Monday, November 30, 2015

Reading for Fun

I'm back from the Thanksgiving holiday and determined to get at least some things accomplished before the Christmas holiday. I got home Thanksgiving night (leaving early to beat the bad weather), then spent a cold, rainy weekend huddled on the sofa, watching Hallmark movies. Which inspired me to re-read that screenplay I wrote a couple of years ago. I was surprised by how good most of it was, but the ending needs work. I realized I was coming up against the time limit and just wrapped things up. Then again, that seems to be the way most of these movies end. I'm going to give it another pass and then I may ask my agent for advice. She doesn't handle film, but she has contacts and might be able to point me toward someone who does. Hallmark alone is going to start doing something like 20 new movies a year, and I think what I've written is at least as good as some of these, so I may as well give it a shot.

But that wasn't the big news of the holiday week and weekend. The big news was that Rebel Mechanics was named to the Lonestar List by the Texas Library Association. This list is books recommended to encourage reading for pleasure in young teens/preteens, and that's a cause near and dear to my heart. I hate that a love for reading tends to get driven out of kids in school unless they're getting outside support to encourage reading for fun. If your only exposure to books is what you're forced to read in school, you probably won't learn to love to read, and reading for pleasure has so many benefits. It makes people better readers for being able to read school stuff and anything else in life. It makes people more empathetic, because being able to put yourself in the shoes of characters in a novel gives you skills you can use to see the world through other people's eyes. It opens up other areas of knowledge if things in books encourage readers to look things up, like vocabulary words or historical or geographical details. I write books with the primary hope that they'll be fun to read, so it's a great honor to have my book on a list librarians will be using to help kids find books that are fun to read.

And it's really nice to be honored. I do spend a lot of time whining about not getting recognition, even though I seem to be doing at least as well as authors who do get recognized. I don't know how big this will be and if it will translate into sales or other honors, but making a list like this is really cool.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pre-Thanksgiving Book Update

The new book is showing up in a few more places. The audio is up, as is the Nook version at Barnes & Noble. Still waiting for the paperback to be available. I guess things are slower during a holiday week. I'm afraid I'm not even doing my usual halfhearted stab at book publicity this week. Maybe I should have declined that holiday week release date, but then I'm not that worried about making all the sales this week. I'm more interested in long term, and then it doesn't matter when the book comes out.

I'm hanging out with my brother at my parents' house while my parents are off at medical appointments. I may turn back into a teenager at any moment.

Meanwhile, I've got the pastry for the chocolate pecan pie chilling in the refrigerator. Darn, I forgot to bring my blue ribbon from the church bake-off to display with it.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, and remember that books are a great way to relax after the big meal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New Book Day!

It's release day for Fairy Tale, book 3, A Kind of Magic, theoretically, though it's not necessarily showing up yet in all the formats at all the sites. I guess we'll have to be patient.

I'm taking an early and long Thanksgiving holiday. I went to my parents' house yesterday, and I'm hanging out with them for the week. That means I may not be quite as on top of all the promotional stuff as I probably should be. I won't be as tied to my desk as I usually am. I'm currently borrowing their Internet connection.

I updated my web site slightly to give info about the new book. I'll add buy links there as I get them.

This may be one of the few times when the book comes out at about the time when it's set, since it's set just before Thanksgiving, when Christmas stuff is already happening but it's not technically the Christmas season. Decorations are going up, and productions of The Nutcracker have started. There's the occasional snowflake in New York, but is that weather or something else?

I hope everyone enjoys it!

Tell your friends! Leave reviews!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Geeky TV Woes

I can't believe it's already Friday and that it's the Friday before Thanksgiving. I think mentally I'm still back in July. I still have my summer clothes in the downstairs closet and need to do a closet switch because it's supposed to get cold this weekend and my warm clothes are all still upstairs. We're also getting close to the winter finales of a lot of TV shows, and I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that the fall season has started.

Unfortunately, most of my geeky TV pleasures seem to be failing me this year. I complained at the end of the last season that it was like all the TV writers had some kind of suicide pact going to try to destroy their own shows, and it still feels that way to me. Spoilers ahead, but I'll try to keep things as vague as possible, since if you watch, you'll know what I mean and if you don't, you won't care.

Strangely enough, although I'm not that excited about Doctor Who this season, I also don't have a lot of complaints about it. The semi-serialized nature, with two-parters, gets like the old-school series (though I've never watched it in serialized form, as it seems like in the US it was always put together in a "movie" for each story). I don't have anything I actually dislike about it. I'm just afraid that Peter Capaldi will not be one of "my" Doctors. I've had more fun with the Classic era reruns from PBS and BBCAmerica than with the new episodes. But at least they don't seem to be actively attempting to destroy all that's good about the series. Unlike other shows.

I'm a bit behind on Sleepy Hollow because I'm generally out on Thursday nights and then I forget to catch up with it later, and while this season has been better than last season, the previous season just about killed it, and it's all starting to feel like a stretch with the way Ichabod seems to have had a connection to every single element of the American Revolution. I'm hoping that the two episodes I need to watch will make the arc make some kind of sense or give it some kind of purpose. Maybe they'd be better off with a Monster of the Week instead of trying to do a grand arc about the latest impending apocalypse. I'm just not sure I can forgive them going to the trope of literally demonizing the existing significant other of the male lead last season.

Speaking of which, there's Grimm. I can understand the desire to shake things up in a long-running series, but there's shaking things up and then there's removing the stuff that made it fun. For me, a big part of the enjoyment of the series came from how very ordinary the hero seemed. He's the boy next door, the nice guy with his nice girlfriend living in a cozy house -- and yet the monsters take one look at him and flee in terror. This very ordinary-seeming guy who is in no way large or menacing, who would best be described as "cute," is the monster the monsters tell horror stories about. Now they've removed all the "ordinary" from him, though I guess he's still cute and not particularly physically imposing. They demonized (again, literally) the existing girlfriend and then killed her off, and now he's moved out of the cozy house -- and in with his enemy, in one of the biggest "seriously?" moves in TV history. This woman did a shape-shifting spell to get him to think she was his girlfriend and sleep with her in order to take his powers away, which nearly got him killed, and then the spell they had to do to get his powers back was what turned his girlfriend into a monster, which was what got her killed, and then it turns out that the enemy got pregnant (their way of dealing with the actress's real-life pregnancy) and had his baby, so now he feels responsible for looking after her and the kid. So, yeah, he's having to live with his rapist who's largely responsible for the death of his girlfriend, and they seem to be setting it up for a relationship to develop, and no, just no. That happens, and I have to quit. I know the girlfriend wasn't wildly popular (that character never is) and there were some complaints about lack of "chemistry" between them (ironic, given that the actors are involved in real life), but it wasn't like they needed to get the existing significant other out of the way to make room for the relationship fans were clamoring for. This is where you want to say to the writers, "Have you actually looked at what you're writing here?" I just hope someone has noticed the ratings nosedive and maybe figured it out.

And speaking of not noticing what they're writing … I'm withholding a lot of judgment on Once Upon a Time until I see how they finish the current arc, but I'm very, very worried based on their track record and extremely screwy morality. I'm already iffy with their idea to turn the heroine into a kind of villain, not because of her actually doing anything villainous but because she sacrificed herself to take on the disembodied darkness that was going to consume everything. Strange how that sacrifice is being treated somewhat like yet another bit of "proof" that heroes aren't all that great, after all, even though she hasn't actually done anything bad under influence of the darkness that wasn't for some kind of greater good or at least out of love. Some of the supposedly reformed villains have done far worse while still being considered heroes. And then there's the fact that each thing she did that supposedly brought her closer to darkness has been to save a life. Only on this should would saving lives count as a step closer to darkness. We won't even get into how they've shown us twice in this arc that apparently the real path to villainy is being angry at a person who slaughtered your entire village. But now they've pulled off a plot development that makes very little sense in terms of a magical system or worldbuilding, even by this show's "Calvinball" standards of rules for magic. It actually has all the potential pieces to be a wonderful character arc, but the writers of this show are idiot savants who have a great talent for coming up with brilliant situations without recognizing or actually doing anything with what they've created, so I'm worried. If they screw this up, I may have to be done.

The Muppets seems to be getting better and is apparently going to be retooled during the winter hiatus. The main thing they need to remember there is that the point of Fozzie Bear is that he isn't funny. The humor comes in the way other people react to the fact that he's entirely unfunny, so giving him his own story lines doesn't work. But they did find a way to get Kermit to unironically sing "The Rainbow Connection" and still put a funny new twist on it, so there's hope.

Haven has been okay, but has lost some of its spark. Some of that comes from some offscreen issues, like having to change shooting locations mid-stream, which means the town is no longer such a character in the show. They're giving answers and wrapping things up, but it's going to be hard to evaluate this season until we see how it wraps up. Some of the episodes have been blah, while others have been deliciously tense and weird.

And I think that's all the geeky stuff I'm following right now.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Choir Christmas

I got to have both the preschool and kindergarten choirs last night, but oddly, that almost made them easier because the kindergarten is all girls, and getting a better balance of girls and boys (my group is mostly boys) helped. I think some of my boys were on their best behavior to impress the older girls. And now I have two weeks off from them, and only one more session before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, adult choir is in full swing to get ready for Christmas. For our "pops" concert, the chamber ensemble is doing a song I first sang in sixth-grade choir, "The Twelve Days After Christmas." Listening to it now, I'm amazed that a teacher would pick that for sixth graders. I get more of the jokes now. I got chosen to deliver the song's spoken punchline, and I'm not sure what it says about the way they see me that it was pretty unanimously decided that I was the one who had to say it ("Actually, I kept one of the drummers" -- this line was not in the version the sixth-grade choir sang). I'm getting to continue my trend this fall of singing works by my favorite composers, as the big choir is doing a John Williams piece. Alas, it's not "Duel of the Fates" (I so want to sing that) but rather a Christmas song from one of the Home Alone movies. I almost had enough voice to sing last night. I could get a decent sound on the notes from the middle of the staff and up, and I could kind of rasp out the lower notes but didn't make much noise. I have to sing in the chamber group Sunday morning, so I hope I have more voice by then. Even if I don't, I'm an extraneous soprano, so they'll be okay without me making much sound.

I really should do something to promote the new book, but I'm just about out of ideas. I've got to update the web site, and I should be more social on social media, but weirdly enough, when I can't talk, I seem to become less communicative online, as well. So, um, the third Fairy Tale book comes out Tuesday. Buy it. Tell others. Write reviews. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

After NaNoWriMo

I'm not doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year. Actually, I seldom do it because every other month of the year is novel writing month for me, and November is usually when I'm dealing with other things. I'm not opposed to the concept as a motivational tool, though I quibble with some of the arbitrary rules and with the choice of month (I believe January would be a much better month -- no major holiday in the middle of it, not much else going on, the eagerness from new year's resolutions that haven't been broken yet).

If you are participating and are a little more than halfway done with your novel, congratulations, but know that even if you complete the task, the job's not over yet. I've heard editors and agents moaning about how NaNoWriMo means that starting around the first of December, they're going to be bombarded with queries for what turn out to be half-baked books that are obviously NaNoWriMo products. Here are some suggestions about what you can do to not be one of the people editors and agents moan about.

1) Remember that writing "The End" doesn't mean it's over.
A fast-and-furious writing process like you have to do to write a novel in a month means that the result is a first draft, and probably a very rough draft, at that. Your book probably still needs a lot of work. In some respects, the first draft may be the easy part. Revision is where the real work comes in, and it will probably take more than a month.

2) Take your time moving forward.
There's no benefit to being one of those December 1 queriers. You'll just be lost among all the others. Instead, put your draft aside. Enjoy the holiday season. If you think of additional ideas for what you could do with this story, write them down, but don't look at the book. After the holidays, reread what you've written with fresh eyes, then plan the revisions you need to do. Make those revisions. Get a second opinion from a trusted, qualified reader. Only when you're absolutely sure the book is finished and ready should you start submitting it. Then you won't obviously fall into the crowd of overeager NaNoWriMo participants, both because of timing and because of quality. This also applies to the decision to self publish. I'm sure there will be scores of new books popping up on Amazon in December and January from authors who eagerly completed them in November. Many of these books won't be ready for publication. Take your time to make your product ready to go to market, however you do that.

3) Do your research on how to market your book
While you're putting the book aside and doing revisions, make sure you have the information you need to decide how best to get your book into the market, whether it's by finding an agent and going the route of traditional publication or by self publication. Figure out where your book fits into the market by genre and subgenre. Look at which publishers are publishing that kind of book. Research which agents are looking for that kind of material, and thoroughly vet any agents and publishers to make sure they're legitimate. Learn how they want to be approached. If you decide that self publishing is the route for you, you'll need to find a good copyeditor, possibly a developmental editor (works on the story, as opposed to grammar, spelling, and punctuation), and you'll need to decide whether to go exclusively with one venue or go broad. Learning about the various book distribution venues is a lot like researching publishers. There's more to it than uploading a file to Amazon.

4) The book you've written may not ever make it to print, and that's okay.
One of the main points behind the NaNoWriMo project is to encourage all those people who are saying they'll write a novel someday to sit down and give it a shot, and to finish it. Not every book that's written needs to be published. Sometimes, just trying it is enough. You may learn that this isn't for you. You may see that your story idea doesn't work all that well. You may have enjoyed the writing process but don't care to publish. All of that is fine. The one book I've written as a NaNoWriMo project is still sitting on my hard drive. It has a beginning, middle, and end, but it's not a finished book because it needs substantial rewrites. I'm not particularly driven to do those rewrites because I'm not sure about what the book needs to be. I've completed eight books since I wrote that one, so obviously that didn't stall me out. It was a good exercise that forced me to complete an idea that had been living in my head for a long time and that got me through a slump when I was out of the habit of writing regularly.

Hmm, maybe I should take another look at that book ...

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lazy Day

I'm being a lazy slug so far today. There were a couple of weather alerts during the night that woke me up, so I ended up sleeping late. And then since I wasn't particularly hungry and there was a book I hadn't been able to finish reading the night before, I just sat in bed and read for a while before getting up. I went upstairs to check e-mail while still in my pajamas. I may or may not try to accomplish anything today. I'm feeling better, and I have some voice back, but I don't have a lot of energy and I should probably not push it. I have some work-related reading to do, and I suppose I'd better start promoting the new book, which is coming out a week from today.

One thing I did while I didn't feel like doing anything else was watch some stuff from my DVR to clear space for all those holiday movies they're starting to show and that I'm not ready for yet. One thing I'd recorded was a PBS presentation of the musical Billy Elliot. That's the one about the boy in the British coal-mining town who wants to be a ballet dancer. I never saw the original movie, but thinking about it makes me think of Oxford because it was out in theaters during my trip there, and I remember having a chat with the landlady at the B&B where I stayed about the movie when she and her husband had taken Saturday night off to go see it. There's some really interesting dancing in the musical, but it doesn't quite work as a "musical" for me. The music is mostly pretty forgettable. There wasn't a song that stuck in my head or that would work very well out of context. I thought it was also weird how they mixed in so much tap in a show about ballet. The kid was studying ballet, but he seemed to express himself through tap. I know a lot of people study multiple forms of dance, but it was still weird to me because they're such totally different forms. Probably my favorite bit of dancing was a fantasy sequence in which an adult ballet dancer was representing the kids's possible adult self, and they did a kind of pas de deux with the adult and the kid dancing together.

But then the ending hit one of my least-favorite musical theater cliches. It seems like when the ending of a show is rather anticlimactic and doesn't lend itself to a big closing musical number, they compensate by doing a medley/montage sequence during the curtain calls, in which the whole cast comes out and does a big dance number to a mash-up of all the songs in the show. It's fun in Mamma Mia because it's basically a big ABBA singalong, though I think the originator of the trend is Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, where it's actually kind of part of the plot, since the play is a story being told by an onstage storyteller. In this case, it was rather jarring because it didn't fit the tone of the show at all and seemed to be done strictly to have the audience leaving the theater clapping and humming the songs. And it went on forever and ever, with costume changes. I think there were even dancers in one of the bits of it who weren't even in the show itself.

Now I want to see the original movie because I suspect the show added a lot of stuff that wasn't in there -- and I'm not just talking about the songs and all the characters dancing. They have it in the library system, so I'll have to check it out.

Now that it's lunchtime, I suppose I ought to get dressed, or at least switch pajamas.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Quiet Time

I had a rather quiet weekend, literally, as I completely lost my voice. My sinuses had been draining like crazy, which made my throat feel raw and sore, but I didn't know that I had no voice until I got to a choir rehearsal Saturday morning and realized I couldn't make a sound. I guess I hadn't done any talking to myself when I got up that morning. I skipped the afternoon event I was supposed to go to and instead went home and took serious antihistamines. Those are the kind that make me a bit loopy, so I was useless for the rest of the weekend. I think I'm a bit better today, but only as long as I'm taking the medicine. When a dose wears off, the sneezing and draining starts again. Maybe the rain we got last night washed some of whatever was in the air away. Or I might have to admit that I had a cold instead of allergies -- but the symptoms were very "allergy" rather than "cold." It's possible that I got a double whammy.

At any rate, today looks like a perfect day for huddling under a blanket with a cup of tea and resting. Maybe I'll do some brainstorming because I'm currently lacking any focus or any logic filter. Actual writing probably wouldn't work, but coming up with random ideas might go better than usual.

One thing I didn't realize would be so frustrating with no voice: watching TV. I didn't know how much my enjoyment of TV watching relies on snarking back at the TV. When I can't do that audibly, it's not as much fun.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Walks in the Woods

I had grand plans today for a nice walk in the woods. The weather is lovely, and I even picked up sandwich materials on the way to ballet last night. But I woke up with allergies run amok, and walking in the woods might not be the brightest thing ever to do when I have a choir rehearsal in the morning to gear up for Christmas. I think I will make a library run this afternoon because a book I requested is in and it's supposed to be a cold, rainy Sunday.

So in lieu of a walk in the woods, here are some more images from last weekend's walking in the woods.

Here's one of the more interesting bits of one of the hiking "paths." I have to use the term loosely because there was no real path. You just looked for the red marks on the trees and made your own way from mark to mark.

And here's my full dose of fall colors, taken from right behind my room. The view was north-northeast, but the setting sun hit the opposite hill and really lit it up. Just about everyone staying at the lodge was out there taking pictures of this.

Then on the second day's hike, see those rocks on the hill on the other side of the lake?

Here's the view from on top of them. I had to walk all the way around the lake and up the hill to get there.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Holding off the Holidays

It really feels like fall today. I need to do some walking errands, and then there may be some baking because I have other baking that needs to be done tomorrow. And then the weekend is already making me twitch because I'll be going from one event straight to another. There's something I was thinking of doing Sunday afternoon, but I suspect I will be retreating to the cave by then.

And what's really scary is that my weekends are fairly full from now until Thanksgiving. Then there's the weekend in December in which I have something scheduled Friday night, Saturday lunchtime, Saturday afternoon, Saturday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday night. I imagine I won't be very productive that Monday. I might end up skipping the Saturday afternoon event.

While I'm reveling in fall, Christmas is encroaching. We're working on Christmas and Advent music in choir, and the neighborhood has already put up the holiday decorations -- switching to the seasonal banners and putting the lighted garlands on the bridges. A lot of people in the neighborhood had lights up for Diwali this week, and while I know that they're not Christmas lights, part of me reacts to them that way. A lot of stores are already going full-on Christmas. At least Kroger didn't seem to be going overboard yet. Yeah, they've got the holiday items out, but Thanksgiving is a big grocery store holiday, so I guess they don't want to jump the gun.

It doesn't help that Hallmark is already on Christmas movies just about 24/7. My DVR may fill up with the ones I think sound interesting but that I refuse to watch until after Thanksgiving. I need to take another look at that one I wrote a couple of years ago and then maybe talk to my agent about what to do with it -- whether I can see if the film agent who represents my books might be able to help sell it as a screenplay or whether I should turn it into a novel.

But for now, it's fall. Colored leaves. Apples and cinnamon (I'm not a huge fan of "pumpkin spice" flavored stuff). Hot tea. Walks in the woods.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jazzing up the Nutcracker

I've made an executive decision to skip the writing post this week and move it to next week because otherwise I'd end up having to skip it Thanksgiving week, and I can't really think of anything to say today about writing. Other than that I need to do it.

As I realized yesterday, book 3 in the Fairy Tale series, A Kind of Magic, comes out in less than two weeks. Right now, it seems that only the e-book is up for pre-order, but it's supposed to be available in all formats by release day.

This one picks up maybe a couple of weeks after the previous one (I guess I don't like giving my characters a lot of rest). It appears that stabilizing things in the fairy Realm may have been bad for our world because it's starting to look like the old days of fairy tales, when strange occurrences involving the fae were more common (and thus the tales). And it's bad enough that other enchantresses are taking notice. Of course, that's right when Sophie has had a chance to get her dance career back on track with a role in the Nutcracker in New York.

I had some fun with the Nutcracker, creating my own version with a little more action in it. I watched way too many versions of that ballet when researching the book. I've never really been a fan of it, to be honest. I think it's only such a classic because it offers so many roles, with a lot of roles that can be danced by children. That means it's a staple for ballet schools, and then because so many people have danced in it, it's something they enjoy watching. But, really, if you haven't been in it and if your kid isn't in it, it can be pretty boring between the interesting parts. Almost all of the first act is pantomime without much dancing. Yet at the same time, that's the only part with any real conflict. There's the big battle with the Rat King, and the entire rest of the ballet is the celebration after that battle. Act two is the journey through the land of the snow (the part I have fun with in my version). Then act three is all the entertainment done in celebration. The snow scene can be lovely with a good corps, and then the individual act three dances can be good, though when you think about it, they're mostly based on ethnic stereotypes (depending on the version). It's definitely a ballet that's better in highlight reel form. This was the first professional ballet I ever saw, and I'd only seen the highlight reel versions before. So I was excited when I was in college and I was able to go to the Austin ballet's version, where I was promptly bored out of my skull.

I might watch it when it comes on TV, but it's the kind of thing where I read in between the good parts. Someone really needs to come up with a good alternative Christmas-season ballet.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Back to Real Life

I suppose I have to get back to normal (and remember what that is) now. I let myself be a slacker yesterday because I was very tired and my allergies were going nuts. Today, though, I need to get back to writing. I also need to unpack and do some dishes and laundry. Ugh. Real life.

Now I need to finish the book I'm working on, and then I need to decide what to write next. I should probably work on a fourth Fairy Tale book, but I don't really have a defined plot for it, just some vague ideas. While that series is doing okay, it doesn't really seem to be catching on in a way that means I need to make it a priority. I have another idea I want to play with, but I'm not sure yet if it's a standalone or series potential, and I'm not sure if switching will be a benefit or a detriment. I seem to be stuck in the place of having a small, dedicated group of fans who love my stuff, without me ever really catching on in a bigger way or getting the kind of attention that can give me a boost. And I'm not sure what I can do to get to that place other than keep writing and keep trying and hoping someday something will click.

When I start feeling like this, I have to remind myself that I'm making a good living, so while I need to keep at it and working to continue making a good living, I'm doing better than a lot of people who seem to be getting the recognition and treatment I feel like would make a big difference for me. So maybe all the stuff I wish I could have wouldn't change things all that much for me.

Which means I need to quit feeling sorry for myself and keep writing because it beats every other way I've tried to make a living. I get to make up stories all day.

Now I need to take a walk to restock on tea, and I need to make up a bunch of Henry's school friends and their friends. And I should probably do some promo work, considering I have a book coming out two weeks from today.

Monday, November 09, 2015

On the Trails

I'm now home from vacation. I had a wonderful time, but I kind of failed in the "resting and relaxing" plan to come home refreshed instead of tired. But I think I'm mentally refreshed and it's a good kind of physical tiredness. I did a lot of hiking, probably too much, and not necessarily by plan.

There are marked trails throughout this state park, but the trails aren't necessarily improved, with an obvious path. In places, there are just marks on trees, and how you get from one to the other is up to you. So you reach one marker and look for the next marker before setting off. They haven't really updated the markers that much in a while, and in a few places the markers are wrong and haven't been corrected. That's what happened to me on Friday's hike. There was a spot where I really should have turned left, but there were markers for that trail going right and I guess I looked to my right first, where there was what looked like an obvious path. But after a while the markers changed color, indicating that it was an equestrian trail rather than a hiking trail. I tried retracing my steps, but apparently there were multiple equestrian trails and I must have got onto a different one. The equestrian trails weren't on the hiking trail map. Thanks to GPS and the compass in my phone, I found a trail heading in the direction I needed to go, so I walked about three miles more than I planned. I then bought a map of the equestrian trails, just in case. It was actually a rather pleasant hike. It was just hard to enjoy during the time when I wasn't entirely sure where I was or where I was going. And there was some fun in crossing the various creeks because that's not an issue for horses, but the water would have been ankle deep on me. Fortunately, there were stepping stones and I have very good balance.

That afternoon, I took a guided tour of some of the caves in the park, and the naturalist leading the tour said that he and one of the other guys are about to do an overhaul of the trails. Just before talking to me, the other naturalist had sent him some photos of the bad markers on the trail I'd just been on, saying someone was likely to make the same mistake I did.

I got in a little reading on the porch that evening and did some relaxing. Which was good because the next hike was very strenuous -- up a mountain. I'd planned to take one of the cut-offs to not do the whole trail because the trail isn't a loop. Except the cut-off wasn't marked and wasn't an obvious trail, so I walked a bit longer than I planned and still had to walk back to where I'd parked (and I was so glad I'd driven to the trailhead instead of walking. It was only about a mile, but that mile would have killed me at that point). So I ended up doing about 8 miles that day. I really enjoyed the first four or so. The last two miles of the hike were okay. The two miles back to my car were on flat surface, so they were easy, but they weren't pleasant. When I passed the camp for people who brought their horses, I was tempted to ask for a lift.

But overall, I still had fun. It was the rare case of the reality being even better and more fun than what I'd imagined. This state park isn't that far away -- about a 4-hour drive -- so I'll have to do this more often. It's a quick trip to be in the mountains. People in Colorado would pat them on the head and say how adorable to call these mountains, and I'm not sure where you draw the line between "hill" and "mountain," but these are technically mountains, and they're the kind I like, where you can walk to the top without special gear, and there's no timber line, so there are trees all the way to the top. They're gentle, friendly mountains. So while "Ski Oklahoma" isn't going to happen, they're what I want in mountains, and they're conveniently close.

On my next trip, I may have to do a trail ride and let the horses do the walking. I'll also allow myself a lot more time to just enjoy sitting at the lodge. Saturday evening, I was sitting on the porch, looking at the colorful leaves, feeling the slight chill in the fall air, eating snickerdoodles, smelling the wood smoke from nearby campfires, and listening to the geese flying overhead, and it was all stuff that said "fall" to me for every sense.

Friday, November 06, 2015


I'm now on vacation! I spent most of yesterday driving, and by doing so I managed to miss all the bad weather. I got out of the Dallas area before the morning rain hit and had only about a five-minute patch of needing windshield wipers along the way. I had a few spots of mist while driving down major roads, and then I got off onto the scenic route through the mountains, where the mist came a little lower to ground level.

And then I hit one of the higher mountain scenic routes, up in the mountains instead of winding around the base, and there the mist got a little more intense. Like this, where it looks like the mountain is on fire between the fall colors in the trees and the strategically placed wisps of mist.

It got a lot more intense from there, where the fog was really dense. I was navigating by the stripes on the road, and all I could see were the trees right beside the road. It was rather eerie and beautiful, and iTunes cooperated by providing just the right soundtrack. Loreena McKennitt's "Dante's Prayer," the one that starts with the Russian choir, is just the thing for driving through dense fog.

And then the fog cleared a bit as I got to the other side, and it was almost sunny.

I want to make that drive again in better weather because it was gorgeous. There were a few spots where hiking trails crossed the road, so I need to look into hiking venues there. The problem is that there don't seem to be too many places to stay anywhere nearby.

I had lunch at a cute little restaurant in a restored passenger train car (amazing fried chicken, the house specialty) and made it to the state park where I'm staying right at check in. I'd just unloaded my car when the afternoon storm hit. We got some wind, lots of rain, and some spectacular lightning (especially so seen from the top of a mountain). Now it's cool and clear. This is the view from my room's porch, where I had breakfast.

And now it's time to hit the hiking trails. There's a tour of the nearby caves this afternoon that I plan to take. Otherwise, I'm just enjoying the peace. It's weird not to hear any road noise at all. I live on a major street, so it's just a part of the background, but I'm so far removed from anything other than the drive up to the lodge that I can't hear anything -- and I think I had the entire lodge to myself last night, unless someone else got in after I got the car unloaded. Mine was the only car in the lot.

(The wi-fi is slow, so I did "web-sized" versions of the photos)

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Random Thoughts While Packing

I just have a couple of things to pick up on my way to choir tonight (since that store is near the church), and I'll be ready for my trip. I have my clothes packed and all the non-refrigerated food ready to go. I need to gather a few more of my hiking/outdoors items and some other supplies like that. And I want to do a bit more tidying around the house. So it will be a busy afternoon.

Some random thoughts, etc.:

Is anyone watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on the CW? I decided to give it a shot because of some good reviews, and I'm finding it to be a lot of fun. It's kind of scratching my romantic comedy itch. It's basically a chick-lit novel in TV form, but it's also a musical, with really clever original music (rather than covers, like on Glee) performed by Broadway-caliber actors in a way that sounds like real singing, rather than over-produced and auto-tuned. The plot is straight out of chick-lit: a neurotic Manhattan attorney evaluates her life when she sees a butter commercial that asks when was the last time you were really happy, and she thinks about the time she went to summer camp in high school. When she then runs into the guy who was her camp boyfriend, she takes it as a sign. But he's moving back to his hometown in California. So she turns down a promotion to partner and moves to this rather nothing town in California (2 hours from the beach, 4 if there's traffic). She keeps claiming that it's not because of him but because she needed to make a change. And then she meets this guy's best friend. We can tell that her teen boyfriend is probably Mr. Wrong and his best friend is Mr. Right, but she's too big a mess to really see it, but on the other hand, the ex can be a decent guy and the friend can be kind of a mess. In the pilot it seemed really obvious, but they've done some interesting things with the scenario. And every so often, musical numbers break out in her head. Some are full on Broadway or Hollywood style, and a few others come closer to parodies of pop songs (a la Flight of the Conchords). There are some actual Broadway names involved, and the best friend is played by the actor who was the voice of Hans in Frozen and who was the prince in Broadway's Cinderella. Here, though, he's more of an adorkable boy next door type. He had a wonderful musical number in this week's episode that's currently stuck in my head. The show can get a little raunchier than I would prefer, but even the raunch is rather funny, so it's almost like it's satirizing the raunchy romantic comedies.

Entertainment Weekly has the new Harry Potter universe "prequel" on the cover of their upcoming issue, and it's a cruel tease because the movie doesn't come out for another year, and there's Eddie Redmayne looking rather wonderful in costume. I find him fascinating to watch as an actor, so I'm curious to see him in a less heavy film. 

Now, off to continue packing and cleaning.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

A Suspicious Type

I was utterly useless yesterday. About the only thing I accomplished was making travel playlists and washing some dishes. So today I really have to get my pre-trip act together. There will be housework! And packing! Then I'm just down to the last-minute Target and grocery runs for tomorrow. So far, the weather forecast is holding steady on rain during my travel day and sun and cool weather the rest of the time. It should be perfect for hiking, and the last fall foliage report for the area said it should be at its peak, but the trees are starting to lose leaves. I'm planning to spend much of the days hiking, the rest of the days sitting on my room's private patio, reading, drinking tea, and looking at the mountains, and the evenings using some of the fun little spa treatment things I picked up at Tuesday Morning. Supposedly, there's satellite TV, but I don't know what channels that will entail. I'm actually not sure whether I want it to just be the major networks, so I'll be forced to entertain myself in other ways and shake up my routine, or whether I want the full spectrum so I can kick back and relax after a busy day. There are picnic tables with grills near the rooms, and I've been going back and forth on whether I want to try to bring supplies for grilling anything or even just for sitting by something fire-like at night. It might be nice, but it might be more trouble than it's worth.

I made the Executive Decision a little while ago to hold off on the house purchase for a while, since there are things that the HOA has to do to this place before it can sell, anyway, and home prices may be hitting a bubble around here, and use some of the money I've saved to take care of some bucket list travel items. I've figured that I have a flexible schedule, and I can work wherever I am, so I may as well take advantage of that flexibility, especially while I'm living in a place where I don't have to worry about stuff like lawn care. So, I need to renew my passport, and then I need to start looking into those things I always wanted to do and places I always wanted to go.

Last night, I was reading a mystery novel that fit the old "weekend house party at a grand estate" model, but it was updated for the grand estate to have been turned into a hotel. I thought that sounded like something that would be fun to do, to stay in one of those places for a night or two. But preferably without the murder part.

And then my imagination got carried away and started mentally writing that mystery novel, from the perspective of the cop just trying to have a weekend getaway, with me as one of the other guests at the hotel when someone is murdered. It was a little odd seeing myself through someone else's eyes and evaluating me as a possible suspect. The other guests saw me as "that American writer," and my general aloofness and lack of interest in any group activities didn't help matters.

And no, I am not planning to write a mystery novel with myself as one of the suspects. I just want to spend a couple of nights in one of those grand old houses or a castle, no murder at all.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Concert, Vacation, and a Road Trip

I survived my busy weekend, and now it's vacation week. I don't leave until Thursday, but there's some getting ready to do. You know, essential stuff like creating road trip playlists and cleaning the house enough that I won't recoil in horror upon my return.

Meanwhile, I need to figure out a bunch of new characters who have suddenly joined the book I'm working on and what role they'll really end up playing.

We did our performance of Requiem last night, and it was wonderful. I don't know how it sounded to the audience, aside from one video someone posted to Facebook of one of the movements, and that sounded better than I imagined, so it must have been good for the audience, but it was really a wonderful experience to sing. I think my solo went well. It's hard to judge, and I'm a raging perfectionist, but I got a lot of compliments from some professional singers and from people I don't even know, so I guess I did okay. The impression I got from the way people phrased the compliments was that they really got the emotion in what I was singing, which was the idea, so I'll be happy with it. I moved people, and that was the point. I felt pretty good about it. So that's one item from the bucket list dealt with. One thing that hadn't even occurred to me was that I would get a special round of applause as a soloist. The director acknowledged the choir, then had the choir sit and the soloists stand. That was cool, but I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. I could see one of the pros, and she nodded a bit, so I did that.

I'm a little sad that we won't be singing this music anymore. I'll miss it. I got a little teary-eyed in the last movement because I realized it was almost over.

And now it's time to get ready for Christmas music. We're having a retreat to work on that next weekend.

But first, vacation week!

In other news, I did a guest post for the From the Shadows blog, providing a "Paranormal Road Trip" of New York settings from my books. Check it out!