Friday, January 29, 2016

Time to Travel! (in 4-6 weeks)

I completed a major achievement this morning before 9:30, so I should get the rest of the day off, right? It kind of feels that way. What did I do? I applied for a passport.

That may not sound major, but I've been procrastinating about that for more than a year. Well, possibly even longer than that because I put off renewing the old passport until I missed the window, and then I waited a few more years because I wasn't even thinking about travel then. About a year and a half ago I started thinking that maybe I should do something about it, but most of the info I found said that you had to call to make an appointment at the post office, and if I have to call to make an appointment, it's probably not going to happen. I hate the telephone and get serious anxiety about making phone calls. If my house were on fire, I might be tempted to walk down the street to the fire station to report it rather than make myself dial 911. Really, it's that bad.

So I put off making the scary phone call. There were excuses like I was going to be out of town or busy, so I shouldn't make an appointment. Finally, earlier this month, I pulled together the courage and called, only to be told I'd have to call back at the end of the month and see if I could get an appointment for the next month. So the county government office started looking better, even though there had been articles in the newspaper about the terrible wait times (the reason I was going to force myself to make an appointment at the post office). There was a picture in the paper of the 2-3 hour line. But I figured that was better than waiting months to get an appointment. I put off that a few times because I felt it would be better to go in the morning, and so I set the alarm to get up early, and most of the time I changed my mind. Then last week I was going to do it, but I found a review of the place that said in spite of them saying they did photos, they didn't, and that meant I needed to get a photo taken.

So this week I got the photo done at the new CVS they just built down the block. There was a false start yesterday when I couldn't drag myself out of bed, and I finally did it this morning, though I left later than I hoped. I packed some bottled water, some snacks, and a book, ready to stand and wait for three hours.

And then I walked in, found no line, wondered if I was in the right place or if something was wrong, and one of the three clerks at open windows called me over. I was in and out in fifteen minutes, home before I'd normally be up and at my desk. The clerk did say this was unusual and that if I'd come in the afternoon, there would have been a long line. He laughed when I said I'd brought snacks and a book.

So now that big item on the to-do list is taken care of. It's been glaring at me from my ongoing task list for months, so it feels like a massive accomplishment to check it off. I don't have a specific trip planned, though there is one I'd like to make to research a couple of books. I just want to have the passport handy so that if something comes up, I can take advantage of the opportunity. I've said I want to start hitting all those bucket list items, since I finally have some money for travel, and I want to do things while I'm still young and healthy. I can do my job anywhere, so why not do my writing in the evening in a hotel room after a day of sightseeing?

Since I'd put together a light to-do list because of the anticipated hours of waiting in line, that means the rest of my day is clear for writing, and then I can have a guilt-free TV night to watch the return of Grimm.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Write Faster!

I was very pleased with myself for getting something accomplished yesterday even though it was a choir night. I've been really bad about that lately. But so far this week, I'm on track to have produced words every day. I'm sensing that there might be a struggle today because I'm so sleepy and I finished a big scene yesterday without figuring out what happens next. However, I found myself daydreaming some potential scenes.

Meanwhile, scenes from the Fairy Tale universe are starting to play in my head. I don't know if they'll end up in a book, but the characters are starting to take action, and I know what the main plot for the next book will likely be about. However, if it goes like any of the previous books, when I get about 3/4 of the way through, I'll realize what's really going on behind what I thought was the main plot and I'll have to rewrite the whole thing.

I saw someone talking yesterday about publishing a new book (via independent publishing) every four to seven weeks, and that's blowing my mind. I thought I was a fairly quick writer. If I'm really working at it, I can do a rough draft of a full novel of around 90,000 to 100,000 words in a month, but then I need at least a month for revisions. And then there's at least another week or two of dealing with copyedits and proofing. The only way I could imagine getting a book out even every six weeks is if they were a lot shorter, and there my problem is that my books fit the length of my ideas, so I'd end up having to do a cliffhanger and put out one book as two shorter books. All of this may be why I'm not one of those self-published Amazon millionaires. I admit I don't spend as much time writing as some people, but quality of life has to count for something, and I feel like I've run out of words after a certain amount of time. I'm trying to build up my writing endurance and my time management to produce more and faster, mostly because I have so many ideas that I want to write that I'm afraid I'll never get to.

I'm probably between the two publishing worlds. I write too quickly for traditional publishing, where they only want a book a year, at most. But I'm too slow for independent publishing, where you need a new book every couple of months to gain and keep any momentum. This is why I try to do a little of both. It's also why I'm trying to work on some shorter pieces that could serve as in-between releases to maintain a presence. I'm also considering doing something more serialized -- shorter chunks of a larger story produced more frequently. The industry has changed so much since I got started that there are more ways to do things and there's room to innovate. Really, though, the serial idea isn't so much an innovation as it is a return to the Dickens era. All those doorstopper novels of his were published originally as serials in magazines and newspapers, and those individual installments were later compiled into books. If you were eager to see what happened next, you bought the magazines as they came out, but there was still the option of waiting for the whole book.

But for now, I need to finish the book I'm working on and gear up for a convention in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Problem Characters: The Strong Female Character

In my writing posts (every other Wednesday), I'm discussing "problem" characters. These may be characters who are difficult to write or who may trip you up. This week I'm looking at the "strong female character."

This is a weird one because it sounds good but is so often a big failure. People know this kind of character should be included, but they may go about it the wrong way and not actually write a strong female character. And then there's the problem of cultural expectations and ideas of what this really is, so even if you write a truly strong female character, there will be people in the audience who claim that what you've written isn't really one.

Here are some things that a strong female character isn't (necessarily -- she might be some of these things, but she doesn't have to be any of them):
  • A warrior and expert in martial arts
  • Stoic and emotionless
  • Someone who punches a male character in the face as soon as she meets him
  • Someone who doesn't do anything stereotypically feminine
  • Someone who never has to be rescued or helped

You'd think from the way that "strong" women are so often written that a strong woman is Rambo in drag. On the other hand, there are people who'll complain that a woman isn't strong if she has any weakness whatsoever, if she ever needs help or shows emotion.

What is a strong female character? Really, it boils down to a person who makes decisions and takes action that affects the story.

This is where a lot of attempts at strong female characters fail. Some critics are calling it "Trinity Syndrome," after the character in The Matrix. These are characters with a lot of traits we think of as "strong" -- they're strong fighters who are tough and hard. They may say harsh things to the hero or even hit him. They seem to know their way around the situation and may even serve as a guide to the hero at first. And then they're abruptly sidelined for the rest of the story, playing the kinds of roles that women typically get in stories, where they either have to be rescued, prop up the hero, make the hero feel sad if something happens to them, or serve as a reward for his success.

If you could replace a female character with a valuable object without the plot changing significantly, you don't have a strong female character, no matter how many black belts she has. The hero might be seeking to obtain this object/person, he might be rewarded with it/her if he's successful in reaching his story goal, having this object/person makes him feel better so that he has the confidence to go after his goal, or losing this object/person makes him feel sad or want revenge on the person who took it/her.

This doesn't mean that you can't have male heroes or that women always have to play a key role. But don't delude yourself into thinking you've written a strong woman when you haven't.

What are some traits of a strong female (or male) character?
  • Intelligence -- able to assess a situation and come up with or contribute to a plan, able to think on the fly and improvise when the plan doesn't work (even a sidekick can do this)
  • Skills -- yeah, martial arts might fit in here, but linguistics, communication skills, mechanical aptitude, and even domestic arts fit in here. The person who can glean and scrounge up a meal on the road is going to be valuable to a questing party, and there's a difference between this being treated as a real skill that is appreciated and "you're the girl, so cook us something."
  • Resilience -- the ability to bounce back physically and emotionally when things go wrong.

A non-strong female character might sit in a tower and wait to be rescued. A strong female character might still be a prisoner and might still need some degree of rescuing, but she might improvise weapons from items in her cell that come in handy during the escape. She might be observing the guards, their personalities, and their routines so she can help guide her rescuers on their way back out. She might get out of her cell on her own and meet her rescuers halfway. She might have signaled her location. She might have won over one of her guards. Or even if she has to be rescued without contributing to her own escape, she holds up to torture rather than giving up her side, and she observes enough while a prisoner to get valuable intelligence that helps her side. She does something that makes a difference in how the story goes.

One trap that's easy to fall into when attempting to write a strong female character is the "not like other girls" trope (you can look this up on TV Tropes if you have time to fall into a rabbit hole, but I won't link because I'm a nice person). That's where the character's merit isn't measured against an ideal or against the entire species, but rather just against other women. The message that sends is that women are useless and silly, but this one woman is different. I really hate it when I see this in children's and young adult books, and it's endemic there. This is what you get where all those other girls are silly and useless because they like girl stuff like clothes and boys and romance and cooking and sewing, etc., but this one girl is awesome because she's not like them at all. She's more like a boy and likes sports and fighting and action. This, to me, is worse than the damsel in distress because at least the damsel isn't being demonized for being female. She's considered desirable even if she's essentially an object. The "not like other girls" routine demonizes the entire gender in order to prop up one character.

Not every woman in a story has to be a strong character, but then again, neither does every man. There are sidekicks and human scenery. It's just more common for the female characters to fall into those roles, so it's good to take a look at the people you're writing.

Next, I'll tackle one that may seem to be odd as a problem character: the hero.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


I felt such a sense of achievement yesterday from doing things that I would normally procrastinate about. So now I have a hotel room for WorldCon this summer and filled out the programming survey. There's still no guarantee I'll get any programming, but I've done what I can to try to give them reasons to use me.

I've also started the brainstorming for a fourth Fairy Tale book, and I think I have the core plot idea. It needs a lot more development, but that's why I'm doing this work in the background while I write other things. These books refuse to be linear and always take me a lot longer to write than everything else I do, so I'm trying something new and doing the development work while I write stuff that's clearer. That way, I may be able to get more books out.

I had another chorale rehearsal last night, and it's definitely a learning experience because the director is very different from anyone I've ever worked with. I'm having to change a lot of the ways I do things, and then will have to change back for my regular choir (fortunately, we're not doing anything at all like this piece for a while). My regular choir director will be performing this with us, but only making it to the final rehearsals, so I can't wait to see his reaction. I guess I'll stick with this, but I must admit that it's hard to drag myself out on Monday nights.

I'm approaching the big midpoint event in the book I'm working on, and it wasn't even an event I initially planned for this book. Funny how that happens. I was just mentally running through things that might happen in this location but running against the fact that most of the things this location is known for wouldn't have happened in this alternate history. But then I realized that one of them could happen now in the story, in a different way. And it's going to be tons of fun. That's what I get to write today.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Sneak Peek at The Magicians

Yoga started again this morning, so I got a good stretchy start to the week and forced myself out of bed. Now to see if I can carry that energy through the rest of the day and the week. I made a huge pot roast yesterday, so I won't be having to do much cooking the rest of the week, other than maybe coming up with other things to do with leftover roast. I'm thinking Friday night's dinner will be beef pot pie.

Over the weekend, I found that the first episode of The Magicians, which starts with the first two parts tonight, was available on demand, so I gave it a shot.

I wasn't crazy about the book. I liked the idea of it because I wanted more contemporary fantasy that was about wizards and magic rather than vampires and werewolves, but the book itself struck me as cynical and derivative. It seemed to me more a case of "fantasy" about fantasy fans rather than a book written for fans of fantasy. It seemed to be trying too hard to be "edgy" in the sense of "Harry Potter, but with drinking, sex, smoking, and drugs!" and that made me dislike the characters. I never bothered reading beyond the first book, especially because the way the characters were at the end of the first book made me really intensely dislike them. It seemed to me that the fantasy tropes were all obviously taken directly from well-known works, and in some cases from a superficial understanding of those works.

However, I kind of liked the first episode of the series, though there's still a chance that I'll turn against it (since I was still okay with the book that far into it). In a nutshell, the series (the book is slightly different) is about a young man who's getting ready for graduate school but who is still obsessed with a series of fantasy novels (basically Not!Narnia) that provide his escape when the real world is too intense. He goes to a grad school interview in Brooklyn and finds himself at a school in upstate New York, where he's being tested on magical aptitude. He gets into the school for magical training, but he starts having strange visions of that fantasy world from his favorite books, with one of the characters giving him cryptic warnings. Meanwhile, his best friend also ended up at the aptitude test, but she failed and was sent home, supposedly with her memory wiped. But she does remember and becomes obsessed with the idea of magic and wanting to learn to use it.

They seem to be aging it up from college to grad school in the series, and on the one hand that's good because it avoids making it a teen thing (see the Shannara series) and it makes some of the goings on at school a little less sketchy if these are all 20-something adults. On the other hand, a guy in his early 20s who gets annoyed that his friends aren't as into the series of kids' books they were obsessed with in their teens does sound a little weird. Mostly, I like the imagery in the series. I like the world they've created, and I think they've done a good job of making it its own distinct place rather than Not!Hogwarts and Not!Narnia. I could never get the originals out of my head while reading the book, but the series creates its own world. I still feel like they're trying way too hard to be edgy, but that's just my personal taste.

Bottom line: I'll check out the next part and then see if I want to keep up with it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Not Snowed In

I had a really good writing day yesterday, moving the book forward significantly. And I know what happens next, so today should be good, as well. I'd been kind of stuck for a while, so it's good to feel like I'm moving forward. It probably helped that it was cold and rainy outside, with the wind howling madly. That makes huddling under a blanket with my laptop and a cup of tea very appealing. Today it's still cold and with howling wind, but it's sunny, so it's a different atmosphere. In a weird way, I'm a little jealous of the people getting snowed in. I'd get so much reading and writing done.

Not that being snowed in would change things all that significantly for me. It would just eliminate the few occasions I have that require me to leave the house.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to do DVR catchup on some of the new stuff.

There's Mercy Street on PBS, the Civil War drama that comes on after Downton Abbey. I'm so-so on it. The Civil War era has never really interested me all that much, and this series so far seems to hit all the tropes. I could probably write a very accurate outline of how the rest of the series is going to go. But I like the cast, so I may give it at least one more episode before I try to fight off the sense of obligation (because it's PBS and therefore Good For Me).

I'm most of the way through the first installment of War & Peace (showing simultaneously on History, A&E and Lifetime), and I like what I've seen of it. It's the same writer who did the Pride and Prejudice adaptation in the 90s. I've seen some comments that it's too "British," but that's probably going to be the case in something produced by the BBC. Plus, at the time the Russian nobility was trying hard not to be Russian. They were emulating the west and most of them spoke French at home. I only got a jarring sense when someone had an obvious regional British accent rather than the generic "BBC Accent" that's generally become TV/movie code for "not American." The music and setting gives it a touch of Russian flair. I was a little distracted by the constant wondering of "who is that under that wig, and what else have I seen him/her in?" but a bout with IMDB should take care of that so I can focus on the story. I'm afraid it's going to make me want to read the book, and I really don't have time to wade through that right now. See, I need a blizzard. Mostly, this series is reminding me of the glory days of A&E, when it looked like they were going to be serious competition for PBS rather than the home of a lot of trashy stuff.

I keep giving that Shannara series one more chance. I'm not sure I could just sit and watch it. I use it for knitting background noise, and there's a fair amount of snarking. I've had to give up imagining any link between the book and the series. It looks like the latest episode finally set up and launched them on the quest that was the main plot of the book, so they get one more before I decide I'd rather just re-read the book. Right now, I don't like any of the younger leading characters.

My big joy at the moment is Galavant, for all its poking fun at fantasy (and other) tropes and catchy earworm songs that are so warped but still quite good music. A couple of weeks ago, we had the lovely ballad "Maybe You Won't Die Alone." Last week, they did an insanely wonderful sendup of West Side Story, involving a fight between the dwarfs and the giants (all of whom were average-size men), and then there was the rousing Les Miserables parody. All shows should be forced to label their Forest of Coincidence as such.

I have a relatively quiet weekend, with just an afternoon/evening event on Saturday, which is nice. I like having a Saturday morning without the need to get up and go anywhere anytime soon. I can put on some music and linger over the newspaper and crossword puzzle as I drink my tea. If it warms up Sunday, I may take a walk, if I can find a walking path that's not under water. All my "I need trees!" routes are currently closed.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A New Look at Old Tales

Because I use fairy tale themes so much in my work, a few (well, probably more than that by now) years ago I made a point of reading the entire collection of the Grimms' fairy tales. I wanted to make sure I was getting closer to the original versions rather than the Disney versions that have become so ingrained in our popular culture. For one thing, the Disney versions are under copyright, so they're not really fair game to play with. For another, anyone who knows the tales would recognize that you're not working with source material (it's like anyone doing a Wizard of Oz riff and having Dorothy's shoes be red -- they're clearly working from the movie rather than the book).

One glaring example is the "true love's kiss" that's become such a huge part of the fairy tale imagery, but it mostly comes from Disney. In the Snow White fairy tale, the prince doesn't revive Snow White with a kiss. He merely falls in love with her corpse in its glass coffin (which says a lot about him) and wants to bring the coffin home to have with him (which says even more about this guy). When the coffin is being moved, it dislodges the bite of poisoned apple from Snow White's throat, which revives her. While there are some versions of the Sleeping Beauty story in which the prince's kiss wakes her, there's also a version in which instead of kissing her, he rapes her unconscious body, she gets pregnant and delivers twins, and she wakes up when one of the babies sucks on her finger, which removes the sliver of enchanted spindle. In the frog prince story, in most versions the princess doesn't turn the enchanted frog back into a prince by kissing him. She throws him against a wall. Yes, very romantic.

Anyway, I've been toying with an idea that plays with some fairy tale tropes, and I recalled at least one tale that's not as well known. It starts with the familiar type of story about the unlikely commoner who completes impossible tasks and thereby wins the hand of the princess, but instead of them just living happily ever after and the story ending there, there's a part 2 to the story in which the princess and her mother are not at all happy that the king is giving her away to this lowly guy, so they scheme to kill him off by sending him off on a quest they know will be deadly. I couldn't remember all the details or the name of the story, so I decided a re-read was in order. But the library didn't have the book I read before in, but they did have a new book that's a new translation of the first edition of the Grimm stories. The Grimms went through a number of revisions after their first publication, and it's the later versions that became better known.

While there's a lot of talk about the Grimms sanitizing the stories as they went on, I didn't see much of that. The earlier version was no more bloody than the later ones, as far as I could tell. There might have been one or two cases of a mother who became a stepmother in later versions, and there might have been a little more moralizing inserted later, but there was still plenty of that here. The main difference I saw (and that was pointed out in the introduction by the translator/editor) was in writing style. This version was a lot easier to read because it's so much less florid. It's a very direct style, like a straight transcription of oral storytelling. In later editions, they tried to make the tales more literary, inserting descriptions and transitions and trying to make the tales flow better so that later twists are set up and plot threads aren't left dangling.

The results are somewhat mixed. While this version is easier to read without all the verbal ornamentation, the stories themselves can get pretty crazy, lurching from event to event as the storyteller threw things in or forgot things or circled back when telling a tale from memory. Come to think of it, some of it reads a lot like the plotting on Once Upon a Time, so maybe they're trying to be authentic. There were some stories I didn't recall reading before that must have been dropped from later editions, and there were some I recalled that didn't seem to be there in a form I recognized (including the one I was looking for, unless the part 2 I remembered was a later addition). After this first publication, they were inundated with new stories people submitted, so I guess they added some and dropped others.

If you like reading fairy tales, it's worth looking for this edition, translated and edited by Jack Zipes. Even for the old, familiar stories, the different language gives them a fresh look. This might also be a good introduction to the Grimm tales because some of the later editions can be a real slog.

Now I need to find that story I'm looking for.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Getting the Word Out

At the beginning of the year, I tend to go heavy into planning mode. I make lists of projects, come up with new time management schemes, and do hypothetical business plans. I'm trying to work on some new publicity plans, since I really need to boost my visibility and have learned that even when I'm working with a major publisher, most of it's going to come down to me. But even though this was my "real job" career for twenty years, this is something I struggle with. There's a reason I don't have that career anymore. I went through several years of almost no income (though fortunately with a savings cushion) to try to get the writing career going rather than try to find another PR job. So a lot of my publicity efforts amount to me huddling in a corner and whimpering "don't make me do that." On the other hand, it's kind of essential if I don't want to have to get another real job.

Yeah, I have crazy dreams about having a book that publishers fight over so that I get a big advance and then they actually do publicity for it and push the book, and that book then raises the profile of all my other books, so I'm making more from my backlist, and the push on the new book means that book sells well enough that they're eager for my next book. The reality has been more that only one publisher is grudgingly interested in my book and it's low on the priority list for promotion, and then in spite of good reviews and strong fan support (it seems that while not that many people have heard of my books, the people who have read them love them) the books aren't selling quite as well as they'd like, so I don't get another contract and have to start all over again.

So, I need to take a stronger role in promotion, but that world has changed since I last had that job, and most of what I know how to do is only repeatedly getting the word out to my existing fans, which helps (if everyone who'd bought Enchanted, Inc. had bought Rebel Mechanics, things would be very different right now), but there does seem to be a barrier I haven't managed to break through into some of the book venues in my genre. A lot of the things I've tried have hit with a dull thud.

Out of curiosity, what works to get your attention about books? Do you subscribe to author newsletters? Do you ever learn about books via Facebook ads or other online advertising? Do you read book blogs? Do you look at and share book videos? Are blogs still viable? Does social media really matter?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Weekend Entertainment

I had my first rehearsal with the community chorale last night. It turns out they really don't need another soprano. I think there were more sopranos than all the other parts combined. I'm also utterly drained, for some odd reason, so I'm worried about my productivity today. I may give it another week, see what the balance is and see how I react afterward. It's not as though I've really committed.

I forgot to discuss my weekend entertainment, other than the music workshop. I managed to be first on the request list at the library for Alan Dean Foster's new Star Wars novelization, and of course that became available on Friday when I was out all day. But I got home just in time to swing by the library before it closed. It seemed like this one was pretty short compared to the other novelizations, and it didn't add all that much to the movie, just a couple of what seemed to be trimmed scenes or moments and some introspection of some of the characters. One or two things became a little more clear, and although I'm no physicist, I got the feeling that the science behind one of the things made more sense the way it was described in the novel than it appeared to in the movie. It's worth a read for completion's sake, but I definitely wouldn't pay hardcover prices for it. I'm not even sure I'd buy this one as a mass market paperback, since I can't imagine re-reading it a lot in this era when we can easily rewatch the movie once it comes out on DVD.

For my movie viewing, I did my Alan Rickman tribute by watching A Little Chaos on HBO. This was one of his last film appearances, and it turned out to be even more of a tribute than I realized because he also directed it and was one of the writers. It's a nice little costume drama about the creation of the gardens at Versailles. Rickman played Louis XIV, but the main character was a female garden designer played by Kate Winslet, and the leading man was the head garden designer, played by the same guy from Far From the Madding Crowd, so I guess I've had a theme going lately. There was some conflict about the idea of order vs. the chaos of nature, but mostly it was about trying to create something beautiful and how that affects people. It was definitely a "spot the actor you know from another costume drama" kind of movie, which is always fun. It really made me want to create a garden. Maybe I should rearrange my Christmas cacti.

I've got a bunch of stuff piling up on the DVR. I went to bed early Sunday night, so I didn't manage to watch the premiere of Mercy Street, and I was at rehearsal last night, so I haven't yet watched the first episode of War and Peace. I have so much stuff going on this week and this weekend that I don't know when I'll catch up. Sunday afternoon may have to be some serious sofa time.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Talking to Myself

I spent Friday and Saturday at a church music workshop. Friday, I went to sessions about teaching young children, and I think I've found some keys to working with my crazy bunch. The teacher had some great ideas for encouraging reluctant kids to sing, which is the problem I have this year. There are all kinds of little steps you can take to gradually increase their comfort level. One big change I'll have to make is to sing to them rather than with them. I can model the song to them to teach it, but then I need to back out and let them sing it on their on. If I'm singing, they'll just listen to me or they'll think no one will notice if they don't sing, and it then sounds weird to them to sing in church when I'm not singing with them. It's so obvious, but it hadn't occurred to me.

Saturday, I went to sessions on vocal health. They had a speech pathologist who specializes in the voice presenting (from the med school where I used to work), and while a lot of it wasn't new info, I picked up some good warm ups and exercises that will be great for me as a singer, but that I think I can also introduce to the kids as games. I was sitting next to my choir director in these workshops, so we were comparing notes and sharing our findings Sunday morning.

In between, they have reading sessions where everyone sat in the chapel, and they passed out packets of music that we all then sang together. I think the main idea is to help choir directors hear music they might want to use while also getting to see how various guest conductors conduct, but for me, it's exercise in sight reading, and since you don't sit in sections, it forces you to not lean on the other people around you. It can be scary when you can't hear anyone else singing your part (and especially when you're singing soprano, so it's very exposed), and it's a little intimidating for me because most of the people in the room are choir directors and professional singers, while I'm there as someone who volunteers with children's choir. But I think I held my own pretty well.

I love this workshop so much that it's one of the reasons I keep on as a children's choir director.

Now, though, I'm back in writer mode. One thing I learned from the vocal health sessions was that, although overuse is more of a problem for most of their patients, non-use is also an issue, so I need to make a point of talking or singing during the day. My pattern of silence Monday and Tuesday, then lots of singing Wednesday, mostly silence Thursday and Friday, some talking Saturday (depending on my social schedule), and then singing Sunday isn't good for me. I need to do a little each day. Since I start Requiem rehearsals with the community chorus tonight, that will add a little more singing to the mix.

So, maybe I should do more brainstorming out loud. I have a medical recommendation to talk to myself. I suspect that talking to imaginary people is okay. I'll just need different medical help if they answer out loud.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Figuring Out Plan B

This is a short work week for me because tomorrow (and Saturday) I'll be at the Choristers' Guild workshop, so I'll be spending a couple of days in choir director/singer mode. Having to get up that early (registration Friday is at 7:30, and it's at least a half-hour drive to get there) is going to be a shock to my system. I'm currently in hibernation mode, which means it's very hard to wake up in the morning.

And then to make things even more fun, I have an 8-10 a.m. service window Monday morning for my furnace checkup. I think someone believes I should be getting up earlier in the morning.

I definitely see seasonal sleeping patterns now that I'm not governed by the alarm clock. In the summer, I'm up early. In the winter, I tend to sleep very late, and all with more or less the same bedtime (though I'm probably reading later than I do in the summer). I keep seeing articles about sleep patterns from the era before electric lights, when apparently people didn't sleep straight through the night. They slept about four hours, then were awake for an hour or so and then slept another four hours. That in-between time was supposedly good for creativity, as that's when a lot of writing was done (which is one way we know about this pattern). Studies have shown that people will fall into this pattern if they're put into a similar environment without TV, electric lights, etc. People who do a lot of winter camping also notice it. Even though I'm not going to bed with the sun, I do tend to wake up for a while in the middle of the night, but I'm not really awake enough to be creative, other than daydreaming. My mind is awake, but making my body movie enough to even write down my thoughts would be impossible.

At any rate, I suspect that alarm will be really annoying in the morning. Fortunately, there's enough singing mixed in with the workshops and lectures to keep me somewhat awake throughout the day.

I think a couple of days of intense work in a different creative field will be good for me, at a time when I'm needing to do some thinking about next steps and where I go from here. As seems to be the case in my career, things never quite seem to go according to plan, so I'm going to have to come up with a plan B, which is going to create a ripple effect of changing other plans. It could work out for the best in the long run, but it's a bit disappointing (and frustrating) in the short run. It just would be nice for once to have something not be a struggle, to have the balance of power tip in my favor. I do need to find my inner soprano and be a bit more assertive about standing up for what I want and need instead of assuming that other people are doing their jobs and taking care of things. There were some things I let slide that I shouldn't have, but I just assumed that I was at the bottom of the priority list when in reality I'd actually accidentally fallen off the radar entirely and a reminder would have been welcome.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Problem Characters: The Mary Sue

Now that the new year is really up and running, it's time to get back to the Wednesday writing posts. In case you're new here, I do a how-to post about some aspect of writing -- the craft, the business, the life -- every other week, unless I have some kind of conflict. I'm open to questions or suggestions. To subscribe to these posts via e-mail, you can sign up here.

To start the year, I thought I'd talk about one of my favorite topics: characters. In particular, problem characters -- the characters who can really trip up your story. This was inspired in part by seeing a lot of misuse of the term "Mary Sue" in discussing characters, which got me started thinking about actual Mary Sue writing. I'm not going to get into much discussion about the meaning of the term here, since this is about how-to, not geek culture, other than to give my definition. The term originated in fan fiction to refer to an obvious author insert, a new character added to an existing universe who was living out all the author's fantasies. This character tends to be too good to be true, is universally liked (or sometimes is unfairly universally hated, making the character a misunderstood victim), and takes over the story. In original fiction, it's come to mean a character the writer can't be objective about, whether the character is a self-insert or a beloved pet. The character is good at everything, faces no consequences, and the story universe tends to bend itself around her.

There's nothing wrong with falling in love with your characters or basing characters on yourself. It only becomes a problem when this keeps you from writing honestly about these characters. You want to give them shiny things they haven't earned, and you want to protect them from any pain. Basically, you become a helicopter parent to your own creation. The result is a boring story, because who wants to read about someone just getting everything they want, with no struggle? How can you make sure you're not writing a Mary Sue?

First, look at the character's role. One thing that was annoying about the Mary Sue in fan fiction was that people wanted to read about the existing characters, not about some new character. This isn't such a problem in original fiction, since all the characters are new. But what you do need to do is make sure the roles in the story make sense and are consistently developed throughout the book. If you fall in love with or start identifying with a character as you write, and this character starts eclipsing other characters who started with larger roles, you might have a problem. No one wants to spend 300 pages reading about a character and watching that character's struggles, only to have someone else swoop in and take over at the end. If you find yourself fascinated by a character, that may be a sign that this character needs a bigger role, but you need to set that up earlier in the book. If you start with an ensemble, you need to maintain the relative weights of the ensemble roles throughout or give good story reasons for the roles to change -- something other than you liking one of the characters.

Second, show, don't tell. If the character is awesome, we should be able to figure it out ourselves by watching the character do awesome things. We don't need all the other characters telling us how awesome and wonderful this person is. If the character is suffering, we can see that. We don't need other people telling us how sad her suffering is. If you do tell us something, what we see needs to be even bigger than we're told. If you tell us a character is awesome, the actions need to be even more awesome than we expect to see. If you tell and then don't live up to or surpass, then readers tend not to like the character. Praise from other characters without anything to back it up is a hallmark of a Mary Sue.

Third, let reactions of other characters to this character be proportional. There should be consequences to the character's actions. If she does something to hurt or betray other characters, those other characters should be allowed to be angry at her, hold a grudge, or mistrust her without being made to look like villains. If she does something good, the positive response should be proportional. You generally know you've got a Mary Sue if she gets a parade thrown in her honor for holding a door open for someone. She should have to earn the other characters' love and loyalty.

Fourth, make sure her skills and positive attributes make sense in the story. If you plan to use a skill in the climax, you need to set it up earlier in the story to show that this character either has this skill, is working to develop this skill, or has another skill set that will transfer to those circumstances. If someone is new to the skill, she should have to struggle and maybe get a lucky break. Easily winning a sword fight the first time a person picks up a sword is a fantasy trope, but you can make it make more sense if maybe the character is a farmboy who's developed the muscles that allow him to fight (I was in pain for a week after my first fencing class -- this isn't something you just do), he's used a staff to fend off wolves from his sheep, he's somewhat awkward in fighting and uses endurance and brute force, and his enemy is tired, wounded, or overconfident. That kind of fight is so much more fun to read about than one in which a character picks up a sword and is suddenly the best swordsman ever.

Fifth, make the character struggle for what he wants. If he sets a goal, he should have to work to achieve it, and achieving it should have something to do with his work. Fiction is about conflict, and without conflict, you have a boring story. Readers want to see achievement as a result of struggle. Seeing struggle being rewarded is reassuring. Seeing wonderful gifts floating down from heaven isn't very interesting, unless it's at the beginning of the story and those gifts get the character into trouble.

Sixth, make sure the character has human flaws and failings. No one is perfect. The best hero ever has bad days and bad moods. Good people can be bossy and opinionated or rash and impulsive. Write a human being rather than a paragon. And, going back to #3 above, when the character does screw up, make sure she faces consequences for it. Let other characters be angry, make her apologize.

I think the Mary Sue is a trap many new authors fall into even when they're not consciously writing themselves into their stories because they're so eager to create a character people will love that they go overboard. They give the character all the skills and all the rewards, and they make sure other characters love this character, but the result is that you get a character no one really likes in a weak story.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Space Shows!

I've been fighting with a particular part of the current book for a while. I got enough done for a proposal and haven't felt too urgent about it since I'm waiting for feedback on it. The next scene I wrote sent things into a different direction and I had to rework my ideas around it. And then last night I came up with something new and fun that turns things into yet another direction. I'm actually excited to get to work today.

In other news, once the wave of holiday movies ended, I got caught up on non-holiday stuff on TV, which meant binge-watching the first five episodes of The Expanse so that I'm caught up for tonight's new one (I watched the first three OnDemand, but for some weird reason 4 isn't up there and was skipped when they posted 5, so I didn't get 4 until they did a marathon and I DVRd it). This is a new SyFy show that's sort of space opera meets film noir detective story. There are two parallel plot lines that seem to be converging and that turn out to be about more or less the same basic issue. In the space opera side of things, there's the crew of a ship that answers a distress call and finds something very unexpected that pretty much turns their lives upside down, so that they lurch from dangerous situation and crisis to dangerous situation and crisis. In the film noir side of things, we're on a base in the asteroid belt, where the workers who provide resources to the planets aren't too happy about not getting a share of the resources, and on these mean streets/station corridors, a jaded cop in a fedora makes a halfhearted effort to keep the peace -- until he gets an off-the-books assignment to track down a missing heiress.

I'll admit that I'm not overly keen on the very dystopian look at the future, with all the "rich people are evil and oppress poor people" (as written, produced, and performed by people who probably make more per episode than much of their audience makes in a year) and "we're all going to die of global warming" messages that seem mandatory in any vision of the future produced by current Hollywood. But it's a science fiction show taking place primarily in space, on space ships and space stations, on the SyFy channel, which is kind of exciting. They went through a phase of veering more toward paranormal, which I like, but with two summer shows (Killjoys and Dark Matter) and now this show taking place in space, they seem to have returned to their roots.

I also haven't yet really latched on to any particular character. In the first few episodes they've done a good job with the "no one is safe" concept, so it's not entirely clear who the regular cast of characters is going to end up being. That makes for a lot of shocks and surprises, but it also means I started pulling back emotionally and not wanting to get attached to anyone. They're going for gritty, which means there's no one who's entirely a truly "good guy." That means I'm mostly watching for plot because I'm curious about how all these things are coming together and what it all means. I don't think I'm going to end up really obsessed with this show, but it's interesting, and they're doing some good stuff with worldbuilding (being based on a series of novels probably helps there). The acting is pretty good. I'm just not finding any real heart to it, even as I'm eager for the next episode to find out what happens. We'll see how long that curiosity about what's going on will sustain me in the absence of any characters I actually care about.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Moody Movie Monday

It's back to work after a slightly busy, but less busy than I've been lately, weekend. I even managed to start catching up on all the stuff that's been on HBO recently, so I have movies to discuss.

Friday, I took it easy and went for the silly with the latest Night at the Museum movie. These are sort of fun guilty pleasures for me. I'd never have paid actual money to see them in the theater, but they can be entertaining for an evening at home. I enjoy seeing the various guest stars they find to play the historical figures brought to life in the museum. For the previous one, Amy Adams stole the show as Amelia Earhart, but in this one, it was Dan Stevens (best known so far for Downton Abbey) completely stealing the movie with a 100 percent all-in take on Lancelot. In fact, he was going so far into it that I had to pull up IMDB on my phone to figure out who he was. The voice was so familiar, but I couldn't place him, and I think most of it was not just the beard and longer hair but also the swagger and attitude that were the complete opposite of Matthew. We got an absolutely sublime scene in which Lancelot, who's totally unaware that he's actually a museum wax figure brought to life, heads out of the museum to find Camelot, ending up at a theater production of the musical, where he confronts Arthur, played by Hugh Jackman, who has to convince "Lancelot" that he's not really Arthur, just an actor playing the role, at which point Lancelot calls Hugh Jackman out on being a liar and a fraud for pretending to be Arthur, and Hugh Jackman goes into Wolverine mode until the actress playing Guinevere says it doesn't work as well without the metal claws and with his shirt on. And I am not making any of that up. It really happened in the movie. Meanwhile, Dan Stevens is playing it totally straight with the kind of intensity he might give to Hamlet and I think Hugh Jackman is having to bite his tongue to keep a straight face.

So, anyway, that was a lot of fun, though it was a little sad that it was Robin Williams' last on-screen appearance.

Then I was very glad to find that the new version of Far from the Madding Crowd was available on demand because I wanted to see it but didn't make it to the theater while it was showing (because it was only at a few of the art houses that are inconvenient to get to and it didn't stay long). I went through my emo, moody, dramatic teen phase in my early 20s, but instead of indulging it by reading books about brooding vampires, I read depressing Victorian literature, including a lot of Thomas Hardy. Seeing movie versions takes me back to the days of my youth, and I think this was a pretty good adaptation. Of course, it misses a lot, but I think it still gets in that sense of how vulnerable women could be and how hard it would have been for a woman to be able to maintain her power and independence if she had any at all. For those unfamiliar with the story, it's about a woman who inherits a farm, leaving her independent and not needing a husband to provide for her, so she's reluctant to marry and give up that independence, since according to the laws of that time, her husband would then own all her property. She's wooed by the shepherd who loved her before she became wealthy and who stays by her even as their fortunes reverse, the wealthy neighbor who wants to unite their farms, and a dashing rogue of a soldier. I suppose you could look at them as each representing reasons a woman might marry, for help and companionship, for economic reasons, or for passion.

But mostly, it's all about how true love runs out before a storm to cover the harvest so it won't be ruined. And lots of English countryside scenery porn. Not to mention an attractive man doing nice things and being good with animals. I may have to watch it again, for science. I'm also kind of in the mood to re-read the book.

I guess the reason I had to go through my teen moody phase in my twenties was that I completely failed at it in my teens. When I was feeling moody and retreated to my room to listen to music and sulk, I listened to ABBA, or sometimes the Sound of Music soundtrack. I think I was doing it wrong.

Friday, January 08, 2016

So-so on Shannara

I was utterly useless yesterday, and it was kind of nice. I did take care of a couple of urgent things on the to-do list, but otherwise I did some reading and watching of stuff that turned out to be beneficial.

One thing was a documentary on Stephen Sondheim that I stumbled across in the HBO OnDemand files. They went into his creative process for writing songs, spotlighting six key songs from various parts of his career. The way he approaches lyric writing could also apply to other writing. I put it on mostly to get some background music for knitting but ended up getting a lot out of it.

I've also watched the pilot for the new Shannara series, and I have to say that I'm very, very iffy. I read the first two books in high school and loved them. The Elfstones of Shannara, which is the primary basis for this series, was my favorite. I re-read it a number of times. I picked up the subsequent books when I was out of college but then lost track of the series somewhere along the way. I'd reached the point where I was caught up to what had been published and was waiting for the next book. In the previous one, the party had been split into two groups, with the story following one group and ending with a cliffhanger on that group. When the next book came out, it picked up on the other group. I couldn't even remember what had been going on with those people and gave up on the book because I needed to re-read the previous one, and I never got around to that.

However, this TV series is centered on the characters and situation from one of the books that I've read multiple times. Or I should say is centered on characters with the same names. The situation seems to be more or less the same, but I don't actually recognize the characters. A couple do look a lot like the illustrations in the edition I had, but their personalities and behaviors are rather different.

Then there's the fact that it strikes me as being too contemporary. I'm aware that this series was never about a quasi-medieval fantasy world, that it was our world in a distant postapocalyptic future, but it still read like a fantasy world, with only a few clues thrown in that it wasn't what it seemed to be (and at the time, those mostly seemed to be about "really, it's not a Tolkien retread!"). I also know that there's no real reason other than trope and convention for fantasy characters to have British-like accents. However, there's just something wrong about elves sounding like California kids hanging out in the mall. The cadence of the dialogue struck me as sounding like they'd barely managed to edit out all the "dudes." Oddly enough, the older characters do have British accents. So it strikes me as MTV being worried that the teen audience couldn't relate to characters who didn't talk like them.

I think I may have hit my point of no return when two characters come across the place where the young woman they're seeking is, and they learn that she's at the nearby waterfall. The younger man goes to the waterfall to find her, and I said to myself, "She's going to be naked and bathing when he finds her, isn't she?" And she was. Because of course. Leave no cliche unturned.

But mostly, my issue is that I loved these characters. I didn't actually care for the big-picture threat and mostly skipped the battle scenes. But I cared deeply for the main characters and sweated over each step of their quest. And these aren't the same people to me. I kind of want to re-read the book now to cleanse my brain and get the right people back into my head.

However, Terry Brooks is involved in this, and it's his story, so maybe they fit what he intended (then again, when I had an option contract, there was a clause in it that said I couldn't publicly criticize what they did with my book). Or maybe he figured it was better to let them jazz it up and get a broader audience. I think this is aimed at younger people who've never read the books and might discover them rather than at older people who loved the books as teenagers back in the 80s. I may give it one more episode to see how it gels.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

A Rare Soprano Shortage

I was right that the kids would be a little crazy last night. I did a number of activities, and the moment they got rowdy or out of control with an activity, we stopped the activity, even if they still wanted to do it or were having fun.

It looks like I might get to do another Requiem. The local community chorale is doing the Faure Requiem and has invited members of our choir to participate.  I suspect that their invitation mostly translates as "we need more men" (as most choirs do because, for some odd reason, boys tend to be steered away from singing and the arts). It's really, really rare for a choir to desperately need more sopranos.

Except for last night in our chamber chorale, when I was the only soprano present. And we were sight reading our new music for the spring semester. Yes, sight reading as a soloist. Fun. One song even started with just the soprano section. There was a time in my life when that would have terrified me to the point of paralysis and I just wouldn't have sung, but I got through it okay.

Come to think of it, this community chorale has asked for extra sopranos before. I've sat in as a ringer when they needed someone who could handle a really high descant for a piece. It's short-term, just one rehearsal a week, one hour of rehearsing, for a little more than a month, and it would probably be good experience.

Now I'm having one of those "never could get the hang of Thursdays" kind of days. I slept very late without even realizing how late I was sleeping, woke up frowning so hard that I had a tension headache for a while after waking until I relaxed some (and I don't know why I was frowning), and now I feel like I could just go back to sleep and sleep another hour or so. That's not conducive to good writing productivity. The trick is figuring out if I'm just being lazy and need to power through or if I really do need rest. If I really do need the rest, like if I'm fighting off something I'm not even aware of yet, taking the time now can help me be more productive later. But if I'm being lazy, it won't do me much good. I think I'll go grocery shopping and see if being out and about snaps me out of it or if I need a nap to recover.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Back to Work

I got back on track with the writing yesterday, actually producing new words, and then scenes started playing out in my head. Yeah, I'm back! Though I might not make much additional progress today because I'm back to choir and children's choir tonight. I doubt there will be much actual musical activity in children's choir because they'll be hyper from the holidays and just starting to settle back into a normal schedule. We may play musical chairs for half an hour. And maybe a few rounds of the snowman song, though there is that one kid who finds it traumatic. I'll just tell him that Frosty's magic hat came along and brought all the snowmen back to life.

I took a walk to the library this morning, mostly to find a reference (that they turned out not to have), but I also decided to make a start on reading the books likely to end up on the Nebula ballot. When I looked at the list of recommended books, I noticed that Rebel Mechanics wasn't on the list for the Norton Award (the one for children's and YA books). However, there aren't a lot of books on the list, and most of them have just one recommendation. The one with the most was actually published as an adult book, so I don't know what the guidelines are.

At any rate, if you happen to be a SFWA member and feel inclined to add it to the list, I'd be grateful, and I hope you'd consider nominating it. Since it was recognized by the Texas Library Association, I figure it has some merit and might even stand a chance. However, I'm not really in the "cool" crowd in that organization, so I need all the support I can get.

In other news, I had a vivid dream last night about taking harp lessons. Maybe this is something I should look into. I'd have to get a harp first, but the Irish Festival is coming up, and there's usually a vendor there. Not a big concert harp (well, not yet), but a small, portable Celtic harp would be nice. Because I need more hobbies.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

2015 in Review

That new mattress topper may not have been such a good idea, after all. It makes the bed so comfortable that it's hard to get up. At least the featherbed became uncomfortable by morning because I ended up lying in a pit where the feathers were either displaced or compressed (the reason it had to be shaken every morning). Maybe once I get accustomed to the new bed, the novelty will wear off.

While I didn't do any world changing yesterday, I did manage to get to the must-do items on the to-do list, which included re-reading the part I've already written of the book in progress so I can dive back into it. That means writing resumes today. I took far too much time off.

Because I was taking time off, I never did a year-in-review post. Work-wise, it looks like I had a strong start, pushed through the summer, then slacked off in the fall. I wrote a book and got started on a book, plus wrote several synopses for a book proposal. I had three books published.

Reading-wise, I was in a real slump. I only read about two-thirds of my usual number of books. However, I did have a couple of really long books on the list, as well as several reference books that involved not only reading, but taking a lot of notes. I also had a few books that didn't make it onto the list because I didn't finish reading them. I devoted a fair amount of time to them before deciding not to bother. And I was also trying to weed out the Strategic Book Reserve, so I have a stack of books by the nightstand where I read one or two chapters and decided they weren't for me. I suspect I read a lot more than I gave myself credit for, since I only log books I finished.

Much of my reading for the year was re-reading Terry Pratchett, mostly because I was on so many related panels at WorldCon and wanted a refresher course. After flipping back through my log, I think my favorite new-to-me book that I read this year was Alias, Hook by Lisa Jensen. Otherwise, nothing really jumped out at me as "you must read this" material.

It was also a low year for movies, as the only ones I saw in the theater were Cinderella, Inside Out, The Minions, Spectre, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (unless I'm forgetting something). I saw Cinderella and The Force Awakens twice at the theater.

On TV, we said farewell to Haven and Continuum, which both got actual endings that I found satisfying in a bittersweet way. There must have been something that ended in the spring that I've forgotten (did Parks and Recreation end last spring?). I didn't start watching much new stuff in the fall, though I did start catching up on The Expanse and like it so far. This summer's fun new show was Killjoys. In general, the ongoing shows had a bad habit of taking harsh turns to the dark, usually for the worse. I've joked about the Writers Guild suicide pact.

Wow, it seems like I didn't enjoy a lot this year. But I took a real vacation to a place I want to go back to. I went to a lot of conventions, including one in a brand-new place that I enjoyed a lot. I took a lot of long walks. I sang a lot, getting beyond what used to be a crippling case of stage fright to be able to sing a bucket-list solo in a major choral work. I got to see one of my favorite composers conduct a world premiere of a brand-new work (along with one of my favorite older works). I did a lot of knitting and baking. Maybe you could say that I was doing stuff instead of reading or watching stuff. I should continue that, though I need to include more writing in the mix.

So, here's to another year of doing stuff.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Little Changes

Happy New Year! I took the holiday weeks entirely off (other than some work-related reading) to try to recharge, and now I'm actually eager and excited about getting back to work. As usual, I started with all kinds of grand plans and intentions about basically changing the world today, but then sanity prevailed and I set reasonable goals. I'll merely change the world by the end of the week, instead.

Today started with two big changes. Well, small changes, but it's funny how small changes can make a difference. I had to make an emergency Target run before church yesterday because my bedside lamp keeled over. It was a ginger jar style, and the part that held the bulb socket on disengaged entirely and fell down into the jar, leaving the socket and bulb dangling over the side. Since I got this lamp in eighth grade, I figured I could replace it. The shade was still good, so I found a new lamp base that I didn't entirely hate at Target. It's very different, but it's growing on me. I thought in the store that it was too modern for my rather Victorian bedroom, but in the setting it has a kind of Art Deco retro look that works. It's higher than the old lamp, though, so it took some fumbling around to turn the lamp on this morning. The usual arm angle no longer worked, which meant I had to pry my eyes open to find the switch.

And part of that was because of the other change: I replaced my featherbed with a memory foam mattress topper, since Target had those on sale. I'm a side sleeper, so I need something with a bit of squish to it on my mattress. I realize that you can now get mattresses designed that way, but I'm holding off on mattress purchases until I figure out and change my living situation. I liked the featherbed on top of the mattress, but it's getting older, so it's less fluffy. The main problem with it, however, is that you have to take the whole bed apart to make the bed. The featherbed has to be fluffed out every day, and that means taking off the covers and the bottom sheet, shaking out the featherbed, and then remaking the whole bed. As a result, I seldom made the bed, but I still had to go through the process before bed at night because the featherbed isn't comfortable unless you fluff it up. The guest bed at my parents' house had a memory foam topper, and it was comfortable, so when I found one on sale, I gave it a shot. It was really comfortable, but it's lower than the featherbed, which made it even more difficult to grope for the new, higher lamp. But the big difference was that making the bed involved pulling the covers up. The day tends to go better and my house gets and stays cleaner when I make the bed, so this could end up having a ripple effect. I'll have to get used to how flat and square the bed looks now, though.

As for the rest of my holiday, I saw the new Star Wars (twice) -- more on that later. I spent more time than I planned with my parents at Christmas because of the nasty storm between there and my home that took two days to get past so my way was clear. Fortunately, my house wasn't in the area affected by the tornadoes, and we only had one scary tornado warning at my parents' house, but that turned out to be on the other side of town and was radar-only, nothing actually on the ground.

I may have overdone the socializing during the holiday weeks, with so many parties, to the point I snuck out of last night's choir party early because I'd just hit my limit. This week goes back to almost my normal schedule of activities, aside from yoga class. And that means it's time to get back to work. I have a book to finish, some publicity to work on, and so many other things I want to accomplish.

So, time to get to work!