Thursday, April 30, 2015

I'm Free!!!!

I have survived children's choir for the year! Well, almost. They're singing in church on Sunday, and then there's a sharing program next Wednesday, in which each group will do a song for the parents and other groups. And then there's a pizza party. And then I'll be done. But I don't need a lesson plan for next week, and I won't be in charge of them for anything other than the minute or so that we're singing. I had both kindergarten and preschool last night, and surprisingly, the four-year-olds were easier to manage than my group. They actually listened and paid attention and weren't openly defiant.

You'd think this would get easier each year as I know more of what I'm doing, but each group of kids seems to be more difficult. We're seeing the kids who grew up with iPads and smart phones their whole lives, and it does seem like they have much shorter attention spans and they expect the world to essentially be "On Demand." They have no concept of waiting for something they want to see and do. I think they've also learned that bad behavior leads to rewards, since so many parents will hand over the phone or tablet the moment a kid starts acting up in public, just to keep the kid quiet. So when they want something, they know to act up and be a brat.

Or maybe I'm just getting old. Get off my lawn!

In other news, the upcoming steampunk book got a nice review in Booklist, which bodes well. Wow, only a little more than two months before publication. After waiting so long, it's coming up fast.

Which means I really need to finish the current book. It's a nice day, so the plan is to go do some intense brainstorming elsewhere outdoors. I don't know if I want to go all the way to the river or just to the park across the street, or maybe to the lake on the edge of the neighborhood. Somewhere near water, for sure. And then there will be some quality patio time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mysterious Enemies

The current book continues to kill me. I thought I was making life easier on myself by not writing it in a mystery structure, so that we know who the villain is from the start and are just working to thwart the villain. But then I "discovered" that the villain has a co-conspirator in a different faction, and now I've reached a point where they're going to discover who that is … and I have no idea. I need to figure this out to move on.

This is the third Fairy Tale book, and this whole series has been this difficult for me. It refuses to be linear, and it refuses to be plotted. If I didn't already have a contract with Audible, I think I might be tempted at this point to backburner it and write the second Rebel Mechanics book, with hopes that my subconscious would work it all out in the meantime.

That's actually what I did with the first book in the series. I had a draft but wasn't happy with the resolution (and really the main plot leading to the resolution). I wasn't entirely sure how to fix it. So I backburnered it and wrote the first Rebel Mechanics book. And then the sixth Enchanted Inc. book. And then the seventh Enchanted Inc. book. And then I took another good look at it and worked it all out.

But I will persevere. I can't take five years to write this book, with three other books in between.

Today is going to be reasonably busy. I have errands to run and my final children's choir session, then choir rehearsal. But tomorrow and Friday I have nothing on the calendar, so I think I'm going to hunker down in a writing retreat and force myself to plow through it all. There may also possibly be some going to a remote location to brainstorm. Sometimes that helps. I just need some time to focus.

In the meantime, I need to decide who from that faction is most likely to be plotting and most likely to be deceived into teaming up with someone who should be the enemy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

After the Frogs

My reading lately has still been re-reading Terry Pratchett (once you start, nothing else will do), so I may as well continue the Enchanted, Inc. commentary.

In chapter thirteen, we're continuing the frog-kissing scene, where we get the guy who just thinks he's been turned into a frog. I'm pretty sure that was my idea. I know my agent suggested they actually go kiss frogs, but there weren't any details beyond that. It kind of spiraled outward from there, with ongoing ramifications.

One of those ramifications was that one of Katie's roommates ended up dating the guy who really had been turned into a frog. My agent and I had decided that we were going to market the book as chick lit rather than fantasy because of the way the market stood at the time (I'm still not sure if that was a great decision in retrospect, since chick lit tanked soon afterward and urban fantasy took off, but then again I'm not sure how well the book would have been received by fantasy houses. Even editors who loved these books have nixed everything else I've written). I needed to add a little more "real world" chick lit content by showing all the stuff with the friends, dating, etc. Having one of those dates be with a guy who'd been turned into a frog for nearly a century was a good way to add that content while keeping the fantasy element strong.

And then there was the effect of the fake frog spell. Of course he'd fall in love with the woman who broke the spell, because that's how it tends to go. But what if the woman isn't in love with him? The bad blind date was already in the book, with Ari and her friends interrupting things and making it go all wrong. Throwing in the fake frog guy just took it up a notch to make it a real disaster. I've had some miserable blind dates in my time, thanks to well-meaning people whose idea of "you're perfect for each other" boiled down to "you're both single," but this went well beyond anything I've experienced.

This was also a good way to show how Katie's life has changed. There was the setup early in the book that was normal bad blind date, with nothing to talk about. Now she has this magical life, and it's still not working out, but it's not working out in spectacular ways.

I'm getting all nostalgic over this section of the book because it was so much fun to write, and even if I wrote more books in the series, I'm not sure I could quite recapture this feeling because at that time it was so fresh for both me and the character.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Weekend with the Doctor

I had the kind of weekend that might need a weekend to recover from it, but I have so much stuff I need to get done. A nap might be required to accomplish anything, though, so we'll see. I had two late nights that weren't very restful followed by rather early mornings, and then last night a big storm was coming through just as I needed to be getting to bed, and between the weather radio going off with warnings and all the thunder and lightning, there was no getting any sleep. We actually came off okay where I was, just the rain and lightning. South of here there were some tornados.

But the weekend was fun. I was at WhoFest DFW, a Doctor Who convention put on by a lot of the same people who put on FenCon (which is mostly my group of friends). The guest actors there were primarily from a phase of the "classic" era that I never saw, though we did also have Nicholas Briggs, who does the voices of the Daleks and Cybermen. But they were all lovely and charming people, and maybe it helped that I wasn't entirely starstruck because I ended up sharing a stage with them, and it was terrifying enough without the starstruck factor I'd have had if I'd seen their episodes.

As part of the big Saturday night show leading into the costume contest, they decided to put on a version of the Just a Minute game, which is apparently popular on British radio. It involves giving panelists a random topic that they have to talk about for a minute without any hesitation, without going off topic and without repeating a word (other than little words like "I" or words related to the topic). The other panelists have buzzers, and they get to buzz in to challenge if they think they detect hesitation, repetition, deviation, or just want to mess with you. You get points for successful challenges or for finishing the minute. I've had to play this before at a previous convention when former Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell (who is a friend of mine) made me play. And I'm terrible at it. I thought it would be easy because I'm a good speaker. Give me a topic and point me at the audience, and I'm fine. But I didn't realize how much thinking I put into the things I say, and it gets really hard to talk when you're conscious of every single word.

But they needed one more person on the panel because Colin Baker (the Sixth Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), and Terry Malloy (Davros) were going to play, and as someone handy who is moderately known and who has played before, I got asked to join. I commented that it was a serious case of "one of these things doesn't belong," but I was willing to do it. Then we found out that Nicholas Briggs wanted to join in and I thought I would be off the hook, but it turned out that he wanted to host/moderate rather than play, so I was stuck, and he was impervious to any batting of the big green eyes and Southern drawl.

So, I was roadkill. I lost, big-time. I think I would have anyway because Colin and Terry were cut-throat and Nicola was very smart about it, and besides I got sidetracked listening to them and it didn't occur to me to buzz them. I did actually not say one of the things I was thinking, that my mama taught me not to interrupt my elders. But it was so much fun, a crazy experience, and I have now been hugged by a Doctor. I also need to track down some episodes from that era so I can do the "hey, I know those people!" thing. And I will never hear the Daleks again in the same way. There is allegedly video of this on YouTube, but I really, really don't want to see it.

Otherwise, I had a nice long chat with Terry Malloy at a party. He's doing a lot of audiobook narration, and so we were talking about that from the different perspective of narrator and author.

And I was on some other fun panels, got to spend time with friends and even signed an autograph. But now it is time to retreat to my cave and rest and write.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A TV Slump

This weekend is WhoFest DFW, a Doctor Who convention brought to you by a lot of the same people who do FenCon. I'll be one of the non-celebrity panelists. A lot of my panels aren't specifically about Doctor Who, but are more about other things you might like if you like Doctor Who.

And it seems that I have developed a convention anxiety nightmare. It's related to the standard school anxiety nightmare that I still have, more than twenty years after I graduated. You know the one -- you've realized that you have a final in a class you forgot you were taking. In my most common variation, I can't even remember where the class is, so I have to go back to my dorm room and tear it apart to find my class schedule, and then all kinds of crazy obstacles arise to keep me from getting to the class. In the convention version, I realize that there's a panel I was supposed to be on that I forgot about that's starting right that very minute, so I have to rush to get there before it ends. Crazy obstacles arise. Somehow it morphs from me being in the same hotel as the convention to having to get across town, crossing large bodies of water, etc. Supposedly, this kind of dream indicates a very responsible person because your greatest nightmare is failing in a responsibility.

I have to admit that I haven't been as keen on Doctor Who lately. I never warmed to Clara as a sidekick, and I don't know if that's why the new Doctor isn't really working for me. I still like it, but there's a different energy, and it's not really the energy I prefer. I enjoy it while it's on but barely think of it later, and I don't find myself anticipating new episodes.

This actually seems to be a slumping year for a lot of things I enjoy. They've done some interesting things on Grimm, but they've also done some big "huh?" things that haven't worked, and then they've bungled some of the potentially interesting things. This season of Downton Abbey got so ridiculous that I might actually be hate-watching more than I'm enjoying it. The jury's still out on whether the veering widely from the books is going to help or hurt A Game of Thrones. Once Upon a Time has just gone off a cliff to the point I'm not sure it can be salvaged (pro tip: it's a really, really bad idea to suggest that the characters in a fictional story don't actually have free will and have a predestined outcome. Why should we care what they do, then? Also, darkening the heroes doesn't make the villains look better in comparison, especially if the "darkening" makes no sense). They're exploring some interesting concepts on Person of Interest, but it's just getting so very bleak that it's not pleasant to watch. About the only light spot on TV for me right now, where I enjoy it while it's on and don't end up depressed, is Forever, which gives me all kinds of warm fuzzies, but I don't think it's long for this world. It's not likely to get another season.

I guess the upside is that if TV becomes too unpleasant to watch, that will free up a lot of time for me.

Now I need to figure out what to wear this weekend and double check my schedule so I don't realize at the last second that I'm missing a panel so I have to make a mad dash across town.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reports and Reviews

I am now down to one more children's choir session, and then the final program for the parents, but I don't need a lesson plan for that. I had a parent helping last night because the other teacher had a sick kid, and she asked me at the end if they were always this way. I said that this was actually a pretty good night. She was horrified, apologized profusely for her kid, said I deserved a medal, and said I had permission to do whatever it took to make her kid behave. I noticed that she was asking the other kids their names and their parents' names. Kindergarteners aren't quite sophisticated enough to know that this is a danger sign. I have a feeling some parents may be notified of what their children are like. I'm not sure what good it will do with some of them.

But aside from them doing the usual stuff they know they're not supposed to do, like climbing into the window, climbing onto stacked chairs, and running into walls, they weren't bad. They were actually interested in what we were doing instead of ignoring me.

But I just need to get through one more session, and that will involve a rehearsal in the sanctuary, so that eats up a lot of time. We may play musical chairs the rest of the time.

Meanwhile, I have my first big review for the steampunk book, and I'm kind of afraid to look. My editor says it's mixed but mostly favorable, and it's at Kirkus, which tends toward the negative and nasty. I've become oddly more sensitive to reviews as my career has progressed. With my early books, I was eagerly seeking out reviews. Now I just don't want to know.

I think maybe that's because with the earlier books I was very optimistic. I knew I had something special and figured that it would just work out that these books would find their audience and be successful. The books were loved, and they're still going strong a decade later, but they weren't considered "successful" enough for the publisher to keep publishing them. The good reviews didn't really end up meaning much -- they didn't encourage the publisher to do more to push the books, they didn't encourage the publisher to continue the series, they didn't encourage more bookstores to stock the books. And there's a part of me that worries that if that was the outcome with good reviews, what might other reviews mean? So I end up just not reading any of them. It keeps my mind from playing tricks on me. I also don't read Amazon reviews.

Though it does get tricky when it comes time to do publicity and I don't have review blurbs handy, since you have to read reviews to collect quotes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Surprise and Suspense

I was a little stumped about what to cover in a writing post today, and then I thought about something I've been considering in analyzing someone else's writing, and that's the issue of surprise and suspense.

Modern storytelling has become enamored of surprise. If a book, movie, or TV show has a big surprise in it, particularly a surprise twist, it will generally get a lot of praise for this. The surprise can elevate something that was pretty ho-hum. I suppose in our well-connected world full of spoilers and with us being fairly sophisticated consumers of story, so we know all the tropes, a genuine surprise that actually shocks us is rare and exciting.

But as a result of that, writers seem to be aiming for that surprise, with the idea that "surprise" is automatically the same as "good." You can write something pretty blah, and as long as there's a big surprise near the end, it will look like it's good. Also, anything that might keep something from being a surprise, like development, is to be avoided. Unfortunately, that robs us of something else that's valuable in storytelling: suspense.

Surprise is shock, while suspense is dread. There's an anecdote attributed to Alfred Hitchcock in which he said that if a family is eating at a picnic table and a bomb planted under the table suddenly goes off, that's surprise. If the audience sees the bomb and watches the picnic, dreading the bomb going off and desperately wanting the family to get out of there before it goes off, that's suspense. Each has its own place in storytelling. There are times when you need surprise, and there are times when you get more out of suspense. If everything has to be a surprise, you lose suspense because suspense requires knowing that there's a possibility of something happening.

The best surprises are actually set up. It just takes careful work to make sure all the clues are right there without them being so obvious that it ruins the surprise. One of the best ways is to give everything that happens two perfectly valid explanations. If you don't know the surprise twist, everything still makes sense in context. There's a reason for these things to have happened. After the surprise is revealed, you can see that there was a second reason for these things to happen, and they all paved the way toward the surprise. My favorite example of this might be in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. On the surface, it appears to be a "bloom where you're planted" story about an innocent man sent to prison on false charges who finds ways of coping with this new life that not only make it possible for him to survive and even thrive, but also help his fellow inmates improve their lot. And then -- SPOILER -- we learn that the whole time, all of this heartwarming stuff he was doing was actually a cover for a methodical escape plan that required years of patient work to carry off.

Everything he did along the way made sense as something a man trying to cope with his circumstances might do, but once we learned what was going on, we could see where it also helped him cover up his real activities. I think another key here is that the story still would have worked without the surprise. If it was just about the "bloom where you're planted" theme, it would have been a nice movie. The twist elevates it into something more complex, and it becomes a totally different movie the next time you watch it because you can see both stories playing out. The response to the surprise is "Oh, of course!"

On the other hand, even if you achieve surprise, your surprise fails if your audience looks back at the story and goes "huh?" because there's nothing to ground the surprise or pave the way for it. It also fails if the only good thing about the story is the surprise twist because the surprise only works the first time. That keeps your story from having re-read potential, and if you become known for your big twists, that means people will be expecting them and you lose the element of total surprise in future stories. A surprise can also be negative if it takes things in a direction the audience doesn't like. We generally don't want to find out that the hero we've come to care about was really the villain all along. We don't expect the hero to be helpless in the final confrontation while some random person saves the day, so while that happening would be a surprise, it would be a very unsatisfying story. That kind of twist requires some really clever writing and characterization to be palatable.

And then there's suspense. You need to decide if what's most valuable to your story is that sense of shock or if it would be better to build a sense of dread so that we know something big is coming. In prose, you have to do this with point of view, so that the audience knows something because of what one character discovered that the other character doesn't know yet. We don't have the benefit of the camera being able to show the audience things that none of the characters can see. You can also combine surprise and suspense if the outcome isn't what you were dreading. The bomb under the picnic table might just send a spray of confetti to kick off a surprise party rather than killing everyone. The monster we see lurking at the end of the alley might be there to help a character escape from the other monster we didn't know was in hot pursuit.

Satisfying readers requires a delicate balance of satisfying expectations and bringing surprises.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Kissing Frogs

Picking up where I left off on my Enchanted, Inc. reread, I think we're getting to the really fun part of the story. Not only has the plot kicked in, but this is the part where I got to do what Save the Cat author Blake Snyder called "the promise of the premise" or the "fun and games" part of the story. In Hero's Journey terms, we're in Tests, Enemies, and Allies. Our heroine is in a new world, and she's getting to experience what that entails. It's a book about a "normal" person working for a magical company, so we're getting to see more of what that's like.

So in chapter eleven we get to see how a spell might be tested, with the help of a magical immune who can read it without carrying it out. In my magical corporation metaphor, I was thinking of spells as being kind of like software. They're bits of code that allow things to happen. If I read raw code out loud, nothing would happen, but if you make a computer read it, it does something. So a magical person reading a spell might make something happen (depending on the spell), but someone with no magic is safe. This is why these people are so valuable to the company.

Then we get to one of my favorite parts of the book and the scene I usually read when I'm doing a reading at conventions: the girls' night out scene. I have to give my agent credit for how this worked out. In my original draft, the gang just went out for drinks and talked. I thought it was clever that the magical people thought that kissing frogs was actually a viable way of meeting men, because it would be in their world. When I first signed on with my agent and she gave me some revision suggestions before she submitted the book, she said they shouldn't just talk about it. They needed to actually go to the park and look for frogs. That kicked off a bunch of other things, including introducing some new characters who got woven into the story.

And now I think I can see the problem with what I'm writing now. They're talking about things, and I need to find a way for them to do them. Then again, that's what revision is for. You get the idea from the dialogue, then you mine your dialogue for things you can turn into action. But it's nice to be able to spot this as you write so you don't have to rewrite.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Back to the Cave

I had an unbelievably social weekend, with a concert Friday night, dinner with friends Saturday night, and another concert Sunday night, followed by yoga this morning and then a Starbucks trip with the yoga class. Now I need to crawl into my cave again for a while. But then there's a convention next weekend. And a concert and a party the following weekend. I'm getting the "busy schedule" twitches.

But in the meantime, there's that book I need to write.

Both concerts were wonderful, and rather different. The UNT Jazz singers are a vocal jazz choir, about 3-4 people on a part, and singing in really, really tight harmonies. I guess a good comparison to the style of music they do would be The Manhattan Transfer, but with more people. I'm pretty sure everyone in that group has to have perfect pitch because it's that tight, and they manage to sound like one person.

Then Sunday's concert was a 200-voice choir and orchestra. They performed Rutter's Requiem, and then they premiered a new Rutter piece, Gift of Life. And John Rutter himself was conducting. I've sung the Requiem before, and it was hard to keep myself from singing along. It's just so very beautiful. The new piece was also gorgeous, and the juxtaposition of death and life ended up being quite meaningful. Seeing Rutter conduct in person (and a world premiere, at that) was a bucket list kind of item.

I not entirely jokingly told our choir director (it was a choir field trip -- we loaded up the church bus to go) that if I make it big, I'll commission a Rutter piece for us. Maybe just an anthem rather than a major work, but something.

And that means I guess I need to work on a book, huh?

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Musical Weekend

I must have overestimated my recovery yesterday. Not that I was feeling bad, but I was really drained after a busy Wednesday and couldn't get myself in gear. It's funny, writing isn't physical labor, but it still seems to require some degree of physical stamina. I guess the emotional strength it requires has to come from somewhere. Plus, I think I'm somewhat blocked on a scene. If this works like it usually does, I'll spend days procrastinating about it and dreading it, and then when I get back to it, I'll be able to fix it by changing two words.

Except I know it's not going to work quite like that because the scene has to change entirely. Some characters will be in a different place, doing different things. I'm only just starting to be able to see that happening in my head.

I will be having a very musical weekend, with a University of North Texas Jazz Singers concert tonight and the John Rutter concert Sunday night. The Jazz Singers leave me in awe -- they're a (mostly) a capella jazz choir, so tight that they sound like one voice, even when they're singing in harmony, and it's the kind of a capella sound where you don't even realize there aren't instruments because the voices do it all. Tonight they're also teaming up with the famous One O'Clock Lab Band (a college band that gets nominated for the Grammy for Best Jazz Album almost every year). I know this concert will make me wish I'd followed a different path in life. And then I'll remember that performing requires being around people a lot. I do enjoy performing occasionally, but I'm not sure I could deal with it as a way of making my living. I prefer the balance I have now, which involves mostly hiding away alone and occasionally coming out for a few moments in the spotlight.

This summer's going to be a bit more spotlight-y than I've had in a long time. I might even need to go shopping for some new clothes. Most of my wardrobe dates back to the last time I had to do a lot of public appearances.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Caution: Choir Geekery

I made it through both children's choir and regular choir rehearsal last night, so I think I'm going to declare myself more or less well. I guess that means I now have to clean my house. It seems to have fallen into squalor while I was lying on the sofa with a tissue box.

And I need to get back to writing. I have that scene I need to fix before I can move forward.

Right now, I'm listening to John Rutter being interviewed on the radio. This weekend, he's conducting a world premiere of a new piece in Dallas, and our church choir is taking a field trip. He's one of my favorite composers, and definitely my favorite choral composer. This piece was commissioned by a local church choir, and I think if I'd known about this, I might have switched choirs for a while to sing with them for this. They're also doing his Requiem in this concert, and I love that Requiem. We sang that in a choir I was in about twenty years ago, and I still use the "Pie Jesu" from that piece as a way of working on my upper register.

But I'm not quite back to full strength for singing, as I'm finding singing along with the pieces they're playing in between bits of the interview a little challenging.

I now really want to listen to the entire Requiem, but it's hard to listen to that sort of thing while writing because I want to sing along.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Happy Tax Day!

I think I'm just about well. After not having an appetite for days, I woke up hungry this morning. There's still minor coughing, but it seems to be getting better rather than worse, which is a relief. Sometimes, my colds turn into bronchitis and the cough just keeps getting worse. Today I have to leave the house because I have to make a tax day trip to the post office, an emergency Target run (I ran out of so many things), and then there's children's choir and choir. I don't know how much singing will happen, but I need to be at rehearsal just to find out what's going on.

The taxes are done and just need to be printed. The forms you download online now allow you to put the numbers into the form, so instead of doing a draft and then a "real" version, I could do the draft version, check it, and print it. Strangely, only the main 1040 form doesn't work this way. The spaces pop up for inputting information, but the information doesn't stay there, so I will have to print and then fill out that final form. And then I will have to write some large checks because last year was very good for me, and that means my estimated payments for this year will be a lot higher. Let's just hope the income keeps up with that.

But based on all this, I've decided that it would be wise to put off the house hunting until later in the year. Last year was better than I realized, but the year before that, while not bad, wasn't as good as I remembered, and as far as I've heard, they base mortgage decisions on the past two years of tax returns (I'm not sure if the fact that I've already got a mortgage that I've been managing just fine during more than a decade of self employment makes a difference). Since the idea of this exercise is to end up with my (within reason) dream house, it makes sense to wait and see how this summer's book does and what effect all of it has on the way everything else sells, see if I get another contract, and meanwhile save more money for a bigger down payment (to get more house with less mortgage). It would be a shame to get what I can afford now and then soon afterward have a windfall that might have allowed me to get what I really wanted. And it would be a disaster to get what I can afford now and then have the bottom fall out.

In the meantime, my current house is better from the repairs I've made that were spurred by the house selling decision, and I was very grateful for the dishwasher while I was sick. When I ran out of mugs from all the hot tea, hot lemonade, etc., I was drinking, it was such a relief to stick them in the dishwasher and push a button rather than having to wash them all by hand. I've managed to keep my bedroom neat after the total decluttering, and it's so much more enjoyable. Now I just need to stay on track and continue the process in the rest of the house, so when I'm ready to pull the trigger, I can just go instead of getting frantic.

This all gives me added incentive to get back to writing and stay on top of the promoting.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Enchanted, Inc. Reread -- Getting Into the Plot

I'm very gradually getting better from my cold. Now I'm down to just an annoying cough. I probably won't be dancing tonight, but I might be able to sing tomorrow night. We'll see.

I realized when I did my Enchanted, Inc. reread last week that I actually got up to chapter eight. I was flipping through and missed the chapter break.

So, chapter nine is when the real plot really gets started after we get all the origin story stuff out of the way. Katie has learned that her big boss really is the Merlin. That was one of the ideas that had been swimming around in my head ever since I came up with the concept of a magical corporation. I was planning to do a spoof of corporate life -- in fact, one of my pitches for the concept was "Bridget Jones Meets Harry Potter and Goes to Work with Dilbert" -- and I'd just come from a workplace that loved all the various management fad things. If someone wrote a quirky business book about how some odd little premise could totally transform your company, you could bet we'd be having a corporate retreat based on it, complete with theme t-shirts or giveaways. This is why I have a koozie shaped like a fish (it had something to do with a book on how throwing fish like they do at the Seattle fish market could change the way your do business -- I don't think they meant it literally, but even after reading the book I wasn't sure quite how they meant it, and throwing foam "fish" koozies "improved" our business to the point that a huge chunk of the staff, including me, was laid off less than a year later). So I thought it would be a lot of fun for the boss to be an ancient wizard who's only recently discovered modern business practices and gets excited about every little fad because it's all new to him.

And then I had a burst of inspiration in remembering that in a lot of the Arthurian mythology they say that Merlin was entombed in a crystal cave, to be brought back again when he was needed. And, duh, who else should be running a magical corporation? But that then ended the idea of him running off with every business fad because he should be smarter than that. I think I kept a few references to the idea that he was reading all this stuff and finding it fascinating, but he's not forcing the whole company to abide by this week's business reading. Anyway, I then read as much as I could find about Merlin in order to create my character, including how his name would actually translate (depending on which version you go with). And, of course, they had to be facing a threat severe enough to require him to be brought back.

Then we got to one of my other core ideas, using modern business practices like marketing to get an edge in the magical world. Since I was inverting the usual fantasy structure by having my heroine learn that she didn't have magical powers, I thought it would also be fun to have real-world things be the solution for people who are used to getting what they want with a wave of the hand.

I wasn't planning it at the time, but looking back at the series, one of the things I really like about how it shaped up was the relationship between Merlin and Katie. I like how open he is to her ideas, in spite of his great age, wisdom, power, and experience.

I started a short story once about his initial emergence from hibernation. Maybe I should get back to that.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Do Not Taunt the Cold Virus

My grand plans for a weekend writing marathon crumbled when I came down with a bad cold. It's my own fault. I brought it upon myself. During my organization frenzy, I designated a portion of a drawer in the bathroom for cold supplies and made sure it was fully stocked. And then I didn't get seriously sick all winter, just a few minor bouts of sniffles. Friday morning as I was getting dressed and doing some tidying in the bathroom, I noticed the cold supplies stash and thought to myself that I'd been very fortunate not to come down with a cold all winter.

Cue the sore throat, sneezing and runny nose later that afternoon. At first I thought it might be allergies, since pollen counts were high, but taking allergy medicine did no good, and the symptoms kept getting worse. Between the fogginess from the cold and the fogginess from the medicine (at least I was fully stocked), there was no writing going to happen. I could barely form words. So, I spent the weekend lying on the sofa, drinking fluids, sneezing my way through a box of tissues, and marathoning the previous season of A Game of Thrones.

I think the worst of it has passed now. I missed yoga this morning because I don't really feel safe driving in this state, there is no breathing through my nose, and bending over would be a very bad idea right now. I need to finish my taxes (I just need to put numbers in the boxes on the forms and do the final calculations, since I keep the accounting running all year as I go), but that's iffy in the state I'm in. I may do a draft version today and then check it when I'm clearer.

I'm not sure about trying to write today, as the first thing I need to write is a rewrite of the last scene I wrote. Just as I finished it, I realized it was yet another talky scene, and then I came up with a way of making it more action and less talk, and it was right then that the cold hit me like a brick.

I'm considering an afternoon nap because I think some rest might help knock it the rest of the way out.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Talk, Talk, Talk

Yesterday wasn't quite as "marathony" as I'd hoped, writing-wise, mostly because I had to work out a few scenes in the transition between where I was and where I knew I needed to be. I'm feeling like this book is light on action and heavy on talk, but right now I'm getting the plot down. I can do something about it in revisions. A lot of conversations tend to go away in the second draft because they're often me thinking on paper (well, screen), and once I've worked things out, the characters don't need to say these things. I can also turn some conversations into action -- instead of talking about things, they do things. And I can put conversations in the context of action or add conflict to the scenes with conversations (since there are times when people might just sit and talk, and that doesn't have to be boring).

But the book is coming to life for me, and that's fun. I keep making odd discoveries and having things go off in different tangents, so it's kind of like reading a book for the first time, only with more work.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to read from my To Be Read shelf to keep weeding it down. Last week I read a somewhat interesting historical novel that I probably wouldn't have chosen if it hadn't been a conference giveaway, and that got me in the mood for medieval-set stuff, so I grabbed a historical romance off the shelf. For a while I thought this one would be different because it was an unusual setting, the characters weren't the usual "types," and there was a strong plot aside from the romance aspect. We even got six chapters in before anything even remotely romancey happened. But then we got the scene in which the so-called hero grabbed the heroine, whom he barely knew, shoved her against a wall, stuck his tongue down her throat, shoved his hands up her skirt and grabbed her behind, all while she was protesting, and he only backed off when she slapped him silly. Of course, even though she did slap him, she couldn't stop thinking about his searing kiss and how it awoke parts of her she'd never been aware of before, blah, blah, blah. As a reader, I have a hard time pulling for a guy who'd act like that to get together with the heroine, and I know that if a man did that to me, he'd probably be walking funny for a few days and might have had sexual assault charges filed against him (though that wasn't really an option in the book's setting). I know good and well that it wouldn't make me dwell on how amazing it made me feel and make me long to feel it again, even if he infuriated me.

This is why I struggle with genre romance novels. I don't find that kind of junk romantic, and it's all over the place. A man who behaves like that isn't a hero, and I would never want a heroine to end up with him. So I think this book is going to have to go in the "donate to library book sale" bag because the book is ruined for me. It's hard to read a romance novel while actively wanting one member of the couple to die in a fire, since I know they'll end up together.

What I'm actually kind of in the mood for, and I'm afraid this is rather rare, is a historical magical realism type book -- a somewhat realistic medieval setting (not in a fantasy realm) with a hint of magic, like where the kinds of things people did believe in, like curses, charms, etc., really did work. I've read one or two, but it's hard to find them. I guess you could call it fantasy lite, the real world as a slightly more magical place. Romance is good, but not rape that gets called romantic.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Writing Moods and Social Media Experiments

I managed to get past my problem scene yesterday (yes, using the techniques in yesterday's post), and it ended up going in an unexpected direction. Well, maybe not entirely unexpected, as it was a direction I was planning on going eventually, but it was a development in that direction that I hadn't expected to get to so soon. It just popped into my head as a way to handle the situation, and it then made total sense. And it will make things a lot more interesting going forward.

I'm getting close to the halfway point on the book, and since we're in a stormy phase (I write better when it's rainy), I'm thinking of doing a sort of writing retreat/marathon for the next few days. I did have plans for Saturday, but they involved a long drive and a lot of time outdoors, and I don't really want to do either with a good chance of strong thunderstorms. So I may hole up in the house today, tomorrow and Saturday and see how much writing I can accomplish, just to get through and past the midpoint, which is generally a tough part that requires a lot of momentum. I also have a lot of business-type stuff (finishing my taxes) and work around the house to do, and the last few weekends have been so busy that I like the idea of an unscheduled one, even if it is busy at home. We'll see. The weather forecast may change. But I hate to waste the rare impulses when I desperately want to write and that seems more fun to me than anything else I could do. I was dreaming scenes from the book last night.

Meanwhile, I've been doing a bit of an experiment with social media, actually posting things related to my books, which I haven't ever done much of. I've been posting pictures from the trip I took to research A Fairy Tale to Facebook. And my Amazon rankings (the only immediate metric I have) have declined. Now, I know that just means that other books were bought more than mine were. It's not like people unbought my books based on my posts, and it's entirely possible that the decline would have been worse without my posts. I'll have a better sense early next week when I get this week's sales numbers. But it is discouraging to do something designed to make things better and have things get worse. I'm going to try to keep up with it, though, because I don't think it's the kind of thing where you can do it once and get results. I'm just terrible at this social media stuff because I tend to not say anything if I have nothing to say, so I'm not really commenting, retweeting, replying, etc. or posting as often as some people do. On the other hand, you can't accuse me of clogging your feed.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Fixing a Scene

It's writing post time, and this topic is taken from something I'm currently dealing with: how do you fix a scene that's just not working?

Unless you're a total genius (or entirely oblivious), you probably recognize the problem, either in a first draft or in editing. You just can't get a scene off the ground. It lies there, limp and lifeless. There's no momentum moving forward in the story. This may even be where writer's block sets in -- you can't make that scene happen, which means you can't move on.

Here are some things you can consider to get out of the bad scene doldrums:

Think about the scene's role in your story. Why does this scene need to be in the book? A scene needs to reveal a critical piece of information, reveal something important about the characters, change the status quo, and/or move the plot forward. Preferably more than one of these things. A scene that's just there to explore a cool setting or to make something interesting happen that isn't required to the plot is probably never going to work. Ask yourself how it would affect your overall story if you deleted this scene. If you can delete it, do so. If it only does one thing or if it involves an interesting event, maybe you could combine it with another scene and use the interesting event to further the plot.

The scene's protagonist/viewpoint character must have a goal. What does the viewpoint character want to achieve in this scene? This may or may not be the story goal, but it should probably be at least somewhat related to the story goal. It may be a minor subset of the story goal. For instance, in a mystery the detective's goal is to solve the murder. The goal for a particular scene might be to get the truth out of a witness. The scene doesn't necessarily have to be about the character getting that goal because sometimes other things get in the way, but the character should keep trying to get back to that goal.

There needs to be conflict. This usually comes from someone or something getting in the way of the scene protagonist's goal. It doesn't necessarily mean there has to be fighting or antagonism, just that things can't be smooth and straightforward for the hero. A scene in which the detective interviews a witness who just outright tells him the key information he needs isn't very interesting. Instead, the witness might lie or go off-topic, so it becomes a verbal chess match. Obstacles might arise to thwart or sidetrack the protagonist. The goal might be more challenging than the protagonist realized. I've seen some advice that the character should never actually achieve the scene goal, but if you stick to that advice the story will just end up going nowhere. It might be better to say that the character shouldn't get exactly what he wants or expects. He might get the information he needs from the witness, but it's not the information he expected to get, and that means he has to change plans going forward in the investigation.

Something needs to change as a result of the events in the scene. The characters might learn something that changes the way they see the situation. They might end up in more trouble. They might end up a step ahead of where they were. The relationship between the characters might change. I've seen some writing teachers say that there needs to be a shift between positive and negative in a scene -- if the situation is positive at the beginning of a scene, it needs to be negative at the end, and vice versa. I've found it really hard to consciously make that happen, but it's something to think about if you're analyzing why a scene isn't working.

The scene needs to drive the story forward. The end of a scene should probably generate the goal for that character's next scene. The information the detective eventually gets out of the witness may lead him to develop the goal of finding the critical clue the witness mentioned, for instance. If the character ends up in worse trouble at the end of a scene, the next scene's goal is likely to involve getting out of that trouble.

One other thing to consider is how similar the scene is to other scenes in the story. This tends to happen in stories like quests or pursuits. Each scene in a quest is likely to be about a stage in the journey, while each scene in a pursuit kind of story is going to involve nearly catching the person or narrowly evading capture (depending on who the protagonist is). One scene after another of nearly being caught and narrowly escaping is going to get old, no matter how exciting each scene is, so there needs to be some variety.

In some respects, a scene is basically a really short story that requires a goal, conflict, rising action, a climax, and falling action. It probably won't stand alone as a story because it requires a lot of context, but the structure should work kind of like a story -- perhaps like an episode in a serial. Something needs to happen, and it should make you eager to find out what happens next.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Resuming the Enchanted, Inc. Reread

I have been somewhat remiss in that Enchanted, Inc. reread I started in the fall, and since my reading lately has been rereading Terry Pratchett and therefore haven't had a lot of books to discuss, I thought I might as well pick it up again.

In case you need to review (I did), Here's chapters one and two, chapters three and four, and chapters five and six.

Of course, there are spoilers here, but I'm not getting ahead of myself so if you're reading along for the first time, I won't spoil past chapter seven here.

So, in chapter six, Katie goes to work at the magical company and finds that her job is anything but magical. It's like being part of a secretarial pool, and she's working with a bunch of annoying people. I tried to imagine what effect being immune to magic would have on someone's personality, and I figured that if you were around magic a lot but didn't know it until adulthood you might end up being kind of flighty or really geeky. Then unless you were pretty grounded, being a rare commodity might make you full of yourself. I think I was having fun with expectations there, making the magical workplace be rather drab, but I think that's a common experience, even without the magic. When you're interviewing for a job, they make it look like this wonderful place, and then it seems like an entirely different place once you accept the job and show up to work.

The crazy boss Gregor, who turns into an ogre -- literally -- when he gets angry, was one of the earlier ideas I had when I first started mentally developing this world, and he was based on someone I used to work with. He could seem totally reasonable and even nice, and then suddenly he'd snap. He didn't turn green, but he did turn a scary purple color, and he didn't sprout fangs and horns, but the effect was similar. I knew the moment I started thinking about a magical workplace that a boss who's literally an ogre would be absolutely mandatory.

Chapter seven was a lot of me playing with the premise, showing what Katie's job was really like. I must admit that I'd forgotten about the use of magic carpets on business after this book, so that's why they come back in book six. Otherwise, I was trying to show the "normal" of Katie's new magical life before I upended it again. We had to see what the potential problems might be and what her normal work was like in order to set up what she's going to want to change or have to deal with.

This is also when I started dropping hints that there's more going on. That's when the main plot first arrives after our origin story of getting Katie into this world has finished.

I think one of my favorite scenes in the book was the one where Katie visits Owen's office and spots the fake book, then sees and tries to fight off the intruder. That whole segment was so vivid to me, from the setting to the people. Just skimming it how, it pops right back into my head.

And this is when things start getting interesting ...

Monday, April 06, 2015

My Easter Holiday

I had a wonderful long weekend, and now I'm actually looking forward to being back at work. On Friday, I went with a group of women from church to the Dallas Arboretum. This is a big garden that's what used to be a couple of estates on the shores of White Rock Lake, and in springtime they have a lot of tulips, wisteria and cherry blossoms. Tulips are very hard to grow here because we don't get the kind of cold you need during the winter (to get tulips to bloom here, you have to refrigerate the bulbs before planting), so this is one good place to see lots of tulips. This trip made me want a garden, and there were some great ideas with color schemes that I might be able to pull off with different flowers.

For instance, the combo of yellow and blue here is very cheery (I like this color scheme for a kitchen, too):

And the pink and purple here looks like a box of candy:

I can't believe I haven't been to this place before (other than once in the evening for a party) because it's the kind of place that makes my soul sing. It's rather expensive to go for a single visit, but a membership would pay for itself in three trips, so I'm contemplating doing that. I could even bring a notebook and work all day in that kind of setting. It would be very inspiring. The only down side is that getting there involves a tricky drive all the way across the city. Would I really drag myself out there more than three times a year?

Then there was a service Friday night with some wonderful music, and then a Saturday of mostly rest. I did replace some of the burnt-out lightbulbs in the bathroom vanity, and then I promptly remembered why I'd let them stay burnt-out because it's now really bright in there, and that required me to clean the mirror. Otherwise, I took a short walk and spent a lot of time sitting on the patio -- morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea. I may have a new favorite indulgence. A few years ago, my parents gave me one of those foot spa tubs for Christmas, but I haven't used it often because the only uncarpeted spot in my house is the kitchen. But I got the bright idea of bringing it to the patio, and it was rather blissful sitting outside with a book and a glass of wine while my feet soaked and were massaged. I will have to do that more often.

Then there were three services on Sunday morning, after which I pretty much collapsed.

I may have to get back on track with the getting the house clean enough to show project, as well as finishing my taxes so I can apply for a mortgage, because there's currently a house for sale on a street I really like. The one big concern is that it's a bit smaller than I would like -- only about 600 square feet bigger than my current house and with an additional bedroom and bathroom, plus a dining room. That means the rooms are probably really, really small. The online photos made the back yard look huge, and it wasn't that big when I walked by. That makes me wonder how big the rooms are, since the photos make them look small. I don't necessarily want a massive house, but I would rather not have tiny rooms. On the other hand, the yard configuration is exactly what I would want, very shaded from the west with almost no front yard, eastern exposure and lots of light in back, so I could have flowers.

I suppose it wouldn't hurt to look at it, since it's very much in my price range.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Easter Holiday

I think I'm going to consider tomorrow a holiday for Good Friday, since I have a big service to sing for that evening and I think I'll be going to the Arboretum during the day (assuming I ever hear back from the person organizing the excursion to find out specific details, like exactly when and where we're meeting).

Then I have a free Saturday that I think I'm going to spend working around the house and on the patio. When I was a kid, I liked to play outside and get really grubby the day before Easter. That made it even nicer to get all cleaned up with my hair washed before going to bed that night. So I may do something along those lines now -- spend the day working, then get all cleaned up and spend the evening relaxing before going to bed extra early.

And it's ridiculous how much I'm looking forward to this.

Today, though, I have to pretend to be an adult and take my car for its 30,000 mile service. Yes, this is a 7-year-old car. I don't drive a lot.

And then I have to continue fixing the book to fit the backstory I discovered. Yesterday I realized that there is a slight flaw to this backstory in that it might contradict something in a previous book, so I have to work out how that was a loophole or how that was a possibility then but the current thing is still supposed to be impossible.

I'm rather looking forward to finishing with this book and writing another steampunk book because that series is so nicely linear. It requires a lot of research, but the story flows pretty easily. I don't know why this one series goes against all my usual writing habits. I have to have music while I'm writing it, while everything else I write does best in total silence, and no matter how much I plot, I still end up doing that seat-of-the-pants thing where I never know what's going to happen next and it keeps morphing and shifting. That means there's a lot of going back and forth. With everything else I write, I have a solid outline and generally stick to it, writing straight through from beginning to end.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

When "Telling" Might Be Okay

The problem with making a huge mental shift in the background of a story is that it takes a while to let it permeate the way I think about the story. I did some of the tweaking yesterday, then realized I might need to write a new scene. I could just mention the events that would have happened in that scene in a later scene, but that would be "telling" not "showing." Then again, telling isn't always wrong if it conveys information in a quick and easy way rather than dragging it out when there isn't much drama in the actual scene. And it helps if the telling is going to be necessary anyway to not have to go through the actual scene and then talk about it.

And now I think I've talked myself out of writing the actual scene. I need to mentally go through it so I'll know exactly what happened, but I can adjust the next scene to show the character still dealing with the emotions as he tells others what happened. Yeah, that's it …

But I do think I'm back on track and hope to get some work done today. I have errands to run and music to practice, but I don't have to teach children's choir (yay!).

I'm still kind of exhausted from dance last night, but I realized at the end of the class that I could easily be the mother of the other people in the class -- without even being a particularly young mother. Just being there and more or less keeping up with it is something of a triumph. I may not be able to do all the things they do, but there aren't a lot of people my age who are still dancing regularly. At least, I keep telling myself that. I'm going to have to make a decision about dance this summer, since the class ends right as my book comes out (in fact, the last class is my release date) and my teacher is taking the summer off, so I get the "serious" dance teacher again. I liked him last summer and learned a lot, but it was stressful because I'm a perfectionist and a teacher's pet type, so I just about killed myself trying to be sure I could please him.

I can't believe I'm already thinking about summer plans. Where has this year gone?