Friday, December 18, 2015

Happy Star Wars Day!

It's Star Wars day today for me. Meanwhile, I'm still processing last night's Haven series finale. Star Wars better not make me cry because I've been fighting some kind of cold/allergies thing (not nearly as severe as what I had last month), and crying makes my nose start running again. I finally got that stopped after Haven last night. All these Christmas movies aren't helping matters.

But I have done my Christmas shopping. I need to mail my brother's gift (just across the state, so I have time), but otherwise, the "busy" part of the season is over, so I can take it easy. Tomorrow may be my movie marathon night -- fuzzy pajamas, hot cocoa, and The Holiday. Maybe Love Actually, too. It's been ages since I watched that.

Anyway, continuing my Star Wars-related posts, I have to present my unpopular opinion that I didn't totally hate the prequels. I'll admit that they work much better with liberal use of the fast-forward button and they should have been much better than they were, but there are things I like about them. I enjoyed them when I saw them and came home from the theater excited about Star Wars again.

To be totally honest, though, there's a part of me that likes to pretend that no movies other than the original exist. What I loved in that was the sense of fun and spirit of adventure, and to some extent that got bogged down in complicated mythology, family relationships, and all that. I like to try to forget everything that came before and after (within the movie chronology) and just enjoy that first movie for the fun space romp it is, without processing who's whose dad or sister or whatever and what the Force really is (it's magic, basically -- as I said, it's a fairy tale with spaceships, lasers, and robots).

If the new one can get that feeling back, I'll be happy. Now I need to go put on my Star Wars socks and my Star Wars t-shirt and get ready to wait in line to get a good seat.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How I Learned to Avoid Star Wars Spoilers

One more day until I see new Star Wars, and I'm trying not to get too excited. I guess it's a combination of not wanting to get burned again after the prequel experience and wanting to recapture the impact of the first one. I haven't been rewatching the older movies. I haven't sought out the various trailers -- I saw the one that was before the James Bond movie and I've seen TV ads, but I'm not watching repeatedly to analyze. I didn't read the review in today's paper other than to see that the local critic gave it a B+.

I learned the hard way about this with The Empire Strikes Back. For kids of the late 70s-early 80s, this was the most anticipated movie ever. When Darth Vader escaped from the Death Star, it was pretty obvious that there would be a sequel, but for a while there was no news about it. Alan Dean Foster's novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye came out as a sequel, and we all pounced on it, then were surprised when it turned out that the sequel would be something else entirely (according to Alan, when he wrote it before the first movie came out, they were thinking that would be the sequel, but everything changed when it was a smash hit).

I was living in Germany when Empire was released, so although it came out in May, we didn't get it at the base theater until early November -- Veteran's Day weekend. That made it difficult to avoid spoilers, especially if you were so eager to find out what happened that you were seeking them out. Oddly enough, the novelization was condensed and excerpted in one of my mom's women's magazines, and I eagerly read that, though the editing job on it was bad enough that it just made me more confused. Once school started in the fall, one of my friends had an extra copy of the full novelization because both sets of grandparents had sent it to her. I'd read it several times before I saw the movie. I also got the soundtrack months before I saw the movie.

So by the time I saw the movie, I pretty much had everything but the visuals memorized. I was familiar with the dialogue, I knew the plot, and I knew every music cue. That made the movie an odd experience, to be new and familiar at the same time. When you already know the lines, it's hard not to be painfully aware that this is a script being spoken by actors. I wouldn't say I was disappointed. It just wasn't the experience I wanted it to be. It wasn't until years later when the Special Editions came out and I saw the movie again at the theater that I was able to really appreciate that movie. I did learn my lesson, and I avoided all information about Return of the Jedi and the prequels before seeing them.

That November viewing does make this movie's December release a little less odd for me. I've stood in line in the cold to see a Star Wars movie, even though these have always been summer things. Actually, though, the line turned out to be unnecessary -- my dad had learned that they'd added a previously unannounced morning show at the Vogelweh theater, so he dragged us out early on Saturday morning for the early show, and the theater was almost empty because so few people knew about it. I saw it again Monday night when I went with a group of friends, and we did have to wait in line to get seats for that one.

We already have tickets for tomorrow, so the line will be to get seats, and I don't know how early we'll wait. Some waiting is kind of mandatory, just for the experience of it. It's not a Star Wars movie if you don't have to line up.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Reluctant Star Wars Fan

Since it's Star Wars week, I guess I'll continue that trip down memory lane.

As big a fan as I became, I was actually dragged into it rather reluctantly. Although the movie was released in May, we didn't see it until Labor Day. I was vaguely aware of it from reading Newsweek (yes, I was a strange child who read Newsweek), and what I'd read didn't intrigue me that much. I really hated that one poster that had Luke's shirt wide open and gave him a big, muscular chest and that really sexed-up Leia, with the plunging neckline and skirt slit up the thigh. My impression was "half-naked people fighting in space."

My dad had Labor Day off, but, for whatever odd reason, I still had school. My parents used the day to rent a steam cleaner and steam clean the carpets (my family knows how to enjoy a holiday). The rugs were still damp when I got home from school, and my parents got the idea of going to a movie so we'd be out of the house while the carpets finished drying. My dad had heard about this Star Wars thing at work, that it was basically Cowboys and Indians in space, like the old Saturday serials. I put up a protest. At the same theater, there was a Cinderella movie, The Slipper and the Rose, playing, and I wanted to see that. I even offered to go see it alone while the rest of the family saw Star Wars. I was overruled.

This was the Dark Ages before the age of the multiplex. There were maybe five or six movie screens in all of Lawton, Oklahoma, at the time, and the new theaters were the "twin" cinemas with two screens. That meant it was a really big deal that Star Wars had been held over all this time. Even that long after release, the movie sold out, and there was a long line.

My objections died pretty much the moment the music started and that scroll came on the screen (I later made a point of memorizing it), and I was utterly sold when the Star Destroyer came overhead. By the end of the movie, I was obsessed. I remember riding home in the car, using the window crank handles to operate the car's lasers to shoot down TIE fighters. I went to school the next morning eager to tell all my friends the whole story of this fabulous movie. I got the novelization in a school book order and read it so often that I practically had it memorized. I had Star Wars sheets on my bed, Star Wars posters on the wall, and it became the key bonding ingredient for most of my close friendships from that point until college -- no matter how awkward the initial introduction, once Star Wars came up, you could tell who you'd get along with.

Of course, I've never heard the end of it from my parents, who to this day will remind me that I didn't want to see it in the first place and wanted to see that Cinderella movie. I did eventually see that movie on TV years later, and it was rather forgettable, not one of my favorite adaptations. The thing is, Star Wars is as much a fairy tale as any Cinderella story. It's just dressed up in science fiction trappings, with laser swords and spaceships. But structurally, it's a fantasy about a farmboy rescuing a princess and becoming a hero by saving the kingdom. No wonder I loved it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

How Star Wars Made Me a Writer

Time is really flying past me. Not only is Christmas getting frightfully close for someone who has done absolutely zero shopping (gifts are my least favorite part of the holiday, both giving and receiving), but it's really just struck me that there will be a new Star Wars movie this week. I've mostly been ignoring it, not out of lack of interest but because I don't want to get too invested. I'm trying to go in almost as cold as I did in 1977, with no expectations.

Yeah, I'm one of those fans who goes back to 1977 (yes, I'm old), and seeing that movie was life-changing for me. Really. I'm not exaggerating. I very likely wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today if I hadn't seen that movie. I'd always amused myself by making up stories, but there was something about that movie that gave me a burning need to not just make up stories, but to tell them to other people in a way that made them feel like Star Wars made me feel. It flipped some kind of crazy creativity switch in my brain that I haven't been able to turn off since then.

My first efforts at actually writing a story down started as what I guess you'd call Star Wars fan fiction, though by the time I wrote any of it down, it no longer had any resemblance to Star Wars. As you may have noticed, there was kind of a lack of girls in the movie. Princess Leia was awesome, but there was just one of her, and if you were playing Star Wars with the neighborhood kids, there weren't enough female roles to go around. So we had to make up some. One of the characters I came up with was a female fighter pilot who had a very complicated backstory in how she joined the Rebel Alliance -- she was also a princess, from an Empire-friendly world, but she didn't agree with her parents and had been working as a spy for the Alliance from within her home until she got a critical piece of information that she had to pass on, and she knew that once it was out there everyone would know where it came from, so she ran for it, taking her piloting skills (she took private lessons as a princess) with her. This was all backstory, as most of her adventures involved just being a pilot without most people knowing she was a princess. And because I might have been the only girl in America who preferred Luke to Han, Luke was the guy she worked with, hung out with, and would probably end up with (so I felt very vindicated when Leia ended up with Han).

I played with this in my head for years, and over time the Star Wars connections fell by the wayside until she was just a princess from an oppressive world who was spying until she fled to work with the rebels. For a while, she gained a sister when I told a friend about all this and we made up a character for her. I may still have some drawings around from when we designed costumes for our characters (as 12-year-old girls, we had our priorities in order).

Strangely, I never wrote more than the first chapter or so because I hadn't yet learned how to plot. I was good at coming up with situations and characters, but the actual story part eluded me for another ten or so years. I never went back and tried to finish that story, and I don't really have any interest in doing so. It's not one of those old ideas that haunts me. But it may have been the first story I told another person when I shared it with that friend, and it was part of that lightbulb moment that started me on the path to being a writer when I realized that if I wrote down this story, it would be a book, and that would make me a writer.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Crazy Weekend

I have survived the worst (best?) of the holiday craziness. I added up that I went to three parties this weekend, baked three batches of cookies, made one batch of fudge, directed one choir, attended one concert, and sang in one concert. Ahead of me, I just have a few get-togethers with friends and a busy Christmas Eve night, but for the most part, it can now be some peaceful preparation for Christmas. I have some stuff to mail, some shopping to do, and the decorating to finish.

I need to get to the post office today, and I want to take a nice, long walk, but otherwise, I'm not going to push myself. I slept very late and am still lounging around in my pajamas. It's utterly blissful after the weekend I had.

My preschool choir was interesting Sunday morning. As I feared, they made almost no sound. They made more noise while twitching during the prayer right before they sang than they did when they were supposed to be singing. At least they did the motions, so maybe they came across like a signing choir. The way I look at it, for the parents, having their children be that quiet was actually a nice treat. They're never that quiet. We had a microphone close call, though, that reminded me of my first Christmas at this church, long before I was a children's choir director. One of the boys in the preschool choir discovered that he was near one of the microphones and that his voice seemed louder, so he started singing louder to hear himself in the monitors. Then he decided to take advantage of the opportunity to make himself heard in other ways, so he started saying his favorite words into the microphone during the song. Being a four-year-old boy, that amounted to blurting "Poop!" into the microphone.

This Sunday, we had a near miss. We had the microphones on stands facing the steps where the kids were singing, but there's also a handheld wireless microphone on the communion rail that they use for the children's time or for other things that require someone not wearing a body mic to speak. One of my kids came down from the steps during the song and picked up this microphone and started trying to talk into it, then got frustrated because it wasn't on and didn't make his voice louder. However, he was near enough one of the microphones aimed at the choir that you could hear him saying, "Why isn't this working?" over the sound of the rest of the kids whispering the song. I have no idea what he would have said if the microphone had worked. This is the kid who's notorious for bursting out with "The Wheels on the Bus" at full voice during the communion prayer a couple of years ago. Who knows, maybe the mic should have been on and then he would have actually sung.

So, anyway, today is a day of recovery and rest, and the only things I have going on this week are ballet Thursday night and Star Wars on Friday.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Cookie Madness

'Tis the season to go crazy in the kitchen. Yesterday's distraction was the need to bake cookies. I suddenly wanted a variation on my traditional spritz cookies -- something spicy that would go well with mulled wine. I found a basic recipe with some variations that included one with spice. Then I found another recipe that uses honey for part of the sugar and thought that would be interesting to try. So I started modifying the new recipe, and then discovered that although the proportions of sugar, butter, and flour were similar to my usual recipe, it had no leavening. My recipe has baking powder. I guess it might have had a more shortbread-like texture. But since I know my recipe works, I added some baking powder. I like the results, but it wasn't quite spicy enough, and although the amount of cloves was far less than the other spices, cloves still overpowered the other spices. I think since my usual recipe works, I may go back to that as a base recipe, use some honey instead of some of the sugar, and double the amount of cinnamon.

But today since I don't have a lot of time, I'll just make a batch of the usual, since I'll need it for multiple events this weekend, and then I'll work in a batch of spicy spritz Sunday afternoon so I'll have multiple kinds to bring for the pre-concert dinner at church.

And there are still other variations I'd really like to try to play with.

I've also found a company that makes additional plates for standard cookie presses. Mine requires some modifications, but they'll do those for you. They have a whole set of snowflake plates that I now desperately need (that would be so pretty with sparkling sugar). And they have a fantasy set that includes a dragon and a fairy. So next year, my spritz-making game will be off the charts. I think I also need a steampunky gear plate. I wonder if they do those.

So, off to bake the cookies!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Snowman Death Scenes

I'm done with children's choir for the year, other than them singing in church Sunday. Oh boy, do I hope they sing in church. They made almost no sound when we were practicing last night. I'd been singing along with them as they learned the song, then when they were practicing, I dropped my voice to be just enough for them to hear but not enough to drown them out, and they all dropped to match me. I explained what I was doing and why, that we want to be able to hear them, not me, and I'm singing to help them, not to be heard. It only helped slightly. We did some serious drilling on the words, in case that was the issue. But on Sunday, we may resort to them doing the motions and occasionally making a sound while I sing.

Then for fun, I got out the snowman song. It's a counting down thing, where it starts with six snowmen, then the sun comes out and melts away one snowman, so the designated kid melts, and then it repeats until they're all melted. We actually had six kids, so it was perfect. This song is usually like preschooler crack. They love it. We have to do it over and over and over again. Once they get the hang of it, we get Royal Shakespeare Company-level snowman death scenes. They're out-Shatnering Shatner as their snowmen dramatically melt. It's adorable. But I had one little boy last night who HATED it. He thought it was a sad song because he couldn't deal with the snowmen melting. He wouldn't let his snowman melt. Which was okay. His mom says bugs aren't allowed to be killed in their house. He insists that they be taken outside instead because otherwise he gets really sad. And yet he's perfectly willing to hit and kick people. It's an interesting dichotomy.

Today kicks off my crazy weekend of holiday fun, as there's a party I'll make a quick stop by on my way to dance class tonight. Then tomorrow night I'm attending a Christmas concert. Saturday there's a luncheon followed by an afternoon event and an evening party. Sunday morning my children's choir is singing (or mouthing silently), then Sunday evening there's a concert where I'm singing.

After the concert, there will be a total collapse. Fortunately, I don't have yoga Monday morning or any choir stuff on Wednesday, so I don't have to emerge from the cave again until Thursday night unless I want to.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

If You're in a Holiday Movie

So, after going through the day yesterday unable to start anything that required water, even though I seemed to have water the whole time, I got an e-mail saying they didn't get the repairs done, so we wouldn't have water today. I did about four loads of laundry last night, and I got up this morning and cleaned the bathroom, so I'm not in a crisis situation, but it's still annoying. I haven't checked yet to see whether or not I actually have water. I'm thinking of going shopping just to get out of the house and not have to worry about it, and then I have my last choir session of the year tonight. I don't think I'll try to do any real teaching with the kids. We have to practice our song for Sunday, which will take up most of the time, and then I think we'll sing some Christmas songs and then go caroling to the people setting up for dinner. If I get desperate, we'll get out crayons and make Christmas cards.

I'm continuing my blitz of holiday movies from the DVR, and I've noticed some trends of things to happen in you're in a holiday movie:

There's a good chance you work in a creative profession, or would like to -- if you have a regular job, you're an aspiring painter or photographer in your spare time, but you gave up pursuing your dream professionally because of responsibilities. Or you work at an ad agency. I decided I might as well go with the flow in the one I wrote, in which the heroine is an aspiring singer who works at a public relations agency.

If you're in a relationship, the other person is terribly, horribly wrong for you, to the point that this person could qualify as a villain. But somehow, you don't notice this until you meet the right person and can see the contrast. You seldom figure it out yourself from the mustache twirling and sneering.

If you're a man already in a relationship when you meet Miss Right, you'll know your existing significant other is evil when she starts talking about her plans to totally redecorate your home once you're married. Her plans will always be for something really stark and modern that will require you to get rid of all your cherished family keepsakes. So, basically, if you're dating someone who starts talking about redecorating your place, you should probably run right away and skip the step of someone having to change their mind on the day of the wedding.

If you buy an artificial Christmas tree, you're probably some unholy combination of Scrooge and Satan. You can tell that someone's a good person if they insist on a real tree and prefer the ones that are less than perfect.

Putting work ahead of friends or family is always wrong, no exceptions. It doesn't matter if it's a meeting on which your entire career and the future of your whole company (and the employment of everyone else who works there) hinges, it should  come in lower on your priority list than your niece or nephew's third-grade Christmas program. If you make the wrong choice, you'll probably have to suffer some kind of supernatural intervention to make you learn to be a better person.

You probably have an older person in your life who bears a remarkable resemblance to someone who was really famous and maybe had a hit TV show about 20-30 years ago but who isn't seen much these days.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Cozy Cup of Tea Books

I still haven't finished putting up my Christmas decorations. I had yet another bit of hook adhesive fail last night, and I even used a more heavy-duty one that should have been able to hold the whole thing on its own. So there's something about that spot that makes the Command hooks not work there. I really do think it might be too cold next to the window to stick. I wonder if hitting it with a hair dryer initially might make a difference. But that might damage the paint and it's not worth it. So, I guess I'll be rearranging the mantel to put on the garland like I've done just about every year.

I was planning an epic day of dish washing, laundry, and cooking to get ahead of my busy weekend, but they announced that the water would be off at least part of, possibly most or even all of the time between 9 and 3 today. As of 10, I still had water, but with the announcement, I don't dare start doing anything involving water. I suppose instead I could tidy up, or I could get really radical and write. Last week it was no power, this week, no water. It's like living in pioneer days! Except not.

I haven't done a book report in a while, but I've been in a weird reading mode that's affecting my enjoyment of books. I'm weirdly suspense-averse right now. If there's any kind of tension or suspense in what I'm reading, I have to flip to the back to make sure it works out okay before I can go on. There have been books I might have enjoyed at other times but that really bothered me because the outcomes disturbed me. Even when things work out okay and the bad guys are defeated, there are bad consequences for the good guys that I find unsettling. So I should probably switch to cozy mysteries for a while. That may be why I'm finding the TV Christmas movies so appealing. I know that nothing really bad is going to happen to the characters. This is hampering my writing right now, as well, because I can't make even mildly bad things happen to my characters, and I know I can't get away with a whole book of people sipping tea and having pleasant conversations. There needs to be at least some drama and angst, but I don't want to hurt anyone right now.

Since I'm still waiting for feedback from my agent on the book proposal, maybe this is a good time to put that book aside and work on that holiday movie script. I can write action and suspense after the holidays when maybe my life is a little more settled and less hectic.

In the meantime, any recommendations for good cozy cup of tea books that aren't full of angst and that will be comforting and reassuring?

Monday, December 07, 2015

Busy Weekend #1

I made it through busy holiday weekend #1. I took a day off work Friday to join the church women's group for an excursion to tour a display of Nativity scenes. There's a church near here that gets something like 700 Nativities lent to them for a weekend event. They're from all over the world, from all different kinds of materials, all different kinds of interpretations. It was interesting seeing some of the different cultural interpretations from other countries. There were cute scenes, artistic scenes, modern and traditional. One I found particularly interesting was from Liberia and made from spent AK-47 shell casings from the civil wars in that country. Metalworkers scavenge the casings and sculpt them into Nativity scenes that are then sold around the world to raise money for the people displaced by the civil wars. It was a real "swords into plowshares" thing. And then after that, we all went to lunch. I made it home to do some baking before going to a party.

Saturday was a day out and a walk through the mall, so now I have done my Christmas mall experience for the year. It was a rather high-end mall, so purely window shopping, though I think the sales person at Tiffany's took the browsing a little too seriously and made me try on a necklace I looked at from a distance. When she first approached us, she asked if we'd met because I looked really familiar. I couldn't help but wonder if maybe she'd seen my book cover photo and was recognizing me from that without the context to put it together, but I didn't want to bring that up. I did like the necklace, but it was something like $975 (I looked it up later on their web site), so that's not gonna happen unless something huge happens that I want to celebrate. Maybe if I make a big movie deal or make one of the big bestseller lists. But I don't often wear jewelry, and for that kind of money I could buy a nice piece of furniture.

 I got part of my decorations up in the house yesterday. The garland is on the loft and stair railing and the wreath is on the door. I got a start on the mantel garland, but one of the Command hooks I use refuses to stick. I've put it up again four times, following the directions each time, and then I barely touch the garland to it and it pops off. It's the one closest to the exterior wall, so I wonder if it's too cold there to stick properly. I may have to give up and just set it on the mantel, but the mantel is so narrow that it's rather precarious.

I need to do some cleaning before I can put up the tree, though I've been pondering whether to do that at all or to just go with the decorated garlands all over the house.

Today and tomorrow are my "quiet" days, and then starting Wednesday I have a really busy stretch. But then after Sunday night, I'll have most of the rest of next week free to recover.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Fairy Tales vs. Tales About Fairies

In case you weren't online much during the holiday week and missed it, my latest book in the Fairy Tale series came out last week, and it now seems to be available in all formats in all the usual spots.

The name of the series is a deliberate double entendre because in this series I'm using both the folklore about the fae and some of the elements of fairy tales. These are generally two entirely different things. There are very few fairies in most of the well-known fairy tales. There's a complicated etymology reason why "fairy tales" are called fairy tales, but I like J.R.R. Tolkien's reasoning in his essay "On Fairy Tales." He considers "Faerie" a place -- a magical realm -- and the fairy tales are stories that take place in this realm.

That was a big jumping-off point for the idea behind this series. I like playing with fairy tales. I like updating them, twisting them, fleshing them out. I like the structure and the patterns. But if you do much reading on fairies themselves, or the fae, they have very little in common with what we think of today. The Victorians had a lot to do with turning them into something cute for kids, but the folklore is about beautiful and dangerous creatures. There's no absolute consensus on who they are, where they came from, or where they live. Some stories consider them fallen angels who fell past earth but didn't quite make it to hell -- which may have something to do with reasons why religious elements are often considered good ways to fight them. Some folklore considers them to be like ghosts. They're the dead living in their own realm and occasionally crossing into ours. I went with the idea that they're a different kind of being that lives in a kind of parallel universe that intersects ours. To go there physically, without going through a magical portal, you have to go underground -- most of the folklore on the subject mentions going under hills -- but once you're past the Borderlands, you're basically in another dimension.

One common theme of stories about the fae is that they're something that used to be a lot more common but that is currently fading. Even stories told in the Middle Ages refer to a past time when they were more common. They're seen as something incompatible with modern society, whatever "modern" happens to be at that point in time. One of my reference books, by a scholar who's researched fairy folklore, is called The Vanishing People , because they were always said to be on their way out. This was a theme I went with in the latest book -- was there a reason they seemed to fade from view, could they make a comeback, and what would happen if they did? There may still be a few places in the world where they'd know exactly what to do if fairies made a reappearance -- Iceland, some rural areas in the British Isles -- but the rest of the world would be defenseless, if they were even able to make themselves believe. On the other hand, our world might be poisonous to them. For both sides to survive, it takes a balance. Have the things our heroes have done recently to stabilize the fairy Realm made things more dangerous or less? And what can they do on this side of the border to keep the world safe?

I find the old stories of the scary kind of fae far more interesting than the cutesy Disney creations -- though the original Tinkerbell actually has a lot in common with traditional fae, and she's not nearly as sweet and cute as the Disney version. There's a lot of material there for me to work with.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Preparing to Write

This will be my last "official" writing post of the year because things are about to get crazy for the holidays. I may discuss story, characters, and stuff like that at random times in my blog, because that's stuff I talk about.

If you didn't do National Novel Writing Month but are thinking about making a New Year's resolution to write a book next year, now's the time to start preparing yourself for success. What do you need to do to get ready to write a book?

A lot of that depends on the kind of writer you are. There are people who work best by just sitting down and writing, letting the story come on the spur of the moment. But I think most of us work a little better by doing some preparation, and how much and how formal the preparation is depends on the way you work. Here are some things you might want to think about before you write your book.

Who is your protagonist? What does this person want? Why does he/she want it or need it? What is keeping him/her from getting it? Those are the main things you need to know about your main character, and it's possible to start writing once you know these things. Or you may want to figure out more. It's not necessary to know where your hero went to elementary school or what his favorite subject was, but it helps to know what he does for a living, something about his level of education, and what he cares about. What does he really need, deep down inside, that drives his actions?

Then you need to figure out who your antagonist is, who may or may not be a villain, depending on the kind of story you're writing. An antagonist is basically the person (or force) getting in the way of the hero getting what she wants. The hero may also have internal issues getting in the way, but in genre fiction, you generally also need an outside force causing problems. The antagonist may be directly opposing the hero, or they may just be competing to get the same thing.

You can figure out who the other people in the protagonist's life are ahead of time or they may pop up as you write.

Where/when does your story take place? This is going to affect the plot and the characters. It has a lot to do with who your characters are and what they can do. It also will dictate how events play out -- the story is going to be very different depending on whether immediate, constant communication is possible, for instance. If you're using a setting different from your everyday experiences, you may want to do some research before you start writing. Read books about the time or place. Watch videos of that place. Look at photos. This would be good stuff to do during the holiday season when you're too distracted to start writing but want to feel like you're doing prep work. I think even total seat-of-the-pants writers who feel hampered by outlines can benefit from immersing themselves in the setting of the book they plan to write.

This is where writers really differ. The sit-down-and-write people often lose all enthusiasm for a project once they've outlined it. They need to surprise themselves. On the other extreme are those who not only have a plot outline but also storyboard each scene. Then there's everything in between. You can have a rough outline with major turning points. You can have the protagonist's and antagonist's goals and conflicts and nothing more. You can have a rough outline that you add to in more detail as you go, so that you plan each section or scene before you write it. You can do this work on paper, on a spreadsheet, in a flow chart, or just in your head. I do find that the more I think about a project before I write it, whether or not I write anything down, the easier it is for me to write it. I can do this kind of thinking while I do other things, like housework, exercise, or driving. That makes it ideal writing "work" to do during the busy holidays. You can think about your book as you bake, shop, wrap presents, clean house, or travel. Then on January 2 when you sit down to write that novel, you'll be ready to go.

Have a happy holiday season, and remember that books make great gifts. If you want seasonal reading, my latest release, A Kind of Magic, is set around the holiday season.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Knitting in the Dark

Yesterday I came to realize just how much I rely upon electricity. There was a loud boom nearby mid-afternoon, the power went out, then there were sirens. Soon, there was a fire truck at the intersection behind my house and three police cars with the cops directing traffic, since the signal lights were out. It was pretty localized, as the lights a block away were working. I'd been planning to wash dishes, but I didn't want to use up the hot water. I could use the laptop, but there was no Internet. I ended up collecting and taking out the trash, cutting up a pineapple, and then practicing some of my choir music because the keyboard is battery-operated. Fortunately, my house gets a lot of natural light, so the lack of lights was only an issue in the bathroom, which has no windows.

About 30-45 minutes later, the power was back on. It went off again soon after five, right when I was getting ready to make dinner. But with no electricity, there was no cooking. I'd just made a pot of tea, so I had some in the thermos, and it was still mostly daylight, but getting dark. I opened the blinds and lit some candles and did some knitting. About half an hour later, the power was back, and I was able to make dinner.

The power went out again soon after nine, and this time it was pitch black, since the streetlights were also out (though the traffic signals were working). Normally, I get enough light from streetlights that my house is never entirely dark at night. I can find my way around pretty well, but it was shocking just how dark it was. I was very lucky that I'd become paranoid after all the power failures and was carrying a flashlight with me from room to room. I was glad I'd bought a solar-powered lantern on clearance at Target, and it still had a good charge, so that got me some light. I lit the candles in the fireplace candelabra, which cast a good light on the whole living room. I also had a few flameless LED candles in the frosted glass globes I salvaged from my old ceiling fan, and a few other candles (I like candles, and people keep giving them to me as gifts). By the time I had everything lit, my house almost looked like I had a light on from outside, and it was the only light showing. My neighbors must think I either have a backup generator or a special deal with the power company. Still, though it was enough light to move around, it wasn't enough to do much of anything. I did some knitting on a simple project that doesn't require following a pattern and that uses fat enough yarn that I can feel each stitch. I did a little online browsing with my phone. When we were approaching ten, I decided I might as well go to bed. I could get some rest and stay warm.

And of course, right as I got in bed, the power came back on. I still went to bed early, since I was already there. But I can see where the early to bed, early to rise ethic came from. You may as well arrange your life around access to light.

I guess I could have done some writing, since the laptop was charged and doesn't require light, but I was pretty distracted by the "why don't I have power, will it come back, when will it come back?" issue. However, when I went to bed early, I dreamed the next scene to write, so I might get that done today.