Friday, October 30, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Villains and Victims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Busting Writer's Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When a Book Makes Me Feel Inadequate

I was all ready to rock and roll on the writing yesterday because I knew what would happen next -- and then I realized that while I have the big-picture sense of what was happening next, I was entirely lacking in specifics. And then I realized that I was lacking some information. Sometimes, "I need to do some research on this" is a procrastination method, but in this case, it turned out that my vague assumptions were wrong, and that will affect how I write the next part. It doesn't change my plot, just the timeline and how many actions I need to cover the span of time it takes to get from point A to point B.

Though there were one or two research rabbit holes I might have followed that weren't specifically relevant to my work but that were interesting.

So now I have a better idea of what's happening, and today should be rock-and-roll day.

It's possible that I was a little reluctant to write words because I had a reading hangover from the weekend. I read one of those books that leaves me feeling like a fraud and wondering why I even bother. At that library event last week, I picked up a copy of The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, the "one book, one city" book for the year. It's a book that's a bit difficult to describe. Plot-wise, it's about a girl in 1939 Germany whose mother has to give her up (her mother is a communist, and therefore outside the pale of Nazi-era society, and she reaches the point where she's unable to care for her child) and the couple who takes her in. In some respects, she has as idyllic a life as she can expect against the backdrop of war in a small town near Munich. She has friends and her foster parents are good to her. But her foster father is an anti-Nazi and has trouble getting work because of that, so times are tough. He never got on board with the party because of the anti-Jewish stance, since his life was saved in WWI by his Jewish friend. And now the son of his friend is in need of help. The "book thief" thing happens because this young girl has a habit of picking up books -- first when the gravedigger drops one at her brother's funeral, later when she finds one that didn't burn in a book-burning event, later still when she gets access to a private library. She becomes more and more fascinated with words and their power.

But it's not really a book about the plot. The slightly odd thing that takes some getting used to is that it's narrated by Death, who is fascinated by humans and who becomes interested in this girl when he sees her as her brother dies. There's a lot of meditation on the human condition and the impact of war. It's both brutal and beautiful, and it ends up working quite well in a way that had me sighing, "I'll never be able to do something like this."

It's also a pretty intense book. I was glad I'd seen the movie because otherwise I'd have been skipping to the end. I wouldn't have been able to take the tension otherwise. I'd call the ending bittersweet -- part realistic, given the circumstances, but with a big dose of hope.

So, yeah, the kind of thing that gives me inadequacy issues. But then last night I pulled something off the To-Be-Read shelf that had me wondering how it even got published, so I think I'll be back on track today.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Revisiting Old Role Models

We had a delightfully rainy (maybe a little too rainy in some areas) weekend, and now it's my favorite kind of fall day, crisp and cool. It should be a good patio writing day with a jacket and some hot tea.

First, though, I'll be sending off a book proposal to my agent. Then I'm going to keep writing on the book because I may as well keep going while I'm on a roll.

Over the weekend, I did a lot of reading, watched a few history documentaries, tried to catch up on all the old Doctor Who ("classic" era) episodes piling up on my DVR. The local PBS station is showing third Doctor episodes late at night on Saturdays, and BBC America is showing fourth Doctor episodes on Sunday mornings. Mostly, that means getting lots and lots of Sarah Jane, which is okay by me. The more I see of her, the more I like her. You could move her character, as she was then, into the current series, and she'd fit right in (though would likely spend less time unconscious -- it seems that the standard-issue cliffhanger for the end of each episode within a serial was her being knocked out). I loved her appearance in the more recent incarnation as the older and wiser, been there, done that, former sidekick, but her old self would also have been right at home.

I'm still not sure when I watched this show when I was younger, just that I must have because I knew it was something I liked when I encountered it again in college, and I recognized all the familiar images. I'm also pretty sure I imprinted on Sarah Jane somewhere along the way because even her look was my unattainable ideal when I was a kid (I wanted the sleek, swingy, bouncy hair like that, and that's not going to happen with my hair). And then there was going to journalism school.

Actually, I think it's time for gaucho pants and knee-high boots, worn with a turtleneck sweater (and optional vest) to make a comeback. Not all 70s fashion was "disco." We can skip the light blue eyeshadow, though.

Friday, October 23, 2015

I Love a Rainy Friday

After a long, dry summer and only a little measurable rainfall in September, we're getting a deluge, and it's glorious. It's going to be like this all weekend. I suspect there will be baking because that's what I do.

I'm hoping there will also be writing and reading. I was up late last night going over my book proposal. I've got about 20,000 words written (five chapters), plus a synopsis, plus I have short outlines for two entirely different possible books. I think I'll send the chapters to my mom to look at this weekend, and then send the whole thing to my agent on Monday.

Meanwhile, I'll keep writing the book. I'm just getting to the really fun part, and I want to see what happens next.

It doesn't help that the other outlines I wrote got those stories moving in my head, too.

So many stories to write, so little time. I'll remind myself of that the next time I have a raging case of the Don't Wannas. "Yes, you do want to write because you have to finish this book before you can write the next one, and you really want to write that next one, and the one after that."

I guess I won't be working on the patio today. I may sit on my bed with the blinds open and watch it rain while I work.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Too Happy an Ending?

I've done my pre-rainstorm grocery run, so I'm prepared for the forecast deluge. Apologies if my preparedness ends up preventing the much-needed rain. Not that I really needed to stock up for an impending apocalypse, but I was close to being out of some critical items, and better to buy them now than to have to venture out in the rain. I have milk, bread, and eggs, so if all else fails, I can make French toast.

I had a rather weird reading experience last night when I finished a book I was enjoying, and the ending kind of killed it for me (in a bad way) because it was too happy. Not that I'm a fan of sad endings or want characters to be miserable. I probably wouldn't have liked it if these couples (it was a women's fiction/chick lit kind of thing with multiple stories woven together) hadn't ended up together, though there was one I think I would have been okay with not happening. I think my problem was that the getting together was too easy for the problems that were set up, and it was like flipping a switch from off to on, with no transition.

The set-up for the emotional conflict was really strong, which was why the book was so interesting. It was the kind of thing where you could understand why one person either wasn't into the other person or just didn't want to deal with getting into a relationship. We're talking about scarred-for-life kind of stuff and real, believable issues, not "one person treated me badly once, and therefore I can't trust you" fake conflict. And then we got to the end and all these situations were essentially resolved by saying, "Oh well, I guess that wasn't true after all, let's go to bed right now."

With one situation, that might have worked, where the woman was into the guy but didn't want to get involved with him for a good reason, and then it turned out that he was only pretending to be the thing she didn't like about him, and he was pretending in order to help someone else out. So I could kind of buy the "Whee! You are someone I can be with! Let's not waste a second!" reaction. But another situation required a total shift in worldview to accept any involvement with anyone at all, and just learning that the worldview was based on something that turned out to not be true wouldn't change things. It would take professional help and some gradual adjustment, so I couldn't buy the "Oh, I guess it wasn't true, never mind" and instantly diving straight into the deep end of a relationship. And then there was another story where I'm not sure I bought the resolution at all because the thing causing the conflict was just too huge, or it would have taken a long process to overcome. Watching that process could have been interesting, but the book skipped it.

I guess I really want to feel like the characters earned their happy endings, rather than the author just waving a magic wand and making everything work at the last second, and I like the sense of a process along the way. I want to see them gradually moving through relationship stages rather than instantly going from off to all the way on.

That's why I like series and taking time to develop a relationship rather than trying to wrap it up in one book.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Proposal Almost Done!

I've almost got my book proposal done. I have about a page or two to write, then I need to edit the whole thing, come up with some chapter headers, and then edit the synopsis based on what I actually ended up writing. I also need to type out a few paragraphs for a couple of other book ideas. Then I'll go back to writing the rest of the book. I wanted to have that done before I go on vacation, but that's two weeks from tomorrow, so it's not going to happen unless I go absolutely insane for the next week or so.

Then again, we're looking at a rainy weekend with nothing on the calendar, so going insane with writing is a distinct possibility.

Fortunately, I already have today's lesson plan for the kids done, and we'll see how much of it we get to. Tonight we're going to make tissue ghosts and make them dance and then do ghost sounds (vocal exercises up and down the scales). We might even do a ghost parade to entertain the people getting dinner ready and show off our ghost sounds. Part of this is my sneaky introduction to classical music, as they'll be dancing to "Night on Bald Mountain." If I have time, I'll swing by the library and see if the CD with "Danse Macabre" is in (I need to buy a copy of that).

And then I get a week off because next week is the Halloween carnival. I'll still be there as a volunteer, but I don't have to plan anything. I'm just working either a game booth or the craft table.

Now I suppose I'd better get that proposal finished.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Survivor Stories

I spent much of the morning with my power out. I'm not sure how long it was out. I took a walk (a little more than two miles), got home, did some stuff in the living room, then headed into the bathroom (the only part of the house that doesn't get natural light), flipped the switch, and nothing happened. My first thought was that the bulb was out, but then I thought to check for power and noticed that the alarm clock, cable box, etc., were all blank. I think it may have been neighborhood-wide, since the lighted sign across the street is dead, and there were people coming out of houses and looking around when I was walking. Fortunately, my laptop battery was charged, so I could write, but I couldn't get online. It finally came back a little while ago.

After bailing on almost all the entertainment options over the weekend, I did go out last night. My city is doing one of those "one book, one city" things, and this year's book is The Book Thief, and since it's set during World War II and has some elements relating to the Holocaust, they sponsored a talk last night with an Auschwitz (and Dachau) survivor. It was mostly me, the library staff, and all the little old ladies on the library board and with the Friends of the Library group, and maybe a few other people from the community, but that was still a big turnout.

This lady's story was absolutely fascinating. If you wrote it as a novel, no one would believe it because her survival came down to a lot of very fortunate twists of fate. Though, really, in those circumstances, probably everyone who survived did so because of odd little bits of fortune, and maybe having the presence of mind to take advantage of those bits of fortune. This lady missed being sent straight to the gas chambers because she didn't go straight off the train upon arrival. Her grandmother had wanted to comb her hair, so her hair was down, and then they realized they were arriving at their destination and her grandmother made her go look for something to tie her hair back with. Everyone else was herded straight off the train, but they missed her somehow and she ended up in the line with people selected to work. From that point, she had a few more lucky breaks, but it sounds like she also developed the mentality of surviving rather than giving in, so she was conscious of strokes of luck when they came to her and was able to take advantage of them. That's how she ended up volunteering to go to Dachau to work in a munitions factory near the end of the war, so she was on the last train to leave Auschwitz before everyone else was sent on what ended up being a death march away from the camp ahead of the Russian advance. She figured that since they were asking for 200 people, it wasn't a ruse to send people straight to death and the job wouldn't be so hard and dangerous that they'd run through a lot of workers. That got her away from a death camp and into one of the earlier camps to be liberated by the Americans.

It was amazing hearing this sweet, bubbly, very funny lady talking about these horrible things she went through as a teenager and managing to find the humor and sometimes even the beauty. I was very glad I went. I watch all those documentaries on TV, but I don't know that I've ever actually heard directly from a survivor, and I feel it's important to bear witness as these people are aging and dying.

I got there early because the flyer suggested doing so. The event was held at the National Scouting Museum, and you got in free if you were coming to the event, so I explored the museum a bit. It would be a fun thing for kids to go to because there are a lot of activities, but it mostly made me wistful that the Girl Scout troops I was in never did fun stuff like the boys got to do. I did enjoy the gallery of scouting-related art. They had a lot of original Norman Rockwell oils. And then I hung out both before the talk and at the reception afterward with the ladies on the library board. They were fascinated about me being an author (the librarians recognized me, and I went to high school with one of them, and they introduced me to the board), but we ended up mostly chatting about books and PBS shows. They get together for Downton Abbey parties. They sound like a fun group.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sneezing at Home

It turned out that I was right about the outcome of being paralyzed by options. I was in a writing groove on Friday night, so I stayed home instead of going to the downtown event, and I'm glad because some friends at church went, and they said the projected 30,000 crowd (that was big enough to make me wary of going) turned out to be more like 200,000, and so packed in that you could barely see things.

Then I guess I forgot to take Friday's dose of allergy medicine, and the ragweed levels were really high, so I spent most of Saturday sniffling and sneezing and decided that constant sneezing at the ballet would be a bad idea. I mostly sat around reading, which was nice.

I did go to Sunday's party, though. And I'm planning to go to a library event tonight.  So I'm not being a total homebody.

My preschoolers had their first time to sing in church on Sunday, and it went pretty well. There were no tears and no one refused to wear a choir robe. There was one kid who sang in silly voices, which got some chuckles from the congregation. He continued bursting out with silly things during the children's sermon, so I got a lot of "oh, you poor thing" remarks later from people commiserating about having him in my choir. I'd been a little worried about the robes because that's caused some meltdowns with past groups, and there's usually at least one little girl who's dressed up nice to sing in church and then gets upset that she's going to have to wear a choir robe over her nice outfit. We went to the choir room to see and try on the robes Wednesday night, so they could get used to the idea of them and I could get the scary, new stuff out of the way and get them prepared for the idea that no one would see their clothes. But there were also racks of prom dresses and ballgowns near the racks with the choir robes. The church collected donations of formal dresses in the spring so that any girl in town who needed a prom dress would be able to have one, but they got more donations than were needed, and the extras got donated to be used in the spring youth musical, since they're doing Cinderella and will need lots of ballgowns. My preschool girls saw the rack of fancy dresses and started drooling. I was a little afraid I'd have at least one insisting on wearing a princess dress instead of a choir robe, but that didn't end up happening.

I figured out how to fix the book and got about halfway through the fixes on Friday and Saturday. I'll be losing a lot of it because I'm consolidating some scenes, but I think it will be a lot stronger. I'm hoping to get through the rest of the fixes today, then there may have to be some new writing, then I need to do some fact checking against the first book for continuity purposes, and then I should have a book proposal.

Friday, October 16, 2015

An Embarrassment of Riches

I passed the 100-page mark in the current book. Yay! But I suspect a few of those pages will have to go. Henry and Verity are spending way too much time chatting in his study, but the tricky part is that's the only place they can safely talk openly, and there's much scheming and plotting going on. I guess it's the equivalent of my first draft of Once Upon Stilettos, in which half the book seemed to be Katie and Owen walking to and from the subway station on the way to/from work. I ended up cutting and condensing those scenes or moving them to other situations.

Meanwhile, because my brain hates me, as I was falling asleep last night, it started writing an entirely different book. I now know a lot about that heroine and her life and how the book will start. This one could be a lot of fun, as it's a "sucked through a portal" story for adults -- a cynic who's lost all belief in romance and fairy tales finding herself in a fairy tale world.

But I have to write this other book first.

Right now, I have characters in six different fictional universes vying for my attention. That makes it hard to focus sometimes, and that's not even counting the characters from other people's universes who seem to think I should be telling stories about them.

This seems to be the Weekend of Arts-Related Events (and other festivals). There's a big outdoor light art (as in art made from lights) event downtown tonight that sounds cool if I can overcome the inertia enough to get myself to the train station and get downtown and then deal with crowds. There are two different ballet productions tomorrow that I would like to see, as well as at least three festivals that I'm aware of and another art event. Sometimes that much choice leads to paralysis, where the easiest choice is to stay home. Tonight's event is something that happens only every other year, and it looks like a real experience. But if I do that plus the ballet plus go to the party I have on Sunday, I know I'm going to feel overloaded.

And I actually kind of want to write.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

New Book News!

I feel like I've finally hit a rhythm on this book. I may not have quite met my goal yesterday, but I did more than I usually do on a Wednesday, which is usually nothing. I'm about to get to a part I've been looking forward to for a long time.

Meanwhile, I have a book coming out next month, book 3 in the Fairy Tale series, A Kind of Magic.

Here's the cover:

(Oooh, pretty!)

And you can already pre-order it at a lot of places. Right now, only the e-book is showing up, but it will also be in print and audio, and all three formats will be available November 24.

In case you want to pre-order it, here are the links:


Apple iBooks

Google Play


I believe these are all US-only, but the book will be available worldwide. Check your regional/local version of these venues.

It will also be available for the Nook at B&N, but they're weird about pre-orders. There may be more links to come.

Looking at this book again is making ideas start stirring. But first I have to finish the book I'm working on.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fighting the Don't Wannas

As I've been ramping up into a new book, I've found myself pondering the topic of writer's block. I think there are two totally different situations that often get lumped into writer's block -- there's not knowing what to write and there's what I often call the "don't wannas," when it's hard to get into the swing of writing. Today I'll tackle the "don't wannas" with some suggestions about how to get into a writing groove.

Writing, like just about any activity, is a habit that can take time and effort to form. Once it becomes a habit, it's easier to maintain. You may have gotten into writing because it's fun and something you enjoy doing, but once you start attempting to do it on a regular basis, whether or not you want to, you may run into a case of the "don't wannas," where you find so many other things you'd rather be doing. If this is just a hobby for you, it's okay to write when you feel like it rather than forcing yourself. But if you intend to make a profession of it, you're going to run into times when cleaning the bathroom sounds like more fun than writing, and you'll still have to write.

One thing to do is make your writing time an appointment. Put it on your calendar and treat it the way you'd treat a meeting with your boss or a dentist appointment that has a cancellation fee if you don't show up. How long and how often this appointment is depends on your situation. If you have a full-time job and a family, your appointment may be an hour on Saturday afternoons while the rest of your family has other activities or half an hour on weeknights after the kids are in bed. If you're a full-time writer, you'll have larger chunks during the day (or at night, if you're a night owl). If you have flexibility in your schedule, try to work with your most productive times, and it may take some trial and error to figure this out. I sometimes find that different books have different schedules.

Then set a goal for each writing session, something concrete that you can measure. This can be the amount of time you spend working, the number of words you write or the number of pages you write. Find a way to reward yourself for reaching this goal -- you can stop work when you reach your word count, you get to watch that show you're saving on the DVR when you reach your page count, etc. I've found that I write a lot more words and write them faster when I count out M&Ms into a dish, with one for each 200 words of my goal for the day, and then I get to each one each time I write 200 words. I can see my progress that way, and I often find that I go well over my goal even without the rewards continuing because by the time I run out of candy, I've got some momentum going. The rewards help me get started.

Make sure your environment is conducive to work, avoiding your temptations or distractions. Some writers like to go to coffee shops so they can't procrastinate by doing housework. I disconnect from the Internet and take my laptop to other rooms in the house or to the patio. You may like background music to block out other distractions, or you may like silence. Make sure you're physically comfortable so you don't end up hurting your back or developing carpal tunnel syndrome. You'll stay at the keyboard longer when it's a relatively pleasant place to be and when more pleasant places aren't beckoning you.

Establishing a ritual of sorts is a good way to get yourself into work mode. Doctors often recommend a bedtime ritual to train your brain to go to sleep, and getting ready to work functions the same way. Make a pot of tea or coffee or your other favorite beverage, set up your workspace, review your notes for what you're planning to write, listen to music that gets you in the mood, take a moment to meditate and visualize your story, or whatever works to signal your brain that this is writing time. Just be careful not to let this turn into a procrastination activity, where you spend more time getting ready to write than you spend actually writing.

And remember that we're all human and we're going to fail sometimes. There will be days when you don't keep your appointment or don't reach your goal. Just keep going and keep your next appointment rather than beating yourself up and giving up.

Next, the other kind of writer's block, when you don't know what to write.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Offline Time

I made my first short story submission on Friday, got my first rejection this morning. As nervous as I was about submitting, the rejection didn't bother me at all. I think part of me was expecting it. Now that's out of the way and I can submit to the next market on my list.

I took myself offline yesterday afternoon and got a ton of writing done. I've just about got enough written for a book proposal. I think I'll write the rest of the week so I'll have a better sense of where the story's going, then revise the first 60 or so pages and send to my agent next week. Then I'll write the rest of the book while I'm on a roll because I'm planning to publish it anyway, whether or not the publisher wants it.

Then I'll need to decide what to write next. Probably book 4 in the Fairy Tale series, but I've found myself going back to an idea I had a few years ago for a fantasy "cozy" mystery series. Those tend to do very well for independent publishers because there's usually the ongoing romance plot line that slowly builds from book to book, but then the stories are mostly standalone. I've got a lot of the situation and characters developed and even have a concept for a first book, but I would need to do some work to get it going. I don't know how many series I can sustain at one time. If I were more diligent about writing, I could probably do it because I write fast when I'm actually writing.

Which means more time offline.

It might be cool enough today for patio writing, which is always pretty efficient time because I'm away from just about all distractions.

Monday, October 12, 2015

I Was Promised Fall

I'm giving myself a fresh start on being all virtuous today. I took a short walk this morning, so I've done some exercise, and I'm really going to try sticking with a schedule for the rest of the day so I can make more headway on the book.

On Friday, I made my very first professional short story submission. It was strangely scary, considering that I've been a career novelist for more than a decade. But I have fallback plans in case it's rejected there, and I have ideas for other stories, so I may start trying to do that as a palate cleanser between books. If all else fails, I can offer them as loss leader teasers on Amazon and use them to drive readers to my books, and then I can put together an anthology.

It's supposed to be fall by now, but we're having summer weather. On Friday, I noticed one of my neighbors taking her kids to the swimming pool. Hmm, maybe I should hit the hot tub. I think the pool would be too cold for my taste, but the hot tub would feel nice.

Normally, October is my favorite month because I love fall weather. I like mornings that are cool and afternoons that are just right for being outdoors -- warm enough that you can sit around without getting chilled, but not so warm that you sweat. I like fall colors and stuff like hot cider, hot cocoa, things made with cinnamon, and sweaters. I'm not a big Halloween person, but I like a lot of Halloween-adjacent things.

But today I took my walk wearing shorts. It'll probably be too warm for me to work on the patio this afternoon. I was planning to make chicken pot pies this weekend, but it was too warm to turn on the oven and have that kind of food. Unfortunately, because they'd been forecasting a cooler weekend, I'd bought the ingredients. So yesterday I made the filling for pot pies, and there's supposed to be a cooler day this week when I can make the pastry and bake them. Let's just hope that we're finally having fall in November when I take my "fall" vacation. I based the timing on last year, when it was still a bit too early for that kind of thing in late October. Plus, I had to plan around our Requiem performance.

So, that's my week -- suffering through summer, trying to be good around writing and other virtuous stuff.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Vacation planning

I slept much better last night with no epic story dreams. However, the ragweed must have been bad, as the detail I remember from my dreams was that I always had a handful of tissues and kept sneezing.

I got a fun box from a state tourism office yesterday. I'd requested some maps and brochures from their web site for my vacation, and ended up getting a whole box of stuff. The main thing I needed was the current official map, but I got the rest of their trip-planning stuff, a guide to state parks, and the brochure about fall foliage drives. Based on some information in one of the guides, I'm pondering a slight modification to my plans, with a side trip to see something nearby. I could do it on the way up if I get an early start, since check-in at my hotel isn't until 3, and then I wouldn't have to go anywhere else for the rest of the time (all the things I want to do are on-site where I'm staying), or I could devote half a day to making this side trip. I can be spontaneous and decide on the fly how I want to handle things.

The brochures got me started thinking about actual camping, like with a tent. I have fond memories of doing that as a kid, but I'm not sure how I'd deal with it now. The state parks have bathrooms and showers, and some even have electricity at the tent camp sites. It might be a way to force myself to have a writing retreat, with enough electricity to charge the laptop, but no TV or Internet. I suspect, though, that this is the sort of thing that sounds good in my head but that I would find less appealing in reality. I like being outdoors, but I like coming in from the outdoors.

But before I can get too crazy thinking about vacation, I must work, and I'm already behind on the book.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The Shanna's Brain Channel

I think my brain needs its own cable channel. My dreams would be as freaky and detailed as anything on the SyFy channel. Take the other night … I had a dream about next month's planned vacation. I arrived at the place, but when I woke up the next morning, instead of being in the hotel room I expected, I was in a cabin like you'd find in a summer camp, on a bunk with lots of other people -- strangers -- in the cabin, and all of us sharing a bathroom. I kept trying to tell the management that there was a problem here, showing them my confirmation for an actual hotel room, and they kept telling me that this was the only thing available. I demanded a refund and snippily thanked them for ruining my vacation, then I told them I was a famous author and would be sure to tell everyone how awful they were (yeah, my 200 or so Twitter followers will ruin them). To tell you how weirdly detailed my memories of my dreams are, I recall that one of the people sharing my cabin was a middle-aged African-American woman who used sign language, and I didn't know sign but was communicating with her using the finger alphabet (which slightly mirrors a real life situation from years ago, when I helped a deaf girl navigate the Dallas train system using the finger alphabet, which was as close as she found to someone who could communicate with her other than in writing).

Throw in a murder that kept me from leaving in a huff, or maybe a conspiracy to explain why my hotel room ended up being a shared cabin, and we might have a story there. Unfortunately, it's not the sort of thing I have any interest in writing.

Last night, I got a whole series about an alien invasion apocalypse. We knew the world was going to end and we were likely all going to die, but we were trying to figure out the best way to deal with it. In all the inevitability, we were still trying to survive because as long as we were alive, there was still hope of pulling through. I kept waking up, having that "whew, it was just a dream!" reaction, then taking about an hour to fall asleep again -- only to find myself right back in the same dream. In part one, I was trying to decide whether to get out of the city and head to my parents' place, since being away from the city might give me more of a chance, but I was worried about what the roads might be like. Everyone was trying to leave the cities, and there was a general lawlessness, since knowing that we were probably all going to die soon anyway made people care less about the consequences of breaking a law or taking a risk. I ended up deciding to stay put, since a woman traveling alone would be seen as easy prey.

In part two, I was with a group of people attempting to ride it out. We were huddled in a building in the middle of a city, and the attacks were starting. There were scorch marks on buildings we could see through our windows, and something kind of like fireballs was raining from the sky. As is my usual luck, Mr. Right happened to be in the group (yeah, me finding the right guy is a sure sign of the apocalypse -- every time I've met someone who seemed perfect, he immediately got some kind of job transfer elsewhere, so meeting someone while the world is coming to an end is to be expected). An epic game of Truth or Dare got started during the attack, because under those circumstances, what was the risk of telling huge truths or taking massive dares?

In part three, the alien leader arrived, and he was something out of Classic-era Doctor Who -- an elegant, classically trained British actor type swanning about dramatically, walking down the empty streets and making proclamations. We were going to try to fight him, but some of us preferred to go into hiding.

Hmm, now that I look at it, I might have the makings for a YA dystopia kind of story. It's not the sort of thing I usually write, and alien invasion is more science fiction than fantasy, but I love the idea of an epic game of Truth or Dare in the face of apocalypse. I guess it's kind of like that movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, where they don't go into detail about the world-ending event, just that it's coming, and it's inevitable, and it's more about the things people do as they're preparing for it.

At any rate, a whole night of this sort of thing made for a very weird start to the day. I can't quite seem to adjust to the real world. Getting back into my steampunk world may be a bit of a challenge.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Fun with Phone Scammers

I'm starting to gain some momentum in the book. I know revisions will be needed, especially on the beginning, as it takes some time to get back in the swing of it. But I met my word count goal for the day yesterday, as well as my time spent writing goal. I don't know how well I'll do today, as it's a choir day, but I don't have to teach tonight because it's a children's service instead, so I don't have to do lesson plans and I don't have to be there as early.

My writing progress might be even better if it weren't constantly interrupted by scam phone calls. The "Windows Technical Support" guys have been really busy the last couple of days, with me getting multiple calls per day. Even if it weren't a well-known scam that's been written about in newspapers and online, I'd know it had to be a scam because I've never owned a Windows machine. At first, I was just laughing at them, pointing out that I knew it was a scam, then hanging up, but after three calls in one night, I decided to start having fun with them.

First, I put on my sweet Southern little old lady voice and with that "bless your heart" tone said, "I bet your mama is so proud of you for scamming old people like this." It confused him, and he hung up. With the next call, I immediately launched into "Amazing Grace" at full voice, which really confused him. He actually let me get through the whole first verse, going, "Hello? Hello?" I think he thought it was an answering machine. I told him I was praying for his soul, which was in jeopardy because he was scamming people like this. He hung up.

I have several more routines in mind. The game is to make them be the one to hang up, and every second they're on the phone with me, that's one less call they can make to someone else who might not be aware of what's going on.

If I do "Amazing Grace" again, I think I need to do it in a higher key. I was in alto range, and there's no point in being a soprano if you can't shred the ears of a phone scammer. And hey, if some of the words sink in and trigger any kind of conscience, so much the better. I'd love to keep these guys from being able to sleep at night.

Still, it's annoying when my phone is ringing every half hour or so. Even if I had Caller ID and didn't answer, the ring of the phone is distracting. I guess I could turn off the ringer during writing time. I should let my family know to call my cell during those hours, as I can put it on silent and see who's calling, so it's less of a distraction. I'm actually considering looking into getting phones I can link with my cell to use as a household phone (so I don't have to remember to carry the cell from room to room) and ditching the land line because in a few months, I not only will have phone scammers but also political pollsters and "vote for me" calls to contend with. The only problem is that I've had this phone number for more than 20 years, and it would be a pain remembering all the places I'd need to change it.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The Rebel Mechanics Memory Lane

I've written the first chapter of the next Rebel Mechanics book, and I've found myself walking down memory lane as I get reacquainted with these characters and this world. I was writing the first draft of the first book around this time five years ago. Although I've been doing work on it off and on over that time span, it's still taking me a little time to slip back into that mode.

I've been thinking about some of my original plans vs. what actually came to pass. For instance, I originally was really going to try to do a somewhat gothic Jane Eyre kind of story mixed in with the steampunk plot, with the dark and mysterious employer up to potentially shady things. I read a lot of the Brontes and a number of other classic gothic novels while I was brainstorming the book. And then once I started the development and actual writing, it all went straight out the window. Henry turned out to be about as far from a Rochester as you can get, aside from having a secret. There's not really anything brooding about him. I ended up switching from that to more of a Scarlet Pimpernel kind of situation, except with him being a nerd instead of a fop. If you've read the book, just try imagining Henry as a brooding, dark gothic hero.

I do have an idea in mind for a more gothic kind of book, but the hero isn't the dark, brooding one. We'll see what happens when I start writing it, though.

Olive's name was originally Alice, a la Alice in Wonderland, but I realized that on the page that looked too much like Alec, which would get confusing, so I had to rename her. Botanical names were very popular in that era, and I already had Flora, so Olive got her name because it was something botanical but something that's actually useful and less frivolous than a flower. I'd already developed the character and written the first few chapters when I started directing children's choir, but there was a little girl in my first kindergarten choir who became my mental model for Olive as the book developed. She's now in fifth grade, playing piano solos for children's services and getting lead roles in children's musicals, and I'm friends with her mom. Her personality and looks turned out a bit different from what I would have expected from the way she was as a kindergartener (not in a bad way, just different). It's a little hard to get back to picturing the way Olive is in the book because in my head she's grown up, but I did find some video I took of that choir on my old cell phone, so I've got a reminder of what I had in mind back then.

Come to think of it, I still have a drawing she made me in kindergarten on the side of my refrigerator. I also have baby pictures of a girl who's now in high school. I should probably update my refrigerator art gallery.

In part because of the Jane Eyre thing, I'd always planned my heroine to be a governess, but that's also a position that makes for easier storytelling in this kind of setting. It allows a very young woman to be somewhat independent and to mix with different kinds of people. A big theme of the book is being caught between worlds and not fitting in anywhere, and the governess position illustrates that. She's not really considered to be a servant, but she's not a member of the family. She's not actually a member of the upper class, but those are the people she spends most of her time around. A lot of the rest of her background came when I went with some friends to a "Victorian Elegance" antique show. One dealer had some boxes of old photos, most of them portraits that looked like the sort of thing people might have had done at department store studios. We started flipping through the photos and making up backgrounds for the people, and I felt a little sad that they were being sold like this to strangers instead of being with their families. There was one portrait of a young woman that really struck me. I couldn't just leave her there, so I bought the photo, and my friend said she looked like a professor's daughter. That was when things clicked, and I knew she was my Verity, and I knew her background. Her name was Verity from the start. I never even had to look for names because I just knew that's who she was.

Now to write chapter two ...

Monday, October 05, 2015

Little Things

My yoga teacher had an appendectomy a couple of weeks ago, so this morning's class was restorative yoga, focused on relaxing and breathing, rather than actual exercise. As a result, I feel so relaxed I could go right back to sleep. But I need to get over that because there are errands to run and then there's writing to do.

My big weekend project was putting together the new TV stand and redoing my bedroom entertainment center. It now really looks like I've entered the 21st century, with a flat-panel HDTV instead of the 13" tube TV that was in my college dorm room. Not that I've actually watched anything in there.

Meanwhile, I must admit that I'm loving the DVR. They're showing "classic" Doctor Who late at night on PBS, so I recorded that Saturday and watched it for my lunch/newspaper viewing Sunday. I also grabbed a cheesy Hallmark movie that was on at a time I didn't really want to watch it, to have handy when I'm in the mood for that sort of thing. I was able to record the new show on PBS that was opposite Once Upon a Time, and I'm very glad I recorded Once Upon a Time because OnDemand doesn't let you fast forward, and this episode was a classic example of how that show can be very good and very awful at the same time. I'll want to rewatch the good parts but there are parts it would be best never to have to see again. I haven't used it a lot for being able to skip most of the commercials after starting something late, but I have used it for those times I want to watch something live but am not able to catch the very beginning. I'll be making use of that Thursday night when Haven premieres, and I'll be just getting home from dance class. I'll be able to take a quick shower without worrying about missing the first two minutes.

The other thing likely to fill it is documentaries. There are so many cool things on channels like Smithsonian or National Geographic that are on at awkward times, and this gives me a way to watch them when I feel like it. Those channels are on the tier that I wasn't able to record on the VCR because they require the converter box, and the converter box doesn't have an output that goes into the VCR.

We're getting our first taste of fall-like weather, but wouldn't you know it, I've had places to be in the mornings when it's nice and cool. I do plan to do my writing outside this afternoon, though, thanks to my new laptop stand that allows me to get the computer at just the right height.

It's amazing how such little things can make such a big improvement in life. My next plan is to get my bedroom entirely in order so it feels like a hotel room. I may not be able to keep the rest of the house like that, but if I can keep the bedroom that way, it might do.

Friday, October 02, 2015

The Ikea Excursion

I made my expedition to the Ikea store this morning. Wow. That's just a whole different world. I knew what I wanted, but I did wander the showroom instead of going straight to the warehouse. It's fun to look at the displays and drool over all the perfect organizational stuff. I had to restrain myself in the housewares department because I could have gone crazy. Most of their furniture isn't really to my taste, but their dishes and glassware are right up my alley.

I ended up with the TV stand I went for and a laptop stand I've been looking at in the catalog. Then I got a scented candle that was too cheap and too nice-smelling to pass up, plus a good, large rolling pin (it's hard to do good pies with the mini one I have), a plastic cutting board (mine are at the end of their lifespan), a cooler bag that was on clearance (for grocery shopping in hot weather without having to haul around the cooler), and a nifty sewing kit full of gadgets (couldn't resist -- most of my sewing tools are scattered and outdated). And then there were Swedish meatballs for lunch.

My kitchen desperately needs redoing, so I was kind of drooling at those displays. I love a lot of their office stuff. But I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do about my house situation, so I don't want to invest a lot in that sort of thing. But I do need a new bedroom lamp and it looks like they have some neat things, and it looks like a good place to get a sewing table, if I ever get my office in good enough shape to set up a sewing area.

And the housewares. Ah. I found myself mentally planning fantasy dinner parties. And I'm not even a dinner party kind of person. I started thinking of the showroom as a "lifestyle museum."

Now to go put together my new laptop stand so I can sit on the patio and work. It's the perfect weather for that sort of thing.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Getting Set Up

I got the initial opening of the new book done, and then I got page proofs for the new Fairy Tale book, so that's what I'll be doing today. I'm planning a Friday write-a-thon to really kick off the new book and try to get some momentum, after a morning trip to Ikea to get a new TV stand so I can set up my new bedroom entertainment system that I likely won't use often. But the TV is getting in my way sitting on the floor, and I want to get things in order.

I have to admit that I'm a little afraid of Ikea. It sounds like a place where I could easily get lost for hours. But in my research, it seems to be the only place where I can find just what I want at a minimal price (since I don't want to invest too much in configuring a house I'll likely be leaving within a year or so). I need a stand or table large enough to hold my TV on top, and with at least one shelf below to hold the cable box and DVD player, but without being too big. They have one with the right dimensions. But getting out of Ikea with just a TV stand may be the challenge. Actually, they also have a laptop stand that I've been eyeing. And some kitchen stuff I covet. I've read their catalog but have never been in one of their stores. Their furniture style isn't really to my taste (I'm more traditional/Victorian), but the organizational stuff calls out to my well-suppressed inner neat freak. It will be an adventure. Possibly one involving Swedish meatballs.

And then there will be writing, oh yes.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to brainstorm a title for the new story. I think I'm going to leave it as a short story, just the way it is, and I have a couple of primary markets picked out for submitting. Then I'll need to research secondary markets if it doesn't sell there and determine where the likely benefit cut-off ratio lies. I'm not so much worried about how much money it will make as I am about audience size, since I'm looking at this as advertisement. But when a market is at a point where I'm not sure of the audience size, then the benefits switch around to where maybe I could make more money and reach a bigger audience by selling it myself. But first, I do need a title.

I got a slow start this morning as I guess I needed to recover from last night. We had so much pushing and even biting with the preschoolers that we didn't get to play with the parachute, like I planned. And then I had to actually sing a solo in choir practice, in front of the choir. I hadn't practiced in a while because I was so busy last week, but I think I did okay for a first time in front of people.

Now, time to get my nitpicker on and look at page proofs.