Monday, August 31, 2015

Down to the Wire

I'm down to the wire in getting this book done. I have a couple of hundred pages to read, so that means I'll be busy today! I wish I'd done more this weekend, but it was a busy weekend, with a convention planning meeting on Saturday and singing in three services Sunday. That meant I had to get up early, didn't really get a break all morning because I was running from service to service, and then was dead tired when I got home. So today there will be work. Lots of work.

And then tomorrow I'll mostly have this book off my back. I still need a title and I need back cover copy, and I'll have to review cover designs and interior layouts.

But once this book is done, I have some convention work to do and then I need to get really busy on my next YA steampunk proposal. I think, though, that I'm going to take some time to clean the house. That's good for brainstorming and thinking, and right now, the place looks like it's been ransacked. I haven't really been noticing because my head's been in a book for so long, but it suddenly struck me, and after a week in a hotel, it's starting to bother me. My sofa in particular is a mess of promo stuff I was putting together, newspapers I've been catching up on, and notes and notebooks relating to my various books. There's that one little spot where I can sit. That will be a good way to clear my head while I switch between genres.

Now, it's time to dig into the proofreading. I'm liking this book a lot as I read it. There are moments that really hit me, and I'm already getting scenes in my head that I want to put in a future book. No concrete external plot yet, but I know what I want to have going on in the character arcs.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Title Crisis

I've made it through round one of copyedits. Now I want to re-read the entire book for a final sanity check. I still need a title. I worked for about an hour on that last night, searching Bartlett's Quotations with key words, skimming through Shakespeare, looking at the AFI's top movie titles, looking at lists of top songs, reading fairy tales, and all the usual things I do to come up with titles. And I'm still drawing mostly a blank. I have one or two ideas that are kind of stuck in my head, and while I don't like them, I don't seem able to move past them.

I would say that I'm having more trouble coming up with a title than I had writing the book, but I had a lot of trouble writing the book, too.

One strange effect of this book: It's given me a craving for petit fours. There's a tea party scene in the book, and I find myself vividly imagining those little iced cakes. I kind of want to try making them, but that wouldn't be a good use of my time right now. Maybe I'll run to Kroger and see if they have any. That's the only way I'll get through reading that scene one more time. Maybe that will inspire me to come up with a title!

In other news, I have a little booklet with the first chapter of the next/final Terry Pratchett book, which was just released in the UK. I'm not sure of the US publication date. But I don't think I want to read the first chapter without having the rest of the book handy. It would be just too frustrating. So I'll keep the booklet, knowing I have it.

In the meantime, I've been re-reading a lot of the other books, which got me out of a reading slump I'd been in. I guess I could read something else, since the convention's over, but I don't really want to right now. It's probably best not to get sucked into a book I haven't read before when I have so much work to do.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

WorldCon Report

When I went to choir last night, everyone acted like I'd been missing for ages and they talked about having thought about calling me. I missed one rehearsal and one Sunday. I guess it's nice to be missed. I'll more than make up for it this Sunday (though I did go to a church service at WorldCon, so it's not like I really missed a Sunday) because I'll be singing in three services. I'm in a small ensemble singing in the early service, then that ensemble got drafted into singing backup for the praise band at the contemporary service (new experiences are good for me, I guess), and then I'll be singing with the choir at the late service.

The choir director said if we were interested in singing the soprano solo for the "Pie Jesu" in the Rutter Requiem, we should talk to him. I'm pondering it. I suspect he'll end up going with one of the grad students, but if they want that ethereal "boys choir" sound like in the British version, my voice comes closer in the upper range. It goes pretty high, but I've sung a solo in that range before.

So, WorldCon … I'm still too lazy to go downstairs and find my phone to transfer pictures, and I didn't take too many pictures of anything actually at the convention. Most of my photos are of the river and waterfalls. After my last on-the-spot report, I went to the dance lessons and steampunk ball, which were held in a lovely ballroom in a historic hotel (photo on my phone). As usual, there was an extreme lack of men. Seriously, guys, step up. You get bonus points on your man card for being able to lead in ballroom dancing. After two hours of lessons, I was getting pretty tired, and when I was feeling wallflowery for the ball itself, I slipped out about midway through. Good thing, since I could barely walk the next morning. I didn't take a walk then.

I had a panel Friday morning on the Terry Pratchett books for younger readers, and one of the panelists was the editor. I learned a lot about writing for younger readers from hearing what she had to say and what she reported as Terry Pratchett's views on the subject, and now a lot of the editorial notes I got on my YA book make so much more sense. Retroactive apologies to my editor for all my grumbling. I had my kaffeeklatsch that afternoon, and while I didn't have a waiting list, like a lot of authors, I did have a fairly full table, and we had a nice discussion. I did a little hanging out and wandering through the dealers room after that, then headed back to my hotel to discover that we'd suddenly been transported to Mars.

As you've probably heard, there are a lot of wildfires in that region, and that day the winds brought all the smoke into Spokane. It was like being in a dense fog that smelled like a campfire. The sky was hazy and yellow, and you could barely see across the street. They were warning people to stay indoors. So I did. I hit the swimming pool and hot tub for a while, and then they served an awesome chicken and rice soup at the hotel's evening reception, so I didn't bother going out for dinner. I spent the evening going over my critiques for the writers workshop.

Saturday, I was back to walking. I did the "Stroll with the Stars" walk, which was shorter and slower than I would have gone on my own, but I did get to chat with people along the way. Though I must say that going on a suspension bridge with a large group of people isn't recommended if you have bridge issues. The bridge seemed to be swaying alarmingly. I actually attended a couple of panels that morning, and then I had the writers workshop in the afternoon. That was three hours of intense critiquing that made me really think about my own writing and that had me eager to write. But I came out of it at 7 p.m. utterly drained. I'd thought about going out to dinner, but once I got to my hotel to drop things off, I didn't want to go anywhere. The hotel offered sandwiches, etc., in the area where they served breakfast and the evening reception, so I ordered a French dip sandwich, and the waitress took one look at me and asked if I wanted it boxed up to go to my room. She fixed me a tray with my sandwich and some wine, and I ate while watching a Doctor Who marathon on TV, then collapsed early.

Sunday, I had my final panel and ended up being the moderator at the last minute because the moderator didn't show. I sat at the SFWA table for a shift, and after doing a final round for good-byes, I went back to the hotel to start packing. I went for a very early dinner (switching back to Central time) at a restaurant overlooking the falls and had regional rainbow trout. I seem to be making a tradition of a final night dinner by the water. And then I was up early the next morning for the long flight home.

I probably didn't network as much as I should have because I didn't do the party circuit. I was off on time zones and the party hotel was so far away from everything else. I did make some new friends among the Discworld fan group, and the person coordinating that was staying at my hotel, so we ended up having breakfast together. I'm going to try to connect with that group online. I know that a lot of my promo items were taken from the freebie table, so we'll see how that translates to sales. Whether or not the convention did me any good professionally, I had a good time and I feel like I learned some things.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Time Adjustments

I was scheduled for a writing post today, but I think I'm going to skip a week since I'm still in convention/travel recovery mode (I went to bed last night early for Central time, woke up on Pacific time. I guess I was tired). Forming coherent thoughts isn't working for me.

Meanwhile, I made a good start on the epic to-do list yesterday. I got about a third of the way through going through the manuscript for the copyeditor's notes. I hope to get through the rest today, and then I'll need to do one more thorough read-through. That will be my reading out loud pass and will probably take several days. Most of what she found so far has been minor, including an embarrassingly high number of typos. I might need to increase the size of my screen view because even looking at these, it took me a while to see that a letter really was missing, so it wasn't just that I skimmed past it. I really didn't see it when looking at it. And yes, I did just get my eyes checked.

One question for anyone who lives in New York: In mid-late November, what time does it get dark? I was going off the US Naval Observatory tool where you can enter a date and location and it gives you sunrise and sunset times. According to this, civil twilight for the date in question ends around 5 p.m. Supposedly, that means that any outdoor activities after that time will require artificial light because the disc of the sun is totally below the horizon. The editor, who lives in New York, wasn't sure whether flashlights might be required in the middle of Central Park, away from the lighted paths, after 6 p.m. Since she lives there, she might know better than the computer what it's really like to experience it, but I wanted to get another opinion. It is a cloudy day, so that might make it seem darker. I know when I was there in early December, it seemed to be pitch black before six. Is this a detail that would totally throw you out of the story one way or another?

Now I really should obtain groceries because there's next to no food in the house. I made something for dinner last night with food in the pantry and freezer, and I'd planned ahead to have breakfast items for a couple of days, but now I really need some fresh stuff. I may splurge on some convenience foods to get me through the week of copyedits. Though when the copyedits end, I'll have to jump on developing Rebel Mechanics 2 (tentatively called Rebel Magisters). I think Labor Day weekend may be a research and mood setting retreat.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Home and Back to Work

I'm home from Spokane. I sort of slacked off on reporting because I got busy, and a more complete convention report will have to come later because I came home to lots and lots of work that needs to be done. Suffice it to say that I had an excellent time, and for once, although I was looking forward to being home, I was also a little sad about leaving. I had a fun convention, met new people, learned a lot, and really enjoyed the location. I'm going to miss those cool mornings. It will be months before we're in the upper 50s in the morning, and my neighborhood river is a bit too turgid for waterfalls. I liked the waterfalls.

I also have more photos to post when I remember to bring my phone upstairs and upload them.

The trip home wasn't as bad as I feared, though it did make for a day that felt long. I had one little snag that ended up working in my favor. I had just enough time upon arrival at DFW to catch the earlier train from the airport, but the airport tram to take me from the arrival terminal to the train station shut its door in my face and left without me. I wasn't even running to catch it. I was there waiting for it. I let people off first, as the recorded voice ordered, but then before I could get on, the door slammed shut. I only had to wait about a minute for the next tram, but then I missed the train by one minute. However, since the airport is the end of the line, the next train was already there, and they let us get on board to wait the 15 minutes before departure, and the train was air conditioned. Then I really lucked out in connecting to my neighborhood bus. If you go by the schedule, the train arrives one minute after the bus departs, so you have to wait for the next bus. The train runs every 20 minutes, but at rush hour the bus only runs every half hour. That means you're probably going to wait half an hour or more for a bus, depending on the train you're on. But since the bus was running slightly late, the same bus I would have caught with the earlier train was still at the station and loading when the train arrived, so I stepped off the train and onto the bus and didn't have to wait half an hour for the next one, and that meant my waiting time was in the air conditioned train. So, thank you, rude airport tram.

Highlights of the convention, other than the waterfalls, included meeting some really fun people at the Discworld events, ballroom dancing at the Steampunk ball, people at my kaffeeklatsch so that I felt famous rather than sad and pathetic, and a writers workshop that had me really thinking and inspired, even though I was the one supposedly teaching.

Normally, I would spend a day or two recovering, doing laundry, getting groceries, etc., but I have copyedits due September 1, so I must spend the week (and probably the weekend) working. I also have lots of other stuff that must be done in the meantime. I had grand plans to take care of some things in the evening in my hotel room, but I was so tired that I just couldn't concentrate, and that means I have to catch up now.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Days Two and Three

I'm enjoying a little downtime between daytime activities and nighttime activities, so I suppose I should catch up on events.

Yesterday's panel was about Headology and Boffo in the Discworld, looking at the various characters who play mind games with others. The moderator asked me if I had any personal Boffo (you'll know what it is if you read the books), and I went blank, so I claimed I didn't want to give away my secrets. In truth, I'm all about the headology and Boffo. When I was working in PR, I was known as the Client Whisperer, or the Client Slayer, because I had a knack for figuring out what the client really needed, which usually wasn't what they said they wanted, and giving it to them in a way that they were convinced it was what they'd wanted all along.

And then there's Boffo -- the artifice to convey an image. I guess my entire convention persona is pure Boffo. That's why I dress up and put on the glam, and then there's the waist-length curly hair or the fancy hairstyle. I'm deliberately setting myself apart, mostly because even if I wore standard convention attire -- jeans and a nerdy t-shirt -- I still don't really look like I fit in this crowd. I get a lot of "What's she doing here? Did she get lost?" looks. So I go for the extreme in not fitting in, and then I can startle people with the level of sheer geekiness on panels.

There were opening-night festivities in the park yesterday evening, and it was a really pleasant night. Free ice cream, music, games, etc. And then I completely misread the time for the writers workshop reception in the SFWA suite. I'm going to blame my phone, or perhaps my learning curve for the phone, and the way it deals with time zones (it decided that all the events I entered when I was at home were taking place in the Central Time zone). So I thought the 9-11 p.m. event was 7-9 p.m. But I ended up just hanging out there until the event started, at which point it became so noisy and crowded that I escaped after about half an hour with fellow quiet introvert Robert J. Sawyer, and we talked business on the walk back to the convention center, where I ran into other people heading in the direction of my hotel. So I was escorted back to my hotel by Archchancellor Ridcully (my escort was in costume).

This morning I was up really early, but since my phone tells me I walked almost eight miles yesterday (and I was feeling it), I took a shorter walk (only about a mile and a half) and then went for a short swim, sat for a while in the spa, and then did some time in the steam room, which felt good in such a dry climate. Then I had my reading, and people came! There was a cookout in the park for lunch, then I was supposed to help facilitate a discussion about Terry Pratchett's books for kids as part of the children's programming, but the kids weren't really interested, so we bailed early. After that was my autographing, where I wasn't that lonely and pathetic, after all. There were people there! Who liked my books!

Tonight there's a session on social dances of the 19th century, followed by a steampunk ball. I'm definitely going to the learning/practice session, but we'll see how much steam I have left for the ball. It'll feel like it's almost my bedtime by the time it starts.

Fortunately, when my hotel gives us wine in the evening, they also give us appetizers, which includes some really nice soups. The first night, there was a lentil and orzo soup, and last night was a yummy minestrone. So I get something that somewhat qualifies as a vegetable. That might fortify me before I face the evening.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

WorldCon Day One

I'm now in Spokane for WorldCon. It was a very long day of travel yesterday, but I did manage to get some rest and though I'm a little groggy, I think I'm ready to take on the convention. I'm just not going to be much of a night owl, I suspect. The time difference is hitting me. I managed to stay up until 10 last night and slept until 7, but by the time the convention will be opening the next few days, I'd already had breakfast and walked about 3.5 miles.

The walking is going to be great this week. My hotel is right on the walking path along the river, so I saw sights like this

on my morning walk. I went down to the upper falls this morning and will have to hit the real falls tomorrow. We'll see if I ever get the nerve to cross that suspension bridge over the falls. I'm not a huge fan of high bridges.

Going in the other direction, the river is a lot more peaceful.

There's even a part of the path that runs through some woods. Yeah, along a river while in the woods, so basically my idea of heaven.

I'm still figuring out the camera on my new phone.

I ended up at this hotel because it was the only one with rooms available for the dates I needed when I booked, but it's working out pretty well. It's across the river, and a rather pleasant walk, from the convention center. They give you free wine at night and free breakfast in the morning, and the breakfast room has English Breakfast tea instead of just regular tea bags. I have a refrigerator and a microwave in my room. Everyone's been very friendly, so it feels kind of like a family-run hotel. And they've done a rather clever thing with the toiletries. Instead of the tiny bottles you have to struggle to get stuff out of, and then you feel wasteful throwing them away when you've only used a little, they have built-in dispensers of shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel in the bathroom, so you just pump and get as much as you want, with no tiny bottles. They do have a tiny container of lotion, which is nice, because it's dry here and I will be carrying it around with me.

My programming starts this afternoon, and there's a reception this evening for the writers workshop. So more details on that later, or follow me on Twitter @ShannaSwendson, in case I remember to tweet.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hitting the Road/Air/Whatever

It is the Day of Getting Stuff Done, when I take a good, hard look at my to-do list and figure out what absolutely must get done and what would just be nice to do. Fortunately, I have most of the "absolutely must be done in order to leave" stuff taken care of and am down to the "life would be easier if I took care of it ahead of time" stuff and the "it would really be nice if I did this" stuff. All I have left in the "absolutely must be done" category is actually putting stuff in my bags (things have been selected and staged) and some confirming and verifying some travel items (online check-in, checking gate, checking bus/train schedule, etc.). I would also like to have a lot of the red ribbon and gear Rebel Mechanics insignia pins made for the swag table, though I can also bring materials and make them upon arrival, and I would like to have the writers workshop critiques finalized, though my session isn't until Saturday, so that's something I can do in transit or upon arrival. And then I like to clean my house before I travel so it isn't too terrible to come home to, but only the kitchen is a real necessity (for pest reasons).

I'm planning to catch the 5:25 bus in the morning just to make sure I have plenty of time to get to the airport, get through security, etc., for an 8 a.m. flight. That means getting to bed early and calming down ahead of that so I can actually sleep instead of having squirrel brain.

I did finally get a new cell phone. I've joined the zombie hordes and have an iPhone, and I have to say that although there's been a bit of a learning curve, I already love it. I had an obscure model of Android phone, and I never bothered doing much with it. I'm not a tinkerer, so I couldn't be bothered with finding the apps and working with them. I've already really started using the new phone more as a music player. It's nice to hit sync and have my playlists, and it's lovely to be able to plug it in to my stereo to use it as a jukebox instead of having to haul my computer around the house. I tested it in my car yesterday, and that works, too. But I'll probably save that for road trips because it would be more hassle than it's worth for running errands and stopping and starting. Where I'll really love it is when I create playlists for a book, and I can tinker with the playlist and update it instead of making lots of CDs. One thing that was more challenging was customizing ringtones because you can't just use a song as a ringtone, but I found an online tutorial and found how you can do that in iTunes, so I'm back to having my usual Star Wars opening title ring tone.

I have a few other things I need to set up on my phone, but that falls into the "nice if I have time, otherwise I can do it later" category.

I'll be reporting from the road, and if I get around to setting up Twitter on the phone, I may be tweeting phases of my journey. Follow me @ShannaSwendson.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Event-Based Shopping

I have realized that if it weren't for big events like trips, conventions, reunions, etc., I might never buy new clothes. Yes, I seem to have a nice wardrobe and am moderately stylish, but almost all of my clothes/shoes shopping is done with a particular event in mind. I very seldom just decide to go shopping because I want to see what's out there.

And now since I do have an event coming up, I have new clothes. I spent some of my birthday money yesterday buying a bunch of tops at TJ Maxx (I headed out to look at phones but decided that might not be the best idea while I was tired and cranky after dealing with small children, so that may be this afternoon's errand). They're all fairly basic, but this means that I will be wearing almost entirely new clothes next week, and nothing I've worn to previous Worldcons. I may look kind of like the Southwest Airlines commercial where their customer is stylish because of getting two free checked bags while the other person is rotating the same items and mixing and matching because I will be rotating among a couple of skirts, a pair of jeans and a pair of capri pants, with different tops for each day. Now I just need to allocate clothing to events. I've decided that Saturday will be my "casual" day for jeans instead of a skirt because my only programming that day is the writers workshop, and the evening event is the Hugos, which I'll be skipping because awards ceremonies are dull unless you're up for an award.

I've scrolled through the schedule, and it seems like the usual convention rules apply, where the things that sound cool tend to be opposite my own program items. I'm not quite sure how that always seems to work, but it does.

I'm really going to try to be more social for this convention. I like to set myself a challenge for this sort of thing, and this year is a combination of being social and networking. Now that I think of it, I should have made some business cards. I have postcards and bookmarks for my books, but I don't have regular business cards. I have inkjet card blanks, so I guess I'll add that to my to-do list.

For a career PR person, I really suck at publicity. That may be why I'm happier and doing better as a novelist. My PR career would have probably utterly floundered if I'd tried to stay in it. Or I would have gone insane.

I should probably set a goal for increasing my number of Twitter followers, or something like that, but I'm not even sure how to quantify that, and I'd rather have fewer followers who are really engaged than a lot who ignore me. Right now, I seem to have a few who mostly ignore me. I guess I need to come up with the kind of content that tends to spread.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Surviving Kindergarten

I have survived music and art camp. It actually wasn't too bad this year. The kids were a lot easier to control and better at following directions. It was odd that I didn't know most of them, and I know all the kids in that age group who go to my church, since I help with Sunday school for that group. It turns out that another church in town sent a big group of kids to this camp. I did quip to the director that it didn't say much for our kids if the kids who came from other churches were better behaved and easier to deal with.

Someone knew what they were doing in putting together the kindergarten team. Today I wore my "I wanted to see the universe, so I stole a Time Lord and ran away" t-shirt, one of the teen helpers was wearing a Sherlock shirt, and another was wearing a "Weasley's Wizard Wheezes" shirt. So we were the geek squad.

I think my biggest "awwww" moment came with one of the twins in my group. There were a boy and girl who were fraternal twins, and they came with a close friend who seemed to be practically another sister. The three of them stuck together like glue. We have a short snack/recess time on the playground, and the swings are these tire-like things that fit three kids on each swing. The little boy twin approached me early in the recess period, while the other kids were still eating their snack, and asked if I could push him on the swing by himself. "Sometimes I really like being alone," he told me, quite solemnly. I told him I totally understood. I can't imagine what it would be like to be a twin and want alone time. Unfortunately, he barely had any time on the swing by himself before his sister and their friend hurried over to join him. Today he told me that I reminded him of his Aunt Beth. I'm going to take that as a compliment.

I am now really understanding the parents who are excited about the return to school. I saw this piece on having a sense of humor about the first day of school and could relate, even after just a week with kids. It reminds me of my retired teacher parents who talk about enjoying thumbing their noses at the school bus in the morning now that they don't have to go to school.

But I now have just a few days before I head to WorldCon, and the epic to-do list is being pared. I may have been overly ambitious. I do think I'm going to indulge in a new phone, though. My "smart" phone is nearly five years old, and I kind of hate it. I'm thinking of getting an iPhone since I use a Mac anyway. Having easier e-mail access and being able to Tweet on the fly might be a good thing for this trip.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Writing Interesting Good Guys

It's tough out there for a good guy. If you look at reviews and Internet comments, villains, antiheroes, and bad-boy protagonists are the most loved characters, while the good guys are considered boring. But I believe that good guys can be just as interesting as bad boys and villains if you do it right, and considering the amount of fan mail I get for my good-boy heroes, I must be doing it right. So, here are some tips:

1) First, you have to love these characters, yourself
You can't expect readers to love a character you, yourself, find boring. If you don't love your good guys or only consider the nice boy to be a foil to the bad boy you find a lot more interesting, then you need to start over and create a character you do love.

2) Put just as much development into the good guys as you put into the bad guys, and make sure that shows on the page
For the cases where the writer doesn't necessarily dislike the good guys, I think laziness might be the culprit. It's easy to assume that a good person is automatically sympathetic, while it takes a lot more work to make a darker character sympathetic. That means that the bad boy or villain gets an extensively developed -- and described -- backstory, usually showing some kind of trauma, loss, or other negative experience that led to the character going bad, while the good guy is just good, for no apparent reason that's given, or else is shown having an idyllic life so that he was always good, without any challenges. So naturally, the bad boy is going to be seen as a lot more interesting and sympathetic. It seems to me that you need just as much explanation for how a truly heroic character became that way. It's not a normal human impulse to rush toward danger or to put other people ahead of oneself. It's also become something of a cliche that good arises out of privilege and evil arises out of hardship, but if you look at the real world, it's often just the opposite. While there are desperate people who turn to doing bad things or who never had good role models, a lot of the bad done in the world today comes from privilege. That's where you get spoiled people who expect the universe to revolve around them and who feel entitled -- that's where the snarky, swaggering "bad boys" often come from. On the other hand, going through hardship can make a person more empathetic and more likely to be able to look out for others. Get wild and crazy and mix it up a little in your fiction instead of going with the cliches. Think about what makes all of your characters tick. Flesh out all your characters, giving them traits, quirks, and flaws. Which brings us to …

3) Remember that good doesn't necessarily mean "perfect"
Even truly good people can have bad days. They can get impatient, lose their temper, be snarky, or get into bad moods. Heroes can have flaws. They might be slobs, eat junk food, be shopaholics, be shy, be disorganized, have tempers, etc., and when they have flaws, they're more interesting and easier to relate to. Good people can also have a sense of humor. They don't have to be humorless killjoys. They can have fun. They can have quotable lines.

4) Show, don't tell
This is one case where that age-old advice really applies. If you tell readers that a character is good and heroic -- and especially if the character considers himself good or heroic -- you'd better follow through in showing that person's actions to be good and heroic. Otherwise, the character looks like a Mary Sue or a hypocrite. In today's culture, a hypocrite may be even more despised than a villain who owns his or her villainy. It works even better not to tell anything at all. Just show the character's actions and let readers draw their own conclusions. Or if you really want to tug on readers' heartstrings, have the other characters put this person down and think the worst of him while you show him being awesome. A good rule of thumb is that what you show should always be better than what you tell, whether you're telling in narrative, through the character's own viewpoint, or through other characters' perspectives.

5) Give them goals
Quite often in fiction, the villain drives the story. The villain's the one with a clear-cut goal, and the hero's goal is mostly to stop the villain. That can make the villain more interesting than the hero because the villain is being proactive and the hero is just being reactive, which seems more passive. Even if the villain's goal is what forces the hero to act in the first place, let the hero be smart and at least a little proactive and come up with a plan for stopping the villain rather than just reacting to each thing the villain does. The hero can also have a positive goal, something he wants to achieve aside from just stopping the villain. For instance, if the villain is a tyrant the hero wants to overthrow, the hero should probably have a plan for what comes next, a vision for the society that will be created.

If you put this much effort into all your characters, it will elevate your story. They say that your hero is only as good as your villain, but I think your villain is only as good as your hero.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Kids in the Dark

I survived day two of Music and Art Camp. These kids really aren't that bad compared to some other classes I've had, but it's still exhausting. I usually spend my mornings sipping tea while catching up on the Internet, and instead I'm herding children from activity to activity, pushing them on swings during recess, dancing with them during movement time, marching around the room in tempo during music games, and singing with them in choir, which also involves a lot of standing and sitting (from kindergarten-sized chairs). Today, though, I was smart and took a little break during one of the activities. They have snacks for the volunteers, and I had a Snickers bar before I turned into some evil version of myself.

Then a power transformer down the street blew during closing time, so we had all the kids in a windowless auditorium with the power out. But they were pretty good and we just kept singing. The power came back, and we had most of the kids gone before it went out again, so we just took the remaining kids into a foyer that gets natural light to wait for their parents. A hundred or so kids singing a capella in the darkness was a rather nice moment.

I have copy edits back on the latest book, and I still don't have a title. Ack. I'll have to check with my agent to see how quickly she needs the finished book because with WorldCon next week, not a lot will get done this week, and my time at WorldCon is better spent mingling and promoting, then when I'm done mingling I have no energy or brainpower left.

Not that I have energy or brainpower left now. I think I may go do some shopping and take an item or two off the to-do list. I've realized that I've already worn most of my tops to past WorldCons, and while I don't expect that everyone remembers everything I've worn, if you've only seen someone a couple of times and every time they're wearing the same thing, that might be noticed.

Monday, August 10, 2015


This is going to be a busy week, since I'll be spending Monday through Thursday mornings doing music and art camp at church. I'm herding kindergarteners around, getting them from one activity to another. You wouldn't think that would be too taxing, but I'm utterly beat. This group of kids seems relatively easy, but I'm pretty much going non-stop from nine to noon, and I generally do all the activities with them, so I'm getting a workout. I'm seriously contemplating a nap this afternoon because I'm not sure how much good I'll be otherwise.

I'm glad I took a weekend off to celebrate my birthday with my parents. We didn't do much, just sat around and read and watched TV, but sometimes that's what you need. I took care of a bit of tech support for them and came out of it with a new-to-me TV. I'd been thinking about getting a bigger TV, since I have a nine-year-old 26-inch HDTV, but since I'm also hoping to move in the near future (once we get past the current housing bubble in this area -- prices shot up once speculators noticed an increase in demand) I didn't want to buy anything without knowing what might fit in a new place. But my parents got a new TV and offered me their old 32-inch TV. It's a nice little upgrade. Once I get the right stand for it and a new HDMI cable, I'm planning to put my old TV in my bedroom, replacing the 13-inch tube TV I had in my college dorm room. Since they went all digital and I had to get an adaptor in that room, I'll have HD in there, and I'll also put my old, pre-BluRray DVD player in there. I don't watch TV in my bedroom often, but next time I'm sick, I can watch TV in bed. It might also be nice on snow days to stay bundled up and watch movies while looking out the window at the snow. Or if I want to do an at-home staycation, I can replicate the hotel room experience, since about the only time I watch TV in bed is when I'm staying in a hotel.

But I think most of that work will have to wait until I get back from Worldcon, unless I get impatient. I don't have room for a traditional TV stand. What I have now is a child's table I bought as unfinished furniture and spray painted, and it holds the TV with the VCR and cable box sitting on top. With the flat panel TV, I'll need a shelf for the VCR, cable box, and DVD player. What I may do is see if I can find an even smaller table or stool that will fit under the current table to act as a "shelf." But I don't really have time this week for finishing furniture.

Other highlights of the week ahead: choir practice resumes, I need to do shopping and errands before my trip, I have some promo stuff to prepare, I have critiques to do, I have convention work to do, and I need to get some research reading done so I can brainstorm the sequel to Rebel Mechanics.

Guess which of these might happen today. Yep, reading that counts as "work" may be about all I'm up to doing.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

WorldCon Prep

I just realized that I'm only about a week and a half away from WorldCon -- I checked the Spokane forecast and saw that they actually have a forecast for the first couple of days I'll be there. It looks like it will be refreshingly cool for me, and I'll need to bring a sweater. Highs in the upper 80s and lows in the upper 50s. I also have a lot to do between now and then, which will be even more fun because next week is Music and Art Camp at church, so I'll be tied up (depending on the kids I get, possibly literally) all morning Monday through Thursday.

I need to finish knitting a shawl, get some promo stuff prepared (final assembly will wait until arrival for easier transport), take care of shopping and preparation errands, do some FenCon PR work, critique the writers' workshop manuscripts, and maybe do some book research.

If you're going to be at WorldCon, or know someone who will be, I've been given a KaffeeKlatche session, which is an informal meet-and-greet around a table, presumably with beverages. You can sign up in advance for these, and so far I have one person signed up for mine. Sign up here so I won't feel sad and pathetic. I flounced enough about not getting recognized enough to get programming, so it would be really awful if I prove to be a nobody, after all.

And if you want to know what else I'll be doing, here's the rest of my programming.

I'm currently frantically re-reading/reading a lot of Terry Pratchett books in preparation for all the Discworld items. I imagine I'll have a slightly controversial take on the most dangerous person in Discworld, but I think I have textual evidence.

In other linky news, here's that blog post I had a flake attack about yesterday. I had it written in my head, which was a good thing considering I mixed up the due date with the posting date. This is what happens when I mix promo time and writing time.

Incidentally, I'm still open to doing guest posts or blog interviews, so if you are a book blogger or know one, give me a shout. Goodness knows, I need all the help I can get.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

One of Those Days

It's being one of THOSE days. It started last night when a bad allergy attack hit right before I went to bed. I took Benadryl so I could stop sneezing enough to sleep, then slept hard for ten hours. Which meant I woke up two hours later than I planned. Then I checked my e-mail and found a gentle reminder about a guest blog post I was supposed to do. I hadn't forgotten it, but I'd marked it on my calendar and misinterpreted what I'd written down as the posting date as the date it was due. Panic! So I got that written and sent in time. Whew. And then I was planning to shoot my video, so I got all made up and dressed and was just about to start when they suddenly started the monthly alert siren test. One of the takes of my video shoot was interrupted by an "unknown number" cell phone call.

But I think I finally got a good take or two for the video. I could probably do better with more time, but it's probably silly to go too far overboard, considering the ones I've watched of other authors are mostly them just talking to their laptop cameras, and I plan to get a little fancier than that.

I have way more material than I can use for this one video, so I wonder if doing more like these and posting them to a YouTube channel would be a good promo tool. Would people be interested in that kind of thing? I'm way more into text and generally skip videos. I'd rather just read the information. But I know I'm not most people. And I do have that broadcasting degree I may as well use.

Now that I have makeup on, I suppose this is a good time to leave the house for errands, etc. I need to return library books, get my tires rotated and restock on day-to-day tea. It's a shame to waste a full makeup job. Though I might be overdressed for the tire store.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Characters, Emotions, and Other Issues

The to-do list was supposed to shrink, not grow! But I remembered stuff I'm supposed to be doing in the next two weeks. And then there are the simple projects that have taken on a life of their own. I had to adjust my plans for the week when I finally looked at the fall ballet schedule, since classes start this week. We've always had class on Tuesday nights, and I assumed that was the case, only to learn it's on Thursday now. I'd planned to go visit my parents on Thursday so I could stay a couple of days with them and come back Saturday in time for a meeting/get-together. So now it looks like I'll either skip the first week of class or go to my parents' house on Friday and come back Sunday morning, skipping the meeting. I like to have at least a whole day to hang out with my parents without having to travel, so I want to spend two nights. It's just a case of figuring out which event to skip.

In the meantime, I'm going into video production mode. My book is part of one of those subscription box things, and they've asked me to make a video for subscribers. I've watched some of the things other authors have done, and it looks like most of them just chat a bit on their webcam. I may escalate it a wee bit. I don't have time to do a full-scale production, but beware the person with a TV news degree and a Macintosh. The last time I made a video, we got the insane safety briefing video for FenCon. I think I'll be myself this time rather than playing a slightly deranged flight attendant.

On another note, I've found a couple of articles that have fit in with thinking I've been doing about characters and the way they're portrayed. First, there's this essay about the recent live-action Cinderella, getting into the concept that what's really radical about it is that it plays the story straight, without deconstructing it or questioning it. I think that explains a lot about why I loved it. Yeah, I like putting twists on familiar tales, but I think even when I'm twisting them, I'm keeping the heart of the original in mind rather than really deconstructing them. I'm not doing anything crazy like making the villains heroes or showing that the heroes are actually the ones to blame.

Then there's this list of stupid characters that now seem to be in every movie (language advisory -- the writer seems to think that profanity makes his point stronger). That would explain why I don't see a lot of movies these days, and especially explains why I didn't bother with the latest Terminator. To quote a passage from the article: "In 1984, Kyle Reese was wiry, desperate, and had PTSD flashbacks thanks to growing up as a feral child in the middle of an irradiated robot apocalypse. In 2015, Kyle Reese is a swole-up supermodel exchanging good-natured jabs with an aged robot dad who represents the waking hell of his entire childhood."

I think a lot of my problem with recent movies -- and even a lot of recent TV -- is that the characters aren't allowed to have normal human reactions to what they go through. Yeah, heroes are supposed to be better and braver than the rest of us, but that doesn't mean they don't have normal emotions. They just don't let those emotions stop them from doing what needs to be done. They still get scared, hurt, and angry. We care more about them if we see them getting scared, hurt, and angry, and we're more concerned about their outcome.

I've also noticed that "kickass female character" trend -- the woman portrayed as awesome and filling out a checklist of "awesome" traits who ends up playing very little role in the actual story. She's kickass window dressing instead of useless window dressing, but she's still more scenery than she is pivotal.

And now I think I need to bring my BluRay of the original Terminator with me to my parents' house to watch on their new big TV. And maybe Aliens. I seem to be in a mood for 80s science fiction action movies all of a sudden.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Ghostly Roommates

I finished the book! And then I collapsed. There was brain melting in front of the TV on Friday night, then a lot of lying around on Saturday and a movie night in front of the TV that evening. More lying around on Sunday. Which means today is Get Stuff Done Day. I need to clean the house, catch up on some business stuff like bookkeeping, start coming up with some promotional ideas to give all my books a boost (the new one seems to be vanishing into the ether, which is rather alarming), and start getting ready for WorldCon. Eep.

The towering to-do list just makes me want to curl up in a corner and ignore it all, but I suppose I really must be an adult about it.

Saturday night's movie was The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, which I loved on some levels but also found a little frustrating. It started so well, then petered out in the last quarter or so before tacking on an ending that was nice but that seemed to come abruptly out of nowhere because of the petering out. Stan, my ghost, is totally falling down on the job for not dictating guaranteed bestselling books to me (I know the stuff I write can't possibly have been dictated by Stan. It's not his style).

Oh, and in case you're new and don't know about Stan, Stan is my imaginary ghost who gets blamed for anything I can't find. I figure that if something isn't where I expect it to be, someone must have moved it, and since I live alone that must mean I have a ghost. He must be very fond of 80s music because those are the CDs that tend to disappear, and that makes sense because this house was built in 1984, and I have the wallpaper evidence that it was initially a very 80s bachelor pad. The target homeowners for these houses were airline crews, as we're very close to the airport and the floorplan seems designed for roommates, with both bedrooms being "master" suites and two living areas. So I made up this whole backstory of the swinging 80s bachelor airline pilot who died tragically and now haunts this townhouse, moving my stuff around.

But that movie made me want to write some kind of ghost romance. I'm not sure how it would work, though, and it's not like I need more story ideas at the moment, given the number of fictional universes currently running around in my head. Maybe I should just write the chronicles of my life with Stan, which would not be a romance, more like the story of a not entirely peaceful coexistence. How's this for a title: "If You're Going to Mess with My CDs, At Least Alphabetize Them"?

But that's a project for later. I have Stuff To Do today.