Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Star Wars Day!

It's Star Wars day today for me. Meanwhile, I'm still processing last night's Haven series finale. Star Wars better not make me cry because I've been fighting some kind of cold/allergies thing (not nearly as severe as what I had last month), and crying makes my nose start running again. I finally got that stopped after Haven last night. All these Christmas movies aren't helping matters.

But I have done my Christmas shopping. I need to mail my brother's gift (just across the state, so I have time), but otherwise, the "busy" part of the season is over, so I can take it easy. Tomorrow may be my movie marathon night -- fuzzy pajamas, hot cocoa, and The Holiday. Maybe Love Actually, too. It's been ages since I watched that.

Anyway, continuing my Star Wars-related posts, I have to present my unpopular opinion that I didn't totally hate the prequels. I'll admit that they work much better with liberal use of the fast-forward button and they should have been much better than they were, but there are things I like about them. I enjoyed them when I saw them and came home from the theater excited about Star Wars again.

To be totally honest, though, there's a part of me that likes to pretend that no movies other than the original exist. What I loved in that was the sense of fun and spirit of adventure, and to some extent that got bogged down in complicated mythology, family relationships, and all that. I like to try to forget everything that came before and after (within the movie chronology) and just enjoy that first movie for the fun space romp it is, without processing who's whose dad or sister or whatever and what the Force really is (it's magic, basically -- as I said, it's a fairy tale with spaceships, lasers, and robots).

If the new one can get that feeling back, I'll be happy. Now I need to go put on my Star Wars socks and my Star Wars t-shirt and get ready to wait in line to get a good seat.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How I Learned to Avoid Star Wars Spoilers

One more day until I see new Star Wars, and I'm trying not to get too excited. I guess it's a combination of not wanting to get burned again after the prequel experience and wanting to recapture the impact of the first one. I haven't been rewatching the older movies. I haven't sought out the various trailers -- I saw the one that was before the James Bond movie and I've seen TV ads, but I'm not watching repeatedly to analyze. I didn't read the review in today's paper other than to see that the local critic gave it a B+.

I learned the hard way about this with The Empire Strikes Back. For kids of the late 70s-early 80s, this was the most anticipated movie ever. When Darth Vader escaped from the Death Star, it was pretty obvious that there would be a sequel, but for a while there was no news about it. Alan Dean Foster's novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye came out as a sequel, and we all pounced on it, then were surprised when it turned out that the sequel would be something else entirely (according to Alan, when he wrote it before the first movie came out, they were thinking that would be the sequel, but everything changed when it was a smash hit).

I was living in Germany when Empire was released, so although it came out in May, we didn't get it at the base theater until early November -- Veteran's Day weekend. That made it difficult to avoid spoilers, especially if you were so eager to find out what happened that you were seeking them out. Oddly enough, the novelization was condensed and excerpted in one of my mom's women's magazines, and I eagerly read that, though the editing job on it was bad enough that it just made me more confused. Once school started in the fall, one of my friends had an extra copy of the full novelization because both sets of grandparents had sent it to her. I'd read it several times before I saw the movie. I also got the soundtrack months before I saw the movie.

So by the time I saw the movie, I pretty much had everything but the visuals memorized. I was familiar with the dialogue, I knew the plot, and I knew every music cue. That made the movie an odd experience, to be new and familiar at the same time. When you already know the lines, it's hard not to be painfully aware that this is a script being spoken by actors. I wouldn't say I was disappointed. It just wasn't the experience I wanted it to be. It wasn't until years later when the Special Editions came out and I saw the movie again at the theater that I was able to really appreciate that movie. I did learn my lesson, and I avoided all information about Return of the Jedi and the prequels before seeing them.

That November viewing does make this movie's December release a little less odd for me. I've stood in line in the cold to see a Star Wars movie, even though these have always been summer things. Actually, though, the line turned out to be unnecessary -- my dad had learned that they'd added a previously unannounced morning show at the Vogelweh theater, so he dragged us out early on Saturday morning for the early show, and the theater was almost empty because so few people knew about it. I saw it again Monday night when I went with a group of friends, and we did have to wait in line to get seats for that one.

We already have tickets for tomorrow, so the line will be to get seats, and I don't know how early we'll wait. Some waiting is kind of mandatory, just for the experience of it. It's not a Star Wars movie if you don't have to line up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Reluctant Star Wars Fan

Since it's Star Wars week, I guess I'll continue that trip down memory lane.

As big a fan as I became, I was actually dragged into it rather reluctantly. Although the movie was released in May, we didn't see it until Labor Day. I was vaguely aware of it from reading Newsweek (yes, I was a strange child who read Newsweek), and what I'd read didn't intrigue me that much. I really hated that one poster that had Luke's shirt wide open and gave him a big, muscular chest and that really sexed-up Leia, with the plunging neckline and skirt slit up the thigh. My impression was "half-naked people fighting in space."

My dad had Labor Day off, but, for whatever odd reason, I still had school. My parents used the day to rent a steam cleaner and steam clean the carpets (my family knows how to enjoy a holiday). The rugs were still damp when I got home from school, and my parents got the idea of going to a movie so we'd be out of the house while the carpets finished drying. My dad had heard about this Star Wars thing at work, that it was basically Cowboys and Indians in space, like the old Saturday serials. I put up a protest. At the same theater, there was a Cinderella movie, The Slipper and the Rose, playing, and I wanted to see that. I even offered to go see it alone while the rest of the family saw Star Wars. I was overruled.

This was the Dark Ages before the age of the multiplex. There were maybe five or six movie screens in all of Lawton, Oklahoma, at the time, and the new theaters were the "twin" cinemas with two screens. That meant it was a really big deal that Star Wars had been held over all this time. Even that long after release, the movie sold out, and there was a long line.

My objections died pretty much the moment the music started and that scroll came on the screen (I later made a point of memorizing it), and I was utterly sold when the Star Destroyer came overhead. By the end of the movie, I was obsessed. I remember riding home in the car, using the window crank handles to operate the car's lasers to shoot down TIE fighters. I went to school the next morning eager to tell all my friends the whole story of this fabulous movie. I got the novelization in a school book order and read it so often that I practically had it memorized. I had Star Wars sheets on my bed, Star Wars posters on the wall, and it became the key bonding ingredient for most of my close friendships from that point until college -- no matter how awkward the initial introduction, once Star Wars came up, you could tell who you'd get along with.

Of course, I've never heard the end of it from my parents, who to this day will remind me that I didn't want to see it in the first place and wanted to see that Cinderella movie. I did eventually see that movie on TV years later, and it was rather forgettable, not one of my favorite adaptations. The thing is, Star Wars is as much a fairy tale as any Cinderella story. It's just dressed up in science fiction trappings, with laser swords and spaceships. But structurally, it's a fantasy about a farmboy rescuing a princess and becoming a hero by saving the kingdom. No wonder I loved it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How Star Wars Made Me a Writer

Time is really flying past me. Not only is Christmas getting frightfully close for someone who has done absolutely zero shopping (gifts are my least favorite part of the holiday, both giving and receiving), but it's really just struck me that there will be a new Star Wars movie this week. I've mostly been ignoring it, not out of lack of interest but because I don't want to get too invested. I'm trying to go in almost as cold as I did in 1977, with no expectations.

Yeah, I'm one of those fans who goes back to 1977 (yes, I'm old), and seeing that movie was life-changing for me. Really. I'm not exaggerating. I very likely wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today if I hadn't seen that movie. I'd always amused myself by making up stories, but there was something about that movie that gave me a burning need to not just make up stories, but to tell them to other people in a way that made them feel like Star Wars made me feel. It flipped some kind of crazy creativity switch in my brain that I haven't been able to turn off since then.

My first efforts at actually writing a story down started as what I guess you'd call Star Wars fan fiction, though by the time I wrote any of it down, it no longer had any resemblance to Star Wars. As you may have noticed, there was kind of a lack of girls in the movie. Princess Leia was awesome, but there was just one of her, and if you were playing Star Wars with the neighborhood kids, there weren't enough female roles to go around. So we had to make up some. One of the characters I came up with was a female fighter pilot who had a very complicated backstory in how she joined the Rebel Alliance -- she was also a princess, from an Empire-friendly world, but she didn't agree with her parents and had been working as a spy for the Alliance from within her home until she got a critical piece of information that she had to pass on, and she knew that once it was out there everyone would know where it came from, so she ran for it, taking her piloting skills (she took private lessons as a princess) with her. This was all backstory, as most of her adventures involved just being a pilot without most people knowing she was a princess. And because I might have been the only girl in America who preferred Luke to Han, Luke was the guy she worked with, hung out with, and would probably end up with (so I felt very vindicated when Leia ended up with Han).

I played with this in my head for years, and over time the Star Wars connections fell by the wayside until she was just a princess from an oppressive world who was spying until she fled to work with the rebels. For a while, she gained a sister when I told a friend about all this and we made up a character for her. I may still have some drawings around from when we designed costumes for our characters (as 12-year-old girls, we had our priorities in order).

Strangely, I never wrote more than the first chapter or so because I hadn't yet learned how to plot. I was good at coming up with situations and characters, but the actual story part eluded me for another ten or so years. I never went back and tried to finish that story, and I don't really have any interest in doing so. It's not one of those old ideas that haunts me. But it may have been the first story I told another person when I shared it with that friend, and it was part of that lightbulb moment that started me on the path to being a writer when I realized that if I wrote down this story, it would be a book, and that would make me a writer.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Crazy Weekend

I have survived the worst (best?) of the holiday craziness. I added up that I went to three parties this weekend, baked three batches of cookies, made one batch of fudge, directed one choir, attended one concert, and sang in one concert. Ahead of me, I just have a few get-togethers with friends and a busy Christmas Eve night, but for the most part, it can now be some peaceful preparation for Christmas. I have some stuff to mail, some shopping to do, and the decorating to finish.

I need to get to the post office today, and I want to take a nice, long walk, but otherwise, I'm not going to push myself. I slept very late and am still lounging around in my pajamas. It's utterly blissful after the weekend I had.

My preschool choir was interesting Sunday morning. As I feared, they made almost no sound. They made more noise while twitching during the prayer right before they sang than they did when they were supposed to be singing. At least they did the motions, so maybe they came across like a signing choir. The way I look at it, for the parents, having their children be that quiet was actually a nice treat. They're never that quiet. We had a microphone close call, though, that reminded me of my first Christmas at this church, long before I was a children's choir director. One of the boys in the preschool choir discovered that he was near one of the microphones and that his voice seemed louder, so he started singing louder to hear himself in the monitors. Then he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make himself heard in other ways, so he started saying his favorite words into the microphone during the song. Being a four-year-old boy, that amounted to blurting "Poop!" into the microphone.

This Sunday, we had a near miss. We had the microphones on stands facing the steps where the kids were singing, but there's also a handheld wireless microphone on the communion rail that they use for the children's time or for other things that require someone not wearing a body mic to speak. One of my kids came down from the steps during the song and picked up this microphone and started trying to talk into it, then got frustrated because it wasn't on and didn't make his voice louder. However, he was near enough one of the microphones aimed at the choir that you could hear him saying, "Why isn't this working?" over the sound of the rest of the kids whispering the song. I have no idea what he would have said if the microphone had worked. This is the kid who's notorious for bursting out with "The Wheels on the Bus" at full voice during the communion prayer a couple of years ago. Who knows, maybe the mic should have been on and then he would have actually sung.

So, anyway, today is a day of recovery and rest, and the only things I have going on this week are ballet Thursday night and Star Wars on Friday.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Cookie Madness

'Tis the season to go crazy in the kitchen. Yesterday's distraction was the need to bake cookies. I suddenly wanted a variation on my traditional spritz cookies -- something spicy that would go well with mulled wine. I found a basic recipe with some variations that included one with spice. Then I found another recipe that uses honey for part of the sugar and thought that would be interesting to try. So I started modifying the new recipe, and then discovered that although the proportions of sugar, butter, and flour were similar to my usual recipe, it had no leavening. My recipe has baking powder. I guess it might have had a more shortbread-like texture. But since I know my recipe works, I added some baking powder. I like the results, but it wasn't quite spicy enough, and although the amount of cloves was far less than the other spices, cloves still overpowered the other spices. I think since my usual recipe works, I may go back to that as a base recipe, use some honey instead of some of the sugar, and double the amount of cinnamon.

But today since I don't have a lot of time, I'll just make a batch of the usual, since I'll need it for multiple events this weekend, and then I'll work in a batch of spicy spritz Sunday afternoon so I'll have multiple kinds to bring for the pre-concert dinner at church.

And there are still other variations I'd really like to try to play with.

I've also found a company that makes additional plates for standard cookie presses. Mine requires some modifications, but they'll do those for you. They have a whole set of snowflake plates that I now desperately need (that would be so pretty with sparkling sugar). And they have a fantasy set that includes a dragon and a fairy. So next year, my spritz-making game will be off the charts. I think I also need a steampunky gear plate. I wonder if they do those.

So, off to bake the cookies!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Snowman Death Scenes

I'm done with children's choir for the year, other than them singing in church Sunday. Oh boy, do I hope they sing in church. They made almost no sound when we were practicing last night. I'd been singing along with them as they learned the song, then when they were practicing, I dropped my voice to be just enough for them to hear but not enough to drown them out, and they all dropped to match me. I explained what I was doing and why, that we want to be able to hear them, not me, and I'm singing to help them, not to be heard. It only helped slightly. We did some serious drilling on the words, in case that was the issue. But on Sunday, we may resort to them doing the motions and occasionally making a sound while I sing.

Then for fun, I got out the snowman song. It's a counting down thing, where it starts with six snowmen, then the sun comes out and melts away one snowman, so the designated kid melts, and then it repeats until they're all melted. We actually had six kids, so it was perfect. This song is usually like preschooler crack. They love it. We have to do it over and over and over again. Once they get the hang of it, we get Royal Shakespeare Company-level snowman death scenes. They're out-Shatnering Shatner as their snowmen dramatically melt. It's adorable. But I had one little boy last night who HATED it. He thought it was a sad song because he couldn't deal with the snowmen melting. He wouldn't let his snowman melt. Which was okay. His mom says bugs aren't allowed to be killed in their house. He insists that they be taken outside instead because otherwise he gets really sad. And yet he's perfectly willing to hit and kick people. It's an interesting dichotomy.

Today kicks off my crazy weekend of holiday fun, as there's a party I'll make a quick stop by on my way to dance class tonight. Then tomorrow night I'm attending a Christmas concert. Saturday there's a luncheon followed by an afternoon event and an evening party. Sunday morning my children's choir is singing (or mouthing silently), then Sunday evening there's a concert where I'm singing.

After the concert, there will be a total collapse. Fortunately, I don't have yoga Monday morning or any choir stuff on Wednesday, so I don't have to emerge from the cave again until Thursday night unless I want to.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

If You're in a Holiday Movie

So, after going through the day yesterday unable to start anything that required water, even though I seemed to have water the whole time, I got an e-mail saying they didn't get the repairs done, so we wouldn't have water today. I did about four loads of laundry last night, and I got up this morning and cleaned the bathroom, so I'm not in a crisis situation, but it's still annoying. I haven't checked yet to see whether or not I actually have water. I'm thinking of going shopping just to get out of the house and not have to worry about it, and then I have my last choir session of the year tonight. I don't think I'll try to do any real teaching with the kids. We have to practice our song for Sunday, which will take up most of the time, and then I think we'll sing some Christmas songs and then go caroling to the people setting up for dinner. If I get desperate, we'll get out crayons and make Christmas cards.

I'm continuing my blitz of holiday movies from the DVR, and I've noticed some trends of things to happen in you're in a holiday movie:

There's a good chance you work in a creative profession, or would like to -- if you have a regular job, you're an aspiring painter or photographer in your spare time, but you gave up pursuing your dream professionally because of responsibilities. Or you work at an ad agency. I decided I might as well go with the flow in the one I wrote, in which the heroine is an aspiring singer who works at a public relations agency.

If you're in a relationship, the other person is terribly, horribly wrong for you, to the point that this person could qualify as a villain. But somehow, you don't notice this until you meet the right person and can see the contrast. You seldom figure it out yourself from the mustache twirling and sneering.

If you're a man already in a relationship when you meet Miss Right, you'll know your existing significant other is evil when she starts talking about her plans to totally redecorate your home once you're married. Her plans will always be for something really stark and modern that will require you to get rid of all your cherished family keepsakes. So, basically, if you're dating someone who starts talking about redecorating your place, you should probably run right away and skip the step of someone having to change their mind on the day of the wedding.

If you buy an artificial Christmas tree, you're probably some unholy combination of Scrooge and Satan. You can tell that someone's a good person if they insist on a real tree and prefer the ones that are less than perfect.

Putting work ahead of friends or family is always wrong, no exceptions. It doesn't matter if it's a meeting on which your entire career and the future of your whole company (and the employment of everyone else who works there) hinges, it should  come in lower on your priority list than your niece or nephew's third-grade Christmas program. If you make the wrong choice, you'll probably have to suffer some kind of supernatural intervention to make you learn to be a better person.

You probably have an older person in your life who bears a remarkable resemblance to someone who was really famous and maybe had a hit TV show about 20-30 years ago but who isn't seen much these days.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Cozy Cup of Tea Books

I still haven't finished putting up my Christmas decorations. I had yet another bit of hook adhesive fail last night, and I even used a more heavy-duty one that should have been able to hold the whole thing on its own. So there's something about that spot that makes the Command hooks not work there. I really do think it might be too cold next to the window to stick. I wonder if hitting it with a hair dryer initially might make a difference. But that might damage the paint and it's not worth it. So, I guess I'll be rearranging the mantel to put on the garland like I've done just about every year.

I was planning an epic day of dish washing, laundry, and cooking to get ahead of my busy weekend, but they announced that the water would be off at least part of, possibly most or even all of the time between 9 and 3 today. As of 10, I still had water, but with the announcement, I don't dare start doing anything involving water. I suppose instead I could tidy up, or I could get really radical and write. Last week it was no power, this week, no water. It's like living in pioneer days! Except not.

I haven't done a book report in a while, but I've been in a weird reading mode that's affecting my enjoyment of books. I'm weirdly suspense-averse right now. If there's any kind of tension or suspense in what I'm reading, I have to flip to the back to make sure it works out okay before I can go on. There have been books I might have enjoyed at other times but that really bothered me because the outcomes disturbed me. Even when things work out okay and the bad guys are defeated, there are bad consequences for the good guys that I find unsettling. So I should probably switch to cozy mysteries for a while. That may be why I'm finding the TV Christmas movies so appealing. I know that nothing really bad is going to happen to the characters. This is hampering my writing right now, as well, because I can't make even mildly bad things happen to my characters, and I know I can't get away with a whole book of people sipping tea and having pleasant conversations. There needs to be at least some drama and angst, but I don't want to hurt anyone right now.

Since I'm still waiting for feedback from my agent on the book proposal, maybe this is a good time to put that book aside and work on that holiday movie script. I can write action and suspense after the holidays when maybe my life is a little more settled and less hectic.

In the meantime, any recommendations for good cozy cup of tea books that aren't full of angst and that will be comforting and reassuring?

Monday, December 07, 2015

Busy Weekend #1

I made it through busy holiday weekend #1. I took a day off work Friday to join the church women's group for an excursion to tour a display of Nativity scenes. There's a church near here that gets something like 700 Nativities lent to them for a weekend event. They're from all over the world, from all different kinds of materials, all different kinds of interpretations. It was interesting seeing some of the different cultural interpretations from other countries. There were cute scenes, artistic scenes, modern and traditional. One I found particularly interesting was from Liberia and made from spent AK-47 shell casings from the civil wars in that country. Metalworkers scavenge the casings and sculpt them into Nativity scenes that are then sold around the world to raise money for the people displaced by the civil wars. It was a real "swords into plowshares" thing. And then after that, we all went to lunch. I made it home to do some baking before going to a party.

Saturday was a day out and a walk through the mall, so now I have done my Christmas mall experience for the year. It was a rather high-end mall, so purely window shopping, though I think the sales person at Tiffany's took the browsing a little too seriously and made me try on a necklace I looked at from a distance. When she first approached us, she asked if we'd met because I looked really familiar. I couldn't help but wonder if maybe she'd seen my book cover photo and was recognizing me from that without the context to put it together, but I didn't want to bring that up. I did like the necklace, but it was something like $975 (I looked it up later on their web site), so that's not gonna happen unless something huge happens that I want to celebrate. Maybe if I make a big movie deal or make one of the big bestseller lists. But I don't often wear jewelry, and for that kind of money I could buy a nice piece of furniture.

 I got part of my decorations up in the house yesterday. The garland is on the loft and stair railing and the wreath is on the door. I got a start on the mantel garland, but one of the Command hooks I use refuses to stick. I've put it up again four times, following the directions each time, and then I barely touch the garland to it and it pops off. It's the one closest to the exterior wall, so I wonder if it's too cold there to stick properly. I may have to give up and just set it on the mantel, but the mantel is so narrow that it's rather precarious.

I need to do some cleaning before I can put up the tree, though I've been pondering whether to do that at all or to just go with the decorated garlands all over the house.

Today and tomorrow are my "quiet" days, and then starting Wednesday I have a really busy stretch. But then after Sunday night, I'll have most of the rest of next week free to recover.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Fairy Tales vs. Tales About Fairies

In case you weren't online much during the holiday week and missed it, my latest book in the Fairy Tale series came out last week, and it now seems to be available in all formats in all the usual spots.

The name of the series is a deliberate double entendre because in this series I'm using both the folklore about the fae and some of the elements of fairy tales. These are generally two entirely different things. There are very few fairies in most of the well-known fairy tales. There's a complicated etymology reason why "fairy tales" are called fairy tales, but I like J.R.R. Tolkien's reasoning in his essay "On Fairy Tales." He considers "Faerie" a place -- a magical realm -- and the fairy tales are stories that take place in this realm.

That was a big jumping-off point for the idea behind this series. I like playing with fairy tales. I like updating them, twisting them, fleshing them out. I like the structure and the patterns. But if you do much reading on fairies themselves, or the fae, they have very little in common with what we think of today. The Victorians had a lot to do with turning them into something cute for kids, but the folklore is about beautiful and dangerous creatures. There's no absolute consensus on who they are, where they came from, or where they live. Some stories consider them fallen angels who fell past earth but didn't quite make it to hell -- which may have something to do with reasons why religious elements are often considered good ways to fight them. Some folklore considers them to be like ghosts. They're the dead living in their own realm and occasionally crossing into ours. I went with the idea that they're a different kind of being that lives in a kind of parallel universe that intersects ours. To go there physically, without going through a magical portal, you have to go underground -- most of the folklore on the subject mentions going under hills -- but once you're past the Borderlands, you're basically in another dimension.

One common theme of stories about the fae is that they're something that used to be a lot more common but that is currently fading. Even stories told in the Middle Ages refer to a past time when they were more common. They're seen as something incompatible with modern society, whatever "modern" happens to be at that point in time. One of my reference books, by a scholar who's researched fairy folklore, is called The Vanishing People , because they were always said to be on their way out. This was a theme I went with in the latest book -- was there a reason they seemed to fade from view, could they make a comeback, and what would happen if they did? There may still be a few places in the world where they'd know exactly what to do if fairies made a reappearance -- Iceland, some rural areas in the British Isles -- but the rest of the world would be defenseless, if they were even able to make themselves believe. On the other hand, our world might be poisonous to them. For both sides to survive, it takes a balance. Have the things our heroes have done recently to stabilize the fairy Realm made things more dangerous or less? And what can they do on this side of the border to keep the world safe?

I find the old stories of the scary kind of fae far more interesting than the cutesy Disney creations -- though the original Tinkerbell actually has a lot in common with traditional fae, and she's not nearly as sweet and cute as the Disney version. There's a lot of material there for me to work with.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Preparing to Write

This will be my last "official" writing post of the year because things are about to get crazy for the holidays. I may discuss story, characters, and stuff like that at random times in my blog, because that's stuff I talk about.

If you didn't do National Novel Writing Month but are thinking about making a New Year's resolution to write a book next year, now's the time to start preparing yourself for success. What do you need to do to get ready to write a book?

A lot of that depends on the kind of writer you are. There are people who work best by just sitting down and writing, letting the story come on the spur of the moment. But I think most of us work a little better by doing some preparation, and how much and how formal the preparation is depends on the way you work. Here are some things you might want to think about before you write your book.

Who is your protagonist? What does this person want? Why does he/she want it or need it? What is keeping him/her from getting it? Those are the main things you need to know about your main character, and it's possible to start writing once you know these things. Or you may want to figure out more. It's not necessary to know where your hero went to elementary school or what his favorite subject was, but it helps to know what he does for a living, something about his level of education, and what he cares about. What does he really need, deep down inside, that drives his actions?

Then you need to figure out who your antagonist is, who may or may not be a villain, depending on the kind of story you're writing. An antagonist is basically the person (or force) getting in the way of the hero getting what she wants. The hero may also have internal issues getting in the way, but in genre fiction, you generally also need an outside force causing problems. The antagonist may be directly opposing the hero, or they may just be competing to get the same thing.

You can figure out who the other people in the protagonist's life are ahead of time or they may pop up as you write.

Where/when does your story take place? This is going to affect the plot and the characters. It has a lot to do with who your characters are and what they can do. It also will dictate how events play out -- the story is going to be very different depending on whether immediate, constant communication is possible, for instance. If you're using a setting different from your everyday experiences, you may want to do some research before you start writing. Read books about the time or place. Watch videos of that place. Look at photos. This would be good stuff to do during the holiday season when you're too distracted to start writing but want to feel like you're doing prep work. I think even total seat-of-the-pants writers who feel hampered by outlines can benefit from immersing themselves in the setting of the book they plan to write.

This is where writers really differ. The sit-down-and-write people often lose all enthusiasm for a project once they've outlined it. They need to surprise themselves. On the other extreme are those who not only have a plot outline but also storyboard each scene. Then there's everything in between. You can have a rough outline with major turning points. You can have the protagonist's and antagonist's goals and conflicts and nothing more. You can have a rough outline that you add to in more detail as you go, so that you plan each section or scene before you write it. You can do this work on paper, on a spreadsheet, in a flow chart, or just in your head. I do find that the more I think about a project before I write it, whether or not I write anything down, the easier it is for me to write it. I can do this kind of thinking while I do other things, like housework, exercise, or driving. That makes it ideal writing "work" to do during the busy holidays. You can think about your book as you bake, shop, wrap presents, clean house, or travel. Then on January 2 when you sit down to write that novel, you'll be ready to go.

Have a happy holiday season, and remember that books make great gifts. If you want seasonal reading, my latest release, A Kind of Magic, is set around the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Knitting in the Dark

Yesterday I came to realize just how much I rely upon electricity. There was a loud boom nearby mid-afternoon, the power went out, then there were sirens. Soon, there was a fire truck at the intersection behind my house and three police cars with the cops directing traffic, since the signal lights were out. It was pretty localized, as the lights a block away were working. I'd been planning to wash dishes, but I didn't want to use up the hot water. I could use the laptop, but there was no Internet. I ended up collecting and taking out the trash, cutting up a pineapple, and then practicing some of my choir music because the keyboard is battery-operated. Fortunately, my house gets a lot of natural light, so the lack of lights was only an issue in the bathroom, which has no windows.

About 30-45 minutes later, the power was back on. It went off again soon after five, right when I was getting ready to make dinner. But with no electricity, there was no cooking. I'd just made a pot of tea, so I had some in the thermos, and it was still mostly daylight, but getting dark. I opened the blinds and lit some candles and did some knitting. About half an hour later, the power was back, and I was able to make dinner.

The power went out again soon after nine, and this time it was pitch black, since the streetlights were also out (though the traffic signals were working). Normally, I get enough light from streetlights that my house is never entirely dark at night. I can find my way around pretty well, but it was shocking just how dark it was. I was very lucky that I'd become paranoid after all the power failures and was carrying a flashlight with me from room to room. I was glad I'd bought a solar-powered lantern on clearance at Target, and it still had a good charge, so that got me some light. I lit the candles in the fireplace candelabra, which cast a good light on the whole living room. I also had a few flameless LED candles in the frosted glass globes I salvaged from my old ceiling fan, and a few other candles (I like candles, and people keep giving them to me as gifts). By the time I had everything lit, my house almost looked like I had a light on from outside, and it was the only light showing. My neighbors must think I either have a backup generator or a special deal with the power company. Still, though it was enough light to move around, it wasn't enough to do much of anything. I did some knitting on a simple project that doesn't require following a pattern and that uses fat enough yarn that I can feel each stitch. I did a little online browsing with my phone. When we were approaching ten, I decided I might as well go to bed. I could get some rest and stay warm.

And of course, right as I got in bed, the power came back on. I still went to bed early, since I was already there. But I can see where the early to bed, early to rise ethic came from. You may as well arrange your life around access to light.

I guess I could have done some writing, since the laptop was charged and doesn't require light, but I was pretty distracted by the "why don't I have power, will it come back, when will it come back?" issue. However, when I went to bed early, I dreamed the next scene to write, so I might get that done today.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Reading for Fun

I'm back from the Thanksgiving holiday and determined to get at least some things accomplished before the Christmas holiday. I got home Thanksgiving night (leaving early to beat the bad weather), then spent a cold, rainy weekend huddled on the sofa, watching Hallmark movies. Which inspired me to re-read that screenplay I wrote a couple of years ago. I was surprised by how good most of it was, but the ending needs work. I realized I was coming up against the time limit and just wrapped things up. Then again, that seems to be the way most of these movies end. I'm going to give it another pass and then I may ask my agent for advice. She doesn't handle film, but she has contacts and might be able to point me toward someone who does. Hallmark alone is going to start doing something like 20 new movies a year, and I think what I've written is at least as good as some of these, so I may as well give it a shot.

But that wasn't the big news of the holiday week and weekend. The big news was that Rebel Mechanics was named to the Lonestar List by the Texas Library Association. This list is books recommended to encourage reading for pleasure in young teens/preteens, and that's a cause near and dear to my heart. I hate that a love for reading tends to get driven out of kids in school unless they're getting outside support to encourage reading for fun. If your only exposure to books is what you're forced to read in school, you probably won't learn to love to read, and reading for pleasure has so many benefits. It makes people better readers for being able to read school stuff and anything else in life. It makes people more empathetic, because being able to put yourself in the shoes of characters in a novel gives you skills you can use to see the world through other people's eyes. It opens up other areas of knowledge if things in books encourage readers to look things up, like vocabulary words or historical or geographical details. I write books with the primary hope that they'll be fun to read, so it's a great honor to have my book on a list librarians will be using to help kids find books that are fun to read.

And it's really nice to be honored. I do spend a lot of time whining about not getting recognition, even though I seem to be doing at least as well as authors who do get recognized. I don't know how big this will be and if it will translate into sales or other honors, but making a list like this is really cool.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pre-Thanksgiving Book Update

The new book is showing up in a few more places. The audio is up, as is the Nook version at Barnes & Noble. Still waiting for the paperback to be available. I guess things are slower during a holiday week. I'm afraid I'm not even doing my usual halfhearted stab at book publicity this week. Maybe I should have declined that holiday week release date, but then I'm not that worried about making all the sales this week. I'm more interested in long term, and then it doesn't matter when the book comes out.

I'm hanging out with my brother at my parents' house while my parents are off at medical appointments. I may turn back into a teenager at any moment.

Meanwhile, I've got the pastry for the chocolate pecan pie chilling in the refrigerator. Darn, I forgot to bring my blue ribbon from the church bake-off to display with it.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and remember that books are a great way to relax after the big meal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New Book Day!

It's release day for Fairy Tale, book 3, A Kind of Magic, theoretically, though it's not necessarily showing up yet in all the formats at all the sites. I guess we'll have to be patient.

I'm taking an early and long Thanksgiving holiday. I went to my parents' house yesterday, and I'm hanging out with them for the week. That means I may not be quite as on top of all the promotional stuff as I probably should be. I won't be as tied to my desk as I usually am. I'm currently borrowing their Internet connection.

I updated my web site slightly to give info about the new book. I'll add buy links there as I get them.

This may be one of the few times when the book comes out at about the time when it's set, since it's set just before Thanksgiving, when Christmas stuff is already happening but it's not technically the Christmas season. Decorations are going up, and productions of The Nutcracker have started. There's the occasional snowflake in New York, but is that weather or something else?

I hope everyone enjoys it!

Tell your friends! Leave reviews!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Geeky TV Woes

I can't believe it's already Friday and that it's the Friday before Thanksgiving. I think mentally I'm still back in July. I still have my summer clothes in the downstairs closet and need to do a closet switch because it's supposed to get cold this weekend and my warm clothes are all still upstairs. We're also getting close to the winter finales of a lot of TV shows, and I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that the fall season has started.

Unfortunately, most of my geeky TV pleasures seem to be failing me this year. I complained at the end of the last season that it was like all the TV writers had some kind of suicide pact going to try to destroy their own shows, and it still feels that way to me. Spoilers ahead, but I'll try to keep things as vague as possible, since if you watch, you'll know what I mean and if you don't, you won't care.

Strangely enough, although I'm not that excited about Doctor Who this season, I also don't have a lot of complaints about it. The semi-serialized nature, with two-parters, gets like the old-school series (though I've never watched it in serialized form, as it seems like in the US it was always put together in a "movie" for each story). I don't have anything I actually dislike about it. I'm just afraid that Peter Capaldi will not be one of "my" Doctors. I've had more fun with the Classic era reruns from PBS and BBCAmerica than with the new episodes. But at least they don't seem to be actively attempting to destroy all that's good about the series. Unlike other shows.

I'm a bit behind on Sleepy Hollow because I'm generally out on Thursday nights and then I forget to catch up with it later, and while this season has been better than last season, the previous season just about killed it, and it's all starting to feel like a stretch with the way Ichabod seems to have had a connection to every single element of the American Revolution. I'm hoping that the two episodes I need to watch will make the arc make some kind of sense or give it some kind of purpose. Maybe they'd be better off with a Monster of the Week instead of trying to do a grand arc about the latest impending apocalypse. I'm just not sure I can forgive them going to the trope of literally demonizing the existing significant other of the male lead last season.

Speaking of which, there's Grimm. I can understand the desire to shake things up in a long-running series, but there's shaking things up and then there's removing the stuff that made it fun. For me, a big part of the enjoyment of the series came from how very ordinary the hero seemed. He's the boy next door, the nice guy with his nice girlfriend living in a cozy house -- and yet the monsters take one look at him and flee in terror. This very ordinary-seeming guy who is in no way large or menacing, who would best be described as "cute," is the monster the monsters tell horror stories about. Now they've removed all the "ordinary" from him, though I guess he's still cute and not particularly physically imposing. They demonized (again, literally) the existing girlfriend and then killed her off, and now he's moved out of the cozy house -- and in with his enemy, in one of the biggest "seriously?" moves in TV history. This woman did a shape-shifting spell to get him to think she was his girlfriend and sleep with her in order to take his powers away, which nearly got him killed, and then the spell they had to do to get his powers back was what turned his girlfriend into a monster, which was what got her killed, and then it turns out that the enemy got pregnant (their way of dealing with the actress's real-life pregnancy) and had his baby, so now he feels responsible for looking after her and the kid. So, yeah, he's having to live with his rapist who's largely responsible for the death of his girlfriend, and they seem to be setting it up for a relationship to develop, and no, just no. That happens, and I have to quit. I know the girlfriend wasn't wildly popular (that character never is) and there were some complaints about lack of "chemistry" between them (ironic, given that the actors are involved in real life), but it wasn't like they needed to get the existing significant other out of the way to make room for the relationship fans were clamoring for. This is where you want to say to the writers, "Have you actually looked at what you're writing here?" I just hope someone has noticed the ratings nosedive and maybe figured it out.

And speaking of not noticing what they're writing … I'm withholding a lot of judgment on Once Upon a Time until I see how they finish the current arc, but I'm very, very worried based on their track record and extremely screwy morality. I'm already iffy with their idea to turn the heroine into a kind of villain, not because of her actually doing anything villainous but because she sacrificed herself to take on the disembodied darkness that was going to consume everything. Strange how that sacrifice is being treated somewhat like yet another bit of "proof" that heroes aren't all that great, after all, even though she hasn't actually done anything bad under influence of the darkness that wasn't for some kind of greater good or at least out of love. Some of the supposedly reformed villains have done far worse while still being considered heroes. And then there's the fact that each thing she did that supposedly brought her closer to darkness has been to save a life. Only on this should would saving lives count as a step closer to darkness. We won't even get into how they've shown us twice in this arc that apparently the real path to villainy is being angry at a person who slaughtered your entire village. But now they've pulled off a plot development that makes very little sense in terms of a magical system or worldbuilding, even by this show's "Calvinball" standards of rules for magic. It actually has all the potential pieces to be a wonderful character arc, but the writers of this show are idiot savants who have a great talent for coming up with brilliant situations without recognizing or actually doing anything with what they've created, so I'm worried. If they screw this up, I may have to be done.

The Muppets seems to be getting better and is apparently going to be retooled during the winter hiatus. The main thing they need to remember there is that the point of Fozzie Bear is that he isn't funny. The humor comes in the way other people react to the fact that he's entirely unfunny, so giving him his own story lines doesn't work. But they did find a way to get Kermit to unironically sing "The Rainbow Connection" and still put a funny new twist on it, so there's hope.

Haven has been okay, but has lost some of its spark. Some of that comes from some offscreen issues, like having to change shooting locations mid-stream, which means the town is no longer such a character in the show. They're giving answers and wrapping things up, but it's going to be hard to evaluate this season until we see how it wraps up. Some of the episodes have been blah, while others have been deliciously tense and weird.

And I think that's all the geeky stuff I'm following right now.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Choir Christmas

I got to have both the preschool and kindergarten choirs last night, but oddly, that almost made them easier because the kindergarten is all girls, and getting a better balance of girls and boys (my group is mostly boys) helped. I think some of my boys were on their best behavior to impress the older girls. And now I have two weeks off from them, and only one more session before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, adult choir is in full swing to get ready for Christmas. For our "pops" concert, the chamber ensemble is doing a song I first sang in sixth-grade choir, "The Twelve Days After Christmas." Listening to it now, I'm amazed that a teacher would pick that for sixth graders. I get more of the jokes now. I got chosen to deliver the song's spoken punchline, and I'm not sure what it says about the way they see me that it was pretty unanimously decided that I was the one who had to say it ("Actually, I kept one of the drummers" -- this line was not in the version the sixth-grade choir sang). I'm getting to continue my trend this fall of singing works by my favorite composers, as the big choir is doing a John Williams piece. Alas, it's not "Duel of the Fates" (I so want to sing that) but rather a Christmas song from one of the Home Alone movies. I almost had enough voice to sing last night. I could get a decent sound on the notes from the middle of the staff and up, and I could kind of rasp out the lower notes but didn't make much noise. I have to sing in the chamber group Sunday morning, so I hope I have more voice by then. Even if I don't, I'm an extraneous soprano, so they'll be okay without me making much sound.

I really should do something to promote the new book, but I'm just about out of ideas. I've got to update the web site, and I should be more social on social media, but weirdly enough, when I can't talk, I seem to become less communicative online, as well. So, um, the third Fairy Tale book comes out Tuesday. Buy it. Tell others. Write reviews. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

After NaNoWriMo

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. Actually, I seldom do it because every other month of the year is novel writing month for me, and November is usually when I'm dealing with other things. I'm not opposed to the concept as a motivational tool, though I quibble with some of the arbitrary rules and with the choice of month (I believe January would be a much better month -- no major holiday in the middle of it, not much else going on, the eagerness from new year's resolutions that haven't been broken yet).

If you are participating and are a little more than halfway done with your novel, congratulations, but know that even if you complete the task, the job's not over yet. I've heard editors and agents moaning about how NaNoWriMo means that starting around the first of December, they're going to be bombarded with queries for what turn out to be half-baked books that are obviously NaNoWriMo products. Here are some suggestions about what you can do to not be one of the people editors and agents moan about.

1) Remember that writing "The End" doesn't mean it's over.
A fast-and-furious writing process like you have to do to write a novel in a month means that the result is a first draft, and probably a very rough draft, at that. Your book probably still needs a lot of work. In some respects, the first draft may be the easy part. Revision is where the real work comes in, and it will probably take more than a month.

2) Take your time moving forward.
There's no benefit to being one of those December 1 queriers. You'll just be lost among all the others. Instead, put your draft aside. Enjoy the holiday season. If you think of additional ideas for what you could do with this story, write them down, but don't look at the book. After the holidays, reread what you've written with fresh eyes, then plan the revisions you need to do. Make those revisions. Get a second opinion from a trusted, qualified reader. Only when you're absolutely sure the book is finished and ready should you start submitting it. Then you won't obviously fall into the crowd of overeager NaNoWriMo participants, both because of timing and because of quality. This also applies to the decision to self publish. I'm sure there will be scores of new books popping up on Amazon in December and January from authors who eagerly completed them in November. Many of these books won't be ready for publication. Take your time to make your product ready to go to market, however you do that.

3) Do your research on how to market your book
While you're putting the book aside and doing revisions, make sure you have the information you need to decide how best to get your book into the market, whether it's by finding an agent and going the route of traditional publication or by self publication. Figure out where your book fits into the market by genre and subgenre. Look at which publishers are publishing that kind of book. Research which agents are looking for that kind of material, and thoroughly vet any agents and publishers to make sure they're legitimate. Learn how they want to be approached. If you decide that self publishing is the route for you, you'll need to find a good copyeditor, possibly a developmental editor (works on the story, as opposed to grammar, spelling, and punctuation), and you'll need to decide whether to go exclusively with one venue or go broad. Learning about the various book distribution venues is a lot like researching publishers. There's more to it than uploading a file to Amazon.

4) The book you've written may not ever make it to print, and that's okay.
One of the main points behind the NaNoWriMo project is to encourage all those people who are saying they'll write a novel someday to sit down and give it a shot, and to finish it. Not every book that's written needs to be published. Sometimes, just trying it is enough. You may learn that this isn't for you. You may see that your story idea doesn't work all that well. You may have enjoyed the writing process but don't care to publish. All of that is fine. The one book I've written as a NaNoWriMo project is still sitting on my hard drive. It has a beginning, middle, and end, but it's not a finished book because it needs substantial rewrites. I'm not particularly driven to do those rewrites because I'm not sure about what the book needs to be. I've completed eight books since I wrote that one, so obviously that didn't stall me out. It was a good exercise that forced me to complete an idea that had been living in my head for a long time and that got me through a slump when I was out of the habit of writing regularly.

Hmm, maybe I should take another look at that book ...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lazy Day

I'm being a lazy slug so far today. There were a couple of weather alerts during the night that woke me up, so I ended up sleeping late. And then since I wasn't particularly hungry and there was a book I hadn't been able to finish reading the night before, I just sat in bed and read for a while before getting up. I went upstairs to check e-mail while still in my pajamas. I may or may not try to accomplish anything today. I'm feeling better, and I have some voice back, but I don't have a lot of energy and I should probably not push it. I have some work-related reading to do, and I suppose I'd better start promoting the new book, which is coming out a week from today.

One thing I did while I didn't feel like doing anything else was watch some stuff from my DVR to clear space for all those holiday movies they're starting to show and that I'm not ready for yet. One thing I'd recorded was a PBS presentation of the musical Billy Elliot. That's the one about the boy in the British coal-mining town who wants to be a ballet dancer. I never saw the original movie, but thinking about it makes me think of Oxford because it was out in theaters during my trip there, and I remember having a chat with the landlady at the B&B where I stayed about the movie when she and her husband had taken Saturday night off to go see it. There's some really interesting dancing in the musical, but it doesn't quite work as a "musical" for me. The music is mostly pretty forgettable. There wasn't a song that stuck in my head or that would work very well out of context. I thought it was also weird how they mixed in so much tap in a show about ballet. The kid was studying ballet, but he seemed to express himself through tap. I know a lot of people study multiple forms of dance, but it was still weird to me because they're such totally different forms. Probably my favorite bit of dancing was a fantasy sequence in which an adult ballet dancer was representing the kids's possible adult self, and they did a kind of pas de deux with the adult and the kid dancing together.

But then the ending hit one of my least-favorite musical theater cliches. It seems like when the ending of a show is rather anticlimactic and doesn't lend itself to a big closing musical number, they compensate by doing a medley/montage sequence during the curtain calls, in which the whole cast comes out and does a big dance number to a mash-up of all the songs in the show. It's fun in Mamma Mia because it's basically a big ABBA singalong, though I think the originator of the trend is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, where it's actually kind of part of the plot, since the play is a story being told by an onstage storyteller. In this case, it was rather jarring because it didn't fit the tone of the show at all and seemed to be done strictly to have the audience leaving the theater clapping and humming the songs. And it went on forever and ever, with costume changes. I think there were even dancers in one of the bits of it who weren't even in the show itself.

Now I want to see the original movie because I suspect the show added a lot of stuff that wasn't in there -- and I'm not just talking about the songs and all the characters dancing. They have it in the library system, so I'll have to check it out.

Now that it's lunchtime, I suppose I ought to get dressed, or at least switch pajamas.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Quiet Time

I had a rather quiet weekend, literally, as I completely lost my voice. My sinuses had been draining like crazy, which made my throat feel raw and sore, but I didn't know that I had no voice until I got to a choir rehearsal Saturday morning and realized I couldn't make a sound. I guess I hadn't done any talking to myself when I got up that morning. I skipped the afternoon event I was supposed to go to and instead went home and took serious antihistamines. Those are the kind that make me a bit loopy, so I was useless for the rest of the weekend. I think I'm a bit better today, but only as long as I'm taking the medicine. When a dose wears off, the sneezing and draining starts again. Maybe the rain we got last night washed some of whatever was in the air away. Or I might have to admit that I had a cold instead of allergies -- but the symptoms were very "allergy" rather than "cold." It's possible that I got a double whammy.

At any rate, today looks like a perfect day for huddling under a blanket with a cup of tea and resting. Maybe I'll do some brainstorming because I'm currently lacking any focus or any logic filter. Actual writing probably wouldn't work, but coming up with random ideas might go better than usual.

One thing I didn't realize would be so frustrating with no voice: watching TV. I didn't know how much my enjoyment of TV watching relies on snarking back at the TV. When I can't do that audibly, it's not as much fun.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Walks in the Woods

I had grand plans today for a nice walk in the woods. The weather is lovely, and I even picked up sandwich materials on the way to ballet last night. But I woke up with allergies run amok, and walking in the woods might not be the brightest thing ever to do when I have a choir rehearsal in the morning to gear up for Christmas. I think I will make a library run this afternoon because a book I requested is in and it's supposed to be a cold, rainy Sunday.

So in lieu of a walk in the woods, here are some more images from last weekend's walking in the woods.

Here's one of the more interesting bits of one of the hiking "paths." I have to use the term loosely because there was no real path. You just looked for the red marks on the trees and made your own way from mark to mark.

And here's my full dose of fall colors, taken from right behind my room. The view was north-northeast, but the setting sun hit the opposite hill and really lit it up. Just about everyone staying at the lodge was out there taking pictures of this.

Then on the second day's hike, see those rocks on the hill on the other side of the lake?

Here's the view from on top of them. I had to walk all the way around the lake and up the hill to get there.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Holding off the Holidays

It really feels like fall today. I need to do some walking errands, and then there may be some baking because I have other baking that needs to be done tomorrow. And then the weekend is already making me twitch because I'll be going from one event straight to another. There's something I was thinking of doing Sunday afternoon, but I suspect I will be retreating to the cave by then.

And what's really scary is that my weekends are fairly full from now until Thanksgiving. Then there's the weekend in December in which I have something scheduled Friday night, Saturday lunchtime, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday night. I imagine I won't be very productive that Monday. I might end up skipping the Saturday afternoon event.

While I'm reveling in fall, Christmas is encroaching. We're working on Christmas and Advent music in choir, and the neighborhood has already put up the holiday decorations -- switching to the seasonal banners and putting the lighted garlands on the bridges. A lot of people in the neighborhood had lights up for Diwali this week, and while I know that they're not Christmas lights, part of me reacts to them that way. A lot of stores are already going full-on Christmas. At least Kroger didn't seem to be going overboard yet. Yeah, they've got the holiday items out, but Thanksgiving is a big grocery store holiday, so I guess they don't want to jump the gun.

It doesn't help that Hallmark is already on Christmas movies just about 24/7. My DVR may fill up with the ones I think sound interesting but that I refuse to watch until after Thanksgiving. I need to take another look at that one I wrote a couple of years ago and then maybe talk to my agent about what to do with it -- whether I can see if the film agent who represents my books might be able to help sell it as a screenplay or whether I should turn it into a novel.

But for now, it's fall. Colored leaves. Apples and cinnamon (I'm not a huge fan of "pumpkin spice" flavored stuff). Hot tea. Walks in the woods.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jazzing up the Nutcracker

I've made an executive decision to skip the writing post this week and move it to next week because otherwise I'd end up having to skip it Thanksgiving week, and I can't really think of anything to say today about writing. Other than that I need to do it.

As I realized yesterday, book 3 in the Fairy Tale series, A Kind of Magic, comes out in less than two weeks. Right now, it seems that only the e-book is up for pre-order, but it's supposed to be available in all formats by release day.

This one picks up maybe a couple of weeks after the previous one (I guess I don't like giving my characters a lot of rest). It appears that stabilizing things in the fairy Realm may have been bad for our world because it's starting to look like the old days of fairy tales, when strange occurrences involving the fae were more common (and thus the tales). And it's bad enough that other enchantresses are taking notice. Of course, that's right when Sophie has had a chance to get her dance career back on track with a role in the Nutcracker in New York.

I had some fun with the Nutcracker, creating my own version with a little more action in it. I watched way too many versions of that ballet when researching the book. I've never really been a fan of it, to be honest. I think it's only such a classic because it offers so many roles, with a lot of roles that can be danced by children. That means it's a staple for ballet schools, and then because so many people have danced in it, it's something they enjoy watching. But, really, if you haven't been in it and if your kid isn't in it, it can be pretty boring between the interesting parts. Almost all of the first act is pantomime without much dancing. Yet at the same time, that's the only part with any real conflict. There's the big battle with the Rat King, and the entire rest of the ballet is the celebration after that battle. Act two is the journey through the land of the snow (the part I have fun with in my version). Then act three is all the entertainment done in celebration. The snow scene can be lovely with a good corps, and then the individual act three dances can be good, though when you think about it, they're mostly based on ethnic stereotypes (depending on the version). It's definitely a ballet that's better in highlight reel form. This was the first professional ballet I ever saw, and I'd only seen the highlight reel versions before. So I was excited when I was in college and I was able to go to the Austin ballet's version, where I was promptly bored out of my skull.

I might watch it when it comes on TV, but it's the kind of thing where I read in between the good parts. Someone really needs to come up with a good alternative Christmas-season ballet.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Back to Real Life

I suppose I have to get back to normal (and remember what that is) now. I let myself be a slacker yesterday because I was very tired and my allergies were going nuts. Today, though, I need to get back to writing. I also need to unpack and do some dishes and laundry. Ugh. Real life.

Now I need to finish the book I'm working on, and then I need to decide what to write next. I should probably work on a fourth Fairy Tale book, but I don't really have a defined plot for it, just some vague ideas. While that series is doing okay, it doesn't really seem to be catching on in a way that means I need to make it a priority. I have another idea I want to play with, but I'm not sure yet if it's a standalone or series potential, and I'm not sure if switching will be a benefit or a detriment. I seem to be stuck in the place of having a small, dedicated group of fans who love my stuff, without me ever really catching on in a bigger way or getting the kind of attention that can give me a boost. And I'm not sure what I can do to get to that place other than keep writing and keep trying and hoping someday something will click.

When I start feeling like this, I have to remind myself that I'm making a good living, so while I need to keep at it and working to continue making a good living, I'm doing better than a lot of people who seem to be getting the recognition and treatment I feel like would make a big difference for me. So maybe all the stuff I wish I could have wouldn't change things all that much for me.

Which means I need to quit feeling sorry for myself and keep writing because it beats every other way I've tried to make a living. I get to make up stories all day.

Now I need to take a walk to restock on tea, and I need to make up a bunch of Henry's school friends and their friends. And I should probably do some promo work, considering I have a book coming out two weeks from today.

Monday, November 09, 2015

On the Trails

I'm now home from vacation. I had a wonderful time, but I kind of failed in the "resting and relaxing" plan to come home refreshed instead of tired. But I think I'm mentally refreshed and it's a good kind of physical tiredness. I did a lot of hiking, probably too much, and not necessarily by plan.

There are marked trails throughout this state park, but the trails aren't necessarily improved, with an obvious path. In places, there are just marks on trees, and how you get from one to the other is up to you. So you reach one marker and look for the next marker before setting off. They haven't really updated the markers that much in a while, and in a few places the markers are wrong and haven't been corrected. That's what happened to me on Friday's hike. There was a spot where I really should have turned left, but there were markers for that trail going right and I guess I looked to my right first, where there was what looked like an obvious path. But after a while the markers changed color, indicating that it was an equestrian trail rather than a hiking trail. I tried retracing my steps, but apparently there were multiple equestrian trails and I must have got onto a different one. The equestrian trails weren't on the hiking trail map. Thanks to GPS and the compass in my phone, I found a trail heading in the direction I needed to go, so I walked about three miles more than I planned. I then bought a map of the equestrian trails, just in case. It was actually a rather pleasant hike. It was just hard to enjoy during the time when I wasn't entirely sure where I was or where I was going. And there was some fun in crossing the various creeks because that's not an issue for horses, but the water would have been ankle deep on me. Fortunately, there were stepping stones and I have very good balance.

That afternoon, I took a guided tour of some of the caves in the park, and the naturalist leading the tour said that he and one of the other guys are about to do an overhaul of the trails. Just before talking to me, the other naturalist had sent him some photos of the bad markers on the trail I'd just been on, saying someone was likely to make the same mistake I did.

I got in a little reading on the porch that evening and did some relaxing. Which was good because the next hike was very strenuous -- up a mountain. I'd planned to take one of the cut-offs to not do the whole trail because the trail isn't a loop. Except the cut-off wasn't marked and wasn't an obvious trail, so I walked a bit longer than I planned and still had to walk back to where I'd parked (and I was so glad I'd driven to the trailhead instead of walking. It was only about a mile, but that mile would have killed me at that point). So I ended up doing about 8 miles that day. I really enjoyed the first four or so. The last two miles of the hike were okay. The two miles back to my car were on flat surface, so they were easy, but they weren't pleasant. When I passed the camp for people who brought their horses, I was tempted to ask for a lift.

But overall, I still had fun. It was the rare case of the reality being even better and more fun than what I'd imagined. This state park isn't that far away -- about a 4-hour drive -- so I'll have to do this more often. It's a quick trip to be in the mountains. People in Colorado would pat them on the head and say how adorable to call these mountains, and I'm not sure where you draw the line between "hill" and "mountain," but these are technically mountains, and they're the kind I like, where you can walk to the top without special gear, and there's no timber line, so there are trees all the way to the top. They're gentle, friendly mountains. So while "Ski Oklahoma" isn't going to happen, they're what I want in mountains, and they're conveniently close.

On my next trip, I may have to do a trail ride and let the horses do the walking. I'll also allow myself a lot more time to just enjoy sitting at the lodge. Saturday evening, I was sitting on the porch, looking at the colorful leaves, feeling the slight chill in the fall air, eating snickerdoodles, smelling the wood smoke from nearby campfires, and listening to the geese flying overhead, and it was all stuff that said "fall" to me for every sense.

Friday, November 06, 2015


I'm now on vacation! I spent most of yesterday driving, and by doing so I managed to miss all the bad weather. I got out of the Dallas area before the morning rain hit and had only about a five-minute patch of needing windshield wipers along the way. I had a few spots of mist while driving down major roads, and then I got off onto the scenic route through the mountains, where the mist came a little lower to ground level.

And then I hit one of the higher mountain scenic routes, up in the mountains instead of winding around the base, and there the mist got a little more intense. Like this, where it looks like the mountain is on fire between the fall colors in the trees and the strategically placed wisps of mist.

It got a lot more intense from there, where the fog was really dense. I was navigating by the stripes on the road, and all I could see were the trees right beside the road. It was rather eerie and beautiful, and iTunes cooperated by providing just the right soundtrack. Loreena McKennitt's "Dante's Prayer," the one that starts with the Russian choir, is just the thing for driving through dense fog.

And then the fog cleared a bit as I got to the other side, and it was almost sunny.

I want to make that drive again in better weather because it was gorgeous. There were a few spots where hiking trails crossed the road, so I need to look into hiking venues there. The problem is that there don't seem to be too many places to stay anywhere nearby.

I had lunch at a cute little restaurant in a restored passenger train car (amazing fried chicken, the house specialty) and made it to the state park where I'm staying right at check in. I'd just unloaded my car when the afternoon storm hit. We got some wind, lots of rain, and some spectacular lightning (especially so seen from the top of a mountain). Now it's cool and clear. This is the view from my room's porch, where I had breakfast.

And now it's time to hit the hiking trails. There's a tour of the nearby caves this afternoon that I plan to take. Otherwise, I'm just enjoying the peace. It's weird not to hear any road noise at all. I live on a major street, so it's just a part of the background, but I'm so far removed from anything other than the drive up to the lodge that I can't hear anything -- and I think I had the entire lodge to myself last night, unless someone else got in after I got the car unloaded. Mine was the only car in the lot.

(The wi-fi is slow, so I did "web-sized" versions of the photos)

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Random Thoughts While Packing

I just have a couple of things to pick up on my way to choir tonight (since that store is near the church), and I'll be ready for my trip. I have my clothes packed and all the non-refrigerated food ready to go. I need to gather a few more of my hiking/outdoors items and some other supplies like that. And I want to do a bit more tidying around the house. So it will be a busy afternoon.

Some random thoughts, etc.:

Is anyone watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on the CW? I decided to give it a shot because of some good reviews, and I'm finding it to be a lot of fun. It's kind of scratching my romantic comedy itch. It's basically a chick-lit novel in TV form, but it's also a musical, with really clever original music (rather than covers, like on Glee) performed by Broadway-caliber actors in a way that sounds like real singing, rather than over-produced and auto-tuned. The plot is straight out of chick-lit: a neurotic Manhattan attorney evaluates her life when she sees a butter commercial that asks when was the last time you were really happy, and she thinks about the time she went to summer camp in high school. When she then runs into the guy who was her camp boyfriend, she takes it as a sign. But he's moving back to his hometown in California. So she turns down a promotion to partner and moves to this rather nothing town in California (2 hours from the beach, 4 if there's traffic). She keeps claiming that it's not because of him but because she needed to make a change. And then she meets this guy's best friend. We can tell that her teen boyfriend is probably Mr. Wrong and his best friend is Mr. Right, but she's too big a mess to really see it, but on the other hand, the ex can be a decent guy and the friend can be kind of a mess. In the pilot it seemed really obvious, but they've done some interesting things with the scenario. And every so often, musical numbers break out in her head. Some are full on Broadway or Hollywood style, and a few others come closer to parodies of pop songs (a la Flight of the Conchords). There are some actual Broadway names involved, and the best friend is played by the actor who was the voice of Hans in Frozen and who was the prince in Broadway's Cinderella. Here, though, he's more of an adorkable boy next door type. He had a wonderful musical number in this week's episode that's currently stuck in my head. The show can get a little raunchier than I would prefer, but even the raunch is rather funny, so it's almost like it's satirizing the raunchy romantic comedies.

Entertainment Weekly has the new Harry Potter universe "prequel" on the cover of their upcoming issue, and it's a cruel tease because the movie doesn't come out for another year, and there's Eddie Redmayne looking rather wonderful in costume. I find him fascinating to watch as an actor, so I'm curious to see him in a less heavy film. 

Now, off to continue packing and cleaning.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

A Suspicious Type

I was utterly useless yesterday. About the only thing I accomplished was making travel playlists and washing some dishes. So today I really have to get my pre-trip act together. There will be housework! And packing! Then I'm just down to the last-minute Target and grocery runs for tomorrow. So far, the weather forecast is holding steady on rain during my travel day and sun and cool weather the rest of the time. It should be perfect for hiking, and the last fall foliage report for the area said it should be at its peak, but the trees are starting to lose leaves. I'm planning to spend much of the days hiking, the rest of the days sitting on my room's private patio, reading, drinking tea, and looking at the mountains, and the evenings using some of the fun little spa treatment things I picked up at Tuesday Morning. Supposedly, there's satellite TV, but I don't know what channels that will entail. I'm actually not sure whether I want it to just be the major networks, so I'll be forced to entertain myself in other ways and shake up my routine, or whether I want the full spectrum so I can kick back and relax after a busy day. There are picnic tables with grills near the rooms, and I've been going back and forth on whether I want to try to bring supplies for grilling anything or even just for sitting by something fire-like at night. It might be nice, but it might be more trouble than it's worth.

I made the Executive Decision a little while ago to hold off on the house purchase for a while, since there are things that the HOA has to do to this place before it can sell, anyway, and home prices may be hitting a bubble around here, and use some of the money I've saved to take care of some bucket list travel items. I've figured that I have a flexible schedule, and I can work wherever I am, so I may as well take advantage of that flexibility, especially while I'm living in a place where I don't have to worry about stuff like lawn care. So, I need to renew my passport, and then I need to start looking into those things I always wanted to do and places I always wanted to go.

Last night, I was reading a mystery novel that fit the old "weekend house party at a grand estate" model, but it was updated for the grand estate to have been turned into a hotel. I thought that sounded like something that would be fun to do, to stay in one of those places for a night or two. But preferably without the murder part.

And then my imagination got carried away and started mentally writing that mystery novel, from the perspective of the cop just trying to have a weekend getaway, with me as one of the other guests at the hotel when someone is murdered. It was a little odd seeing myself through someone else's eyes and evaluating me as a possible suspect. The other guests saw me as "that American writer," and my general aloofness and lack of interest in any group activities didn't help matters.

And no, I am not planning to write a mystery novel with myself as one of the suspects. I just want to spend a couple of nights in one of those grand old houses or a castle, no murder at all.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Concert, Vacation, and a Road Trip

I survived my busy weekend, and now it's vacation week. I don't leave until Thursday, but there's some getting ready to do. You know, essential stuff like creating road trip playlists and cleaning the house enough that I won't recoil in horror upon my return.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out a bunch of new characters who have suddenly joined the book I'm working on and what role they'll really end up playing.

We did our performance of Requiem last night, and it was wonderful. I don't know how it sounded to the audience, aside from one video someone posted to Facebook of one of the movements, and that sounded better than I imagined, so it must have been good for the audience, but it was really a wonderful experience to sing. I think my solo went well. It's hard to judge, and I'm a raging perfectionist, but I got a lot of compliments from some professional singers and from people I don't even know, so I guess I did okay. The impression I got from the way people phrased the compliments was that they really got the emotion in what I was singing, which was the idea, so I'll be happy with it. I moved people, and that was the point. I felt pretty good about it. So that's one item from the bucket list dealt with. One thing that hadn't even occurred to me was that I would get a special round of applause as a soloist. The director acknowledged the choir, then had the choir sit and the soloists stand. That was cool, but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. I could see one of the pros, and she nodded a bit, so I did that.

I'm a little sad that we won't be singing this music anymore. I'll miss it. I got a little teary-eyed in the last movement because I realized it was almost over.

And now it's time to get ready for Christmas music. We're having a retreat to work on that next weekend.

But first, vacation week!

In other news, I did a guest post for the From the Shadows blog, providing a "Paranormal Road Trip" of New York settings from my books. Check it out!

Friday, October 30, 2015


It's Halloween weekend, but for me it's mostly about All Saints Day on Sunday. That's because I'm spending Saturday morning in a rehearsal with orchestra for the John Rutter Requiem we're doing Sunday night, and then I'm also singing in a chamber chorale for both services Sunday morning. That means the rest of the weekend is going to be pretty quiet. The Requiem is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting to sing, and nerves will be on high because I've got a solo. I've sung by myself in church services, either as soloist with the choir or an ensemble or as part of a duet with solo parts, and even once as just a soloist, but this is a concert with orchestra. I'm mostly over the worst of my singing stage fright, but I'm nervous about this, and I think I'm mostly nervous about being nervous. If the nerves make me mess up, then it'll be back to square one. But I know I can do it. I've done well enough in rehearsal that even the pros have complimented me. I may be more nervous about the rehearsal with orchestra tomorrow because the while the audience is likely to be very supportive and less critical than I am of myself, professional musicians have different standards.

So, anyway, there will be lots of resting and taking care of myself to build up the energy levels. Today is cool and rainy, so it will be a writing day, and then the season premiere of Grimm is tonight. I'm skipping Saturday night's Halloween party in part because I can't really do a late night before the Sunday I'll have and in part because there are indoor pets at the host home, and I don't want to take the risk of an allergy flare-up. Under other circumstances, I'd just take medication, play with the pets, and then not worry about a little sniffling or wheezing. I'm planning on watching Doctor Who and some Halloween stuff and going to bed early.

To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Halloween. I mostly like Halloween because it's part of fall, which I love. I've always found it to be a magical time of year. I love looking at the colorful leaves. I even used to enjoy raking leaves. When I was a kid, I got excited about the idea of raking leaves into a pile and jumping in them (it was never as fun as it looked on TV, though). I've always loved fall clothes like plaid skirts, sweaters, boots, and hats. I love fall foods, like soups, stews, and stuff with cinnamon and apples. I remember checking a children's cookbook out of the library when I was a kid. It had a cookie recipe for each month, and for October it was snickerdoodles. The illustration was a snickerdoodle as the harvest moon, and that image has stuck in my head, so I associate snickerdoodles with October. This is a time of year when I want to take long walks in the woods and come home to have hot tea and cookies. I want to curl up with a good book on a rainy day. I want to watch romantic movies and drink hot cocoa.

Unfortunately, the season is fleeting. It comes so late here, and even though the fall weather often lingers until Christmas, once December arrives, "fall" gets replaced with "Christmas." In places where fall comes earlier (in Germany, it started to feel like fall in mid-August), winter comes earlier, though I suppose in many of those places, you actually get the season rather than a scattering of days over the course of months. There's only so much "fall" you can cram into the stretch from the last week or so of October through Thanksgiving. I have a list every year and seldom get to most of it. This year, just as the temperatures started dropping, El Nino hit, so it's too rainy to do much outside. And of course my vacation next week is going to end up getting rained on, though the forecast seems to change daily. I guess I'll get to walk in the cold rain and come back to my room for hot tea.

Now I'm going to devote the rest of the day to falling (I made it a verb). I think I'll bake some snickerdoodles and drink tea and write while watching it rain, in between bouts of practicing music (the second soprano part on Requiem is really tricky).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Villains and Victims

I talk a lot about the way good and evil are portrayed in fiction, in particular dealing with the attitudes toward good guys and bad guys in current popular culture. There's that idea that good guys are boring and bad guys are more fascinating, which I think often comes down to the attitudes of the writers. If you think good people are boring and bad people are interesting, you're going to write boring good people and interesting bad people.

There was a horrible crime in this area recently that had an even more horrible aftermath -- a guy who may possibly be mentally ill decided he wanted to kill someone and hacked a random jogger to death, and then not long after that, the victim's widow committed suicide. She couldn't imagine a life without her husband. There's a lot that's been written in the wake of these events, but this article about it gets into some things about villains and victims that fit some of my thoughts about why the "fascinating" villain is a false premise.

The writer, a veteran crime reporter, talks about the disconnect he had with editors who only really wanted the killers' stories when he was trying to sell true-crime books. Here's what he had to say about that:

Crooks have less going on upstairs, not more, than honest people. Crooks are basically smash-and-grabbers. See what they want, grab it. Money, sex, power, vengeance. Not into long-range planning. They divorce themselves from empathy. They have less, not more, to think about.

The effect their crimes have on survivors, on the other hand, is immensely complex and almost infinitely profound. As regular, decent people battle their way through the challenges of a normal life, their ability to deal with catastrophe, after all, is not infinite.

And that, right there, sums up why I'm far more interested in the good guys. I don't see anything all that interesting about someone who's out for himself, takes what he wants, and doesn't care what that does to anyone else. I don't care about his sad childhood, career failures or romantic disappointment. I'm more interested in the people who've gone through bad things and rise above them, who don't use their own troubles as an excuse to victimize others.

I'm even more interested in the good people who have to deal with the villains, whose normal lives are disrupted and who have to find their way back from that, or who have been permanently changed by their experiences. That change may be for the good, in that "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger" way, but even that process is more fascinating to me than the process of what makes a person become a villain.

I remember when the first Star Wars came out, and so many people (including my baby brother) were fascinated with Darth Vader. He was considered very cool, with Luke being derided as bland. But to me, with Darth Vader, there was no "there" there. He was a faceless (literally) thug. He had no strong personal motivations -- he was mostly just following orders. He didn't have a particularly interesting backstory (in the original trilogy) aside from the mention that he was a promising pupil who turned bad. He didn't have any struggles or complexity. He was just a black mask doing bad things because people he could crush with a thought wanted him to do them, and it didn't seem to bother him one bit. Even fleshing out his backstory in the prequels didn't make him more interesting to me. That just made him look even more shallow and selfish. On the other side of the equation, we had a guy who had his entire life turned upside down, who lost everything, including his image of himself, who got what he thought he wanted and realized it might be more than he could handle, and who had to transform himself -- fast -- not only to ensure his own survival but to ensure the survival of everything he believed in. He was yanked abruptly out of his comfort zone and thrust into a broader world than he could have ever imagined. That's way more interesting to me. Even anti-hero Han Solo (the other character it was cool to like) wasn't quite as interesting -- he just went from cynical and selfish to joining a cause, but there wasn't much else to his characterization other than witty one-liners. He was tough and glib, but there wasn't a lot of depth there.

Or in the Harry Potter world, sometimes I think Harry himself was the least popular character. Draco Malfoy was the one who got swooned over -- the spoiled rich kid bully who believed he was part of a master race who had every right to rule over the lesser races. But he had a sad childhood because his father was abusive, so he couldn't help being evil (and, of course, he could be healed by the love of a good woman, if only any of the girls in the books could have seen beneath his tough shell, the way the fanfic writers would, of course). Never mind that Harry had just as abusive and far less privileged a childhood and didn't turn out to be evil. 

I'm not going to say never, but so far I haven't written from the perspective of a villain, and I don't really intend to. I'd rather look at the world through the eyes of someone trying to stand up against villainy. It's like the way every time someone commits a horrid crime, there's a huge social media campaign to not mention the names of the criminals, but rather to focus on the victims and heroes. Maybe if we did the same thing in fiction, there'd be less interest in villains in real life. I'm not saying that fiction makes people become evil, but if the prevailing view is that villains are cool and heroes are boring, that has to sink into the psyche, and the thought can take root and rot in the minds of some people, so that if they want to be noticed, it seems obvious to them that they have to be villains. If they do good or save lives, they'll be ignored or even criticized as hypocrites if they're less than perfect, but they'll get attention and even sympathy if they take lives.

Incidentally, I somewhat disagree with this writer's premise on the article as a whole. It wasn't that the wife's suicide itself was harder on us, it was that it was the topper to an already horrific crime, it was shock on top of shock, so her death wasn't just the shock of a suicide, but was the shock of a suicide that stemmed from a shocking murder. It amplified the initial crime.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Busting Writer's Block

In my last writing post, I talked about fighting the Don't Wannas -- a variation of writer's block when the problem is not so much not knowing what to write as it is not really wanting to write. But what if you really don't know what to write, if you eagerly sit down at the keyboard (or paper) and can't seem to make the words come?

There are a number of reasons this can happen, and some of the same techniques can work on all of them.

One thing that can happen isn't so much that you don't know what to write but that it's getting crowded out by everything else in your head, so it feels like you don't have anything to say about this project. You're poised to write the next scene, but all you can think about is your grocery list, menu planning for the week, that vacation you'd like to take next year, that other story idea that just popped into your head, etc. The story you're working on is still in there, but it's drowned out by all the noise.

A good way to deal with that is to do a brain dump and get rid of the extraneous stuff. Take a moment and write down your grocery list, your menu plans, vacation ideas, the other story ideas. Don't get too carried away and start researching your vacation or getting out cookbooks to plan menus. Just write down everything that comes to mind. You can do this by focusing on the specific thing that's distracting you or by doing freewriting, where you write for a certain amount of time or a certain amount of pages, just writing whatever pops into your head, whether or not it makes sense. When you do that, you may find that you're thinking more clearly and are more able to focus. By the end of your freewriting session, you may have come back around to writing about your work in progress and what you want to happen next because you'll have cleared everything else out of your mind.

If you're just stuck, whether it's having no idea what happens next or being torn between possibilities, it can help to go back and re-read what you've already written. Start by going back a chapter or so, but if you're really stuck, it's often because something has gone wrong further back in the book and your subconscious can't move forward from where you are because it's all wrong, so you may need to go back to the beginning. I'm a big advocate of writing straight through instead of getting bogged down in making things perfect, but there are times when the only way to salvage a story is to go back and fix things. There's no point in pushing forward down the wrong path. Even if you don't have to make major changes, going back to the beginning helps you put the book into perspective because then you can experience it like a reader does, in much bigger chunks. It can take days, weeks, or even months to write what a reader goes through in hours. Re-reading can give you ideas for moving forward and can revive your enthusiasm for the project.

Another block-busting trick is to make a list of things that could happen next. Make yourself fill a whole sheet of paper. Some of the ideas are going to be silly, but as you keep going, you're forcing yourself to think more deeply and you may come up with some possibilities. This is another good use of freewriting, just forcing yourself to keep writing about your story until you've filled a certain number of pages or used up a certain amount of time.

If you're torn between possibilities, try outlining or sketching out both ways it could go and then listing where it could go from there. I sometimes find that it helps to open a new file or to use pen and paper when I'm uncertain about where I'm going. It feels like less of a commitment to the actual book. I'm just playing around with possibilities, not writing something in the book, and that limits the fear and restraint that comes with writer's block. If I like it, I can add it to the book.

If you know something that will happen down the line but are struggling with how to get from where you are to where you're going, write that future scene and see if you can reverse engineer. I know of writers who are entirely nonlinear, who just write the scenes as they come to them and then put them in order and create transitions later. You can try that if writing linear scenes isn't working for you.

One thing that helps me prevent both the Don't Wannas and writer's block is to end my writing sessions on a cliffhanger rather than neatly at the end of the scene, and then make some notes about what happens next. That makes me more eager to start writing the next day, and I already know how to start my writing session. It's usually easier to start the day by finishing a scene than by trying to start one, and I find that once I'm writing, it keeps flowing. Starting is the hard part.