for the errands. Or take a nap.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Still More of the Origins

I think I've figured out why I've been so sluggish for the past few days. I seem to be coming down with a cold. Yeah, just in time for Thanksgiving, but maybe I'll be over it by then. It looks like it will be a delightfully dreary weekend, so it will be perfect for huddling under a blanket on the sofa with a pot of tea and a book or my knitting. I might even let myself jump the gun on the holiday season and start mainlining all the TV Christmas movies. This year, I not only get Lifetime, ION and ABC Family, but I now have UP, Hallmark, the Hallmark Movie channel and the Lifetime Movie channel. By the end of December, I will possibly have overdosed on sappy TV holiday movies. Speaking of which, Lifetime made a Grumpy Cat Christmas movie. I am not making this up. It's for real, not a joke. Here's a link to the trailer, in case you want to verify it for yourself. I suspect that you get the gist of it and get all the good stuff (like the part where Grumpy Cat apparently sprays a department store with machine gun fire) in the trailer.

Now, back to giving some introductory info about the upcoming book (yikes, just a couple of weeks away!).

When it came to the story to tell using folklore about fairies, one story that comes up a lot is the Tam Lin tale, which is about a woman saving her lover from captivity in the fairy realm. There are also stories about men saving wives or saving random women who become their wives. But since I wanted any romantic relationship to be developed on the page rather than already established, I took it in another direction and made it be about sisters, perhaps inspired by the Christina Rossetti poem "The Goblin Market," in which a sister saves her sister from being in thrall to "goblins" (though the goblins in the poem sound a lot like the common folklore about fairies). So, that's the basis of the plot -- a younger sister is abducted into the fairy realm and her older sister sets out to rescue her.

Though there's more to it than that, and that's why the book took me so long to write. It took me a while to figure out why the sister was taken, what the backstory was and how it all fit together. I'd get midway through the book before I figured out what was actually going on, then I'd have to rework everything, and then I'd realize something else. I don't normally work that way, so it got frustrating at times. The second book was the same way. There seems to be something ephemeral about this world that makes it hard for me to capture.

The third main character (other than the two sisters) is the guy. Since the heroine is very much a take-no-prisoners type (but very polite about it), I needed a stronger guy, and since he's our outsider who doesn't have magical powers and isn't in the know about this stuff, that made it difficult for me to write my usual beta man without him looking like a wimp next to all the strong women in the story. So I made him a cop -- a police detective. That gives him a certain skill set and mindset, even though he is basically a nice boy-next-door kind of guy. In fact, that's a running joke about him with his police colleagues, that he's too nice to be a cop. He's in a kind of emotional limbo because he's also lost someone and hasn't given up on finding her again.

I had fun with creating the fairy world because I made it very dreamlike. I also imagined how fairies who don't quite get the concept of time might incorporate things they glimpse from the human world into their lives. Might they sort of keep up with the times? At least, they might not all still be stuck in a medieval guise.

I started the basic research for this story in the summer of 2009. That's when I was doing a lot of reading about fairy folklore, as well as reading a few memoirs by cops to get that mindset. I took a research trip to New York in late August and walked around a lot to find potential settings. I was working on writing it off and on for the rest of the year and into the next summer. I had a completed draft then but didn't like the conclusion. Then I was invited to speak at the annual conference of the Mythopoeic Society, and I got some ideas from the sessions I attended that told me I was on the wrong track with some things, but I knew it was going to take more work. At the same time, the steampunk idea was brewing and I thought it might be more marketable than this weird, vague book, so I put it aside and started researching the steampunk book, then wrote it. And then there was book 6 of the Enchanted, Inc. series, then a rewrite of the steampunk book, and then book 7, and then I finally got back to this book and got it to the point I was ready to shop it around.

As I feared, the publishers didn't know what to do with it, so I made the decision to self publish it. Oddly, it's going to come out before the book I put it aside to work on, but timelines in this business can drive you nuts.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Fairy Tale Origin Story

One slight correction to the list of coming attractions: The audiobook for A Fairy Tale will actually be out one day before the text versions. We set the release date based on what they wanted, then they realized they always release on Tuesdays after we'd already set up the release date in all the systems and we couldn't change. So this may be the rare time that those who like audiobooks get a book first.

Meanwhile, the hardcover for Rebel Mechanics is already up for preorder at Amazon and B&N. There will be an e-book, but since it's so far out they don't have that up for preorder yet (I guess they don't have to worry about how many copies to print). I don't know how much pre-orders from consumers really matter (it's pre-orders from bookstores that are huge in letting a publisher know how well a book might do), but if you're planning to buy the hardcopy, pre-orders certainly wouldn't hurt in sending a signal to booksellers that there's demand for a book. If B&N sees that people are eager for it, they might be more willing to stock it in their physical stores.

I have been dragging all week, for some odd reason. I really had plans to start writing the new book this week, but I haven't had the brainpower (and I can't entirely blame the proofreading). Now I may just do a last burst of intense brainstorming and hold off until after Thanksgiving because stops and starts don't help matters. I can get my life sort of in order, do some resting and do enough thinking that I can't wait to write instead of feeling blank. And right now I feel very blank. The movie isn't yet playing in my head.

But with the first book coming out soon, maybe it will help if I talk about that one and start teasing it.

This was a very odd book for me. Normally, I'm pretty plot-centric as a writer. I may have ideas for one or two characters, but mostly I have a story concept and build the characters that are needed to play out that story. I do a lot of plotting ahead of time, and though there may be some adjusting along the way, the basic bones of the story are more or less the same.

This book started with a mental image. I'm not sure if it was in a dream or just something that popped into my head, but I had this very clear image of a very feminine woman walking a bulldog down a city street that looked a lot like the Upper West Side of New York, and then they vanished into a kind of mist. I knew there was a story in there, and I wanted to tell it, but this isn't my first attempt at teasing a story out of it. I originally had this odd concept of fairy tale characters being banished into our world, with the heroine an ER doctor who started seeing these cases of people who were considered crazy -- and yeah, a woman in modern  New York who thinks she's Red Riding Hood would seem crazy -- but when there's an epidemic of them? And meanwhile there's a kind of fairy tale playing out with her, as she's a proverbial "princess in a tower" -- the daughter of a wealthy and prominent person who defied her family to go to med school and work in a public hospital when they just wanted her to find a good husband and be a society wife. And her love interest was the only other doctor who agreed with her about the odd goings on, with him being the proverbial poor boy made good who could win the heart of a princess. But the story never came to life for me. I workshopped the idea in an online class, and it just felt like a class assignment, never like a real story, so it never got written, and I even mostly forgot about it.

Funny, though, just writing that description brought it all back, and now I've got that "ooh, idea!" tingle, so maybe I'll have to put it on my list. I will also point out that I was doing all this brainstorming and development in 2007, so I was thinking about fairy tale characters banished to our world long before the TV series Once Upon a Time.

Anyway, that mental image never went away, even as I worked on other things. The rejections I was getting at the time for other work were always along the lines of "we were hoping for something more like Enchanted, Inc.," so I figured I needed to come up with something that maybe had the elements people liked about that series but in a different series -- the mix of magic and the real world, the Southerner in New York, a touch of romance, some humor. And that was when a lot of idea fragments started colliding.

I'd done a lot of research about folklore related to the fairies for an earlier stalled idea (that I may yet write) about a kind of Indiana Jones about folklore -- a professor who studied the folklore but secretly knew that these creatures really existed and helped deal with the negative or destructive ones. I started thinking that this might provide a way to do a "portal" fantasy, which I've always loved the idea of, since in a lot of the folklore, the fae have their own realm. That would also give me a magical premise distinct from the magic corporation from Enchanted, Inc.

Meanwhile, I'd had a particular character living in my head since I was in high school, in search of a plot but never being quite the right fit for anything. I had a dream in which I was this person, having all kinds of crazy adventures. She was entirely unflappable while being this odd mix of sweet and snarky, and she was rather petite and dainty looking, so people underestimated her. This character starred in a lot of my daydreams over the years, and every time I got a story idea, I auditioned her. When I was brainstorming this idea, I finally had a role for her to play. She was perfect. However, her name had to change. The name was part of the dream -- Alex Drake. But then the writers of the TV show Ashes to Ashes used it and I had to come up with something else. Now she's Sophie Drake, and I think that actually is a better fit for the person she ended up becoming once she was in this story. Part of the development of this character was me being a bit snarky about the Generic Urban Fantasy Book Cover with the chick in black leather and tattoos and deliberately writing a heroine who could never be portrayed that way on the cover. But I still wanted her to be tough and strong, so I made her a ballerina. I'd been dancing about a year at that time and was realizing that although ballerinas look pretty and frail, they have to be incredibly strong, and they can take a lot of pain (this article sums it up nicely). I did end up with a cover that kind of spoofs the Generic Urban Fantasy Cover because you could possibly remove my pretty ballerina (and apparently the model for the painting is an actual dancer) and insert a tattooed chick in black leather and get something closer to the generic. But I like mine better.

So, that was the starting point. To Be Continued ...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Editing and Proofreading

I had a question from a reader about the editing/proofing process. A lot of how this works depends on the publisher, the editor, the book, and how much time there is before publication. I'm sure there are rush jobs with big-name authors where they know the book will sell well anyway and they're losing money with each day it's not in print that have minimal editing -- just run that sucker through spell check and go. A smaller press with an editor who only does a few books a year may do a very detailed check every step of the way. I've had books where I didn't see anything from the editor from the time I turned in the manuscript to the time the book was in print, and I've had a book go through four rounds of edits with the editor, then copyedits, then proofing of the typeset pages.

A general standard seems to be that the editor does at least a line edit -- sometimes tightening pacing or revising a scene but not necessarily changing the story while also adjusting wording, as needed. The author gets to see these notes and is the one to actually make the edits based on the suggestions. The manuscript then goes to a copyeditor, who checks for grammar, spelling, punctuation, continuity, house style (if there's more than one right way to do things, which right way does this publisher use?) and general flow (repeated words, clarity, etc.). The copyeditor also puts in the code for any type treatment like chapter beginnings, italics and special characters. The author gets to review these edits and accept them or argue with them. Sometimes the author may find another way to make the suggested correction. At this stage, the author can still make other changes that might come up. This is really the last phase where actual "writing" can happen. These changes are then incorporated, and the book is typeset. At that point, the book is proofread by a professional while the author also gets a copy to review. Here's where they check to make sure the copyedits were inserted properly without messing something else up (and if the edits were done by hand on hard copy, sometimes mistakes creep in because of handwriting issues). The proofreader also looks for awkward line breaks, bad hyphenation on line breaks, too many hyphenated line breaks in a row, "widow" or "orphan" lines (awkward paragraph breaks between pages), and this is one last check for stuff like grammar and spelling. Sometimes there are things that only come up once the book is typeset -- like there might be a small, common, "invisible" word used twice in a paragraph, which usually wouldn't be noticed except when the words line up perfectly two lines in a row in the typeset version. The author may or may not see what the proofreader does at this point, and the author is strongly discouraged from changing anything that's not an actual error (no rewriting). Then there may be one more check to make sure these edits don't mess up something else.

I find that seeing edits is very educational for me because it gives me something to look for in editing myself. One thing to look for is repeated words. I don't think it's necessarily a crime to use some words more than once in a paragraph or on a page, especially if they're smaller, common words and if writing around the use of that word would actually be more awkward and obvious than repeatedly using the word. One I've run into is "out" and "outside." There's not really another good way to talk about where the things happening on the other side of the wall are happening. You look out the window or go out the door to see what's happening outside when you hear noise coming from outside. Still, it's worth pausing to think about in case there is a way to reword it.

Then there are your personal pet phrases or words. Sometimes they're unique to the particular book because of the situation, relationships or voice of your narrator and sometimes they're your own favorites. Look for words that seem to come up a lot, then do a search for them and see if you can find other ways to express those thoughts. There may be things that need to repeat -- a character's catchphrase, for instance -- but you still don't want to overdo it to the point that it gets annoying. I keep a list of words I tend to overuse so that I'm more conscious of them in the future and know to search for them.

Make sure the word you're using means what you think it means -- if you're at all unsure and are using a word that you've seen used elsewhere and have figured it out in context, look it up. Also look for typos that make words -- I seem to have a bad habit of typing "thing" when I mean "think," and vice versa, and spellcheck will never catch that.

I still think that reading a manuscript out loud is one of the best ways to catch a lot of these things -- you'll find awkward phrasing, and it will be more obvious that you've repeated words when you actually hear them out loud. That's also given me some of the reasons I've argued with an editor because the way they change it doesn't fit the way it should sound when read aloud and it doesn't fit the character's voice.

And you have to get used to the idea that no matter how precise you think you are, no matter how careful you are in editing your own work, someone will find an error. Even after multiple levels of other people have gone over it, a new person looking at it will still find errors. And after all this editing and proofreading, there will probably still be an error or two in the finished book (that some reader will kindly e-mail the author about). This is a business where perfectionism helps, but it will also drive you insane.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Coming Attractions

I got the proofreading done yesterday. Now to edit my notes and send back to the editor. I may leave in some of the snark for entertainment value (since I'm sure going over all this stuff is even less fun for the editor than it is for me).

My calendar is filling with book stuff.

December 2 is the release date for the Enchanted Inc. series audiobooks on CD. I imagine most people these days are just doing the digital downloads from Audible, so this won't be a huge deal, but it does make the audiobooks available for libraries. So, if you want to hear the audiobooks but don't have an Audible membership or don't want to buy them, you can request that your library purchase them.

December 3 is the release date for A Fairy Tale, the first book in my new series. Things seem to be in order for the e-book, the trade paperback and the audiobook to be available that day, though it may vary by sales outlet. I'm pretty sure it will all be in place at Amazon and Apple. There can be a bit of a lag at other places. If a lot of people buy on release day, that increases the chances of making a bestseller list, so that then more people can see it.

On December 12, Random House is going to start a promotion to price the e-book of Enchanted, Inc. at 99 cents, and that will last until the day after Christmas. So, if someone you know gets an e-reader or tablet for Christmas, there will be something handy for them to try out. And then they will be hooked and want all the books. Mwa ha ha haaaaa! And then I will rule the world!

We're looking at getting the sequel to A Fairy Tale, To Catch a Queen, published around February. The cover art is done and the book is with the copyeditor. We'll just have to sync up with the audio people once the text is final so we can set a release date. And now I really need to get to work on book 3, which doesn't yet have a name.

Then Rebel Mechanics is coming in July, in hardcover and e-book, and I sold the audio rights, so it should be in audio, and with this much lead time it really should come out in audio at the same time.

That's what I have on my plate at the moment. I have two sequels to Rebel Mechanics planned, and I will write them and get them published whether or not the publisher wants to continue the series (and that will depend on how well it does, and possibly whether the other books boost my profile). The Fairy Tale series is pretty open-ended. Most of the "arc" stuff is wrapped up in book 2, and from there it will likely become more like a mystery series, with a "case" in each book and the personal stories and relationships arcing between books.

And then I have a lot of other ideas bouncing around, but I'll figure out what to write when I get to that point. But in the meantime I'm hoping to get my house on the market early next year and buy a new one and then get moved and settled in, which will likely hamper my writing for at least a month (and this process will be helped if the books sell well enough that I can let myself just hire professionals to do the hard work).

Monday, November 17, 2014


Ah, Monday. It was kind of a cold, dreary weekend, but we had our first (very light) snow and my choir sang Vivaldi's "Gloria." It's supposed to warm up a bit this week, but then be rainy next weekend, which I am totally okay with. It looks like I might have a no plans, no obligations weekend on the horizon, which will be good for leading up to Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I have work to do. On Friday, I got the "first pass" page edits from the proofreader. This isn't a phase I've had to go through before. Normally, I see the copyedits and get to go over them and accept or argue with the copyeditor and make any other changes. Then those changes are input and the manuscript is typeset. I get to see the typeset manuscript and notice any actual errors (because changing things at this point is bad). Meanwhile, there's also a professional proofreader going over the typeset book. Well, this time I get to see what the proofreader said. This one did catch a few things that I can't believe made it this far without anyone noticing (and a thousand blessings for doing so). But she (?) also was trying to play editor and even attempting some rewriting at this point, asking worldbuilding questions (mostly for stuff that doesn't even really matter and that isn't important to the story -- I do have answers for the questions, but those answers don't need to be in the book) or mentioning if the same word shows up more than once on a page (or in some cases, every 20 pages). So I'm going through the book and either accepting suggested changes or explaining why the change would be a bad idea. And apparently there will be another pass of proofreading after these changes are inserted, mostly to make sure that making the changes didn't mess up something else, which does happen.

And, you know, even after this many people going over the book with a fine-toothed comb, I can just about guarantee you that within days of the release of the book, I'll get an email from a reader pointing out a typo or punctuation error somewhere in the book (I will definitely get at least one email pointing out a perceived error that isn't actually wrong).

It's a good thing I love this book because I went through at least four drafts on my own, a couple of rounds with my agent, four rounds of revisions with my editor, copyedits, page proofs, and now proofreader questions before probably one more pass. Then I may never want to read it again, though I will still look at the cover and sigh blissfully.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chapters Three and Four

I don't know that the new book is going to get started today, after all. It still feels kind of unbaked in my head. I may play around with some possible openings and see if it starts shaping up. However, I've learned that there are some questions from the proofreader on the steampunk book coming, so I'm likely to have distractions anyway. I swear, that book is the jealous younger sibling who has to jump up and demand attention exactly when I'm about to work on something else. I also didn't get as much work on the web site done as I wanted. I updated some of the information, but I'm going to need to entirely rework the opening page, and I'm not sure how I want to do that yet. The Enchanted Inc. series covers are the main graphic on the page, but do I want to entirely replace them with the new book, or should I keep them in some way while highlighting the new one, offering some continuity? I'll have to think about it.

In the meantime, the Enchanted, Inc. reread continues, with chapters three and four.

It was a real blast from the past to reread chapter three, the one where Katie first really meets Owen during that informal job interview meeting. I'm pretty critical of my own work, but I really like the writing for that scene. That was also the scene where Owen came to life and started taking over. I really didn't have grand plans for him at that point. He mostly existed to contrast with Rod, the unattractive guy everyone else seemed to find irresistible, as the attractive guy no one noticed. But once he appeared in the scene, he really came to life and I fell a bit in love. That was a case of sheer character alchemy because I did next to no pre-writing character development on him, no planning. He just stepped onstage and came to life. I did more work on him later, but it was more about teasing out what already seemed to be there than about creating it. I knew I had something when the friend I was sending chapters to responded rather strongly and wanted to know all about him.

The magically somewhat hidden office building was another detail that came from my research trip. I wanted the company to be based in lower Manhattan, as it would have been the kind of thing there from some of the earlier settlement. There are some old buildings in that part of town, and I did a lot of wandering and taking pictures. But I didn't find the building itself until I got home and got my film developed (yes, this was in the Dark Ages). I'd been taking photos at the park in front of City Hall because there were actual gaslights, and I thought that was cool. But in the background of those photos was a building on a narrow side street that had actual turrets. I'd walked past it and had taken all those photos without even seeing it. It's actually a fairly modern building built in an old style, but I figure that's just the cover the real world sees. A building I only saw when I looked in the background of a photo I took of something else seemed like the perfect candidate for my headquarters.

The magical farmers' market was an addition that came in copyedits. I'd visited the market during my research trip and wrote in that visit. Then after I sold the book, I took another trip to New York for additional research and to meet my new editor, and I headed to the market, only to find that it was closed that day of the week -- which was the day of the week I had Katie visiting it. I told my editor about this when we met, and we decided that, duh, it was a magical market the rest of the world didn't see, so I added that bit when I got the copyedits, and I think it even strengthened Katie's decision to make the leap to the new job, since she'd learned enough to realize what was really going on and knew she'd never really be "normal" again.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Winter Has Come

I'm letting myself have one more day of preparing and brainstorming before I actually start writing the new book. I'm normally a big plotter, but I've learned with this particular series that I have no idea what it's about until I start actually writing each book, and then I have to go back and rewrite it, so I may as well start writing and get a sense of it instead of spending time planning that will end up being redone.

Otherwise, today's big task is to update my web site to reflect all the new stuff. I don't know if I'm yet up for a big redesign. That may come later in the month after I figure out how I want to incorporate the new series, since the current design was built around the previous series.

I've decided not to take that New York trip I was thinking about. I kept putting off pulling the trigger on it, and it turns out that would have been the week of all the Perfect Storm stuff -- the release of the new book, the CD release of the Enchanted Inc. series audiobooks and possibly the price promotion on the digital version of Enchanted, Inc. There's not as much to do with a primarily digital release as for a traditional release, as there's no visiting bookstores, but I do hope to have some promo opportunities. And there's always obsessing over Amazon rankings. Meanwhile, that's also a busy time, holiday-wise. I figured it was a sign when I made one last check and couldn't get the hotel I wanted on those days, and then I felt relieved. I've done a research trip at that time of year, so it wasn't critical, and I think the idea of the trip did its job in inspiring the idea for the book. Actually going wasn't really necessary.

Besides, I'm getting my fill of cold weather right now. There was sleet last night. Today it's just bitter. I went walking briefly yesterday and came back with a numb face. Fortunately, I had an emergency pair of knit gloves in my coat pockets. We seem to have skipped fall entirely and gone straight from summer to winter. But I'm sure fall will be back soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

No Sympathy for the Devil

Winter has arrived here. At least, some cold weather has, and as usual around here, it was very drastic, going from nearly 80 degrees one day to 40 degrees the next. I went from going out in short sleeves one day to having to wear my winter coat on the next day. I think we got a freeze last night -- my outdoor thermometer gave the low as 36, but it's in a sheltered location close to the house. This being Texas, it will probably be in the 70s next week. The good news about a freeze is that it makes hiking a lot safer. We can get off the paths without worrying too much about things lurking in the underbrush. And since it's supposed to be cold all week, there will likely be some serious baking going on. Not today, since I have choir, but tomorrow night's dinner will be chicken pot pie, and I may make apple turnovers because there was a sale on all varieties of apples and I have a bunch I need to use. Ever since the heavens opened and the secrets of pastry appeared to me, I'm looking for excuses to make pastry.

The first review for the upcoming book has come in, and it got five stars (out of five), with some very positive comments. This was from a librarian, so I hope that bodes well. I've been nervous about this book because it's different from my previous series and is a bit of an oddball. Seeing some positive feedback helps.

Meanwhile, I'm developing the next book in this series. I was plotting yesterday, trying to come up with possibilities of things that could happen in each stage, when I suddenly realized that although I knew the things that were going on and what the good guys were doing about them, I didn't know who the villain was or what the villain was trying to achieve.

I guess that says a lot about my mindset. I'm definitely not a "sympathy for the devil" person. I don't generally care about the villains in a story other than as someone for the heroes to push against. I don't care if the villains are charismatic or sexy. I tend to think of the "misunderstood" thing as them just making excuses (it's very, very rare for a villain to truly be totally misunderstood and not actually bad at all), especially since the heroes usually have had just as sad a backstory as the villain but didn't respond by doing bad things. As far as I'm concerned, the perfect villain stirs up trouble for the heroes to deal with in ways that really challenge them to rise to the occasion, but mostly stays offscreen so we don't have to waste any actual story time on him/her. The villain needs just enough character development to make some sense, but I care more about what his/her plans are because of how that affects the heroes.

And I realize this apparently puts me in the minority these days, when even the writers are more excited about their villains than their heroes, the villains get the sympathetic backstories, heroes get torn down to make the villains look better or provide some moral relativism (we're all just gray, no black or white), and the villains have the most vocal fanbases. It's cool to cheer on the villains, to want to be in Slytherin House, to be hypercritical of the heroes. So I'm very, very uncool. But that's okay. I don't think I write very good villains because I can't get into that mindset and I can't make myself care about them or be sympathetic toward them, so it's probably for the best that I keep mine offstage most of the time.

I did figure out who the villain is and what he/she wants. And it's not at all misunderstood or sympathetic. This person may be on stage more than my usual villains because this person is kind of a wolf in sheep's clothing and will really challenge the heroes in personal ways, but I hope no one will come away from this book liking this person or wanting this person to get a happy ending. It's rather amazing how much better the plot started falling together once I knew who the villain was. Duh.

I may one day redeem a villain, but it will require a real redemption arc that puts them through hell first.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Vacation Reading

It's been a while since I talked about books, but I have done some reading recently, so here's a quick roundup:

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn -- YA fantasy
This is a very fairy-tale feeling book, though not based on any actual tale I'm aware of. The heroine and her grandfather live a quiet life on the edge of a forest, with the only excitement coming when various nobles from the court come to visit or when mystical creatures in the woods encounter our heroine. It turns out that the grandfather is actually a former king in exile and that his daughter was one of many young women who went missing in the woods -- but the only one who came back (and came back pregnant). Now the heroine's father is looking for her, and it might give her a chance to get her revenge on the person who destroyed her family.

This book combined a lot of things I love -- fairy tales, dragons, mysterious birthrights and even some of the fae lore. It got a little oppressive at times because of the really tense situation the heroine was in, but I loved the way she handled it. There's a hint of romance that doesn't go quite the way you'd expect. It's very much a magical coming of age book, and while the plot is resolved, there's enough left unanswered or incomplete that I'm wondering if there will be a sequel.

Winterspell by Claire Legrand -- YA fantasy
This is sort of a bizarroland retelling of The Nutcracker. Or perhaps "inspired by" would be a better way of putting it. On Christmas Eve, the statue in her godfather's shop comes to life and carries Clara to a magical land, where it turns out he's a lost prince who was enchanted and exiled, and in his absence an evil fairy has taken over.

I might not have been quite the right audience for this book. I think I'd have eaten it up as a teen because it has all the teen catnip in it, but as an adult I noticed the teen catnip and found it kind of distracting because it sent me off down mental rabbit trails remembering some of the crazy things I found exciting as a teen that boggle the mind now. There's also this weird thing where the evil fairies taking over means the world got more industrialized, with trains and iron and steel everywhere, but iron is supposed to be poison to fairies and they're generally considered to be on the side of nature against industrialization. I suppose since fairies are fictional, that doesn't have to be true for fairies in every fictional universe, but since I've done a lot of research on that, I found it distracting. But if you know a teen who's enough into ballet to recognize the elements of the Nutcracker story and who likes steampunky fantasy adventure with a kickass heroine, this might be something she'd like.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison -- fantasy
When the emperor of the fairy realm and his sons are killed in an airship crash, the unlikely heir to the throne is the son the emperor tried to ignore, the one born to his goblin wife from an ill-fated political marriage. The half-breed boy has grown up in exile (hmm, exile seems to have been a reading theme), hidden away, but now he finds himself the emperor, and woefully underprepared for the job.

I picked this one up because it's had a lot of buzz, but I wasn't expecting to like it too much because it's mostly about political/court intrigue, and I really dislike that sort of thing. But it really grew on me because of the characters. I do like a good unlikely heir story, and it was fun reading about this character as he gradually figured out his role and how to carry it out. By the end, I was cheering for him and caught up in his story. Although there was a lot of court politics, it was all through his perspective, so it was really about survival and figuring out how to maintain his integrity. It ended up being a very feel-good story about a good person rising to an occasion. It wrapped up pretty well, but I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel because I'd like to see more about what this character does.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Small Indulgences

My big accomplishment of the weekend was perfecting my technique for a chocolate pecan pie. My friends approved of it, so now I'm ready for my contribution to Thanksgiving. The final touch to perfecting the pastry came inadvertently, courtesy of the guy doing my annual heater check-up. I was already refrigerating the shortening before cutting it into the flour and refrigerating the dough before rolling it out. This time, I'd just cut the shortening into the flour when the heater guy showed up, so I threw the bowl into the refrigerator until he was gone before I mixed in the water. It turned out to be the lightest, flakiest crust I've ever made, and it cut beautifully. So I'll be adding that step on purpose the next time. We're getting a cold snap this week, so I'm planning on some chicken pot pies.

This has been a really successful year for me, but it's been hard to get out of the mindset I had during the years that weren't so successful. I've been trying to remember that I can indulge a little. So here are the kind of things I've considered indulgences: A new pair of walking shoes that are nice and squishy. Two new pairs of jeans that I got when I went into the Levi's store and let the salesperson help me find the kinds that fit me best (rather than just grabbing something in my size from the clearance rack). A little porcelain creamer so I don't have to try to pour milk from a gallon jug into my teacup. A new backpack for hiking so I don't have to use the backpack from college (it seems modern ones have innovations like an outside pocket for a water bottle and a secure pocket for a phone). Real maple syrup (instead of store brand generic "syrup") for my waffles. Oh, and a vacation.

But I'm trying not to get too crazy because for one thing, taxes are going to kill me this year, and for another, I still need to fix up this house to sell and want to be able to afford exactly what I want in a new house. And I have no idea how next year will go. But for now, I'm letting myself have fun in small ways that make me happier than something like a fancy car would.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Enchanted, Inc.: The Opening

A while ago, I proposed doing a kind of DVD commentary/re-read of the Enchanted, Inc. series. And then I promptly forgot about it or got sidetracked. But I actually went through the first couple of chapters yesterday, so here we go!

I wrote the opening line around the time I started plotting -- and a lot of that work was done in an airplane on the way to a meetup of Firefly fans. We were gathering in Wildwood, NJ, and my plan was to get a ride afterward to Philadelphia and take the train from there to New York so I could do my research. There ended up being a couple of people who'd driven down from New York, so they gave me a ride and dropped me off in Queens, where I could catch a train (it's elevated in Queens but becomes the subway in Manhattan) to my hotel. On that train ride, at one point the connecting door between cars opened and an entire mariachi band came onto the car and started playing -- and no one else on the car so much as looked at them. They were kind of hard to ignore, but you'd have thought they were invisible. I've since learned that these kinds of buskers are common and the best strategy is to ignore them because giving them any attention just makes things uncomfortable, but at the time, it struck me as really odd. I felt like I was the only person on the train who could see them. And that inspired the incident on the subway in the opening chapter. I figured that if something real and odd happened and nobody else noticed it, then it would set the stage for something magical and odd happening and no one else noticing. That way we don't think Katie's incredibly dense for not noticing the magic stuff.

A lot of that trip was going around and finding locations for the story. I knew I wanted Katie to be working in lower Manhattan, so I took the subway down there and wandered around until I found an appropriately soulless office tower. Then I walked back to where her home would be so I could time the walk and take note of what she'd pass along the way. In the first draft, that section was a lot more detailed because I wanted to fit in all those observations, but ended up cutting it because, really, it was just walking home from work and we needed to get on with the story.

I'd been in that area before, which was why I'd chosen it for the setting, but since I hadn't been planning on writing a book set there the last time I'd been there, there were a lot of details I hadn't noticed. I'd originally planned for Sam to be one of the gargoyles at Grace Church, which is so very gothic-looking that it must have gargoyles, but when I stopped by there to see what the gargoyles looked like, I discovered that there weren't any. Oops. But then I had the big "duh" moment and realized that there would be gargoyles only Katie would see. There really is a magic shop around the corner from the church, and since I was there in late September, there was also a Halloween costume shop nearby.

The recruitment e-mail was the idea that sparked the whole story, when I was wishing I'd get an e-mail for a magical job offer, but I tried to play it somewhat realistically in the book. Would you really jump at such a vague overture, or would you be leery of it? So I then had to set up a situation so awful that she'd end up taking the bait. Sadly, that miserable meeting wasn't too far from so many I've sat through, and the evil boss Mimi is based on some people I've worked with -- a client and a co-worker. Both people had a bad habit of changing their minds and then rewriting their mental history so that the new thing they wanted was always what they wanted, and therefore when you gave them exactly what they'd asked for earlier, you were doing it wrong.

All the stuff with the roommates and going out for drinks came from me trying to hew close to the line of the chick-lit genre. In a way, I was writing this as a spoof, but I also wanted it to be a good example of the genre itself. I needed to balance the magic stuff with the normal girl-in-the-city stuff, so I gave her friends who allowed for those chick-litty scenes. That was also part of me trying to be somewhat realistic and grounding the "real" part of the story to contrast with the magic. The company I'd worked for had an office in New York, and I'd heard the people from that office talking about their living situations. I based the idea of these three women crammed into a small apartment on what I heard about the life of 20-something professionals in New York. I even tried to do some research on rents and floorplans to make sure it was somewhat feasible. Actually, this sounds pretty luxurious compared to some of the stories I heard. I think the group of roommates was also somewhat inspired by some people I knew in college. There was a group of people a year ahead of me in the journalism program who'd decided that if they didn't go to New York right after college, they might never do so, so as graduation neared, they were hunting for jobs and apartments. There were four of them, and they were all going to cram into a small apartment, using sofabeds so that the living room would also be a bedroom. That's where I got the group from college in Texas going to New York together.

So, that's where some of the stuff in the opening of the book came from.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

New Cover, Old Computer

I'm afraid the old computer really is close to dead. It's really weird what's happening. It starts (slowly) and I can open applications, but the Finder (it's a Mac) doesn't launch. There's no Finder bar across the top, and there's no little light on under that icon in the Dashboard. I've been able to save files within applications onto a thumb drive by opening each file and doing "save as," but I can't open Finder windows and just drag things across. I can get the Apple menu icon for stuff like restart, Force Quit and Shut Down from within an application, but if no application is up, I can't. I ran the hardware test diagnostic disk, and it says all the hardware is okay, but then I ran the disk repair utility from the install disk, and it quit out of the assessment and then quit out of the disk repair. I tried reinstalling the OS, but it quit out of that. I might be able to just reformat the hard drive and salvage the machine somewhat, but I'm not sure it's worth it at this point because there's a lot of stuff I'd have to reinstall to return it to its usual functions, and then I'm not sure how much I'd really trust it. I wrote on it because I liked that version of Word and because it wasn't connected to the Internet. That generally meant I had a computer downstairs and one upstairs and didn't have to haul one around if I wanted to write elsewhere. And I could plug it into the stereo and use it as a jukebox when I was cooking or working in the living room. It was handy for dealing with copyedits because I could have the copyeditor's version on one computer and my version on the other.

But I can replace the jukebox function by getting a tablet (which I've been saying I wanted to do for a while) or by replacing my phone. I have a four-year-old Sony/Ericsson Android phone that I kind of loathe. I think I'm too much of a Mac person to really be able to deal with Android, so if I get an iPhone, I could sync that with the iTunes on my computer and then use the phone as a music player that plugs into my stereo (it even has a dock, though I think I'd need an adaptor because it's for older iPhones/Pods) or to my car. With a tablet, I could have similar jukebox capability in syncing iTunes from my computer, and then I'd also finally have true e-reader capability. This is when I have to remind myself that I have money now. I can indulge a little bit.

Meanwhile, there's been book stuff going on. When I went to Amazon to check on the new book being there and ready for pre-order, I discovered this. I'd been holding off on revealing the cover because I didn't know how final/official it was, but if it's ready for pre-order, I guess it's official. I am so madly in love with this cover.

Ooh, and A Fairy Tale is already on an Amazon bestseller list, at #61 for Women's Fiction--Fantasy. In case you haven't followed the link, here's the cover, with art by the brilliant Kirbi Fagan.

Expect to hear a lot more about this book in the coming month.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Promotion in the Social Media Era

I was asked by a reader to discuss book promotion, and since that's the phase I've got gearing up, I thought it would be a good topic for today's writing post.

I have to say that this is one area that's constantly changing. My day job career was in public relations, and that world has changed almost entirely since I left twelve years ago. Back then, it was all about the traditional media and possibly their Internet presence. Now the traditional media are on a downswing and social media is the current emphasis.

But one thing remains true: the best way to promote something is to find ways to reach the people most likely to be interested in it. That means you need to figure out your target market and then figure out how to reach them. For the kind of publicity you can do yourself for a book (unless you have a huge budget), reaching the market of "readers" is too big a task. You need to slice that up a bit. For example, I generally think of the target audience for my books to be primarily women who like fantasy, romance or mystery and who have a hard time finding books to read because they don't like a lot of sex or dark grittiness. There are certainly other people who would like my books, but I think this group is the most likely to glom on to them.

The next step is reaching them. I go to a lot of science fiction conventions because that's a good place to find readers who like fantasy (one section of my readership), and I find that there's a lot of crossover with romance and mystery among those readers. People who go to conventions are obviously passionate about their interests, and they're social about it, since they're connecting with others. That means they're likely connected away from conventions, so they're probably talking about books elsewhere. I don't ever directly sell enough books at a convention to cover my cost of attending, but I figure there's a multiplier effect if the people who discover me at a convention go on to talk about my books away from the convention, either online or in person. This doesn't necessarily directly hit that more narrow slice of "not finding the books I want because I want something without a lot of sex or gore" group, but there's a good chance they'll be in the greater audience, and once those people find something they like, they get really excited about it and share it with other people they know.

Reaching people via social media can be a challenge because there's so much noise out there. I blog and use Facebook but haven't yet delved into Twitter because I find it overwhelming. What I think is more effective than an author presence on social media is getting readers who have a presence there to talk about your book. Really, the best way to do that is to write something people want to talk about, but even so, people have to discover it. With my self-published books, I've been using NetGalley. There's some cost to this, but it ends up being a fairly easy way to get copies in the hands of reviewers and people who talk about books on social media.

I'm very picky and targeted about selecting who gets copies, though. I've found that way too many reviewers/bloggers don't give the info I need to help me make a decision, or they give the wrong info. A lot of the people will go on and on in their profile about how much they love books, what their favorite reading day is like, etc., without telling anything about what giving them a copy will do for me. It's great that you love to read, but I'm passing out galleys for publicity purposes, not to support someone's reading habit. So I look for someone who has a blog or who contributes to one. I check the blog to see how frequently it's been updated. If there's a book review at least once a week, that looks good. If the last posted review was from six months ago, I generally stop considering. I like it when they list their various social media outlets and what their readership is likely to be -- average daily/weekly/monthly page hits, number of friends or followers, etc. Once I have a sense of how legitimate this person is, I look at the targeting -- does the reviewer cover other books that might appeal to the same people who might like mine? Someone who writes about gardening books or whose reviews are all for erotica probably isn't a good fit.

In addition to reviews, I might look around for places that would like me to do guest posts or interviews. I'm probably not as aggressive about this kind of thing as I need to be, but I'm fortunate to be in a position where people often come to me.

Really, all of publicity is more of a marathon than a sprint. It's about building relationships over time. It's about word of mouth spreading from reader to reader. The most an author can do is make sure enough readers have heard about it so they can talk about it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

RIP my Old Computer (maybe)

I feel like I got back in the swing of things yesterday. I even accomplished everything on my to-do list, including housework. I still have some things to wrap up, including the author publicity questionnaire for the new publisher, which is pretty extensive. It feels like an employment application for a job with a high security clearance. I was having to dig around to find the names of all my foreign publishers because they want complete info on all my past books. I still have some work to do on that because I need to dig up review quotes from those books and articles that have been written about me in the past. They're compiling a dossier on me!

Then I need to start going into PR mode on the new books. And start writing another new book. That may be a pain because my old computer seems to have died. It was only ten years old, so I don't know what the problem could be. I just wrote on that one and used it as a kind of jukebox, so it's more of an inconvenience than a panic situation. I do have the system discs for it, so there are a few things I may be able to try to coax it back into life. There are a couple of files I want to grab. Everything important was backed up to the main computer, but there were a few things where I jotted down some information that I'm not sure got transferred, and I created a few playlists that aren't on the main computer. Mostly, it's just nice to not have to disconnect and haul one computer around the house. I can keep one off the Internet entirely for fewer distractions. This may spur me to finally get an iPod or even upgrade my phone to an iPhone (probably not the new one, but one of the previous generation phones that's now cheap) so that I can also use that as a music player to plug into the stereo.

Speaking of new book, it's now available for pre-order. Here's the Kindle version.  I suppose that also counts as a cover reveal if you follow the link. I'll do an official reveal later this week. It's also available for pre-order at the Apple store, but I think you have to go within their app rather than having a regular link.

So, I guess this is a real thing now and I have to let people actually read it. I've been working on this book since 2009, so it's been a long time in development.

Monday, November 03, 2014

What I Did on My Vacation

I'm back from vacation, and I did actually manage a restful, relaxing time so that I came home refreshed and almost eager to dive back into work. Now that I'm home, I can reveal that I went to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

But first, I spent some time getting into vacation mode at home and getting ready. I got out the sewing machine I got for Christmas and did some sewing because I thought engaging in other forms of creativity would be a good mental change of pace. I used to sew when I was a kid and even had my own machine, but I haven't done anything but hand work in years. I decided to start with something simple and made a nightgown. I've been looking for a long, long-sleeved gown that wasn't flannel. During the transitional times of year, I want something covering but not heavy. But I can't seem to find anything like that. I even had trouble finding a pattern that was what I wanted. Where I finally found it was in the costume section, so now I suppose I have an Official Gothic Novel Heroine nightgown -- a white, floaty thing. If I ever need to flee a spooky castle in the middle of the night, I will have the right thing to wear. It turned out to be very comfortable for sleeping and lounging around, just the right weight for the weather.

Sunday I did something wild and crazy and went to Starbucks (or as the people at church call it, St. Arbuck's) between services with some of the other people in the ensemble I sang with. Usually I hide in the choir room, drink tea and read the newspaper, but I was social for a change.

After a couple of days of shopping (new tires, new jeans) and preparation, I hit the road on Wednesday. It turned out to be a longer drive than I anticipated, the kind where it takes all day to get there and you're tired when you arrive, so I don't know if this will go on my list of relaxing getaways, but there was nice scenery, especially once I got off the freeway and headed into the mountains. I was hoping for more fall color, but even as I got into the foothills of the mountains, it was mostly green with some bits of red and yellow. I had a hotel on a nearby lake, with a lakeview room with balcony, and one of the first things I did when I arrived was get some takeout catfish and eat dinner while looking at the lake. I was facing east, so I got up the next morning hoping to see the sun rise over the lake. Instead, everything was wrapped up in fog. I sat on the balcony with some hot tea and watched the fog lift as the sun rose higher.

After the fog was gone, I went into Hot Springs itself, did a stroll down Bathhouse Row to the visitor center to get a hiking trail map, and then I drove part of the way up Hot Springs Mountain to a trailhead and spent a few hours hiking around the mountain. There were some great trails that were rather strenuous, but at the top the views were lovely. It's only a "mountain" for this part of the world and people from Colorado would point and laugh, but it's more elevation than I'm used to hiking. I don't have a camera that really enables selfies, but here's my attempt at getting a picture of me near the top of the mountain with the view behind me.

Then I went back to my hotel and collapsed. Friday, there were several things I'd thought about doing, but I was tired and a bit sore, and I didn't really want to drive anywhere. So, I took advantage of that balcony and just sat and looked at the lake and read. This was the view from my balcony, so you can see why I enjoyed just sitting there all day.

And then on Saturday I made the drive home, just in time to change gears entirely and go to a Halloween party. If only I'd had that little blue box for travel. It would cut out all that tedious driving.

Now to get back to work. I've got a lot of business stuff to deal with, and then I need to start work on a new book.