Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Re-Reading and New Reading

I got a little more than halfway through the book yesterday, and I'm starting to see that I wasn't totally off-base when I was afraid that the book was mostly conversations. I'm listing all the scenes and will go back and chart which were conversations and which were action. There are a couple of scenes of very intense, conflict-laden conversations, which is okay, but I don't want too many scenes of people sitting around and talking about things that are happening. I need more scenes of things happening. I suspect a lot of this is plotting on paper, where the conversations about what to do are how I figured out what they should do, and I can now cut the conversation and go straight to what they decided to do.

One thing that is impressing me in rereading this book is the way I'm stringing words together. I have the occasional bit of description that I really like, that gives a perfect mental image and that's true to the way the viewpoint character sees things, so that we also get an insight into that person. I'm having a lot of "wow, I did that?" moments.

Meanwhile, I actually managed to read a book for fun all the way through (something that hasn't happened in a while). Last weekend I read Foxglove Summer, the latest in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. I've described this series as kind of a Harry Potter meets CSI thing, or a British Dresden Files. It's about a young London policeman who gets recruited for a special division that's basically their version of the X-files unit, only more about magic than about aliens, and he ends up being trained as an apprentice wizard.

This book is kind of a one-off after the very intense previous book, giving our hero a break after some really nasty stuff happened. A couple of girls have gone missing in a rural area and our hero is sent to interview some known magic-related people in the area just to rule them out. He sticks around to help with the case and comes to find out that there really is something under his jurisdiction going on.

The fun thing about these books is that the narrator is a fairly geeky guy, so the book is just dripping with nerdy pop-culture references. Like many geeks, he speaks in movie and TV quotes and has them for any occasion. It's like a game spotting all the lines that are from some known thing (Aliens seems to have been the movie of choice for this book). He's an apprentice wizard who's read all the Harry Potter books and who's obsessed with Doctor Who, and that makes things even more fun. I feel like this guy would be my friend if I knew him, so I don't really care what adventures he's on as long as I get to spend time with him. In this case, the story fit in with some of the same folklore and fantasy elements I'm currently working with, so I enjoyed it a lot, even though it wasn't really part of the story arc of the series. It also made me want to go walking through the English countryside. And rewatch Aliens because there might be some lines I missed.

And now I have to wait for the next one.

Speaking of waiting for books, two more weeks until Rebel Mechanics comes out!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Rest is Over

I had a nicely restful weekend, which is good because I have to hit the ground running this week. I need to get the book totally revised and edited by August 1 in order to fit my copyeditor's schedule (since she happens to have a slot open, and you pretty much have to pry my copyeditor out of my cold, dead hands because we've been through too many books together). And I have a few more blog posts and interviews to deal with, along with some other PR and business stuff. I was about to say that I'm going to be very busy until August, but then I remembered WorldCon and all my FenCon stuff really kicking in, and then there's the children's music and art camp at church, and I'm going to be busy until late September. Then I hope to do some travel in October.

A lot of Saturday and then Sunday morning was spent working on music because I had my first ever real solo in church -- not a duet, not an ensemble, just me at the microphone. I think it went pretty well, maybe not as perfect as I would have liked because I'm a raging perfectionist, I was a bit nervous, and the person who was talking just before I got up to sing said something that made me a bit teary-eyed and that perfectly fit the song I was singing, but I got compliments, and the pianist said she thought the congregation was very moved by it.

Otherwise, there was TV watching and reading. I've been watching the BBC America version of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and I think they're doing a great job of adapting the book. It's been a few years since I last read it, so I'm not doing a really close comparison, but nothing has yet struck me as clashing horribly with my mental images from the book. I may want to re-read after the series is over.

Then on PBS on Sunday night, there's Poldark, which is full of all kinds of lovely scenery and costumes and a ridiculously good-looking man who frequently removes his shirt for all kinds of manly physical labor, and I think there's a plot in there somewhere, but I get distracted by the manly shoulders. Actually, it's about a British soldier returning home after the American Revolution to find that everyone assumed he was dead, his father has died, his home and estate are crumbling, he's broke, and the woman he loves is engaged to someone else. This is where I really don't understand the British class system because this guy is dead broke, living in a ruin, and having to do a lot of the labor himself because he can't afford to pay employees, and yet he's considered "better" than people who actually aren't much worse off than he is and even some who are doing better than he is, just because he's a "gentleman." He doesn't even have a title, it seems. I've never figured out the distinction between "gentleman" and "ordinary guy" when no titles are involved and the gentleman is dirt poor. But still, shoulder and back muscles!

That's followed by The Crimson Field, which is basically about a WWI field hospital and the nurses who work there. Very soapy, but very well done, though I do get distracted by thinking "Wait, which episode of Doctor Who was he/she in?" with all the actors. They're all so familiar, but very much out of context.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Battery Backup

My new garage door opener is currently being installed. Not having a functioning one has only been a minor inconvenience this week, as I only went out for groceries, but it would have been a real pain early Sunday morning to have to open the door manually, then back out, put the car in neutral with the parking brake on, run around and close the door manually before driving away. This thing is going to be very fancy. It has sensors and apps and stuff. I likely won't use the apps because I suspect they need your home WiFi for that, and even if I had WiFi, the garage is far enough from the house that it wouldn't be in range. Mostly, I got the fancy model for the battery backup. Apparently, the one I have was really cheap and poor in the first place, the kind of thing you pick up at the hardware store and install yourself, and it looks like someone did that without having much of a clue. The one I'm getting is more professional grade. It'll be a nice selling point for the house, when I get around to selling.

I finished the round of interviews yesterday and am now working on guest posts, which makes me feel less egocentric because I'm talking about stuff other than me. The prompts I have so far are about stuff that inspires me and stuff that inspired this book. That's easy. Though picking any one inspiration is a bit of a challenge. The inspiration for the book was a cascading series of events, but I think I can narrow it down to one or two things -- a book and a photo.

I have a weekend ahead of me with nothing scheduled other than a solo in the early service on Sunday (that I need to practice). I need that after last weekend. The plan is a night of TV on the sofa this evening, then breakfast (including some of the new batch of homemade jam) on the patio (if it's stopped raining by then -- we're supposed to get rain overnight) in the morning and a day of reading. The smoky library book finally aired out enough that I can read it, though I'm not bringing it into my bedroom. There may be a walk in the afternoon or evening, since it's supposed to be cooler tomorrow. I might do some work, but just reading some reference books and brainstorming.

I definitely need to recharge my own battery backup, since the rest of this summer will involve a lot of public events. They're fun, but they take all my energy. It's probably for the best that I didn't get invited to the convention going on this weekend. It would have taken all kinds of willpower to drag myself out again so soon.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Talking About Myself

PR mode for the new book has begun. It's been a while since I've done this kind of thing for a release, and while it's fun, it can also be a bit draining. I have a lot of sympathy for actors who have to go on publicity junkets for a new movie. You know that only the truly obsessed are going to see every single interview, so it's new and different for the audience each time, but you start to feel weird saying the same things over and over again in interviews. But you don't want to vary too much because you don't want to contradict yourself. It also feels weird for me to spend so much time talking about myself. I managed two e-mail interviews yesterday before I got sick of myself.

So, after spending yesterday grocery shopping, talking to the garage door people, and doing interviews, I let myself have a TV night and caught up on the new shows that are on SyFy on Fridays (Sci Fi Fridays are back!!!!). I've put the full review of two shows that fit into the Not!Firefly category on the Stealth Geek blog.

Today I have lots more interviews and guest posts to write. Although this is a bit taxing, I'm not complaining because it's good to spread the word, and I'm excited that so many bloggers have contacted me wanting me to do interviews. I love this book, and I want everyone to know about it. In case you're in the mood to do a little obsessive stalking, I'll post when one of these interviews appears. Maybe I should start putting in little Easter eggs in each interview and give a prize to someone who can guess what the secret word is or spot the point of difference.

Meanwhile, I'm making a batch of strawberry jam. They had strawberries on sale yesterday, and I'm down to my last jar from my previous batch, so it was good timing. The jam has been through its initial cooking and is now cooling. Then it will be cooked again for final thickening before canning. I'm such a pioneer woman. Meanwhile, I've bought another rosemary plant. Supposedly, this is something easy to grow, but I've killed every one I've tried. The last one survived about two weeks. Maybe it drowned from all the rain. But I love to cook with rosemary, and having fresh rosemary handy is nice. It will probably die while I'm out of town later this summer, but in the meantime, I need to make everything that involves rosemary I can think of. I made this chicken breast in an herbal brine a couple of weeks ago that was wonderful, and I may have to do that again.

Now, off to pretend to be famous enough that people might find me mildly interesting!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Treating Myself

My latest improvement around the house is going to be a new garage door opener. Mine is about 30 years old and was a cheap brand to begin with, and it just fizzled on me. I'm treating myself with a fancy one with battery backup, so even if the power's out, I can get in and out of the garage. This is the glamorous life of a semi-famous author. I think I need to work on this treating myself thing, but having been through a few situations without power and having to manually open the door, I'd rather have battery backup for my garage door than jewelry or designer clothes.

In other news, I finally got around to seeing the first Captain America movie. I used to enjoy the occasional superhero move, but the recent glut of them had created an extreme adverse reaction in me, to the point I was actively resisting them. But The Red Hat (it deserves capitals) made me want to watch Agent Carter, and then I felt like I was missing the backstory, so when the movie came on one of the cable channels, I ended up watching it.

And I did enjoy it, which isn't a surprise considering I kind of want to be Agent Carter when I grow up, and I love World War II-related stuff. Plus, Steve is pretty much my ideal man (even when he's scrawny). But I HATED the ending. I knew it was coming because I don't live under a rock and I've been watching the sequel series, and I know this movie was mostly the origin story to set up the character and send him to the present to be in The Avengers, but just looking at this movie, I found myself thinking "this is it?"

I was surprised that Steve and Peggy's relationship amounted to a working friendship with very mild flirting and one kiss, considering in Agent Carter she's going around acting like he's lost the love of her life. I suppose that the sense of lost potential can be as sad as losing someone integral to your life, but it was still a blink-and-you-miss-it relationship. I also felt like there was so much more potential for stories in the WWII setting that they didn't get to. He really only handled one extended, multi-part mission, so is that enough to establish a legend? I don't know how they handled his transition to the present, but I get the sense he's kind of an anachronism in which they contrast his earnest idealism with modern cynicism, and it would have been nice to see a little more of him in his own element before getting that transition. I also loved his team and the mix of all those characters. So yeah, even if that ending was coming, it would have been better if it had been at the end of the third movie in the WWII setting.

I still need a red fedora.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Becoming Moderately Famous

I have survived yet another convention. These are really draining for me because they involve being around people, having to be witty and friendly while being around people, having to have clever things to say in front of an audience, and having that ongoing "am I where I'm supposed to be at the time I'm supposed to be?" worry. It's fun work and beats any business trip I've ever taken in my old job, but it's still work. This one had added "fun" with some transportation drama that required changes of plans.

As a result, I'm kind of a brain-dead zombie today. I've talked to my parents on the phone, but otherwise will likely avoid all human contact, even if that requires foraging in the freezer to find something to eat for dinner. I'd love to spend the day sleeping, but I now have a lot of work to do to get ready for the new book release.

Oh, I was asked for pictures of The Precious. Here's a snapshot I took when I got it:

I've got blog tours booked, so I need to get going on the guest posts and interviews. And somewhere in all this, I need to revise the book I've been working on.

Still, it was kind of fun spending the weekend being moderately famous. A lot of my books sold in the dealers room, so I didn't feel useless during my autograph session (I got almost no knitting done!). Someone said I was mentioned in a panel I wasn't on, which is a nice measure of fame, if your works are being cited as examples even when you're not present. I'm assuming it was a positive reference. I was one of the mentors for the writers' workshop, and I think I was able to provide good feedback (that made me want to take another look at my own work). So, all in all, a good convention. I just need a teleporter. I've decided that if I'm ever making JK Rowling levels of stupid amounts of money, I'll start traveling via private jet -- my own little pod that gets me places quickly without dealing with people. Then I'll have the mental/emotional energy to deal with people in the parts that matter.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

It's a Real Book!

It's going to be one of those "I have sooo much to do!" days, helped somewhat by the fact that I have my semi-annual AC service today, supposedly sometime between noon and 2, but I just got the "he may be running a little late" call, so probably between 2 and 3. That means a lot of time stuck sitting around, during which I should be accomplishing things, and I should also manage to get some cleaning done, since I'm one of those people who feels the need to clean the house before a service person comes over.

I do have a few errands left to run, but I got my shopping trip out of the way Tuesday before the tropical storm hit. I may have finally solved my comfortable dressy black flats problem. I found some that are the ballet flat style, more or less, with a toe that comes up high enough on the foot (my main problem with most shoes right now), and there's memory foam in the insoles, so they offer a lot of cushion. Plus, there are elastic strips across the top, like my real ballet slippers, which means the heels are probably less likely to rub as the shoes slip up and down. I'll put them to the test this weekend.

Yesterday's excitement was getting my very first copy of the new book. It's so pretty. I think it will jump off shelves, whether face-out or spine-out. I just hope it makes it onto some shelves. I haven't heard anything about bookstore orders. But it is a real book that exists! If I remember, I'll bring it with me to ApolloCon so everyone can ooh, ah, and admire. While wearing gloves, of course.

And no, I did not sleep with it. I didn't even keep it on my nightstand. It spent the night on my desk.

Now I need to finish cleaning my house, bake some cookies, do some critiques, prepare a reading selection, and make some wardrobe decisions.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Changing Face of Publishing

I have another reader question for my every-other-week writing post, this one about how the publishing world has changed or is changing.

When you're talking about the major publishers, change happens very slowly. When I sold my first book in the early 90s, I submitted it by snail mail, and the letters from my editor were typed rather than printed on computers. I moved to one of the major publishers in the mid-90s, and the first letter I got from my editor there used all the fonts because she'd just got a computer and was having fun playing with it. Although I submitted on paper via snail mail, they did ask me to send a disc with the final version after revisions. Meanwhile, at my day job we had been using computers for years and had even started using e-mail and the Internet for just about everything.

It's not too terribly different today. I now send all my manuscripts by e-mail and do most of my communication with my editor and agent via e-mail, but my current editor likes to work on paper, so I get edits on paper (I have a box full of versions of the upcoming book). Communication is quicker and easier when not everything has to be sent in the mail, but a lot of the process is similar.

But the overall environment has really changed. Books used to go out of print pretty quickly because the only place to buy books was in bookstores, and there's only so much shelf space. Now, there are all the online retailers that can continue to stock paper books, and with e-books no book ever has to become unavailable. That's meant that contracts now need to be specific about the definition of "out of print" to include a certain number of copies of e-books sold so publishers can't hold on to rights forever because the book is available in electronic form. This has created some nice opportunities for authors, as having books readily available helps them continue to make sales. I'm still getting fan mail for a book that was first published ten years ago, and I continue to earn good royalties on it. I think in the pre-e-book era that book would be long out of print.

Another change that hasn't been so great for authors is the consolidation of publishers. There used to be a lot of publishers you could submit a book to, but now we're down to six (or is it five by now?). They may still have multiple imprints, but they vary on whether they consider a rejection by one at the house means a rejection by all imprints. This also means that they're very bottom-line driven, and computerized sales report systems mean they know exactly how well any book is doing. If it doesn't hit well right out of the gate, they move on to the next thing. It's getting to the point where all the big publishers want to deal with are the big stars and the newcomer potential stars. There's not a lot of room for midlist authors with steadily growing careers.

Fortunately, this is happening at the same time that self-publishing is taking off. This is no longer the vanity press of people publishing poems about their cats. A lot of very smart businesspeople are making a lot of money by publishing their own books. The ones who succeed really treat it like their own publishing company, hiring editors and designers and doing a lot of promotion. Authors are re-publishing their backlist that's gone out of print and publishing new material. Since so many books are rejected by the big publishers not because of quality but because they don't fit a niche or aren't something guaranteed to be an instant smash, this offers a way for those books to find an audience. It might not necessarily be a big enough audience to meet a major publisher's profit requirements, but it might be more than enough to earn a healthy living for an individual author who doesn't have the overhead expenses of a major publisher.

At the same time, publishers are starting to use the ranks of the self-published as a kind of slushpile. Instead of taking a risk on an untested new author, they can pick up someone who's already had some success. This can be a good opportunity for authors, but it also means authors have to shoulder the financial risk of initially getting their books out there rather than getting paid up-front the way they do when selling to a publisher from the start.

And there's the potential for more changes in store. With so many people reading on electronic devices, might we see more things like books with embedded soundtracks or video clips? Or "choose your own adventure" type stories that take advantage of the medium? Serials are currently fairly popular -- a novel published in small chunks. That's a return to the way authors like Charles Dickens wrote, so it's not a new idea, but it's happening in new ways. The new markets may change the form of stories or the way authors write.

I'm currently straddling the line between traditional and independent -- I have books from major publishers and books I'm publishing myself. It's rather liberating to know that even if a publisher doesn't want something, I can still publish it myself. One thing that's changed in the way I work is that this means I'm mostly writing complete novels instead of proposals. I think my proposals are a lot stronger when I've at least drafted the whole thing and polished the beginning with the end in mind, and if I know I'm going to be self-publishing it even if the publisher doesn't want it, there's no reason not to write the whole book and make the proposal as strong as possible. I've been able to continue a series that the US publisher didn't want and launch a new series that didn't fit a niche, even while selling a new book to a publisher. There are pluses and minuses to each side of the equation, so having a foot in each is nice.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


I didn't accomplish nearly as much yesterday as I needed to, but then again I managed to check off a number of nagging to-do list items. I now have hotel reservations for all my summer conventions, including WorldCon. I didn't get my preferred hotel at WorldCon because it's pretty much all sold-out, but I may have ended up with a better situation. It's a bit more expensive, but it's an Embassy Suites kind of place (though not actually an Embassy Suites), so I'll have both a bedroom and a sitting room, and it includes breakfast, an evening reception, and free Wi-Fi, plus there's a refrigerator and microwave in the room. So even if I don't have tons of stuff to do at the convention, I can relax at the hotel.

But in the meantime, I need to gear up for ApolloCon this weekend in Houston. I've been creating some book-related swag, and I need to print some promo materials. I also need to figure out some reading material and plan the wardrobe.

And then there's other promo stuff, as Rebel Mechanics comes out five weeks from today. I have a lot of blog interviews and guest posts to do so far, and I'm sure there will be more on the way. It's been a while since I had a big release like this. I'd forgotten how much work it can be. But it's for a good cause.

I still haven't managed to read the book that's currently in my freezer. The last time I checked, it still smelled like cigarette smoke. I'd let it thaw and air out in the sun, except it's about to rain like crazy. Maybe I can put it in the upstairs bathroom under the skylight for a similar effect.

And now I suppose I'd better tackle that to-do list.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Paying Dues and Tackling To-Dos

It's going to be a short week because I have a convention this weekend (ApolloCon in Houston), and it will be a busy week because there's a lot of stuff I need to do to get ready for it. I'm doing some critiques for the writers workshop, I need to find a piece to read, and I have some promo material to put together. Meanwhile, there's some other business stuff to take care of and the usual shopping/laundry/planning/packing.

I did decide to go to WorldCon because I figure it's more exposure, even if it's just exposure to other people who run conventions. So far, I have one panel, but they haven't yet finalized readings, autographings or the children's and YA tracks. If I could get on the YA track, that would be lovely. I suppose I'm still in the "paying my dues" part of my career. Is it tacky of me to think it would be fun if I happen to hit big with this new book so that they suddenly want to scramble to feature me a little more? I guess it would be fun to hit big with the new book, regardless.

So, buy the book! Tell all your friends!


Anyway, it was nice to have a semi-relaxing weekend. I caught up on some things I've been putting off while working on the book. I did some cooking. I was planning to do a lot of reading because a book I had on hold at the library came in. But when I opened it to read, I was smacked in the face by a cloud of cigarette smoke. I guess the last patron to have it checked out was a heavy smoker. I've only had one that bad once before, so this must be an impressive achievement. So it's currently in a baggie with a dryer sheet and some baking soda in the freezer (all methods that are said to work, so I figured why not try them all together?). Then maybe I'll be able to read it without coughing and wheezing. The way that book smelled, I wouldn't even take it into my bedroom.

And now I suppose the work week has begun and I need to get on the to-do list.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Back to Unreality

Done! Well, sort of. I suspect I'll need a fair amount of revising and rewriting, and I know I need a better ending scene, or an additional ending scene, but I think it's better to revise the rest of it first because that will affect the ending. I wrapped up the plot stuff. I just haven't dealt with all the character stuff, and I think some of the character stuff is going to change.

But in the meantime, I have a convention next weekend, so I have a lot of stuff to get done. I started making my to-do list for the next week and then the next month or so, and I've already had to start striking things because it's just not feasible. Today will be about shopping and getting the house somewhat back in order. Tomorrow I have some critiques to do, more getting the house in order, and some promo stuff to deal with. Sunday is going to be mostly relaxation, but I have some music to work on, since I'm singing a solo for the early service the week after next, and obsessive preparation seems to be one of the keys for avoiding stage fright. This will be my first full solo. I've sung in duets and ensembles where I had a solo part, and I've had a solo within a choir piece, but I've never just gone up on my own. Being in the early service helps because it's smaller and usually calmer, and the rest of the choir won't be there. Less pressure.

TV stuff for the weekend:
Tonight is the very last episode of Phineas & Ferb (unless they see the error of their ways and do other stuff down the line). I guess you could say it's been a very, very long summer for these kids who have been trying to have the best summer ever for years, and apparently the last episode is the last day before school starts.

Then Defiance is back on SyFy tonight. I rewatched the last couple of episodes last night because I'd totally forgotten what happened. But that will be an OnDemand later thing because it's opposite Phineas & Ferb. There's also a new show afterward that looks intriguing -- an actual space opera. Yes, a show on the channel formerly known as Sci Fi that's set on a spaceship. However, it seems to be from the people who brought us Stargate: Universe, one of the few science fiction shows that I've turned off and given up on in mid-episode.

Saturday, BBC America starts showing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I loved the book so much, and I've heard good things about the series, so I'll be watching.

It's lovely to be able to go back to watching narrative TV after not being able to deal with it while writing.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Soooo Much to Do

Still not done, but close. I had to quit last night because of yet another unexpected development, and I wanted to ponder what I wanted to do with it before I wrote more (I learned my lesson from having to cut 8,000 words). One of the possible outcomes could change the direction of the entire series, and I'm not entirely sure I want to go there. But I'm having trouble seeing other ways out right now.

Oooh, I just came up with one! I love it when that happens. I can still also do the other thing, if I decide that's what I want to do. Must think more.

I should finish today. I need to finish today. I can do about 20 pages on a good day, and 20 more pages in this book would make it unnecessarily long. Then again, I suspect a lot will be cut from the middle.

Meanwhile, I started making a to-do list of things I need to accomplish before Rebel Mechanics comes out, and then I wanted to whimper. I've got a convention next weekend and have to do a lot of stuff for that, including critiques on submissions for the writing workshop at that convention. I also need to get some promo material done, prepare a reading excerpt, and do some of the usual pre-trip preparation, like shopping and laundry. I'm working on a web site redesign and I'm starting to get interviews and guest post questions for blog tours, but that just has to be done by the end of the month.

In other news, after doing some whining about not being asked to be a panelist at WorldCon, I got asked yesterday. I still reserve the right for some whining, since I seem to be among the last group they asked, probably to fill in spaces left by other people they asked who either declined or changed their minds, given that they asked me on the 10th, want all my information by the 13th, and plan to finalize programming on the 15th. I still haven't decided whether or not to go. There aren't a lot of hotel spaces left, and I need to check airline schedules. And then make a pro/con list. Would this convention really be the best use of my time and money? It's in a different region than I usually go to, so it broadens my horizons and visibility among a different group of people, which is good. Being visible there theoretically boosts my chances of being seen by people who might invite me to other conventions.

On the  other hand, the airfare is pretty expensive if you don't want to be traveling in the middle of the night, and the return trip is a killer, thanks to the time difference and no direct flights. The "best" option leaves there at 8:45 in the morning and arrives here at 5:49 in the evening. Even if you factor in the time difference that means a shorter day, I could fly to England in that amount of time (though that would all be spent in the air rather than sitting in an airport waiting for a connection).

Any Pacific Northwest fans planning to be at Sasquan who are dying to meet me?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wacky Creativity Dreams

Still not done, but closer. I was having trouble working out what would happen in the climactic showdown, then late yesterday had the burst of inspiration that I needed to look at it from the villain's perspective. The villain won't be a viewpoint character, but the other characters are reacting to what she does, so I needed to shut them out and think about it through her eyes. I was surprised by how much insight that gave me into the things she'd be saying and doing and the way she'd be reacting to things. It's already given the scene a lot of oomph. Maybe if I'm really good today, I'll finish. I've hit 400 manuscript pages (in the format I use for first drafts -- it will shrink with the font I use for editing), but I have no idea how much longer it will go.

When I get really caught up in a book like this, I tend to have odd dreams that are incredibly vivid and that I remember in great detail. The night before last, I dreamed that I was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress, and I was excited about this because I could put "Academy Award Nominee" on my book covers, the way you'd put "New York Times Bestseller." But I was surprised that no one seemed to have noticed, so I told a few friends. Then I got paranoid that no one had heard about it, so I went to verify it. I could no longer find the newspaper where I'd seen my name on the list, and when I looked online, my name wasn't there, though there were suspicious blanks like something had been removed. And then I realized that the nomination had just been a vivid dream, and I was embarrassed about having to tell my friends that it wasn't real. I was very relieved to wake up for real and realize that I had not been going around telling my friends I was an Oscar nominee after having dreamt it.

I suspect this dream was triggered by my irritation about seeing announcements about WorldCon panelists when I still haven't heard anything. They're listing writers I've never heard of, so I started looking them up, since the fact that I haven't heard of them doesn't mean they don't have stronger credentials than I do. One boasted on his web site that he'd sold more than 20,000 words. So, yeah, it looks like I'm being passed over. I'm seriously considering skipping it this year because of the drama (so much drama) going on with the politics of it all and the fact that there are no direct flights from DFW, so it will be an all-day trip to get there and get home. If I'm not even on programming, there's not much point to making that trip. So my ego is feeling rather bruised while at the same time the "maybe they're right and I'm not a real writer" insecurities are flaring. And thus the nightmare about dreaming about success I didn't really have.

Last night, I dreamed a serious conversation with a friend from college in which he didn't believe my assertion that fairy tales were actually a form of secret underground journalism. At first I couldn't remember where I learned this, but then recalled that it was in my journalism history class (it wasn't). According to the class in my dream, this was a way of spreading information in an autocratic society in which the rulers tried to withhold information from the people. People knew that the various common archetypes in the stories actually represented certain real people, and they seemed to just be telling fantasy stories to children that spread by word of mouth, while really they were spreading the news of what was really going on that their rulers weren't telling them -- all wicked stepmothers represented a particular person, all the lucky third-born sons represented a person, and so on, and each of the stories involving these characters was actually a news story about a real event.

And I am totally going to use that in a book. After I finish this one.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Will it Ever End?

Still not done. I ended up cutting out something like 8,000 words to get back on track, and I'm back on track, but still figuring some things out. I've just started what should be the climactic confrontation scene. Part of me wants to just rush in and write it and get it over with, but I think it's more prudent to take my time and do it right so I don't have to cut another big chunk of words after realizing I was doing it wrong.

Summer ballet starts tonight, and I really should sign up and go because I need the exercise, but I'm very tempted to take the summer off because I have so much going on this summer. My teacher is taking the summer off, so we've got a different one, and they're combining the adult class with the teen class. I suppose having teens in there might be a good marketing opportunity, but then again "I have a book coming out the last day of class!" isn't natural conversation in a ballet class. This may be the busiest six weeks of the year for me, leading up to the book coming out.

And that means the new book comes out six weeks from today, since the class is six weeks long and it starts tonight and ends the day the book comes out.

I suppose a compromise might be to sign up for four weeks, skip tonight (while I'm finishing the book) and skip release night, in case I end up with some kind of event that night. Suddenly, I feel a lot better about things.

But now I need to find something to eat for lunch because I'd planned a big lunch meal today with a light dinner before dance, but then I didn't get around to actually cooking the big lunch meal. It may be a cheese toast and V-8 kind of day.

I just want this book to be over with. I want to see how it ends.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Productive Distraction

Well, I'm not done with the book. I did a lot on Friday and felt like I was perfectly positioned to fly into the big climactic showdown, so writing it would be a piece of cake. It turned out to be a struggle. I just couldn't seem to concentrate. For some odd reason, my brain picked that time to start thinking about the at-home vacation it might be nice to take before the new book comes out, so I found myself sitting around researching things like day spas. That led me to think that a nice hotel I've stayed at before for a conference has a spa, and then I was planning a hypothetical vacation and looking up hotel rates. Mind you, my one day spa experience wasn't something I enjoyed all that much because I'm not crazy about being touched. I was mostly thinking about a therapeutic manicure -- not about nail polish, but skin treatment -- because my hands are kind of a mess. Somehow I got from finding a local place to get a manicure to planning a weekend getaway. We're talking master-level distraction here.

I finally forced myself to get to work, wrote a couple of scenes, got the pieces in place for the big showdown … and hit a brick wall. There wasn't really any conflict or action inherent in the showdown. So, off to brainstorm. During the brainstorming session, I realized that I was making the showdown happen in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that's why there wasn't so much conflict or action. All the distraction seemed to be my brain's way of getting the conscious mind out of the way so the unconscious could do some work and figure it all out.

I was still distracted on Sunday, so I mostly let myself have the day off because I still wasn't sure exactly where I needed to go with it and there was no point in forcing myself to write something I'd end up deleting. Then late at night, just before bed, I had the big realization: I still had things happening at the wrong time. Like, a day too late. The way things were going, there was a lesser showdown between the villain and one of the heroes that led to a clue about what the villain was up to. That hero discussed it with another hero, and they realized something. Then there were more scenes in which the various heroes shared information with each other. And then there was another showdown. But once I started really thinking, I forced myself to admit that the hero shouldn't have escaped that lesser showdown, that it should be the starting point to the real one, and things get a lot more interesting if the heroes haven't had a chance to compare notes and all be on the same page.

This means scrapping most of what I wrote on Friday, including some scenes I love, but it also cuts so much talking. I have some details to work out about how things will go and what to do about one subplot that now doesn't seem to fit so well (the resolution to it is one of the things that gets cut because one of the characters is needed elsewhere, so either I change the resolution, move it, or cut the plot entirely), but this makes so much more sense.

Something I've noticed when I get really caught up in a book like this: other people's stories are less interesting to me. I can't get into a novel to read it, and I'm not even all that interested in fictional TV. Most of my TV viewing in the last week or so has been World War II documentaries, though I did branch out into one on the Black Death and one on Atlantis on the American Heroes Channel (formerly the Military Channel, and now basically what the History Channel used to be before it was mostly about rednecks, pawn shops and alien conspiracies). The Atlantis one was interesting because it wasn't a cheesy "In Search of" kind of thing. It was about an archeological find on a Mediterranean island that fit the descriptions of a fairly advanced (for the time) civilization that had been wiped out by a volcanic eruption larger than Krakatoa. Like the History Channel used to do, they used some reenactment to dramatize events, but unlike the History Channel, it wasn't just a bunch of extras running around in bad costumes, with the same few clips repeated over and over again. They actually wrote a story and hired real actors -- it was a BBC production, and I think I recognized a few people. So basically, it was a cut above a SyFy disaster movie in quality, with bits of science interspersed to talk about what would happen in each phase of volcanic activity and how it would have affected the people. Mostly it was about the science and the archeology, with the only speculation being whether this was the city that was later written about as Atlantis. This meant we got scenes of our "Jack" and "Rose" playing out as they tried to avoid being captured by priests to be human sacrifices to the volcano (the dig found what appeared to be the remains of a young man at what looked like an altar), with a narrator giving us play by play of what the volcano was doing. It was kind of awesome, and I wish it had been feature-length instead of just an hour.

Aha, some digging around on IMDB reveals that the dramatization parts were from a feature-length BBC TV movie, thus the recognizable cast. Then they stuck clips from it into this documentary that's apparently part of a series on various scientific topics. Now I want to see the whole movie, though it wouldn't be as much fun without the science lesson about volcanos going on in voiceover.

But maybe if I'm really good today I can get back to enjoying real fiction.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Almost there (Maybe)

I made a ton of progress yesterday, but I'm still nowhere near the end of the story. Stuff keeps happening. I imagine there will be a lot of cutting in the middle, but that's good for the book. Tighter is better.

And to think, when I started this book I wasn't sure I'd have enough plot to fill a novel. The scene that takes place at the 3/4 mark now (for now, based on my earlier length projections -- it may end up being a halfway point) was initially in the first third of the book.

I had high hopes of being done with this draft by last night, then getting a weekend off before doing revisions. I guess not. Maybe, just maybe, if I'm really good today and tonight and then tomorrow, I might finish this week.

There also may be more rewriting than I thought there would be, since the latest realization of what's going on means I can cut out a lot of side trails, but then that means that some pivotal scenes will need rewriting.

I will never be done with this book!< /whine>

At least I have the "movie" of the next two scenes playing out in my head already, so I know a lot of what I need to write today. The big, climactic scene is remaining a blank so far, though.

Before I start work today, I need to make a quick errand/grocery run. I'm going to indulge myself and get some frozen stuff for meals so I don't have to take long meal breaks.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Springing Surprises

I'm making a lot of progress on the book and am at the point where I'd have something long enough to be considered a novel (actually, it's quite a bit longer than a lot of the official definitions, but it's at the point where I'd feel comfortable calling it long enough to be a real fantasy novel). Of course, it would be a novel without any kind of resolution if I stopped now, so I have to keep going. I don't know for sure how long it will end up being because the ending keeps slipping away from me. Stuff keeps coming up in between.

Something I've noticed about this book is that most of the turning points have been completely unplanned. I'm far more interested in the relationships among the characters right now, and I keep catching myself writing scenes that are nothing more than conversations. I decide that the scene needs some action, preferably of the fantasy variety, so I make something happen. Then that something that happens ends up revealing some clue or giving me some idea, and the next part of the book springs from the thing I just had happen because I needed some action. In revision, I may even be able to go back and trim the conversations around the action, so I guess it's good that it's going to end up being longer than I really need it to be.

I suspect I also have a few scenes that will end up being relegated to "offstage" material. They're scenes that don't need to be in the finished book but that aren't a total waste because writing them helped me get a sense of what's going on with the characters for their subsequent scenes. These events will still be canon and will have happened, but they don't need to be in the finished book and only matter in establishing the characters' mindsets in later scenes. That's something I remember from the acting class I took in college -- when you step onstage in a play, your character isn't appearing on stage. She's leaving one place where things were happening and arriving at another place. Usually the things happening in the other place aren't in the play because they aren't important to the plot, so as an actor you have to mentally create those scenes and imagine going through them in order for your character to really convey the impression of arriving from elsewhere. I think I've been writing a lot of those "stuff happening elsewhere before the arrival" scenes.

Yesterday my challenge was letting a character do something I probably wouldn't do. I think it's in character for her, even though I disapprove, and it fits the plot. Now I have to decide if it was a good idea or a bad idea for her to do it. I'm not sure if it's going to lead to another "Oh, Emily, what now?" situation or if it's just crazy enough to work. I might end up juxtaposing it with Sophie doing something that seems utterly sane and rational at the time but that turns out to have been a mistake, just for fun.

I'm not a natural "pantser" so this is driving me insane. I should have a nice plot outline that I can follow, not a book that keeps springing surprises on me.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The Business of Writing

It's writing post time again, and I have another question via Facebook about managing your writing as a business. I'm going to have to say up front that I am not a lawyer, I'm not an accountant, and I'm not particularly good at being businesslike. But here are some things you will want to keep in mind and learn about for yourself if you have plans to make money doing this. This is all based on the United States, so other countries may have different rules for stuff like taxes.

If you make money from your writing, that's considered a business, and the IRS will want its cut of it. You'll have to file a tax return for your business (a Schedule C, most likely) that lists the money you've made. The nice thing is, you can write off expenses related to your business, so you're only taxed on the profit. This can include stuff like office supplies, equipment, agent commissions, postage, advertising expenses, and business-related travel for things like writing conferences and research. Consult a professional or read the IRS publications for details on what you can and can't deduct. The important thing is that the government considers it a business once you earn any income from it, even if you're not making a profit yet, so you'll need to keep records like you would for a business, tracking the amount of money you make and any expenses you plan to write off. Tax time is so much easier if you do this along the way. Create a spreadsheet and add to it every time you have an expense or get paid. Get a copy of a Schedule C from the IRS web site so you can see the categories and sort your expenses into those categories. I am not a hyper organized person, especially when numbers are involved, but this one little thing of tracking income and expenses as I go has been a life saver. You can start deducting expenses before you have income while you're trying to get your business off the ground, but there are rules about how long you can get away with doing that, so you'll definitely want to research that.

The really nasty thing about writing as a business is self-employment taxes. When you work for someone else, that deduction for Social Security, etc., from your paycheck is only about half of what's paid. Your employer pays the other half. When you're self-employed, you pay the whole thing. Your taxes are a lot higher when you're working for yourself.

Then there's the fun of estimated quarterly taxes. When you have a job with a regular paycheck, part of it is withheld and sent to the IRS every month, so by the time you file your tax return, all your taxes have probably been paid for the year, and you may even get a refund. When you're working for yourself, you make a payment four times a year of a quarter of what you estimate that year's taxes will be. Since you don't know what your income will be, you have to guess based on last year's income. This means that when you get an advance or a royalty check, you need to put money aside for your taxes. If you still have a day job or file jointly with someone who has a day job, you can avoid this by increasing your withholding at work to cover your extra income. I used to do this before I went full-time freelance.

As with any business, you have to spend some money to make money, but you need to be prudent in doing so. For instance, it's easy to go crazy with promotion because you need to get your name out there and it's good for your ego to see all kinds of shiny stuff with your name on it. But rather than throw money around on stuff that seems cool, you need to come up with some kind of marketing plan and think about it. Consider how many additional copies of your book you'd need to sell to make up for the cost of the promotion. Is that likely to happen? If a promotional item for a book costs more than the royalty you'd earn on selling a copy of the book, how likely is it that the promo would really pay off? It might if that particular promotion is focused on people that might have a multiplier effect -- someone who can sell lots of copies for you, like a bookseller or popular blogger. There's also brand promotion -- your name as a writer in general -- vs. product promotion -- a particular book. I could probably write dozens of posts on promo (my day job was in marketing communications), but for now, let's leave it at the fact that you need to think about what you're doing and have a plan. That applies to other business expenses, as well. How necessary is that item or trip to your business, and how does it affect your bottom line? If writing is a side job, then go ahead and spend your writing income on writing-related activities like going to conferences. If it's the way you make your living, you'll need to earn enough profit to live on.

Another aspect of treating your writing like a business is the time you devote to it. This will vary depending on where you are in your career and what your primary sources of income are. There's nothing wrong with treating writing as a hobby that more or less pays for itself, where you write when you're inspired and don't when you aren't and it isn't a focus of your life. You probably won't build a career that way, but if that isn't your goal, that's okay. Once you have contracts and deadlines, you'll need a lot more discipline and will need to treat writing like a job. Your "boss" may let you take off in the middle of the day to go to a movie, but will that allow you to meet the "company" goals and be successful? It helps to come up with some kind of schedule or plan for your production -- a goal for amount of time spent writing or number of pages or words produced.

Continuing education is important for any career. You probably need more training in the early years and may shift the kinds of things you need to learn as you go. When you first start, your focus may be on how to write, then it may shift to learning about the business of selling your work, and then it may shift to marketing and career development. Just don't confuse learning with actual work. Going to writing organization meetings and chatting on message boards for writers isn't the same thing as writing, and it's an easy way to trick yourself into thinking you're devoting more time to your work than you really are.

Depending on your circumstances and personality, making yourself think like a business owner or entrepreneur may be more or less necessary. Creative types often find this way of thinking to be foreign, but it's important if you really want to make a career out of it.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Revisiting Epic Fantasy

I'm closing in on the end of this book -- finally! Within about 10,000 words I should be at a length I'd consider a full novel. I don't know how many words it will take to finish the story. I've discovered some surprising things along the way. For instance, I now know what the deal is with that cat/woman fairy. She's played a role in the plot in the past, and I knew there was a story behind her. I just didn't know what that was until yesterday.

Now I just have to resist the end-of-story impatience that has me so excited with the end in sight that I rush toward the end, skimming over things like "lots of stuff happened and they beat the bad guys, the end!"

I went on about a month-long library lull because I've been trying to purge the to-be-read pile (or as one of my friends dubbed it, The Strategic Book Reserve) and actually read some of the books that I thought I might read at some point. I found a small nest of Old School Del Rey fantasy novels from the late 70s/early 80s that I'd somehow never read. That was a real blast from the past. This seemed to be from the era soon after the official US paperback publication of The Lord of the Rings, when suddenly everyone wanted more books like that and fantasy was the next hot thing. There was even a special variation of the Del Rey imprint logo to indicate that it was a fantasy. I suspect that this was a case of publishing glut (though I don't know that the genre ever died out) when they were so desperate to find these books that they were buying them up left and right. Newbie authors could become smash bestsellers overnight, just on the virtue of having that logo on the spine, that style of cover art, and a map at the beginning of the book. Some of the authors first published during that wave are still going strong (Terry Brooks). Others have faded into obscurity since then.

After reading one and a half of these books, I can see why I haven't read these in all the time I've had them (I'm not sure when I obtained them) and why these books are now out of print and I can't find anything newer than about 1984 by this author. I suspect that at the time they were very much in the "it must be like Tolkien" mode -- the story had to be a journey or quest of some sort, the questing party had to be made up of people from various magical races, and the hero had to be an "unlikely" ordinary guy (always a guy) thrust into this adventure, usually a bit reluctantly. And there always had to be a wizard in the Gandalf mold. There was often some weasely bad guy stalking them, wanting to get their magical object(s). Usually, the wizard had to give a chapter-long lecture on the history of their world and of the bad guy in the second chapter, before they set out on their quest. There was always some incident in the middle when the questing party made a really bad decision, overruling the wizard's advice, that ended in some kind of disaster and major setback (note to self -- when on a quest and tired of walking, be very, very suspicious if just the right number of really friendly and suspiciously well-trained horses shows up. It's a trap. It's always a trap.).

I imagine a lot of the issues have to do with the time. There was likely that "it must be just like X, but different" factor. Pacing was very different then. There was a very strong emphasis of plot over character, and I think today's readers generally demand a deeper viewpoint. I got to the end of one book and still couldn't have told you much of anything about who those people were, which made it hard to care what happened to them.

But man, when I was in high school, I probably would have devoured this stuff. I probably wouldn't have noticed the thin characters because I'd have fleshed them out in my head. I'd have charted every step on their journey on the map at the front. I'm not sure these particular books would have become obsessions the way some of the others I read at the time did, but this was still the sort of thing I enjoyed reading at the time, and it was the kind of thing I kept trying to write when I first decided I wanted to write a fantasy novel. I still would love to write a classic "quest" fantasy, and No Quest for the Wicked was my way of playing with those tropes in a modern setting (if you read a lot of these fantasy novels back in the day, you may recognize them).

I saw this map of "Clichea," the generic epic fantasy world around the time I was struggling through these books and found it highly amusing, but almost too true to be funny.

I did finally give in and go to the library. Now I'm reading a Charles de Lint book. Aaahhhh, sweet relief. I may stick to fantasy that's a little more recent or that has stood the test of time.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Reality Check

It finally stopped raining! We've had sun for several days in a row. But we still have flooding that's even getting worse in places because all the rivers and lakes are overflowing, and the overflow from upstream is making its way downstream into lakes and rivers that are already overflowing. There are a few roads around me that are closed because they're flooded. They had to close all the lakes to boaters because the water was so high that the wake from a boat could splash into houses. The Friday fireworks at the lake are on hold because the place where they fire them is under water, as are all the parks around the lake, and between that and the no-boats rule there's no good place to view them. They even had to close the road over the dam because water was going over the spillway. We also have a new traffic hazard: flood gawking. I was heading somewhere Sunday afternoon and thought there must be a wreck ahead because traffic came to a standstill and we inched ahead. It turned out to be everyone slowing down to look (and probably take photos) as we passed a flooded area. Yes, it's a golf course covered in water, now move along, please!

But the sun is glorious. I spent Saturday working outdoors. If I keep up my planned rate of production, I should be on pace to finish this draft this week. I'll have some revision to do, but I've been doing a lot of the structural reworking as I go, which is why it's taken me so long, so I don't anticipate having to take the book apart and put it back together again.

Meanwhile, I picked up a book at the library for starting to research the next steampunk book.

I may have sounded a little whiny and self-pitying on Friday in talking about what I have and haven't achieved in the last ten years. The thing is, even though I'd been working in the business for a while and had books published, I still had stars in my eyes and unrealistic expectations about what that book would do for me, as it was my first that wasn't a category romance. I really did feel like I had something special on my hands, and the advance reviews were overwhelmingly positive, so it was well-received. So I had visions of being the next J.K. Rowling. The book would be a huge bestseller, I'd be a literary star with the publisher offering me tons of money for the rest of the series, there would be a movie series or TV series, and my life would totally change.

The reality is that it takes a lot more than people liking a book for it to take off. If not that many copies have been printed, it can sell every copy and still not sell enough to be a bestseller (though these days e-books are changing that -- but a book can sell like crazy as an e-book and not have that translate into the major chains stocking it in large numbers). It takes a critical mass of people spreading word of mouth for the word of mouth to make a huge difference fast enough for the publisher to register the effect and capitalize on it. The market today, with instant sales figures, doesn't really give credit to the slow and steady rise. By the time a book has reached a certain sales point on the slow and steady path, the publisher has already moved on to the next release.

A more realistic expectation is just making a steady living -- not having to get a regular job in order to pay the bills, having enough books in print that the royalty payments add up. It's hard to visualize that as a measure of success when you're starting out because it's not something you hear about. You hear about the big smashes -- the authors who become celebrities, the ones whose books are being made into movies. You don't necessarily have a good mental image of the life of an author who's successful without that extra bit of oomph -- a good living, but no walking the red carpet, basically like everyone else, just with a slightly cooler job. So what we visualize when we imagine where this will take us is the extreme rather than the happy medium. Who fantasizes about making a modest living and living an ordinary life?

The thing is, even this much is actually pretty rare. There were a lot of people being published around the time I was -- some of whom got more attention at the time -- whose books are now out of print and whose careers stalled out. It's fairly rare for an author to actually make a living writing. Most still have regular jobs or at least have spouses with regular jobs. And that's of the people who manage to get a book published at all. So getting a book published and being able to live off that income for more than a decade is something to celebrate.

And, you know, I still fall victim to the pie-in-the-sky visualization, knowing what I know. I keep having to dial back my expectations of what the new book this summer will do. Just like Enchanted, Inc., it's something different for me in a new field -- hardcover and young adult -- and so it's easy to imagine that this will be the one that makes a difference, that will boost me into the higher ranks of fame and fortune. The reality is that I will be fortunate if it sells well enough that the publisher wants another book. I'm mostly hoping that it will increase my visibility enough to boost sales of everything else, while I keep writing other things and letting that slow and steady thing keep paying the bills. This is a really good life, a great way to make a living, and making a living at it is awesome.