Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 In Review

I got my page proofs done, so today is pretty much going to be a holiday for me. I want to do some housework so I can relax tomorrow and as part of my ongoing goal of getting the house ready to show and sell.

Looking back, 2014 was a really good year for me. I didn't have a new release until the end of the year, but this was my first year that I earned more as a novelist than I did in my best year with a full-time job, even when I take business expenses, health insurance and self-employment taxes into consideration. A lot of that was due to audiobooks, which were very successful for me. And unless things totally tank in a surprising way, next year should be even better, since I'll have the income from one new release, two more books in that series and my major publisher hardcover debut (my first three books were hardcover, but were from a very small press). So, yeah, ten years after getting my career truly started, I'm achieving some success.

I didn't do perhaps as much writing as I would have liked last year, as the one book I finished was started the year before, but I got a book ready for publication and finished a book while also going through a number of rounds of revision, copy edits and page proofs on another book. In 2015 I want to finish the third book of the Fairy Tale series, the second book in the steampunk series and at least one more book to be determined later. That will take a lot more self discipline than I've had lately, especially since I do hope to be moving during the year and have a major publisher release that will require publicity.

I didn't see enough movies to really have a best of the year, but Into the Woods would top the list. My favorite new TV series was Forever.

My reading was down a lot for the year, falling short of my 100-book goal, but a number of the books I read were really, really long. My favorite series discovery was the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. My "author new to me" discovery of the year was Sherwood Smith. I started on two of her series, and I still have what seems to be her major one waiting for me. That will likely be my January reading. It's hard to say what my favorite book of the year was. When I look back at my reading log, there's no one book that jumps out at me in an obvious way.

In addition to finances, I guess this was a pretty good year in general. I seem to have got over my singing in public stage fright (I hope it hasn't redeveloped, as long as I've gone without solo or ensemble work). I had no major health issues. I took my first real vacation in forever.

For next year, I could stand to be more fit. I hope that moving will help me with organization by giving me a fresh start and a clean slate. I can make sure everything has a place to start with and try to create new habits to put things in those places. And I need to spend more time writing, as always.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Into the Woods

Today is having to be a kind of work day because I have to go over some page proofs, so I may as well follow my workday routine and make a blog post.

I had a good Christmas. It was pretty quiet, just spending time with my parents and the usual napping, eating and reading. I suppose that doing some work today will be good for me because it will help me transition back into a really busy schedule starting next week.

I did let myself have some holiday time yesterday to go see Into the Woods. I'm a big fan of the stage show, and I liked the movie. There were some changes I wasn't crazy about and the singing is a wee bit overproduced (but hey, at least it's on pitch), but there were also elements I liked better than in other productions I've seen. I was particularly pleased by Emily Blunt's take on the Baker's Wife. She's often played as kind of a shrewish nag, but this version was merely a flawed human who had her sympathetic moments. She made some mistakes and sometimes behaved selfishly, but you could also see where she was coming from, and her relationship with her husband seemed quite solid and loving (their version of "It Takes Two" may have been one of my favorite moments in the movie).

But what really stole the show was the way "Agony" was performed. The audience was laughing out loud. It's a funny song, but the visuals were hilarious.

I'll be getting this one on Blu Ray when it comes out. Then I may have to do a double feature with the DVD of the original cast of the stage production.

I'll have to do a year in review post tomorrow because I'll need to look back at what I read this year.

I know that at least the first half of this coming year will be busy since I really want to sell this house and buy a new one and get moved as soon as possible, and that means getting a lot of work done on the house within the next few weeks, all while dealing with page proofs and copyedits and trying to write a book. Then there will be moving and getting settled in. And then I want to get two more books written. This will take a lot of self discipline.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas Eve!

Before I get caught up in all the holiday prep stuff, here are some fun Christmas treats.

First, the Minions go Christmas caroling. I really need some Minions. I think I need to add "underground lair" to my new house wish list.

Then a classic from the Muppets:

And finally, a look at downtown Grapevine, the self-proclaimed Christmas Capital of Texas. They kind of like lights. (It was hard to avoid the lens flare)

Now to finish making a pie, wrap some gifts and try to get some rest before tonight's two services.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Holiday Countdown

I have reached the point of "hey, tomorrow's Christmas Eve, when did that happen?" in which I realize that anything I had planned to do this holiday season and haven't done probably isn't going to happen. But that's okay. I've done enough.

I had yet another failure on the holiday-set book front. There was some buildup to it being the Christmas season, then Christmas itself was skipped over, then there was a nice New Year's Eve scene, and that was the middle of the book, with the rest going on to span the first half of the year. It's tricky finding a book that's set around Christmas and has enough imagery to get me in the mood but that isn't so specifically a Christmas book. Really, the only objection I have to the specifically "Christmas" books is that most of them are very genre romances (you don't see a lot of "Christmas" books in other genres). I'm looking for more of a book that happens to be set around Christmas. I just lucked out the first time I did this because I hadn't even planned it to be Christmas-themed reading. I was just giving myself time out with a book, and it was a bonus that it turned out to be very Christmassy (there was nothing on the cover to indicate the seasonal setting). That was so nice that I've tried to do it again, without much success.

I am thinking that I need to novelize that Christmas movie screenplay I wrote last year and put it out as an e-book next year.

Instead of some of my other traditions, I've started taking walks around the neighborhood in the late afternoon, when it's not dark yet but it's not full-on sun and some of the Christmas lights have come on. I'm killing multiple birds with one stone. I'm exploring parts of the neighborhood as part of my preliminary house hunting, deciding what areas I like, checking out indications like what cars are parked outside, where there are noisy dogs, where people are out and friendly, etc., plus getting a better look at houses than I can while driving by. I'm getting exercise. And I'm looking at Christmas decorations. I think I've now wandered through all the places where I've seen listings online.

Looking at these listings is fun. I've been focusing on my neighborhood, where I really want to stay, but just out of curiosity, the other day I checked out the nearby town where my church is. The houses there in my price range are much older, but it was the way the listings were presented that was very different. For the houses in my neighborhood, the photos are very staged -- there may be furniture in the rooms, but all other signs of human habitation are out of sight. In this other town, there were listing photos where it looked like the Realtor just showed up out of the blue and started snapping photos -- there were toys on the floor, piles of laundry, stuff all over the countertops.

I'll have to do a lot of decluttering and cleaning to even get to the point where you could take a photo where it looks like a showroom, even if all the clutter is just temporarily hidden for photo-taking purposes.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Movies

The publishing tradition of making sure authors work over the holidays continues. I just found out I'm getting another set of page proofs this week, and they'd really like my comments by January 5. I don't think I've ever had a major publisher book that didn't require me to do something right around Christmas. That may be because I tend to have summer books, which makes me fall into that slot in the schedule. Funny, I was just thinking about one of the changes made in the last round this morning and wondering how it would be handled. I'm just lucky I get to see how it's handled before it's finalized, so I guess I won't complain too much about working during the holidays. I'll probably save this for that low point on the day after New Year's Day when it doesn't feel like a regular day but it's not a holiday anymore.

But in the meantime, there are cheesy movies to binge on. Here are some of the ones I've watched this year (most of which aren't actually new). I'm going to have to add a blanket disclaimer that I am not making any of this up. These are all real movies that I'm pretty sure I didn't dream.

I kicked off the movie watching season the Saturday after Thanksgiving with a double feature on the UP channel, which is new to me. It seems to be aiming for wholesome, uplifting programming. They had two British movies from a few years ago that they were treating as premieres, and I watched mostly because the listed cast members boggled the mind. The first was called Nativity!
and starred Martin Freeman (after The Office, Hitchhiker's Guide and Love Actually but before Sherlock and The Hobbit) as a teacher in what was apparently the loser school in Coventry who gets stuck directing the school's Nativity pageant and who dreads it because his former drama school rival is the director at the school across town and apparently puts on a good enough show that it gets reviewed in the Times. When he runs into his former rival, he panics in a game of one-upmanship and suggests that his former girlfriend, who went off to Hollywood to become a movie producer, may be coming to see the show, and who knows where that could lead. Things spiral out of control when his idiot manchild teaching assistant (the headmistress's nephew) overhears it and tells everyone. It was actually a fairly cute, if wildly improbable, story.

But then there's the sequel, Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger in which they've had trouble replacing Martin Freeman's character because of the idiot assistant (apparently he was the breakout character, or else the actor is related to whoever funded these movies). The newest teacher hired is David Tennant (post-Doctor Who, which makes you wonder if he made the right decision to leave). The idiot assistant wants to enter the kids in a Christmas song contest, and when the teacher won't sign off on it, he kidnaps the teacher and hauls him along with the busload of kids to head to Wales for the contest. Also entered in the contest are the cross-town rival from the previous movie and David Tennant's evil twin, a renowned choral director and composer. Of course, the trip goes horribly wrong with all kinds of obstacles in the way, but there are some fun visuals of a bunch of kids in Christmas pageant costumes hiking across Wales. This one was more of a live-action cartoon, the kind of thing the Disney Channel used to do, and David Tennant payed the typical adult role for that kind of thing, doing a lot of outraged sputtering until he learned a Valuable Lesson about being an idiot, or something.

Then the Hallmark Channel gave us a Texas-style offering, a movie called something like Angels Sing, set in Austin, apparently filmed in Austin (it looked real to me) and involving a lot of Austin people. Harry Connick Jr. is a professor (presumably at UT) who desperately needs to find a house before Christmas, but is hampered by the Austin real estate situation (very accurate). Then he runs across a mysterious old man (Willie Nelson) who's willing to sell an incredible mansion to him for much less than it's worth, but under the condition that he keep up with neighborhood standards. He finds out what those standards are when his neighbor (Lyle Lovett) shows up with a box of lights and offers to help him decorate. It turns out that this is the street in town that's famous for its holiday displays. One problem: Harry hates Christmas. This sounds like the setup for a comedy, but it's a sob story involving lots of death and tragedy, mixed in with the absurdity of Willie Nelson, who is either Santa or an angel, or maybe both, giving Harry advice on faith and hope. I kept watching mostly because Willie leaves a grand piano in the house as a gift when he moves, and Harry Connick Jr. is the star of the movie, so you know what's coming, except Chekhov's Piano is never played.

Another fun Hallmark offering was It's Christmas, Carol, which is your basic Scrooge story, with our Scrooge being an uptight female publishing executive who makes her staff work on Christmas (I'd have believed it if it had been authors, but the publishing business loves their holidays for themselves) and fires someone on Christmas Eve. She gets the ghost treatment, courtesy of her former boss, Carrie Fisher, who gets to be all three ghosts, plus Marley. I had to forget everything I know about publishing to watch, but it was fun watching Carrie Fisher be super-snarky and have fun with the role. I have come to the conclusion that there's a good reason Dickens didn't make the original story a romance because it's hard to build a romance around a Scrooge character. The transformation can't happen until just before the ending, which makes it hard to believe anyone could have fallen in love with this person before the ending. In this case, it was an old boyfriend, but he seemed kind of pathetic for not having gotten over her in ten years and then instantly getting back with her after so long when she spent all that time being a raging bitch, just because she shows up on Christmas morning with an apology.

I don't know how many more I'll manage to fit in between now and Christmas. I did my annual viewing of The Holiday last night, and I want to hit either Gremlins or the Muppet Christmas Carol this year.

Friday, December 19, 2014


I had things I was planning to discuss today, but I got a very late start this morning and am rather distracted because as of this morning, I've cracked the Amazon top 100 in Kindle books (and am at the top of two category bestseller lists).

No, not with the new book, but with Enchanted, Inc., the nearly ten-year-old book. Random House dropped the price and did a BookBub ad. Last night, the ranking was in the top 150, and I stayed up very late to see what happened because I figured that night would be the peak, and then I got up this morning and it was at 99.

The rest of the books are rising, as well. It's kind of nice to essentially have my old publisher marketing the rest of my books for me.

I think this is the highest I've made it on any list, so it's worthy of celebration. I slept late (after being up so late) and then made sour cream and raisin scones (essentially Irish soda bread in scone form) for breakfast. I think today will be my "office party," which amounts to a day spent reading and drinking tea while I enjoy my Christmas decorations. I can even get to the chaise on the loft now that I've hauled three bags of books to the library to donate to the Friends of the Library book sale and boxed up some books I want to keep that don't currently fit on the available bookcases.

Tonight it may be time to dig into the Christmas movies that are available OnDemand. I had planned a discussion of the ones I've watched so far, but I may write that up over the weekend and post next week.

Now to enjoy my momentary status as a "bestselling" author.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Getting in the Spirit

I woke up thinking it was Friday. But it isn't. My brain is sadly confused. Not that Fridays make much of a difference for me, but there's still something about a Friday that is magical, so it's disappointing when it isn't one.

I always start the holiday season with a list of things I want to do for fun -- places to go, things to see. And I seldom do any of them. I'd considered making this a grand day out, to take the train to either downtown Dallas or downtown Fort Worth and do a Christmastime in the city kind of thing. But I wrenched my bad knee while making my bed yesterday (see, housework is bad for you), and while I can walk just fine today, I don't know that lots of walking would be the best idea ever. I may just go grocery shopping and hit the library. Whee! But I think tomorrow may be my Reading a Holiday-Set Book day. I have one I've put aside that I started reading this summer and then realized was set in December. I'll be really annoyed if it ends up entirely skipping over Christmas. There should be warning labels.

Saturday, I do have Christmas-related plans to look at lights and see the town that goes insane for Christmas. Then I have plans to spend Tuesday evening with my annual movie marathon, and two services Christmas Eve night. As I get older, that becomes more what's important to me at Christmas, with the gifts becoming more of an afterthought. I've even mentioned to my parents that instead of buying each other stuff, we could do the Angel Tree kind of thing, then write up what we bought for a kid and put that in a box and wrap it to open on Christmas. I think it would be more fun reading about what toys some kid got than actually getting something.

Though I might feel differently next year when I'm not in the process of streamlining my possessions before I move. I may need more things then and have places to put them. Right now, I can't fit anything else in my house and need to get rid of things.

For now, though, I think I need to clear my head and get into the spirit of things.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Scent Memories

It never fails -- anytime there's a big holiday, I will get something back from some editor or my agent. This time, it was copyedits on book 2 of the Fairy Tale series. I understand why that happens -- these people want to clear their desks of pending projects before the holidays. That just means that I get a project on my desk right at the holidays. At least this time I control the timeline and I don't have to deal with it until later if I don't want to. Too many times with editors I get the edits right before the holidays and the editor would like my revisions back right after. I haven't looked at these edits, but the editor said I didn't leave much for her to do, so I doubt it will be a lot of work, and I'm not really in detail-oriented mode right now, so I think I'll get on this after the holidays. My agent's office is closed now anyway, and I doubt they'd get right to formatting the book the moment the office reopens. Still, this means there's a good chance we could get book 2 out in the March timeframe. It depends on how long it takes Audible and if Suzy the narrator is booked up or free, since we like to get the electronic, print and audio versions all out at once.

Yesterday's "I can't focus my brain, so I'll do something else productive" project was sorting through and organizing my bathroom junk drawers. These are essentially horizontal medicine cabinets (as I don't have the vertical kind) that started out as places to store toiletries and makeup out of sight but that mutated to become catchall repositories while the toiletries and makeup sit on the counter. I ended up throwing out an entire shopping bag full of random stuff that had expired or evaporated. I still have an entire small Amazon box of skin-care products (lotion, soap, scrubs, bath gel, etc.) and a similar box full of hair-care products -- and that's just the sample/hotel sizes for the hair stuff. Then there's the drawer full of sample-sized toothpaste and dental floss, courtesy of my dentist. I will not need to buy any toiletries for the time being. One thing that I hope doesn't become useful is having sorted and organized my medicine drawer, so that if I come down with a cold or the flu, I won't have to scrounge through three drawers to find that one remaining capsule of Nyquil that might still be floating around in its blister pack. Everything is well-stocked and together, so if I need something, I can go right to it. This should prevent any illness for this winter (since I seem more likely to get sick when I'm out of tissues and cold medicine).

It seems the theme for this winter will be "spa day." I'll have lovely skin after using up all these lotions, and some of them smell nice, too. Speaking of smell, I also found a small bottle of the perfume I wore when I was in my last year or so of college and then right out of college. In college, I wore the drugstore knockoff version, but when I finished writing my first book, my mom bought me the real thing, and I guess it was a gift pack with this small vial as the bonus. It still smells the same, so it hasn't gone off (though it may be much stronger). It's not a bad smell, but it's so not me anymore. I wonder if it ever was me or if that was who I was trying to be. Or it may just be a product of its time. Just for nostalgia, I couldn't resist putting some on. And then an hour or so later I was scrubbing my wrists with rubbing alcohol and then unscented lotion. I guess some rubbed off on the sleeve of the sweater I was wearing because I can still smell it. Or else it was so strong that it's still slightly on my skin after the alcohol and lotion, a dance class, a shower, and a night's sleep. If it was that strong back in the day, I apologize to anyone I came within 20 feet of in the early 90s because I probably assaulted you with Giorgio Red. (Funny, I thought of it as a huge splurge then, but it seems to be available at Wal-Mart now.)

I barely wear perfume at all now because most of the time when I'm going out, it's for choir stuff, and they ask us not to wear perfume for rehearsal or performance because it can affect people's breathing, and I know that someone who usually sits behind me is particularly sensitive.

I really should force myself to go through my closet because I still have clothes from that era that are probably just as ill-suited to the person I am now, whether or not they still fit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Great Rage-Induced Tea Purge

Yesterday was spectacularly unproductive, work-wise, but I did get my kitchen mostly cleaned, managed to get the old wax out of some glass candleholders, and purged the tea cabinet. When people know you like tea, you tend to get a lot of tea as gifts, in gift baskets and the like. But that tends to be flavored and herbal stuff, and I mostly like tea-flavored tea or spiced chai, so the fancier stuff sits in the cabinet. I finally threw out boxes of blackberry and chamomile herbal tea with "best enjoyed by" labels in the early 90s. I think I got them as part of a college graduation gift, along with some other tea accessories and a book on tea. This means I've moved them twice since the expiration date (not that I've drunk any in all that time). Who knows what else I'll find when I delve into the cabinets. I'm going ahead and boxing up some of the seldom-used glassware, like vases and candleholders, just to get them out of the way.

Oddly, as big of a hassle as moving can be, I'm kind of looking forward to the process because it will be a chance for a fresh start and maybe I'll be able to start in a new place with some systems established for keeping things more in order after doing a good purge. I think that's part of my current problem -- I'm so used to moving every few years and using that as an opportunity to purge and re-set that I never thought of how that works when you live in the same place for as long as I have. This move's going to be different, though, because it's not just a case of finding a new place and then moving since I have to sell this place, and that means having it ready to show to potential buyers, so I can't just purge and pack, unless I somehow manage to find a new place and move and then get the old house ready to sell. I may just pay off the balance of the old mortgage so that it becomes no longer an issue in getting a new one.

This is my last week of "normal" extracurricular activities, with dance and choir (but not children's choir), so the holidays are about to begin, and I really do want to give myself some "holiday" time. I've started watching the Christmas movies (look for a post on that soon) and I've got what I hope will be a good Christmas-set book ready to read. I just hope it's not another case of the first few chapters taking place during the lead up to Christmas, and then it abruptly skips ahead to mid-January (I hate it when books do that, and it happens way too often).

I think some of yesterday's cleaning frenzy was spurred by my intense rage at the mid-season finale of Once Upon a Time, which had some of the worst execution I think I've ever seen committed by so-called professionals. It wasn't the actual events that were sheer shark-jumpage, but rather the way they were written, with terrible pacing, no emotional payoff, and the failure of Chekhov's entire arsenal. Not every gun has to eventually be fired if you're using one as a misdirect, but at least one should be, and all of them should be if they do relate directly to the plot. In this case, it was a whole bunch of things that were set up and that ended up not mattering at all. Then there was a massive logical leap that I can't figure out how they got from A to B with the information they had available. Any editor I've ever worked with would have sent that back with some massive questions about how all that worked. It was so frustrating because the setup was interesting and they totally fumbled the payoff. The post-finale interviews the writers have been giving show that they don't even see what was wrong. Maybe I should write up a detailed critique and send it to someone because boy, do they need help.

Meanwhile, once I finish the hat I'm knitting, I will be taking a break from hats. Our church was trying to get enough stocking caps to pass out to everyone at the homeless shelter on Christmas morning, and I hear we passed the goal. This is the last week to turn them in. I'm working on #11. Someone said we're doing it again next year, so I can start earlier and spread them out. I like the pattern I've been using (it has cables. I like cables), and it makes a good portable project, but I'm ready to do something else. I've got the yarn for a lace shawl I want to make.

And that's the exciting life of a Very Important Author-Type Person.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Decoration Failure

The 99 cent price for the e-book of Enchanted, Inc. has now made it into the system. I would guess that if you're reading this, you've probably already read it, but in case you wanted a chance to encourage someone else to try it or in case you now have a tablet or e-reader and wanted to get a cheap copy to have with you at all times, it's there until the day after Christmas. We've also matched that price for the non-North American English e-book edition, so anyone in the world who reads English can get the same price (subject to local taxes, fees, etc.).

I made it through my crazy weekend of parties and choir events. Now I'm rather dead tired. But my shopping is done, most of the obligations other than one choir rehearsal and Christmas Eve services are done, and I can do the fun stuff. I did have a bit of decor failure, though. When I got my second apartment out of college, it had a fireplace, so for Christmas I wrapped some pine-ish garland in little white lights and a long strand of pearl-like beads to put on the mantel. This garland moved with me to the next apartment and to the current house. The current mantel is really narrow and doesn't have a projecting shelf, and it's really long, so instead of draping, I just put the garland on top of the mantel until I got the clever idea of getting some of those Command hooks with the temporary adhesive and hanging it that way, which worked. Until this year. The adhesive failed on a couple of hooks, and the garland came crashing down, but I was out of adhesive strips, so I took it all down until I got more and put the hooks back up. Then the lights didn't work when I plugged them back in. I found another set of lights on the old little Christmas tree I'm not using this year. They didn't work. I took a set of lights that I'd had hanging in my office. They were dead. And to top it all off, the new adhesive failed and the garland without lights came crashing down. So for the first time since I've had a fireplace, there will be no garland on it this year. I just have a row of the frosted glass globes from the old ceiling fan with electric tealights inside. I don't want to buy new lights since I'm planning on this being my last Christmas in this house and I don't know what the new setup will be. I might want to get wild and crazy and change my decor. Although all of these lights were pretty old, it was getting weird that every single strand has failed. I took it as a sign. And, yes, the outlet does work. Other things plugged into that outlet work, and the lights don't work when plugged into other outlets. I've also gone down the strand, making sure each bulb was fully inserted and that none of them had come loose.

So, now that the busy is over, I need to get my house in some kind of order (my kitchen looks like a war zone after weekend baking), do some writing, start doing some more work toward preparing to put the house on the market, and make time to let myself enjoy the holiday season. One thing I've noticed that I seem to have stockpiled is bath-type products -- I get gels, lotions, scrubs, etc., as gifts, when I stay at hotels and when I need a little pick-me-up (when I had no money, a sample size toiletry item was my chosen form of cheap self indulgence). And then I barely use them or think I'll save them for a special occasion that never comes. So I may give myself an epic spa week to help clear out the bathroom cabinets.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Enchanted, Inc. -- Chapters 5 and 6

In talking about choir yesterday, I forgot to mention that just as I'd started wishing for more performance opportunities, there was a request for backstage backup singers for the youth musical this spring. Our church puts on a Broadway-style musical that's open to participation throughout the community (our people run it and it's in our performance space, but anyone can try out, whether or not they attend the church), and this year they're doing Mary Poppins. There was a bit of a hiatus for the past few years, so this is a rebuilding year and the cast is perhaps not as strong as they'd like (a lot of junior high kids), so for some numbers they'll want some of the adult choir members singing the chorus part backstage to give it a little more oomph, especially for the parts where the kids onstage will be dancing. That could be fun. They've said there will be minimal rehearsal time for the adults, just enough to learn the music, and then probably a dress rehearsal and the performances. It sort of fits into my dream of performing in musical theater, but without the time commitment, and I imagine I can spend a lot of time just sitting backstage and knitting. And since I have a YA book coming out soon, something that makes me part of a youth event could even be considered promotional activity for work. My editor took me to see this show on Broadway when it was in previews, so I've seen the original cast, and it'll be fun to see what the kids do with it.

Supposedly, today was going to be the day Random House started a two-week promotional price drop of the e-book version of Enchanted, Inc., but it doesn't seem to have propagated through the system yet. Of course, if you're reading this, you probably already have this book.

But it seems like a good occasion to get back to my re-read commentary.

Chapter Five was my big moment of Mimi catharsis. Wow, I must have been working out a lot of frustrations there. Mimi was kind of a combination of everyone I've ever worked for or with and hated, and it was a fantasy quitting moment. I have had a couple of chances to quit a job I was really unhappy with, and turning in that letter feels so good, though I never made a public scene like that. I certainly fantasized about it. I came up with the idea for this book at a time when I was really unhappy at work and dealing with a supervisor who seemed threatened by me, so the wonderful job offer was a big fantasy at the time, then I wrote it a little more than a year after I got laid off from that job because the supervisor who was threatened by me lost us our biggest client (funny, she got to stick around -- though the client ended up hiring me as a freelancer). I seem to recall enjoying writing that scene.

The group blind date was loosely based on a real date I once went on. I'd been introduced to him at a group outing, and he seemed pretty cool then. It was when we went out one-on-one that things got weird because he just didn't talk. I'm a slow eater anyway, and if I'm having to carry 100 percent of the conversation, I'll never finish my meal. I tried asking him questions, but he didn't seem to have any interests that got him passionate enough to say more than a sentence. I felt like I was interrogating him and needed to get out the torture implements. I finally told him that if he ever wanted me to finish my meal so we could leave the restaurant, he would have to say something. Instead, he got up and went to the bathroom. At least I got to eat.

So I guess I was working out frustrations there, but most of it was to introduce Ethan. It was also one of the "chick lit" elements I was fitting in as I both blended the genres and spoofed the genre. In later books I didn't really worry about that so much, but with the first book, I thought my best bet for selling it would be to sell it as chick lit, so I was consciously including those elements.

In Chapter Six I was introducing the magical company, and I can tell looking back that I was trying really, really hard to make it Magical! There's a lot of stuff I threw in that I practically forgot to use later because it no longer seemed quite so important to highlight the magical nature of things. Like those crystal balls. I think that came out of the idea of what magical people would use for intra-office communication or something like the Internet. I had to keep remembering that they were supposed to be there in later books.

We also meet Jake, Owen's assistant, in that chapter. He was basically human scenery, but little details about him just seemed to come out as I wrote that made him come to life (and I didn't plan most of it). I don't think there was enough to him to ever make him a focus, but he was fun in the background, and I did later enjoy giving him a bit of a hero moment in book 7.

And now I think today is going to be a Great Day of Cleaning because the state of my house is being a distraction. That's a good way to think and let my subconscious get to work, and I think that having things neat and organized will help me get through the crazy weekend. At least the hiking trip got cancelled because everyone else was busy.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Caroling, Caroling

I survived my last children's choir session of the year last night, and it was a challenge because one of the preschool teachers is out of town, so since we're singing together Sunday we decided to just combine the two groups. I never had them still long enough to count them and each class took their own roll, so I'm not sure how many there were, but most of my kids were there, so we may have had more than twenty, ranging in age from three to six. We had three teachers, three teen helpers (though all of them were sixth graders, so rather young), and two parents hung around because their children were being clingy (I think one of the preschool kids whose dad stayed is special needs and he always stays). In the 45 minutes we had them, we needed to remind them of the song we're singing in church Sunday that they haven't practiced since before Thanksgiving, then rehearse in the sanctuary with the pianist. And then they went stark raving insane. There's Christmas excitement, there's the fun of that many kids in the room, and a number of them had younger siblings in the other group, so when the siblings were together they went crazy. My plan was to do a Christmas carol singalong, but after we tried a couple of songs without getting much attention from the kids running in circles, my co-teacher suggested we go caroling.

So we headed out to the fellowship hall to sing for the people getting dinner ready (and a few of the parents who sit out there while their kids are in choir -- a lot of phones came out to record them). We sang for a couple of Bible studies. The kids suggested singing for the babies in the nursery, so we went there, too. But I think they mostly wanted to play with the toys in the nursery. Some of the toddlers just went about their business of playing and didn't pay us much attention, except for the one with an older sister in our group, who gave off the "don't cramp my style, sis" vibes. There was one infant who just stared at us with wide eyes and a hilarious "who are these people and what are they doing?" expression. Then I had to confiscate nursery toys from my kids as we left. We got back to the room just in time to pass out candy canes and hand them over to their parents. I think I got bonus points from a parent for telling a kid who asked if she could eat the candy now that she needed to talk to her mom first and let her mom tell her when she could have it (the mom mouthed a "thank you"). The kids were surprisingly in tune. I started them off on each song, then backed off and sort of whisper sang so they'd be the ones heard, and they sounded pretty good.

And then I went to dinner and collapsed before having to go to my own choir rehearsal (there was some wine when I got home). Next week I just have to go to choir rehearsal, and then the following week it will be Christmas Eve. Yikes! Where did this year go? I do have my Christmas stuff up, but I still have shopping to do and some baking to do. I should know by now that starting a book at this time of year is not the smartest idea ever. I should let myself slow down a bit and enjoy the season. But first I have to get through this crazy weekend -- possible morning hike, mid-day get-together with friends, and evening party on Saturday, children's choir in the early service Sunday, my choir in the late service, then Christmas concert that evening, with "dress rehearsal" beforehand (since the choir hasn't practiced with the orchestra) and the choir's Christmas party between rehearsal and concert while the other groups in the concert do their rehearsals and sound checks. For some odd reason, the sopranos always get assigned the appetizers. Cookies, I could have handled easily because I'm already baking. I think I'll just pick up a cheese ball and some crackers at the grocery store. Or does being a second soprano mean I'm almost an alto, so I can get away with bringing dessert?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lessons I've Learned

I took a bit of a break from the writing posts because of the Thanksgiving holiday and then because I had a new book releasing that day. I think this will be my last writing post of 2014 because of holiday craziness and because I'm in the middle of a first draft, so my brain isn't functioning at normal levels.

No matter how many books I write, I seem to keep learning as I go. Here are some things I've learned about writing and publishing this year:

The action really needs to kick off earlier in the book and then be paced steadily throughout. You'd think this would be obvious, but it's the thing I always seem to have to fix after a first draft.

If you find that you've created a really great character, it's a good idea to introduce her earlier in the story and then give her more of an active role.

An outside eye can really help you spot things you never would have noticed, whether it's that great character or that wrong word you used (that somehow made it through a beta reader, an agent, an editor and a copyeditor before the proofreader caught it).

Setting unrealistic production goals can actually decrease your productivity. When you surpass a goal, it feels good to keep going and do even more. If there's no way you're going to meet a goal, it's too easy to just give up earlier. All that counts is what you actually accomplish, not what you dream you can accomplish. (I keep having to re-learn this.)

A story needs an antagonist or villain. Figuring out who the villain is and what the villain wants is rather important to plotting a book. I should know this, but it keeps coming up again. I guess I'm far more interested in the heroes.

You need to love anything you write enough to re-read it dozens of times. You're going to have to if you want to make it the best it can be.

Traditional publishing can be a very slow process. Really, really slow. Writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Writing can, however, pay off over time once you have a certain amount of work out there that's selling steadily and have it in a variety of markets.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Reading Update

I think that my huge burst of productivity last Monday may have done more harm than good because it ended up setting an unrealistic standard. When I didn't do that well on subsequent days I felt like I'd failed, and that sense of failure then made it harder to get back on track. So I'm setting more reasonable goals, and if I exceed them, then that's great but I'm less likely to feel like a failure.

I ended up getting really back on track yesterday, but this book keeps surprising me. There's a scene that in my first concept for this book was the climax, then when I started plotting it became the midpoint, and now it's moved way up to become the initial threshold crossing that kicks the plot into high gear -- the event so big that they can't pretend there's no problem anymore. I pretty much saw the movie of this in my head as I was waking up this morning, so I should be able to write it properly.

I'm behind on talking about my reading (and behind on my reading -- I'm not going to make my reading goal this year unless I drop everything else and do nothing but read for the rest of the month).

In one case, I want to talk about an author rather than a particular book. I do still miss chick lit because I liked books that were more like a romantic comedy movie usually is than like the traditional structure of romance novels. However, I tended to mostly prefer the British stuff, and I leaned toward the smaller-town stories rather than London stories. I liked the things about friends and family as opposed to drinking and sex. Fortunately, some is still getting published, and one author I've been rationing to myself (because I don't want to run out entirely) is Jill Mansell. Basically, most of her books are along the lines of the movie Love Actually in book form, though not necessarily set at Christmas (I'll admit to being a wee bit disappointed in the book she did set at Christmas, but that was mostly because I was reading it for Christmas purposes and the book pretty much skipped over Christmas entirely. I might like it if I read it at another time). There's a big cast of characters that's all interconnected, and they all have their own stories, not all of which are romantic. There's usually one central character, and then she has friends, co-workers, relatives, and sometimes even kids who also have plot lines. I suppose it doesn't really qualify as "chick" lit, since her heroines tend to be a bit older -- they're often single moms with teenage kids -- and that may be one reason I like them at this phase in my life. It's very much make a pot of tea and settle in for the afternoon reading, after which you feel a nice warm glow.

I also found a good entry in the "intimate fantasy" (no, not in that way, get your mind out of the gutter) category -- by that I mean focusing on a few characters and their lives rather than the horde of armies. Crown Duel and Court Duel by Sherwood Smith were reissued in one volume, which is how I got them, and I think they might read better as one book, while I'd have been disappointed if I'd just read the first one as a standalone because the story seemed incomplete without the second book. It's first-person narration, so it only shows us what happens through our viewpoint character, and that humanizes some massive events. She's the daughter of the lord of a remote province in an oppressive kingdom, and when her father dies, he makes her and her brother swear to rebel against the regime. Things don't go entirely as planned, to put it mildly. No one is who they seem to be, and the situation isn't quite what they expected. And then they have to deal with the aftermath of their actions. The first book is mostly an adventure story of all the things this young woman has to go through. The second is almost a comedy of manners as she has to adjust to life in what seems like an entirely new world for her. There's also a really satisfying romantic thread woven through the two books. Sometimes you want to bop the heroine on the head (though it's not like I'm allowed to criticize anyone else for being stubborn), but she does eventually figure things out.

Sherwood Smith is the guest of honor at ConDFW next year, so I imagine there will be some fangirling taking place. I already loved her contemporary fantasy Zenda-like series, and now I need to dig into her other fantasy series.

Speaking of Christmas-set romantic/chick lit stories, I'm starting to contemplate maybe novelizing that holiday movie screenplay I tried writing last year. I wonder if there's a market for sweet contemporary paranormal romantic comedy.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Road Not Taken

I had a minor epiphany this weekend. I've generally been okay with the path my life has taken. I'm doing one of the jobs that I've dreamed of doing since I was a little kid, and I'm now actually making a pretty good living at it. But there are still the moments when I wonder what else could have happened with a different path. I've also always had an interest in music, though very little opportunity to develop it other than school band. I didn't even realize until I was an adult that what I was able to do in singing was at all unusual. Even as a little kid, I could match pitches when singing with a record, and then I could sing those songs on my own without the record and still carry the melody. I might not always have started with the pitch as on the record, but I was able to maintain the proper intervals from that starting pitch, and once I heard a song, I could sing it. It might take me a little longer to learn the words, but I had the notes down. When a friend was talking to a music teacher about her kid being able to do something like that, the music teacher got excited and said she had to get that kid into some kind of music classes.

So that's made me wonder what opportunities I might have missed by not getting the training. It's not even purely a "road not taken" thing because even if I had decided I wanted do this, the chances just weren't there where I was. You had to already have a certain degree of training to even get into a university music program. I couldn't have shown up with some raw talent, a bit of time in church youth choirs and a serious case of stage fright and been accepted as a voice major at any university. So, yeah, there has been some occasional resentment at having a talent that wasn't allowed to be developed until it was already probably too late to go anywhere with it.

This weekend, I went to the holiday concert of the University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab band and Jazz Singers. The band gets nominated for Grammy awards all the time, and this is one of the better music schools in the nation and probably the best school anywhere for jazz, so their student concerts are like hearing top-level professional performers. I hadn't heard the Jazz Singers before. They're a mostly a capella group, though in this concert they did some pieces with the band. And I was in awe. They blended so perfectly that they sounded like one voice. And I sat through their whole set just aching to do that kind of thing. I was having a massive case of wanting a do-over on my entire life.

I mentioned this to some friends, who suggested that maybe it wasn't too late to go back to school. I don't think that's really practical, and even now there's no way I could get into a music program at UNT, and even if I could be allowed to take some classes just for fun, those ensembles are insanely competitive. But then I had the realization that I don't actually want to do that with my life as a profession. Even as a solo performer, music requires a lot more interacting with people than I really want to do in order to do it for a living. I'm too much of an introvert for that. I think what I really want is to be a lot better at something I do for fun, and I would love to find more opportunities to do more interesting kinds of things as a hobbyist. That's the challenge. The church choir is fun, and we do get to do some challenging things occasionally, and there's always variety, but there are limits to what you can do with a group that accepts everyone who wants to be in it. I jokingly suggested to the director that we could do the kind of music the Jazz Singers did, and he laughed. I don't know of any more selective groups around that might do more intense stuff, and even then, the rehearsal and performance schedule are probably more than I could deal with.

I am thinking of starting some serious voice lessons (I did a six-week session in college, then have taken a few voice classes over the years, but that's about it) once I get the whole house buying/selling/moving thing over with, but that will probably just amount to being better at singing in the choir and in any ensembles or solos. My solo and ensemble opportunities just about dried up with the new director because he's doing less of it and since he used to be in the choir here, he's calling upon the people he knows, and I hadn't made it past the stage fright when he was here, so I guess he doesn't think of me. I'll just continue to make myself available and look for bigger community things like the Mozart Requiem I did a couple of years ago.

But otherwise, it's nice to come back to the realization that I'm on the right path, that I didn't miss out on anything, and that I wouldn't have wanted the life that came with any other path, even if I'd had the opportunities.

Now to go lock myself in my cave and happily write with no one around me to bother me.

Friday, December 05, 2014

More Fairy Tale Stuff

I think I got myself back on track yesterday. I didn't get the word count I wanted, but I figured out the scene I was working on and did a little backtracking to make a better transition. I now know the next few scenes to write, too. The early part of a book can either go quickly because it's all pent up or it can be a slow discovery process.

It looks like all the book versions are up on the major sites, and Amazon now has the paperback (which turned out really pretty!), e-book and audio versions linked on the same page.

In case you're interested, here's some info on the reader for the audio version (I don't know if they include this in the audio book, but I thought it was interesting):
Suzy Jackson is an actress and voice-over artist whose voice has been heard on numerous audiobooks, commercials, video games, and cartoons, including The Winx Club, Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon Chronicles, and Chaotic. Suzy has performed on stage with The Aquila Theater Company, New York Classical, CAP 21, and The Classical Studio. Film work includes To Be Perfectly Honest opposite John Turturro and Spike Lee’s She Hate Me. Suzy is also a teaching artist with Opening Act, a nonprofit organization that brings free theater programs to NYC’s most under-served public high schools.

And if you want more info or to see more work from Kirbi Fagan, the artist who did the cover, here's her web site.

And speaking of fairy tale stuff, there are two movies that I'm looking forward to.

First, the movie version of Into the Woods. I'm a little nervous about this because I love the stage show (and I have the DVD of the original production that was shown on PBS in the early 90s), but the trailer looks pretty good:

We'll just see how much of the singing does or doesn't make me cringe.

And then there's the live-action Disney version of Cinderella. It looks lovely, and it's directed by Kenneth Branagh.

Now I kind of want them to give this treatment to Sleeping Beauty. Just imagine a live-action version of snarky Prince Philip fighting a dragon …

I've barely seen any movies this year because there haven't been a lot that interested me all that much, but this stuff will lure me to the theater.

And now, it's cookie day, in which I bake my annual batch of Spritz cookies for the church cookie sale, in between writing bouts.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Back to Work

It's Book Day Plus One, and it seems to be going pretty well -- not necessarily burning up the bestseller lists but rising steadily, and people who've mentioned reading it seem to like it. My back is almost back to normal, and I suppose all this means I need to get back to work. I wrote most of a scene yesterday, only to realize the scene was all wrong. It was a nice enough scene (and I could see it playing out in the movie in my head), but I don't think it needs to be what's happening at this point. I'm not really sure what does need to be happening at this point. I will have to do some serious thinking.

So today's exciting plan is to walk to the Indian market to restock on tea (and possibly get some British chocolate), which might work as a meditative exercise for brainstorming. Then I need to figure out what to write and write it. I also have to clean the kitchen for tomorrow's cookie-baking extravaganza for the church cookie sale. All this means I'll probably be working at least some of the day on Saturday because I'm way behind.

I suppose I should decorate my Christmas tree at some point. The tree is up, but it's bare. I also need to get out the Nativity scene and clear off a spot on a table or counter for the Christmas cookie jar.

Or I could sit at my desk all day and check my Amazon rankings. Not that I'm obsessing, or anything.

But since it looks like it will rain soon, I'd better get up and head to get tea. Not that I'm in danger of having a tealess crisis. I just won't have my usual plain black loose tea. I think I may get some cinnamon sticks and lemons while I'm out, since those make for a good non-caffeinated hot beverage. Actually, I can go nuts in the spice section of this market. This store is on my list of the reasons I want to stay in this neighborhood when I buy a new house.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

New Book Day

It's new book day! It looks like A Fairy Tale is up at both Amazon and B&N. The Audible version started showing up yesterday, but I'm not finding it again now, so I don't know what's up with that (hmm, it looks like it's currently just available as part of an Audible membership, not to purchase separately). At any rate, share and enjoy! And tell a friend (or 100).

I think I was wrong to blame my sore back on my writing marathon. I was trying to stay sort of mobile yesterday and was working on my ongoing organization project, which I did a fair amount of on Monday, and the position that I got into to work on it immediately triggered the pain, so I think that may be the problem. I need to sit and reach up instead of standing and bending over. Some rest and the heating pad have made things somewhat better, and I have no excuse for not writing much today. I mean, other than the obsessive need to keep checking my Amazon ranking. It's actually been pretty steady for the past couple of days. No huge surge, no huge drop.

Fortunately, I don't have children's choir tonight. I'm not sure I could deal with bending over to try to hear what little people are telling me. Most of the time they're so loud, but when they want to tell me something directly, they suddenly get really quiet.

Back to the book … It's been a long journey, from a glimmer of an idea in 2007 or so, to actively brainstorming, researching and writing starting in 2009, to a long time on hold and finally bringing it back to the surface to work on in 2012, to submitting it to publishers in 2013, and now to finally deciding to have faith in it and publish it myself. I just hope I'm not the only one who likes this oddball book.

If I didn't have bad allergies, I'd be totally tempted to adopt a bulldog and name him Beauregard. But I don't think I'd do well with a dog in the house and I'm rather fond of breathing. Instead, I guess I now have an imaginary pet. I get to write about him, but I don't have to vacuum up hair or take him on walks, and I don't have to listen to him snoring.

So, happy new book day to me, and new series day. I'm going to celebrate by writing and taking Tylenol.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Audiobook Day

It's audiobook day! Supposedly, A Fairy Tale was going to be released by Audible today, but I'm not finding it on Amazon. However, the mp3 CDs for the entire Enchanted Inc. series are available today. I imagine that most people these days just do the digital download and this is mostly for libraries, but if you want to request that your library get the series on audio, that would be cool.

Meanwhile, I got a good start on the new book yesterday, with more than 5,000 words written. I need to figure out what happens next, though, because things didn't quite happen the way I planned. A character showed up earlier than I expected, and that's going to make things interesting.

Today I may have to see if I can manage to write while sitting at my desk, in spite of the lure of the Internet. I must have been sitting in a bad position yesterday for all that writing because my upper back is stiff and sore this morning. I'm making myself sit with good posture in my desk chair, and I have a feeling that slouching on the sofa all afternoon would be a very bad idea. The last book I wrote mostly sitting at my desk was Don't Hex with Texas. Otherwise, I've taken a laptop to various places in the house.

Tomorrow is the Big Day of the New Book, the launch of my first new series, when I find out if readers are willing to follow me to something new or if they just want to read that one thing and don't want me to move on to anything else. I'm rather nervous about this. I think that people who like things like Enchanted, Inc. will like this, but it is different.

What's similar?
The heroines are small-town Southern girls in New York. There's a mix of real-world and fantasy elements. There's not really much swearing and no sex. There's a hint of potential romance. There's some humor.

What's different?
There are multiple viewpoints, and it's written in third-person rather than first-person narrative. I like writing first-person, but there was no way to make that work with this book because there are parallel plot lines and because I wanted to play with the difference between the way someone is perceived and the way someone really is on the inside. The heroines aren't quite the "girl next door" types that Katie was. The romance is more in the "potential" than in the "building" category. There are characters you might want to see together, but they're nowhere near ready to actually get together. While there's humor, it's not outright comedy. Much of the humor comes more from the characters' perspectives than from funny things actually happening.

So, if it seems like you might like this sort of thing, give it a shot. Then leave a review at your online bookseller of choice, Goodreads or wherever else you talk about books. It would also be nice if people would mention it on Twitter, Facebook, tumblr or wherever else you talk to people. It's harder to promote self-published books because a lot of book sites won't deal with them. This one is kind of a grey area because I am a traditionally published author and the audiobook is through a publisher instead of self-published, but it's probably not beneficial to try to split hairs with someone over their policies. Trying to be A Special Snowflake isn't likely to help my cause.

And for those who have preordered who may end up with a download on your Kindle at midnight, I really hope you enjoy it. I love this book in all its weirdness, so I hope others like it, too.

Monday, December 01, 2014

New Book Week Begins

It's new book week! Tomorrow the audio edition comes out, and then Wednesday the print (e-book and paper) editions are available (it looks like you can now also pre-order the paperback from Amazon). I've updated my web site to include the new book info, including an excerpt.

I had a good holiday. There was a minor pie-related injury that seems to be healing well and the pies came out very well. I had a good visit with my family. I read a lot and got a start on decorating for Christmas.

In the rush to head over the river and through the woods for the holiday, I seem to have forgotten to do any kind of Thanksgiving post. I really do have a lot to be grateful for. This has been a good year. I've struggled a lot in the past, but this year I really broke through, and that's opened up a lot of other possibilities and has made it possible to start giving back. I have a family that makes me feel safe and secure. I have more friends than I really know what to do with (a problem for introverts -- spending time with everyone who wants to spend time with me is sometimes a bit more than I can take, but that's a good problem to have) and I have people in my life I know I can count on. I'm doing what I love and what I've always dreamed of doing. And next year should be even better (assuming the new books don't tank).

In addition to a new book coming out this week, I'm going to start writing a new book today. This is my favorite part of the writing process as well as the part that most terrifies me (well, aside from the part where it comes out and people get to read it). It's a moment of infinite possibilities. And then words come out and it becomes a real thing. I have the opening three scenes kind of planned out, and then we'll see where it goes from there. I know who the villain is and I know what's going on. I hope everything else comes into focus once I get some scenes written. That's how it usually goes.