Friday, January 30, 2015

Swirling Ideas

I managed to figure out the plot of the book I'm working on yesterday. Now I have to figure out how this affects the opening scenes I've already written. It's going to require moving some things around and adding some new things, but I'm not entirely sure if some of the scenes will be able to stay at all. It's going to be "drill into details" day. I need to start seeing the movie of this book in my head.

One problem is that another story has decided to pop up and do a little development right now. My head is generally a swirling mass of story ideas, story fragments, characters, and other things that could be stories. When one has built up enough to be written, it comes to the surface. Or sometimes I can focus on one enough to make it come to the surface so I can work on it. But every so often, one of the bits and pieces swirling around in there will randomly pop up and let me know some new detail about it.

In this case, it's one that's been backburnered for a few years. It's what I'm planning to write to follow up on my YA steampunk planned trilogy. I have two more books in that series to write before I can get to this one. I have one main character really well developed in my head. The other has been a cipher, but he suddenly came to life for me, and he's not at all what I expected him to be. It'll be a whole new character type for me to write. And then I realized that this book might actually involve a caper story -- one of those "assemble a team of experts to carry out a seemingly impossible job" things. That made the whole plot fall into place. It will require a lot of research to build the world I want for this book, so it still has to be backburnered. Unfortunately, until I can force that story back into the idea soup, it's currently a little more vivid and exciting than what I need to be working on.

I suppose this means I need to write faster so I can get to everything I want to write. I need to finish the third book in the Fairy Tale series. I suspect there will be more, but there will be a brief break while I work on the second steampunk book. Then there's an entirely different adult series I want to start that bridges the steampunk and contemporary fantasy, but that one will require lots of research and some travel, so it probably won't happen until next year. I guess I'll see how things go with the steampunk launch before I'll know how quickly I need to write the third book -- will the publisher want more books or will I independently publish the last two books?

And in the meantime, I need to get this house ready to sell, sell it, find a new house, and move. This is going to be a fun year.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Neighborhood Excitement

I got a cold call from a Realtor this morning asking if I'm thinking of selling my house because she has clients looking for this kind of thing all the time, so that means I need to get my act together. I have cleaning, decluttering and organizing to do, then I need to pretty much put a plumber on retainer for a day to fix a bunch of little things (ah, the joy of really hard water that corrodes everything). I have a few little carpentry repairs to do, and I need to repaint the downstairs bathroom and do some touchups elsewhere. I probably also need to get the garage door inspected and the opener possibly replaced, as I think the current code requires a sensor. So, yeah, I need to get busy.

We had a little excitement around here on Tuesday that helped reinforce my decision to move away from the townhouse and into a standalone house. I was on the conference call with Apple when I started hearing sirens. That's not odd, as my office overlooks a major road leading to the highway, so any wreck anywhere near means the fire trucks will be screaming past my office window. Then there were more sirens. And then something that sounded like someone shouting through a bullhorn. Then something that sounded like a helicopter circling. Something had to be up. So I checked the breaking news pages of the various local TV stations, in case it was a news helicopter. And it was. And the image on the breaking news page was of my complex. Two-alarm fire. Later, I went out to take out the trash and found the entire fire department lined up down the driveway. The fire trucks were a little farther along and it was the battalion commander trucks in front of my house. It turns out that the fire was in a building just around the corner and across the driveway. The only damage visible from outside is busted skylights -- possibly what the firefighters did to access the interior -- and the fire/water restoration service trucks were there about an hour later, with pumps running all night, and they were loading things into a Ryder truck, so it doesn't look like it was a total loss, and the structure seems to be fine. But still, when you share walls with other people, you can be affected by things they do. And it's a little weird to learn about something happening across the street by looking on the Internet.

In other news, I have a release date for the second book in the Fairy Tale series, To Catch a Queen -- March 3. That will be e-book, print and audio. I'll have a cover and a sneak peek soonish.

I don't have any obligations for the rest of the day and have already taken care of my morning errands, so I'm hoping that I can get some serious work done on redeveloping this book (and maybe a little housework). That is, if we don't have more neighborhood excitement.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Professional Jealousy

I finally have a new dishwasher! And to celebrate, how about a writing post? For those who are new here, I generally do a post about some aspect of writing -- the craft, the mechanics, the business, marketing, the writing life, etc. -- every other Wednesday. If you want to get these by e-mail, you can subscribe at I don't send anything else via that list, so you won't get spammed by book promo, or anything like that. Feel free to share with other writers, but just let people know who it came from.

Today's topic falls into the writing life category: professional jealousy. In a business this public, it's nearly impossible not to compare yourself to others. You generally hear when someone sells a book because that gets announced. You know when someone finals in or wins a contest. You definitely know when a book gets published. You know whether a book makes a bestseller list. You can see if the publisher is doing a lot of promotional activity. You can check out reviews and Amazon rankings. You know who's being invited as guest of honor to conventions. That all makes it easy to tell how other people are doing in comparison to you and your own goals.

How this affects you can be either positive or negative, depending on how you deal with it. You can let jealousy consume you in a negative way so that it becomes a distraction. You can derail your own career by chasing after the career someone else has if that leads you to write something that isn't really what you need to be writing or miss opportunities that lead in a different direction. You can poison professional relationships if you let your jealousy make you resent other authors or if you start demanding things of your agent or editor based on what you think someone else is getting. If you go public with your jealousy or let your jealousy affect the way you behave in public, it can affect your image or the way fans see you (passive-aggressive digs at another author on convention or conference panels, for instance, may turn people off of trying your work).

The truth is, although there's a lot of stuff that's public about a writing career, the public elements don't tell the whole story, and they only tell a snapshot at a moment in time. A book that never makes a bestseller list can actually end up selling more copies over time than a "bestseller." You may not have made a list, but you might be making more money than the bestseller. Some careers move in fits and starts instead of a steady upward trajectory, and some burst out of the gate in a big way. The person who is successful now may have had a few false starts along the way. Someone who got a huge start may crash and burn. When I sold the first book in my series with only one publisher making an offer and a modest advance, I was jealous of someone I knew whose book sold in a big auction not long afterward. It turned out that she was terrified of what she had to live up to because her publisher had huge expectations for that book, something I didn't have to worry about. There are authors who have the things I think I want in a career -- a dedicated and vocal fan base, guest of honor invitations to conventions, name recognition -- who mention on Facebook that they're worried about being able to pay bills or the mortgage, a problem I haven't faced in spite of my relative obscurity. So the things you're comparing yourself to may not be what you think they are.

How can you keep professional jealousy from becoming toxic? First, remind yourself that it may not be what it looks like. Second, take stock of what you want for your career -- what you really want and what would make you happy, not what someone else has. Then figure out what it will take for you to get what you want out of your career and focus on that. Use any jealousy as a motivation for going after what you want. Emulate what the people who have what you want are doing rather than envying them. What are they doing to achieve their success? While there are cases where lightning strikes and there's no rational explanation for why one book explodes, usually there's something behind that success -- most often, a lot of hard work.

If you find yourself really being sidetracked by comparing yourself to others, cut yourself off from getting your fix. Resist the temptation to look at bestseller lists, read your rivals' reviews or compare Amazon rankings. Focus on what you need to do. Most of this career is entirely out of your control. The only thing you control entirely is how much you write, the kinds of stories you write, and how well you write them.

I think I need to embroider that on a throw pillow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A New Appreciation for Mornings

Either all this fresh air, sunshine and exercise is nudging me into earlier mornings, the days are getting longer, or I've reset my body clock after a lot of events lately that required early rising because I've been getting up on my own earlier than I normally do at this time of year. Morning people would point and laugh at me and people with regular 8-5 jobs would pat me on the head and call me adorable, but it's still early for me. I'm going to have to reset the "wake" time on my thermostat so I don't have to get up to a cold house. And it's amazing how much more I get done in the day with that half-hour (or more) head start. I've already done a groceries and gas run today and may have time for a little housework before lunch.

I had a big breakthrough on figuring out this book yesterday by going back and figuring out what the heroine wants and what might stop her from getting it. That suddenly gave me a structure to hang everything else on. I've realized that I tend to handle the plot in my books like a mystery novel, where finding the identity of the villain and figuring out the villain's scheme is a big part of the story, so the only direct confrontation with anyone other than henchmen comes in the climax of the book. I'm going to force myself to break that pattern and introduce the villain up front, so that the identity of the villain isn't a mystery, nor is what the villain wants to do, and there's a lot of direct conflict through the whole story. I suppose I've had more direct conflict in this series than in the Enchanted, Inc. series, and in the first book we knew who the villain was all along, if not what her plan was. But I figure that with a steel magnolia southern belle kind of heroine, I need to do at least one book where she's up against the villain from the start and has to at least pretend to play nice because it's not a situation that allows for open opposition until later in the story. I'm already cackling with glee at the thought of getting to write that much thinly veiled "bless your heart" passive aggression.

Now I just have to figure out how what I've written already fits into this concept. I'm not really changing the actual plot that drastically, just the way I'm telling the story.

However, this afternoon's primary event will be a conference call with Apple about how to sell more books through the iBookstore. I'm totally in favor of that.

Meanwhile, there was a runthrough of the first act of Mary Poppins last night. The kids had more or less learned the songs but were still using scripts for the dialogue (except for a few high achievers) and they hadn't done all the blocking and choreography. I sat and watched and knitted until they reached a song where the chorus sings. It was all very cute because these are mostly junior high kids. Mary is being played by a recent college graduate who teaches one of the choirs at the high school (it's a tough enough role to require a ringer), and the other main roles other than Jane and Michael are high school kids, and then they're filling in the chorus and smaller roles with the younger kids (which is why the adult choir is helping out with the chorus parts). Jane and Michael are actual children (and Jane was one of the ones who was already off-book). At this point, there's a lot more enthusiasm than polish, but they have nearly two more months to work on this. A lot of the cast were part of the bunch when I chaperoned the choir tour a few years ago. I figure that hanging out with teens counts as work, since I have a YA novel coming out.

And tomorrow we'll see if I finally get that dishwasher or if they find something else to screw up.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Feeling Fit

I'm feeling all fit and healthy right now, after starting the morning with a yoga class. I've done yoga with exercise videos or books before, but hadn't taken a real class. Unfortunately, it can be hard to make myself get around to doing the videos or workouts in a book, so since my church has a class on Monday mornings, I thought I'd give that a shot. And I really liked it. One thing the class forces me to do is slow down and remember to keep breathing. I have a bad habit of holding my breath, when yoga is supposed to be all about the breathing. I think this will be a good way to start my weeks.

And I kind of needed the stretch after my Saturday fun. I did a hike with the church's women's hiking group, and boy, this bunch was hardcore. When I go walking or hiking with friends, I'm usually the one out ahead who has to think to slow down for others. About half of this group left me in the dust. I started out keeping up with the leaders, but when I paused for a drink of water, I fell to about the middle of the group. They don't bother to pause to rest or drink water. They have those long tubes on their water bottles coming around to their backpack straps so they just lean over for a sip rather than having to get a bottle out of the side pocket of their packs. Once I fell back, I remembered that the main reason I hike is to just enjoy being outdoors, and you can't see the scenery when you're zipping past at supersonic speeds. I ended up with what was essentially a solo hike with backup. I was walking on my own so I could look around and think, but there were people nearby who'd notice if I didn't show up at the end. We ended up doing a little more than nine miles in less than four hours of walking (with a stop for lunch before we turned back).

I was very glad I decided to get new hiking boots because my old ones would have been killing me. They have rather stiff soles, and I found boots with the more flexible soles like on my walking shoes. That meant I didn't get blisters. I was really stiff, sore and tired at the end of the hike and spent the rest of the day on the sofa watching figure skating, but I was more mobile than I expected yesterday, just a little stiff. I liked the trail and will have to go back there some other time. I mentioned my experience to a couple of the women in choir, and they'd either expected or experienced the same thing, so we may start a rival hiking group for people who aren't trying to set a land speed record. The core of this group are the kind of people who consider "fitness" a hobby and who came to this hike after a bootcamp workout. They set timers and were trying to beat their last time. When I hike, I may walk briskly, but when I reach an interesting spot, I may stop for a drink or snack or to look around. If I keep track of time, it's more about "I hiked four hours" instead of "I  managed to do that trail faster than the last time."

Now I have a day ahead of me without anything major on the to-do list, which means I need to get back into writing, if I can figure out what's going on in this book. It's being very elusive.

Then tonight I have a Mary Poppins rehearsal so the invisible backup chorus can practice with the actual cast. I'm bringing my knitting because I imagine there will be a lot of down time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Lost Art of Customer Service

Perhaps I praised Home Depot too soon. I was supposed to get a call yesterday to give me my delivery window for today. When I didn't get a call, I got up early this morning to make sure I was up and dressed before anyone could show up, and then I called the delivery service number to check. They had no record of a delivery for me today anywhere in their system and said I need to call the store. Since the store is just down the street and I need to run some errands anyway, I think I may just go to the store in person with my paperwork and see what the deal is because calling a retail store seldom does much good -- you frequently end up on hold or transferred around. I'll be nice, but they may get to see the part of me that Sophie (the heroine of the Fairy Tale series) comes from. It's a little too chilly for the feminine floral dress, though.

I doubt they'll be able to reschedule the delivery for today, and they don't let you pick a window, so that means I can't do it Monday because I have a yoga class starting Monday morning. Unless maybe they let me pick a window after they messed up. There will need to be some groveling, I think.

And … I just got a call. They lost the order in their system. But now they can't deliver until Wednesday. They could have done it Saturday, but I already have Saturday plans and I refuse to rearrange my life according to their incompetence (and probably spend the whole day waiting -- I'd have to cancel my hiking trip, then they'd show up well after the trip would have been over). It's not like I haven't been hand washing dishes for years. I'm still going to give some really low marks on the inevitable "how did we do" customer service survey. See, this is part of why I procrastinated so long. Getting things delivered and installed is such a hassle. That plan I had to put the dishwasher on wheels and ride it down the hill to my house from the Home Depot is starting to sound not quite so crazy.

And here I was, all excited last night about washing my last sinkful of dishes.

Oh well. Now I guess I can go get groceries and maybe get crazy and buy some new hiking boots, since I'm not sure how well my repairs will hold, and I don't want to be four miles from the car when the sole falls off. And then I might actually get some work done.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Putting the Subconscious to Work

I ended up spending most of yesterday going through yet another round of proofreading on the steampunk book, going over the latest proofreader's questions. We've reached the point where the editors are editing each other, where the latest editor is suggesting inserting a word that the previous editor deleted. That means today I need to catch up on yesterday's to-do list, including cleaning the kitchen and living room so the new dishwasher can be easily brought into the kitchen and installed (yay!).

Tonight I'm supposed to find out what my delivery window is, so I'll then be able to plan my Friday. I'll need to make a grocery run because the church women's hiking group is doing a hike on Saturday, and that means I'll need something for lunch. I'm not a big sandwich fan, so I seldom have sandwich ingredients on hand. Thanks to my vacation preparation and a Christmas gift, I have a new backpack and two insulated bottles, one with a straw lid for cool water and one with a flip-top lid for hot tea. This is going to be a four-hour hike of about ten miles, so I'll definitely need lunch and snacks. I imagine I'll sleep well that night. And maybe not walk too easily the next day.

I really need to get back into that book I've been working on, but I don't think the subconscious is ready yet. It's stewing on something, and little things keep popping up, but they aren't quite right. I feel like I'm getting closer. I'm normally so linear and plot-driven that this is weird for me, but it just seems to be the way this particular series works. It may be a relief to go back to the steampunk series once this is done. That one's so straightforward (relatively speaking).

So maybe my brain can be doing behind-the-scenes work while I clean house and hike.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rearranging Routines

I now have a dishwasher, or I will on Friday. Theoretically. I think that the configuration is set up so that they will install it, but there's little in my house that would be considered "standard," and the installation info sheet and the way the guy at the Home Depot talked made it sound like the installation guys will get the vapors and run screaming if they have to do anything that looks suspiciously like "thinking" or "work." At least this time I not only got help in the appliance department but got a full lecture on household plumbing, what to look for and what to do about it, and the guy treated me like he thought I was intelligent and competent enough to check things out for myself. And once I explained my situation about just needing a functional dishwasher so I could sell the house, he didn't try to upsell me and skipped past the extended warranty sales pitch. If I were staying in the house, I might have bought something a little nicer, but what I got should do the trick. As I told the sales guy, the kind of person who wants a dishwasher with Internet access that can control space probes probably isn't going to be buying this kind of house. Now I need to clean up my kitchen and living room (to create an easy pathway) and empty a couple of cabinets where the various connections go.

This is going to be a huge change in routine for me. For one thing, the dishwasher hasn't been entirely empty in years, since I've been using it as a large dish drain and I mostly just use the dishes straight from it instead of putting them away in the cabinet. I had to rearrange the cabinets to put things away so I could pull the dishwasher out and check the connections. Then this morning when I was making breakfast, it was weird to have to get dishes out of the cabinet instead of just grabbing them from the dishwasher. But it will be lovely to have the dishes washed with the push of a button, particularly on days when I'm busy (or sick) several days in a row and don't have time for hand washing.

Tonight I get to try some new tricks I learned last weekend on the little imps. I have one game that might just make their heads explode (it requires actually paying attention). There's one thing I want to try that I'm a little afraid of because I can see what will happen, but I may have a way around that consequence. The speaker suggested that a way to focus on the tune of a song and get kids to actually sing was to have them meow, bark or make some other noise to the tune instead of singing the words, then switch to the words once they know the melody. I'm afraid that once my kids get to meow a song, they will forever meow it and never bother with the words. I may experiment with a song we won't be singing in public so that it doesn't matter if they meow the song forever and think of it as the meow song.

Meanwhile, I have a few little things to clear up on the steampunk book, plus some other stuff I need to do to get Fairy Tale book 2 ready. Eventually I'll manage to get back to writing book 3.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

And a Sassy Red Hat

We had another nice day yesterday, so I took another long walk. This time, I got out the hiking boots and went off the paved trails. The church women's hiking group is doing a hike Saturday morning, so I figured I needed to get in better shape and test the repair on my hiking boots. The sole came off the last time I wore them, and I think it needs more glue. Or I could do something really crazy and buy a new pair of boots. These are nearly 15 years old and were cheap to begin with.

The other wild and crazy thing I'm going to buy this week is a new dishwasher. In fact, I'm going to make myself head out this afternoon. I don't know why I've been procrastinating so much about this. I first planned to replace it when it initially broke nearly five years ago. I was going to use my tax refund to buy it, since that was a low-income year, but then I messed up my shoulder and ended up in physical therapy, and there went that money. Then a few years ago when I started making money again I actually went to the Home Depot to buy a dishwasher but couldn't get anyone to acknowledge my existence. I came home and fired off a nastygram to their customer service e-mail address, then had a nice phone chat with the manager about how weird it was that I get so much help everywhere else in the store but not in the one area where I can't buy something without help -- if I want a $1 packet of screws, I get helped even though I can take them off the rack and to the cash register myself. When I'm going to spend hundreds of dollars on an appliance and can't do so without an associate, they have one guy in the department who didn't give me so much as an "I'll be with you in a moment" while he helped another customer and then wandered off after they were done without even acknowledging me. And I think that experience has something to do with why I keep saying I'm going to do it and then dragging my feet about it. Now watch this time go so smoothly and wonderfully that I wonder why I've been hand-washing dishes for so long (or else I'll manage to talk myself out of going and procrastinate again).

Tonight is a TV break because of politics, but otherwise, why do they put absolutely everything on Tuesday nights? I'm always out of the house because of ballet, and it takes me nearly a week to watch everything OnDemand. I usually manage to watch NCIS before I head to ballet. But then there's also Person of Interest and Forever. I used to prioritize Person of Interest to watch after choir on Wednesdays, but I find myself wanting to watch Forever first because Person of Interest gets pretty stressful and Forever is just plain fun, feel-good stuff (but I shouldn't get too attached because the ratings are terrible -- please, if you're a ratings household, watch this show!). Now they've added Parks and Recreation to Tuesdays, and then there's Agent Carter. I haven't watched any of the Marvel superhero movies or Agents of Shield, but I kind of love this, and I suspect the clothes have a lot to do with it. I want to be Agent Carter when I grow up. I love the sassy 1940s dame kind of character, and then there are the suits with the nipped-at-the-waist jackets and swingy skirts, and the shoes and the hats, and swoooooon. I think this is a limited run show, though I'm hoping that it does well enough that they decide to make it a real series. And I need a red fedora. I bet I'd get service at Home Depot if I had a sassy red hat.

And so I'm barely caught up on Tuesday night before the next Tuesday comes along. This week, I guess I'll get a break. Maybe I'll do more reading.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Art Immersion

And we have yet another weekend I need a weekend to recover from. I could claim today as a holiday, since it technically is one, but I took Thursday off already and I have a lot to catch up on.

Thursday I did actually make it to the art museum. I don't know if it was just that it was a big exhibit or if it was that it was the last two weeks of the exhibit, but the museum was really crowded. I didn't spend all that much time in the big exhibit, just enough to revel in being that close to works by Degas, Monet and Renoir. Then I scooted over to the permanent collection in the museum's original building, which was a lot more peaceful, and I got to spend a lot of time up close with the works, including a small painting that may have been Michelangelo's first painting, from when he was around 12 or 13. That was rather mindblowing to contemplate. The big exhibit was on Impressionism, and while I went for the Degas dancers (they only had one of those), I ended up spending more time contemplating the clothing in the paintings with my steampunk work in mind.

Then it was two days of workshops for church music leaders. I spent Friday in sessions aimed at working with preschoolers. We had a smallish group, so there was a lot of discussion, with ideas being exchanged. When I got to our room early for one of the afternoon sessions, I chatted some with the workshop speaker, and she said I should be doing this full-time because I clearly understood children. Just the thought of spending more than 45 minutes a week with a room full of small children gave me a panic attack -- probably because I do understand them. Saturday I went to two sessions with a children's choir director -- the more serious musical kind, not the play around with small children kind. She'd worked in schools, in churches and in an auditioned city choir. I probably learned more about singing than about directing a choir from those sessions because my kids aren't quite yet at that level, but I did get some ideas. For the last session, I went to one just for my own interest on building a choir. I got some great feedback on tone, etc. (it was a small audience, I was sitting in front, and the speaker ended up mostly directing everything at me), but also got some ideas for things I could do with the kids. Then he did this really interesting exercise on arranging singers in a choir, which I had to be one of the demonstration examples for. He had a group of us line up, then sing in groups of three, and then he'd rearrange us and try with another group of three until he had us arranged in the best way. The result was almost magical. It was eerie the difference it made, both in the sound and in the way it felt. My choir director was also in this workshop, so I have a feeling I know what's coming Wednesday night. There may be a revolt because most people sit next to their friends. I'll be curious to see how this works. I tend to try to sit next to the people who feel right when we sing, regardless of social considerations, so we'll see if I've been choosing correctly.

In between those workshop sessions, they had "reading" sessions in which they passed out packets of music chosen by the various clinicians, who then led all the attendees in singing them. I think the idea was to expose choir directors to different pieces of music that they might then purchase for their choirs (I was sitting near my choir director, and he kept marking or folding down pages -- I made sure to let him know when I liked something). I found it valuable practice in sight reading and forcing myself to be more confident. I felt a bit out of my league surrounded by people who do this for a living and who have degrees in music, when I'm a volunteer with little "formal" musical training, just school band, church choir and a few community college music classes here and there. It was also weird not sitting by section, so I wasn't necessarily bolstered by other people singing the same part. I did get to sing first soprano, for a change, since I figured that parts weren't being assigned and I wasn't obligated to sing second. I got to bust out a high B-flat at the end of the last song, and some of the people sitting in front of me turned to give me thumbs up, and a few people approached me later to comment on me being the one with the B-flat. I got to act modest and say that in my choir I'm a second soprano. I was sitting next to my choir director, but I don't know if he caught the joke and the implication of what that said about our choir.

Then Sunday was a gorgeous day, so I went for a nice, long walk in the woods.

Now I have to catch up on housework (my kitchen got very messy) and regular work and get back in the swing of things.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Finding the Core

Yesterday I re-read the start I've made on book 3 in the Fairy Tale series, and while there's still a lot I like about it, I don't quite feel like I've got it nailed down. I need to do some thinking. Since I'll be spending Friday and Saturday at a choristers guild workshop, I think I may go to a museum today. Immersing myself in other arts might help the subconscious. Plus, there are Degas works at the exhibit I think I'll go to, and all that ballet plays into the book.

Of course, that's if I manage to get out of my pajamas (but I deliberately didn't get dressed yet because once I put on the sweats, I know I won't want to put on "going out" clothes, but I didn't want to drink my tea and catch up on e-mail, etc., in my "going out" clothes). No matter what, I will have to go out and do something eventually because it's quarterly tax payment day (whee) and I need milk.

I think the problem with the book is that I haven't yet found the core of it. I have events happening and a villain in mind, but the villain I have in mind isn't yet clicking with the events for me. I like the scenes I've written, but they feel like scenes rather than a story so far.

I've had this problem with every book in this series, where I have to write a lot of the book before I figure out what it's about, and then I have to rewrite it. There's a dreamlike quality to the writing process that I haven't had in anything else I've written.

Incidentally, A Fairy Tale is eligible for a Hugo Award, if you're into that kind of thing and able to nominate. It feels weird to do even that much campaigning, so I'll stop now.

And I suppose that if I'm going to go out, I should start getting ready to do so. I'll be offline tomorrow because I have to make it across town ridiculously early (for me). Wouldn't you know, they're closing the freeway between me and the conference site this weekend for construction. I will be making use of my knowledge of surface streets.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Overused Words

Having just finished a round of copyediting and proofreading, I feel like I've learned some valuable lessons that I should pass on.

One thing is that it's a really good idea to give the near-final version of your book a quick read -- reading as much as possible in as few sittings as possible. That will make overused words and phrases pop out at you. If you read a word or phrase once in a reading session, it's not so bad. If it pops up multiple times, you start to notice. If one does catch your eye, do a global search and you may be surprised how many times it comes up.

Fixing this may not just be a case of using your thesaurus. There may be another issue at work. For instance, in a recent book I was working on, the phrase "as though" and the word "seemed" jumped out at me. At first, I started changing some of the uses of "as though" to "like" or "as if," but then I noticed the "seemed" overload and realized that I was using weasel words. I was trying to avoid breaking point of view by having it "seem" to the character what was happening when the character couldn't get into the other person's head to know for sure, but I'd gone overboard. There were plenty of cases where it wasn't "as though" something was true or even that it "seemed" it was true. It was just true. Or I could find another verb. Instead of saying "It seemed as though she was tired," I could say "She looked tired." Or I could describe the way her feet were dragging, her shoulders sagging, her eyelids drooping, etc.

Another way to catch this sort of thing is to read your manuscript out loud. Your eye may skim over things like this, but when you hear it said out loud, it will be a lot more obvious. As a bonus, when you read out loud, you have to read every word, so you know what's really on the page instead of your brain filling in blanks or fixing things for you. It's also a good way to check awkward phrasing and to make sure your dialogue sounds like actual human speech.

I think a lot of this becomes more important if there's a chance that your books will become audiobooks. When you listen to a book, you hear all those words that you may skim past when you're reading. I've listened to friends discussing audiobooks and how they can't listen to the work of some authors they enjoy reading because of verbal tics that get annoying when reading out loud. For instance, the use of the word "said" for every dialogue tag. One oft-repeated bit of writing advice is that you shouldn't use fancy synonyms for "said" (uttered, shouted, declaimed, etc.) with dialogue because "said" is an invisible word. It's no longer invisible in an audiobook, and the repetition gets annoying. In some cases, such as a two-person conversation, tags aren't necessary for every line. You can use action to indicate who's talking. And those synonyms sometimes actually work.

Of course, the more engrossing your story is, the less likely it will be that someone will notice minor flaws. But you don't want to give any reason to pull readers out of the story.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pretending to be Famous

I think the January hibernation impulse is starting to kick in. I barely dragged myself out of bed, and I could easily go right back and take a nap now. I'm in trouble for Friday and Saturday (particularly Friday, when I'll have to face rush hour) when I have to be across town and in a workshop session at about the same time that I usually get out of bed. This will all be a good reminder of why I need to keep the writing thing working for me because I never again want to go back to doing the get up, drive across town, spend a day on someone else's schedule, then drive back across town thing on a daily basis. At least this one will be fun and involve lots of singing.

I'm not going to talk about a specific book with identifying details this week because I can't really recommend the book I read last week. It did bring up something interesting that made me think, though. It was a case of either the title/description being misleading or me misinterpreting the description so I thought it was something else, but it turned out to fit the "New Adult" formula -- damaged female college student/grad student with a bookish/literary bent gets all her material needs suddenly taken care of and meets a wealthy, powerful, older (but still young) guy. I guess that makes sense as a fantasy. When you're in school, I'd imagine that the heavens opening up and showering you with grants, a cute apartment you'd never be able to afford, a computer and a bonus hot guy who can afford to take you to all the fanciest restaurants in town sounds like a wonderful thing. Maybe I just have jealousy issues, but the fact that I had a more normal college existence of living in the dorm and feeling like Olive Garden was a fancy dining-out splurge makes me resent the fictional characters rather than living vicariously through them.

In this book, the way we managed to have a wealthy man who was still young enough to be hot to a grad student was that he was a successful novelist, and that really was a through the rabbit hole/looking glass experience for me to read. Granted, I'm not as mega-successful as he was supposed to be, since his books were being made into movies. That automatically ups the income and the name recognition. But it was funny to read about someone with my job being a kind of fantasy figure. To me, it's just normal life, and I'm just me, the same person I've always been. I suppose to some people I might count as a celebrity, which always feels weird. I have had a few minor freakouts from people who learned who I was after talking to me for a while. I guess you don't expect the person sitting next to you at a city-wide choir rehearsal to be an author whose books you've read. And I have had a few people who were visibly shaking when they approached me at booksignings (it's funny, I do that when I meet favorite authors, but I don't expect people to do it for me).

However, I can't get an impossible restaurant reservation on the strength of my name. I'm actually a little creeped out by people who develop crushes on me because of my books and think that means they really know me. I would be extremely cautious about getting into a relationship with someone who started as a fan (I do have fans who have become friends, but that was more from hanging out together at conventions. I'm probably not going to start dating someone I meet because he shows up at my booksigning). On the other hand, I don't think it's a wild and crazy, subversive prank to sign the copies of my books that are on the shelf in a bookstore (when I read that scene, I immediately flipped to the author bio to verify my assumption that this was the author's first book. Yep. Once you've had one published, you know that this isn't that wild and crazy but rather something you're expected to do).

I suppose much of the world has a view of writing as a rather glamorous career, and it does have its moments. I do get to meet interesting people and be in the public eye at times. I spend way more time wearing sweatpants and refusing to leave the house. I sometimes say that I have two modes in my career. When I'm being an "author," I dress up, put on makeup and go pretend to be famous. When I'm being a "writer," I'm a slob at home churning out the words. The writer part is about 90 percent or more, depending on my publication and event schedule. You have to do the hard part before you get to do the glamorous part.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Smash, Thud, Clang, Grunt

I had the kind of weekend that requires a weekend for recovery. Saturday, I got together with a group of friends to see the third Hobbit movie, then we had a gathering afterward. I then had two hours at home before I had a choir party. Sunday, I sang in both services. And meanwhile I was doing one final pass on my book over the weekend, squeezing in proofreading time among all these other activities. I got most of the work done by bringing my laptop to church, and after I sang in the first service when others in the ensemble were heading out, I hung out in the choir room during the rest of the service and between services and did my editing. It was a pretty good working environment because it was quiet, no one else was in there, and there weren't a lot of distractions because the church WiFi doesn't work well in the choir room. However, when the organ kicked in at the end of the first service while I was deeply absorbed in my work, I was somewhat startled. And then the sermon (that I heard in the second service) turned out to be about honoring the Sabbath. Oops. But I usually avoid working on Sundays unless I have a deadline, and I'd told my agent I'd have this book to her on Monday morning.

It was a good thing I did one more pass because I caught a few errors and did some general improving work. I now have a longer list of things to look for.

I have to admit to being rather disappointed in the Hobbit trilogy. The casting was perfect, the performances were wonderful, and there was a lot to like about it, but the good stuff was buried in a lot of bloat. It's a little book that didn't need to be overly expanded into an epic. I never got around to seeing the second movie in the theater and finally saw it on HBO last week. I got a lot of knitting done during it because while all I heard was "smash, thud, clang, grunt" I didn't have to look at the screen, since I wasn't missing anything. I could pause my work and look up when characters were actually interacting. For the third one, I wish I'd had my knitting with me because there was a lot of "smash, thud, clang, grunt." I kept checking my watch during the endless battle scenes (when I wasn't providing mental commentary). The parts where the characters actually talked to each other were so good, but I think we could have figured out that there were epic battles raging without having to see every little detail.

Also in the fantasy realm, I'm rather amused by Galavant, that sort of fantasy comedy musical TV series (though they haven't introduced magic yet, so I guess it's technically not fantasy). It's not the best show ever, but there's usually at least one bit that has me in hysterics. Last week, it was the super-slow joust and the "Maybe You're Not the Worst Thing Ever" romantic ballad. This week, it was the inept water-adjacent pirates who'd taken up sustainable agriculture (made even funnier by the fact that Hugh Bonneville was playing the pirate king, and it was in the time slot right before Downton Abbey came on another channel). Oh, and there was also the band put together from the executioners, since the king had executed all the musicians, and the executioners were the next best thing, since they had a drum. I end up having to rewatch OnDemand to catch all the jokes.

This week's fun: I need to write cover copy, take care of some business/promo stuff and maybe get back into writing book 3, but it's a short week because I have a Choristers Guild workshop Friday and Saturday and there are some other things I need/want to do this week, so maybe it will be a thinking/reviewing week before I dive in.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Being a Marketing Slacker

I have 96 more pages to proofread, and then I'll be done with this book, other than writing cover copy, deciding on a cover design (the art is done), reviewing the e-book and print book layout, and then marketing, etc. Then next week I can get back to working on the next book.

I've somehow fallen into a group of independent/self-published authors on Facebook, and seeing what they do for publicity/marketing is making me feel like a slacker.

Apparently, I should have a newsletter. I haven't done much of this -- I once had a Yahoo group mailing list, but I haven't used it much -- mostly because I hate these as a reader. Then again, I haven't actively signed up for any author newsletters. The ones I've received are from people who must have put their entire address book into the mailing list, so they're from people who may have e-mailed me once or twice, people I might have e-mailed once or twice, people I've been on another mailing list with or people I've been in an organization with. I might feel differently if I had actually signed up because I wanted to receive an author's news. I'm not sure how many more people I'd read with a newsletter, though, because that Yahoo list I had didn't have as many people on it as my usual blog hit count. Unless maybe they were entirely different people? So maybe there are some people who read my blog, some people who follow me on Facebook and some people who might want a newsletter? I can't imagine I'd reach new people with a newsletter because why would anyone sign up for it if they hadn't heard of me? I know some authors do contests to build their mailing lists -- like giving away an iPad or a Kindle -- but from what I've seen, these get spread around contest junkie groups, they sign up just to win, and then they unsubscribe from the newsletter immediately (or even mark it as spam, which can lead to the mailing service dropping you). I'm not even sure what I'd put in a newsletter, and some of these authors do them monthly. Romance authors do stuff like recipes and knitting patterns, but I don't know about my audience. However, I do have at least three books scheduled for this year, so I could probably sustain a quarterly newsletter. Thoughts?

Then they have "street teams." I've heard about this for traditionally published authors, where they cultivate groups of fans to go into bookstores and ask for their books, turn them face-out on shelves, pass out bookmarks, etc. I'm not sure what a street team would do for books mostly available online. Maybe virtual street teams? Get people to blog, Tweet, etc., about their books and post Amazon reviews? It may be the Scandinavian in me coming out (there's a cultural distaste for marketing -- something fun when you're doing PR for Ericsson), but there's something that seems a little dishonest to me about officially cultivating and even rewarding people for doing the stuff that fans do spontaneously, so that if they're doing it because of the reward but other people think it's just them being fans, then it's misrepresented. I suppose I'm fortunate that my fans seem to be good about talking about my books without being recruited and paid to do so.

Then people were posting pictures of their offices and showing their swag closets full of stuff they give away for promotional purposes. I have a box of bookmarks. Does that count? I don't even know if any of that works. I mostly use the bookmarks as a kind of business card for when I meet people who say, "Oh, you're a writer? What do you write?" and I can hand them a bookmark that lists my first four books in order. I probably need to start coming up with promo items for the new series and the steampunk book.

In my experience, one of the best ways to boost sales for all books is to put a new book out. When my publisher has done BookBub ads, that's also been effective. I may look into doing a promo like that for the first book in the Fairy Tale series when the third one comes out (the first one becomes a loss leader, so where you reap the benefit is from having more books that can also be boosted).

But I'm not doing too badly, so maybe I should keep doing what I'm doing and not worry about it so much.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Death Throes

As of last night, my holidays are truly over, since I was back to having children's choir and regular choir practice. I only had seven kids, but they were all insane. It got cold, so instead of having recess at school that day, they watched a movie inside, and that meant they were bouncing off the walls by the time I got them. There was one thing that actually got their attention, and it was the snowman counting song. I don't know what it is about this song, but every group I've had absolutely loves it. Basically, the song is about a line of snowmen, and then with each verse, one melts. I've done it with the kids melting in order or by pointing to kids at random and having them melt until they're all melted. I don't know that we've ever done that one without the kids begging "again!" We did it three times last night, and the meltings got more and more dramatic. We're talking William Shatner-quality emoting. "Light … fading. Darkness … closing … in. Goodbye … cruel … world." There was even one who called out, "I'm not done melting yet," when we went on to the next verse before he was done with his drawn-out death scene.

But hey, it kept them occupied and participating instead of running around and screaming, so I could have kept it up all night. And it was really fun watching their death throes. Not because I wanted them dead, but I liked seeing how creative they were. I suppose I'll need a real lesson plan next week.

Otherwise, I'm singing in an ensemble Sunday morning for the early service and someone wants to put together a flute ensemble for later in the year, so I have to start practicing again. I wonder if the stage fright cure from singing also applies to instruments. I used to be as bad for instruments as I was for singing.

But the priority this week is getting through my last round of proofreading. The challenge there is that I need frequent breaks so I don't zone out, but then that reduces the amount I can get done in a day. So I have to be careful about what I start to do on the breaks so the breaks don't become longer than the work sessions. I do still like the book, which is good. Since I'm mostly looking at the writing itself on this round rather than the story and characters, I'm actually noticing that there is some good writing there. I'm normally more focused on the story when I work, but I guess I do know how to string words together.

In other news, it looks like this summer's steampunk book is now available for pre-order in e-book form, at Amazon, at least, and it's already on all the teen steampunk bestseller lists, including the one that's general books, not just Kindle books. With any luck, that means that when the book is actually available it will do even better.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

I Feel the Earth Move

We've had a rather earthshaking time of it lately -- literally. There have been at least 10 earthquakes in the past 24 hours in my city. All of them have been relatively minor -- people in California are sneering -- but as the Texans responded, how would they deal with that many tornadoes, even minor ones? If you've had maybe one tornado in the past 50 years, then have 15 in two months, and then 10 in one day, it's rather shocking, even if they're EF-1s.

I definitely noticed the first one, a 3.5, yesterday afternoon. My whole house shook, things rattled, and it was loud. Then there was a 3.6 just before 7, and that one felt and sounded like a truck hit my house. There were two more in the upper 2s that I didn't notice -- I was driving to ballet class at the time -- and then two more around 10 that I also didn't notice. There was apparently a 3.1 around 1 a.m. that I guess I slept through. I heard something for the small one around 8:30, but didn't peg it as an earthquake, and then we had another that felt like a ripple about an hour ago, but I haven't seen any reports on that one (but a friend in the area felt the same thing at the same time). I definitely notice them more when I'm sitting at my desk upstairs.

Today, though, it's so windy that I have to pause and wonder if any shaking is yet another earthquake or just a really good gust of wind.

And now I need to use minor earthquakes in a book. I have a sensation to describe when the earth trembles (probably from a spell, or maybe from a dragon waking).

I got through the copyedited manuscript yesterday, with all the corrections entered. Today I'll start going through the whole thing again for one final proofread. It'll be a short workday, though, because children's choir starts again this evening, and I have a few errands to run on the way there. The weather's supposed to get really rather nasty for the next few days, so I'm looking forward to holing up inside and digging into the work. And maybe bracing myself for more shaking.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Swashbuckling Romantic Fantasy

The house has now been totally de-Christmassed, aside from all those artificial pine needles that never seem to go away. Since today is Epiphany, I'll take down the Nativity scene tomorrow. So I guess I'm back to normal. I also got a good start on copyedits yesterday and will try to finish today so I can spend the rest of the week giving it one more once-over as a proofread.

I did a fair amount of reading over the holidays, but much of it was re-reading, along with more books in the Phryne Fisher series. I've started thinking of these as Nancy Drew for adults, since just about every book shows off some random skill or knowledge Phyrne has. At least with her, she's an adult who's lived a really full life, so it's more believable that she's a trick rider, pilot, race driver, cricket expert, etc., than it was for Nancy to be able to do all that stuff at 18. And then there's a touch of a gender-switched James Bond thrown in, as she tends to collect attractive men and has at least one new lover per book, most of whom are quickly forgotten.

Last Friday was cold and rainy, and I wrapped up my holidays by curling up with what turned out to be a really wonderful book, Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen, which is a fantasy/romance for adults about Captain Hook from Peter Pan. I will confess that my choice of this book had a bit to do with my slight crush on the version of Captain Hook on Once Upon a Time, and this take probably gets closer to that than to the original, as it's essentially a redemption story. It also fits the Once Upon a Time story structure, with a present-day story interspersed with backstory flashbacks.

In this take on the story, Hook was cursed into Neverland when he chose revenge and his reputation as a pirate over love (the other pirates would have thought he'd gone soft if he gave up piracy for a woman). He's made immortal, so he can't be killed. He just suffers through and heals from wounds that should have been fatal. He and Pan are the only immortals on the island, so the Lost Boys are sent home when they get too old and the pirates get killed in the ongoing fights with the Lost Boys. The pirate crew keeps getting replenished by former Lost Boys who return to Neverland when they can't handle the transition back to the real world and never actually grow up, in spite of being adults. After a couple of centuries of this, Hook is getting really, really tired of it all. And then an adult woman shows up, something that's never happened before (since Pan thinks grown women are icky). She's a war widow who longed to escape the gloom of 1950 London, and she might just be Hook's last chance to escape Neverland.

This is one of those books that manages to be a lot of things, all at once. It's an adventure story, there's a mystery, there are a lot of fantasy elements, and there's a love story. But it's also a meditation on what it is to grow up and be an adult -- about taking responsibility, about standing up for yourself and not following the crowd, about knowing what's right and not being swayed from it, about recognizing consequences. Hook may have been a man in his 40s when he was sent to Neverland, but he wasn't a grown-up. He was just as arrested as Pan himself. So this is also a belated coming-of-age story.

It was the perfect thing to read on a cold, rainy night, and I almost couldn't put it down. This is definitely one I'll be rereading eventually, and I may even end up with a keeper copy (after I move and get some bookshelf space). Now I want to write a good swashbuckling romantic fantasy. But first I have to finish copyedits on this book, then finish writing book 3 in that series, and then I want to get a start on my second steampunk book, and then I have something pretty ambitious that I want to tackle.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Kicking off the Year

I was so productive this morning in getting my to-do list dealt with that I forgot to post a blog. Oops! But I've done a programming survey for a con, responded to some other business and promo stuff, sent in my notes for my page proofs and taken down my Christmas stuff. There's still a pile of greenery in the living room floor because it's cold and I don't really want to go out to the garage right now to get the boxes and then take everything out. I'm waiting until it warms up a few degrees.

I was really good this weekend and totally purged my kitchen. I went through the pantry and got rid of everything that had passed its expiration date, then I organized everything so that all my baking supplies are on one shelf and everything else is on another, and grouped by category. Then I cleared out and organized the tea/hot beverage cabinet and emptied several drawers where I'd apparently been saving coupons, recipes and fast food condiment packets. If I didn't know the recipes were there all this time, I'm not likely to use them, and some of the coupons had expired in 1999. Oops. Now I have an extra utensil drawer. My kitchen is still too small for my needs, but it's bigger than it once was.

I really want to do a closet purge next, but I think I need to start with the closets upstairs in the office so I can get more stuff there cleared away and open some floor space. This is the danger of a military brat living too long in one place. My way of doing regular purging was just to do it before each move, but I never learned how to do it while staying in the same house, and it's not something that occurs to me as needing doing.

But housework is going to have to fit between other work sessions because I need to deal with copyedits and get a book ready for publication.