Thursday, March 31, 2016

Not Ready for Prime Time

I was reminded of why it's seldom a good idea to dive in and start writing that shiny new idea as soon as it hits you. I wrote out everything I knew about the new story yesterday, and I only filled a sheet of notebook paper, in spite of feeling like I'd seen the whole movie in my head. What I have is an idea with some details. I don't have a full story. For one thing, I don't know who/what the antagonist is and what the antagonist wants. I don't know what the real story goal is. I know the immediate goal of the protagonists, but I don't know the bigger picture goal that they'll develop after they learn what's really going on.

However, that doesn't mean my mind isn't eagerly playing with this idea, which made editing difficult yesterday. I'd be trying to focus on reading the book I'm working on and looking for places to add oomph, and my mind would trail off to "and what if this was what was going on …" in that other idea. By the end of the day, I'd added a page to my brainstorming. I suppose it's a sign that oomph is needed if my mind wandered away like that.

It's still not ready to write, though. This sort of thing was what delayed the start of my writing career. Maybe I could have been one of those teen phenomenons if I'd focused better, but I had a bad habit of getting a great idea, starting to write a story, then having it fizzle out about two chapters in because my great idea was only a concept, not a real story. Then I'd get another idea, etc., until I had a file of first chapters that never went anywhere because I had concepts, not plots.

Now I need to focus enough on the current project to finish it. Then I can move on, either to the next thing I had planned or maybe to more work on this. Doing some real work on it will either make it take on a lot more life or will prove that it's not ready for prime time so I can go back to other things and let it gestate some more. Strategically, this isn't what I need to be writing right now. It really should come after the next thing I have planned.

So now I have at least nine fictional universes of my own trying to play out in my head. Some are quieter than others, but all of them pop up and demand attention every so often. And that's not even getting into other people's fictional universes that I find myself analyzing and trying to fix (which often generates a new fictional universe of my own when analyzing and fixing give me new ideas).

I've designated this weekend as "get my life together" weekend for bookkeeping, taxes, house cleaning, etc., but I may make my play time be some brainstorming in this new universe, with hopes that this will make it shut up and go away for now.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Shiny New Ideas

I got the first six chapters revised yesterday, but that was the easy part because that's the section I submitted to the publisher, so I'd already done a lot of work on them. Now I'm in the part that hasn't been worked over all that much, so it will take a little more effort.

However, the first thing I need to do today is a big brain dump to clear my head because last night I was hit by a story idea. This wasn't one of those little "I'd like to do something like this" notions. It was fairly fully fledged, with characters, backstory, situation, conflict, goal, and even scenes and chunks of dialogue. It was like getting smacked upside the head with a doorstopper fantasy novel. By the time I went to sleep, I'd seen about half of it as a movie (with bits of narrative woven in). When I woke up, I had even more details and more scenes.

The cool thing is that this idea would fit with what my agent has suggested would be good for me to do, but fixes my issues of why I haven't felt like doing that would be something I'd be good at. It's a trope reversal story, which I think is a lot of fun.

But it's not ready to write. I may have a sense of the main characters, the situation, and the plot, but it needs more detail and specifics. I need to finish the book I'm working on and one more before I'm anywhere near ready to work on this. Since this is the shiny new thing, my brain wants to play with it. That's why the first order of business will be to write it all down, everything I know so far. That will preserve it and get it out of my head.

Oh, but I think it will be so much fun.

I'm not even sure where it came from. I was reading one of the Norton Award nominees when it hit me, but that book had nothing in common with the thing I came up with. There's a bit of imagery from something I saw earlier this week that may have triggered it. Maybe it's something that's been lurking in my subconscious for a while, and these things just brought it to the surface. I've had big ideas smack me upside the head before (like the Enchanted, Inc. series), but few of them have come as fully formed as this.

Now I guess I'm extra motivated to finish the projects I have planned. This one may move up in the queue from other things I was thinking about doing.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Once Upon Stilettos Reread: Chapters Three and Four

It's re-read commentary time again (mostly because original thought is escaping me). Today I'll cover chapters three and four of Once Upon Stilettos.

I have to say that re-reading this book has become a total nostalgia trip. I'm remembering the process of writing it and all the stuff that had been living in my head before I wrote it. In a weird way, this book was kind of like my own fanfic for my own series. I'd written the first book but didn't want to invest time in writing a second until I knew it would sell, but I was still making up stories in my head in that world. Selling the book and a sequel gave me the chance to write those stories down. The whole book didn't come from that, but there were a lot of scenes that had their origins in daydreaming about these characters.

So, chapter three really gets into the plot about the mole within the company, which allowed me to play with all the corporate life tropes. One of my early descriptions of the series was "Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter and goes to work with Dilbert." I didn't get to do quite as much of that as I wanted in the first book, so this plot let me go crazy with all the stuff I remembered from my corporate life (and I was doing freelance work at the time I was writing it, so I was still embedded in corporate America). There was the office grapevine more powerful than the CIA, where everyone knew everyone's business. I slipped in the reference to Merlin reading Who Moved My Cheese? because my original concept of the character, before I decided he was Merlin, was a wizard who'd been out of commission for a long time and who was getting re-oriented by reading modern business books. I didn't go quite as far with that as I originally planned because Merlin turned out to be too sensible, but my plan had been for the boss to go from management fad to management fad, depending on which book he'd just read. That was based on my corporate experience, where it seemed like we had one company retreat a year in which they presented a whole new plan to make us like our jobs more and do our jobs better based on yet another management fad.

Then there was the introduction of the frog boss. That was a nod to the cover art. I fell so in love with the businessman frog on the cover of the first book that I wrote him into the second book. I had a draft of the cover for the first book while I was writing the second one, so I was inspired to write him in as a character.

Chapter four was my sneaky way of working in some quasi-romantic scenes between Katie and Owen when they weren't actually romantically involved. I'm a big fan of the slow-build romance, and having Katie be dating someone else allowed me to develop a strong friendship between her and Owen. I think that also worked with his character, where he was too shy to ask her on a real date, but he could manage "hey, wanna grab dinner?" on the way home from work. And then readers got to see lots of the two of them together and bonding. I did have a specific diner in mind. It's near Union Square, and I ate a meal there when I was researching the book.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Digging In

I made it through Easter weekend. My reading on Friday night went well. I didn't stumble over any words, and no one took a cell phone call and walked away while I was doing it (like happened in my nightmare). I spent Saturday in a frenzy of cooking and house cleaning before collapsing to read and then go to bed early. Sunday, I woke before my alarm, so I was weirdly alert all morning for the three services I had to sing in.

Now I think it's caught up with me, along with some allergies. I'm giving myself one last day off. I'd thought about going up to Oklahoma today for a few days, but they started talking about bad storms there and here on the day I would have been driving home, so I thought I'd do better staying home. I'm planning to do a minor outing and some errands this afternoon, then do some serious planning for the work I'll do the rest of the week.

I'm on the draft where I really dig into each scene and figure out how to make that scene better -- more description, more action, more emotion, better words, fewer words, tighter dialogue, etc. One thing I've done in the past was find a theme song for each scene -- a piece of music that speaks to me about the scene or that conveys the emotion I want to convey -- and I use that to test the scene. When the scene makes me feel the way the piece of music makes me feel, it's right.

So, today's work will probably involve re-reading the first few scenes and picking theme songs, and then I'll sleep on it and then dig into rewriting tomorrow. Having the music and the scene in my head will allow me to create a vivid mental movie that may tell me additional things that need to happen.

While I may add a lot of stuff in this phase, I also lose a lot because there's a tendency to brainstorm in the writing and talk around something until I settle on an outcome. I can cut to the outcome, or there are times when some dialogue echoes thinking, and I can cut the thinking.

This all sounds pretty tedious, but I generally enjoy it because I'm not having to worry so much about what happens next, and I can feel the story getting better.

Friday, March 25, 2016

I Dreamed a Dream

Crazy weekend is upon me, with a church service tonight and three on Sunday. I have a reading in tonight's service, and I had an anxiety dream about it last night, which is weird because I don't generally get any kind of stage fright for reading or speaking, only music. In my dream, I was trying to do the reading for someone, and then someone else approached that person and they started a conversation while I was trying to read. I held my place and waited for them to finish before resuming. And then it happened again, but that time I just walked away while they were talking.

Come to think of it, that sounds more like anxiety about not being heard or listened to than about the act of reading itself, and I doubt it's really about this particular reading. It's probably more career-related, feeling invisible and unheard in the industry. At any rate, I still need to practice this reading a bit before tonight.

I also dreamed about school book orders, probably because I placed an Amazon order yesterday. That's almost like the adult version of a book order, only instead of getting a poster when you order a certain number of things, you get free shipping. A good chunk of my childhood and teen library came from school book orders. It was like Christmas when the order came in, but then I had to go through the whole school day before I could get home and dig into my new books. Now they arrive on my doorstep, or sometimes in my mailbox. This order wasn't so much "fun" reading. I got a book on playing the harp and a book on music theory, since I never learned much about keys and chords and that's pretty essential for using a stringed instrument as accompaniment.

The rest of the weekend, I will be reading frantically because I want to read as much as possible from the Nebula Awards ballot before the voting deadline next week. I may not get to all the novels, but I can at least try to read a little and keep reading the ones I like. I'm finding it interesting how many of the novellas, novelettes, and short stories on the ballot use first-person narration. I don't think I've seen that much of it before. As someone who loves first-person, both for reading and writing, I like this trend. And at least one story I read yesterday influenced some of the imagery in last night's dreams. There was a vividly described dress in the story, and I dreamed I was trying to make it.

Wow, last night was big on vivid dreams that stuck with me. Alas, no solid story ideas in any of them. Like I need more story ideas.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Once Upon Stilettos Reread: More on Chapters One and Two

I'm picking up again with the Once Upon Stilettos author commentary re-read. In case you missed it, here's part one, which was mostly about the background of the story and the title. I have it on my to-do list to compile the entire commentary for Enchanted, Inc. and add it to the web site, but I'm not sure when that will happen.

Since part one was mostly about the title and the background, I'll do more about chapter one and then also cover chapter two.

So, the date with Ethan … When I was working on the concept for this series, before I started writing it or even had a firm plot outline and specific characters developed, what I had in mind was a number of potential love interests for Katie, and over time maybe one would turn out to be Mr. Right. I didn't want to do an outright triangle, and I didn't want her going back and forth, but I liked the idea of her having a few men in her life who were potential love interests and letting her do some casual dating before one became the obvious winner. I envisioned shipper wars on message boards and people declaring themselves "team whoever."

And then I started writing, and the character who was barely on my radar suddenly became obvious. But I didn't want to go there too soon, so in the ending of the first book and the beginning of this one, I let Katie date someone else, just so we'd have the comparison (and because Owen was way too shy to make a move so soon). Ethan was my idea of the "good on paper" guy. They had a lot in common, and he was the kind of guy a mom would rejoice to see with her daughter. But having some common background and the same magical status doesn't mean it will work out in reality. He's not a bad guy. They just aren't right for each other. That's what I was trying to show in that first date at the wine tasting. He's perhaps trying a bit too hard to impress her, and it utterly fails because this isn't the sort of thing that does impress her. She just finds the whole thing a bit silly.

The wine tasting is somewhat based on an event I went to not too long before I wrote this book. There was a fancy wine shop in the neighborhood where I went to church, and they donated a wine-tasting party for a fundraising auction. One of the choir members bought it and invited the choir. They went through all these wines and then handed out order sheets so you could buy them. I like wine, and I do drink it, but I couldn't honestly tell the difference between most of them at that tasting, and I never could taste all those flavors they said were in there. I could catch things like honey and pear, but not oak or coffee. I went through a few ideas of what kind of date Ethan might have come up with for an impressive first date, but most of them would have required a lot of research to get right, and then I remembered the wine tasting.

Meanwhile, this scene serves to remind us about the magical immunity and how it works while hinting that something might be wrong with Katie's immunity. I didn't plan it at the time I was writing it, but I realized after the fact when I was doing revisions that the wine fit thematically, since potions that change behavior or perception were so important to the plot of the book.

Then we get the meat of the main plot near the end of the chapter, where we learn about the possible mole within the company.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Problem Characters: The Charismatic Villain

I'm continuing the discussion of problem characters, and I think I've run out of them, so I'm open to questions or suggestions on either this topic or other writing topics you want me to address. The final (maybe) problem character is the Charismatic Villain.

This is another one of those "problems" that doesn't sound like a problem. A good villain can do a lot for a story. You want your villain to be interesting and memorable. It's only a problem when your villain doesn't quite fit with the story you're telling. If you've got a great villain with a sympathetic backstory that almost justifies his actions, lots of snappy dialogue, and all the good scenes while the heroes are either bland or fatally flawed, then it's not going to be very satisfying when the heroes defeat the villain. Or if you fall so in love with your villain that you can't bring yourself to defeat him and decide to redeem him instead, that's a problem if the redemption is out of proportion with his evil. You also have problems if readers are cheering for your villain to win and that's not the story you're telling (you'll probably always have at least a few villain apologists, but I'm talking about the general readership).

The problem is that villains are fun to write (and many actors say they prefer playing villains because they're more fun to play). You can let them say and do all those things you might think about but would never do. You can go all-out without worrying about whether they're still sympathetic. So what do you do if you've had a little too much fun writing your villain, and you find that your beta readers or critique partners like your villain more than your heroes -- and that's not what you want?

The first thing to do is do more work on your heroes. I addressed that earlier in talking about the good guy as a problem character. Heroes don't have to be boring (and I tend to think that writers who say that heroes are boring are lazy or untalented because that means they're either not trying or are doing it wrong). Heroes can have sad backstories and complex motivations. They can have funny lines and great scenes. Give your heroes the same care and development as you give your villains, and that will take your story to a new level. One classic example of this balance is the original Die Hard movie. The villain (aided by a brilliant performance by Alan Rickman) was so charismatic that in a way you found yourself sometimes cheering for him, but the hero (aided by Bruce Willis's snarky charm) also got great lines, got to be clever, and had a sympathetic story. Watching these two great characters go head to head was what made this movie so fun.

Or you could consider shifting the perspective. If you really love your villain and that's the best character in your story, maybe your villain should be an anti-hero protagonist, and either he gets to win and achieve his goals or he fails and is defeated by the good guys, and it's tragic. This is what you often see in gangster or crime spree stories, where the characters we're following would usually be the bad guys.

Or maybe if the villain is who you sympathize with the most, he could be a kind of bad boy hero and the star of the story, with some worse villain as the antagonist. You'd probably want to dial back the atrocities with this or with the anti-hero if you want audiences in general to sympathize with this character, but you can retain the troubled backstory and the snark.

Another option is the redemption arc -- let this character see the error of his ways and turn to helping the good guys against some worse villain. Then readers can be happy when team good guy wins because their favorite character is on that team. A well-done redemption arc can be a powerful story, but the redemption has to be earned and in proportion with the evil.

What it mostly comes down to is that you want your ending to be something that most of your readers will be happy with, and that means having the right characters be in the right place to have the right outcome that will be satisfying.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Life in Order

I finished my draft Friday evening, and now I get a week of getting the rest of my life back in order before I dive into the serious editing and polishing. That starts today with reminding my parents what I look like, so I need to throw a few things in the car and go.

The rest of the week, I have choir, Good Friday and Easter services, an Easter egg hunt, and dance class. Meanwhile, I got my loaner harp yesterday and am having fun learning to play it. I've managed to tune it and to play one song (badly), but I think I'm picking it up faster than I did the piano. I'm using the same book and the same music, so perhaps the piano was what started training my brain for this. This is a smallish Celtic harp, not the full concert harp. It's somewhat portable -- has a carrying case, and all -- so I could bring it to local events to play, but I wouldn't want to try to fly with something like this.

Regular activities will resume later in the week, but for now, my parents are going to start wondering when I'll get there.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Writers I Know

Now I'm down to revising the part of the book that really needs rewriting. I feel pretty good about the rest of the book up to this point. It needs fine tuning, but I think the story works. I hope to finish the rewrites tonight or tomorrow, and then I'm giving myself a kind of spring break next week. I'll visit my parents, catch up on business stuff (like finishing my taxes and doing massive amounts of filing), muck out the house, and maybe even get some fun in, though that may be tricky to arrange, as it's Easter week and being in the choir means that's busy time. And then after Easter, I'll do a serious editing pass, when I dig into each scene to make sure I'm conveying everything that needs to be there, touch up the descriptions, and tighten the wording.

I gave myself a little time off from the rewriting last night (since my brain needed a break) to watch my recording of the recent production of And Then There Were None that aired on Lifetime this week. They seem to be picking up what A&E did in the 90s in airing the big British productions that PBS doesn't get. Earlier this year they did a good War and Peace miniseries. This was a two-parter that was very well done, if a bit grim (it follows the book rather than the stage play, so if you're familiar with Agatha Christie, you know what that means). The cast was excellent (though it took some getting used to seeing "Poldark" clean-shaven and with short hair), and it was very atmospheric. I love those "there's a house party in a remote place, and people start dying" stories.

Sunday night is going to be a night of "writers I know on TV." Jane Espenson wrote this week's Once Upon a Time episode, and while I haven't met her in person, I've interviewed her via e-mail and wrote an essay for a book she edited, so she's at least aware of my existence. Then my friend Paul Cornell (who's written for Doctor Who) wrote the episode of Elementary that's on Sunday night, which is a new schedule for that series. Paul's one of my convention buddies, and he's even ridden in my car, which led to something of a slapstick routine. My car doesn't have automatic anything, so I find that the easiest way to unlock the door for a passenger is to go to the passenger side with my key and unlock it. Due to a combination of Britishness (since they drive on the opposite side) and gentlemanly manners (not being used to a lady going to open the door for a gentleman), when I went to unlock the passenger side, Paul then went around and tried to get in the driver's side. I'm not sure how we did it, but we went around on that a couple of times until I finally told him that if he really wanted to drive, maybe I'd let him, but he had to be able to do a stick shift with what would be the wrong hand for him. In his defense, this was at the end of a convention, and he was very tired. So Sunday night, I'll get to applaud his credit appearing on the screen.

Now the skies are getting darker, which means it should be good writing weather for me, as long as we don't get the kind of hail they got elsewhere in the area yesterday morning.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Storms, and Roads Not Taken

I had a weird start to the day when I was awakened at 4:30 this morning by a weird, garbled, disembodied voice coming from my living room. The weather radio was alerting me to some kind of warning, but the reception was really bad, so every other syllable or so was cutting out and I couldn't make out what was going on. I got the sense that it involved a storm with hail and wind, but I couldn't tell where it was because the words it was cutting out were generally the place names. So I turned the TV on, figuring that if it was serious, they'd be covering it. I'd forgotten that they now start the morning news at 4:30, so it was the regular morning newscast, with eventually a mention of a storm on the other end of the county, so I went back to sleep.

And then another warning went off, similar garbling, and I assumed it was the same storm, just renewing the warning. I went back to sleep. Then it went off again. All this time, there were no storms anywhere near me, but apparently it was pretty nasty south of here, with windshields being knocked out by hail.

Watching a bit of the early morning news gave me a dose of nostalgia for when that was the show I worked on, back in my news intern days. Fortunately, we didn't go on the air until six, so I didn't have to be there until 5:30. I liked working that shift because it was just the producer, the anchor, and me in the newsroom. The producer gave me stuff to write, the anchor sang while doing her hair and makeup, and then once the newscast went on the air, it was just me and the daytime assignment editor (who'd shown up by then) in the newsroom. I wrote the cut-ins that ran on the half-hour during Good Morning America, and the rest of the time I could work on stuff like practicing editing videotape and putting together a resume tape. Being there early also meant I got first dibs on the most interesting stories to go out on after the morning story meeting.

But I'm very glad I'm not doing that job now. It was so not me that only sheer stubbornness got me through it to get a degree. I don't know what I'd have changed to or should have changed to. I probably should have pursued my real interests and studied television/film writing, but then that would have required moving to LA, where I know I wouldn't have fit in and probably wouldn't have been very happy. So it probably worked out for the best. I got skills that I've ended up using in my "real" career and didn't ever have to rely on that job to make a living.

I have a bit of business stuff to deal with today (like getting my trip to the Nebula Awards set up) and I have some major book surgery to continue with. Today, I should be through the "easy" part, which means tomorrow I'll hit the part that requires a lot of rewriting. Right now, I'm in the part that took months to write, and it seems weird to just read through it in a few minutes. I don't think it shows that I went through about three versions before I settled on what would happen.

Now, for a celebration of St. Patrick's Day, here's my new favorite Celtic band that isn't Irish at all but rather the Celtic band of the US Air Force, Celtic Aire. This one is amateur video, but it's the only one I could find of this particular song, and I liked it when I heard them do it:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Breaking Out (Or Not)

I got about a quarter of the way through the major surgery phase of revisions on the book yesterday, but this is the easy part because it's mostly the section that I submitted to the publisher, so it was pretty polished. And at the end of the day, I realized that I'd forgotten to add or fix a couple of the things I'd planned. I guess it's a good sign that I got so caught up in the story that I forgot about those things. Today I'll do that backtracking and then see how much more I can get to before choir practice. At least I don't have children's choir tonight.

I'm having my usual bizarre transition to Daylight Saving Time. The clocks have moved ahead, so everything feels an hour earlier than it says on the clock. And yet I've moved even earlier. I'm going to bed earlier and waking up earlier, and I'm getting more things done earlier in the day. I guess summer time fits closer to my regular body clock. I sleep later on Standard Time because when I naturally wake up, it feels too early to be getting up, so I go back to sleep and go through another sleep cycle before I wake up. During Standard Time, when I get sleepy earlier in the evening, it seems too early to go to bed, so I force myself to power through and get a second wind. Now, it seems like a reasonable time to go to bed when I get tired, and it's a reasonable time to get up when I wake up. And then through the whole day I feel like I have more energy, so I get more done.

The response to my Enchanted, Inc. series reread has been fun to see. It seems a lot of people love these books. And yet, they're still rather obscure. The major genre-related web sites haven't covered them or me. I've noticed in various fantasy-related groups that they're seldom mentioned when people are asking for authors or books that mine would fit into. I think some of that is on my original publisher because they didn't treat these books like fantasy, and so they didn't make much effort to promote them to that audience. It does seem as though fantasy readers who find them really like them, but a lot of my readers aren't the typical fantasy reader. I go to a lot of science fiction conventions, and my books seem to be popular there, but that doesn't seem to have spilled out to create any kind of overall fandom buzz, and I don't really know how to fix that. It's even harder now that the first couple of books are more than ten years old. Even if there were a new book, the major book news sites that didn't cover the earlier books aren't likely to cover the new book, and they're not going to get into a first book in the series that's ten years old. Still, the series keeps plugging away, and the first book is usually my highest-ranked book on Amazon at any given time.

It's been interesting going back and re-reading Once Upon Stilettos. I wrote the first draft of that book in the fall of 2004, did revisions in early 2005, and did copy edits in fall 2005. As a result, it's now been long enough since I wrote it that I can almost read it as a reader without trying to mentally edit it and without being constantly conscious of having written it. And at risk of sounding egotistical, I have to say that man, this book is good. The voice is strong, the writing just snaps and sparkles, and there are so many good moments. This book isn't usually top of mind for me. It's sort of a middle child of books, but when I really think about it, it may be my favorite thing I've written so far. I'm rather surprised, looking at it now, that this wasn't a breakout book that made the series really take off. It got up-front bookstore placement and was even in Target (though in small enough quantities that in my neighborhood store, it sold out within days and was never restocked). So I'm not sure what happened, but to me, being able to put aside my writer hat, this reads like a breakout book that should have just exploded and propelled the series to another level.

On the other hand, a lot of "breakout" books from that same time period are out of print, and this one is still selling well enough that I can't get the rights reverted.

I guess the answer is to keep plugging away, and maybe someday something I write will hit whatever magic formula that makes it break out, and that will then spread to everything else I've written.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Reread Continues: The Infamous Red Stilettos

Last year (maybe -- I lost all track of time), I did a reread/commentary on the first Enchanted, Inc. book, and this morning when I spotted the Infamous Red Stilettos lying on my bedroom floor (where I really need to put them away after having worn them to a convention a month ago) I thought I ought to pick that up again and do the second book.

So, now for a reread/commentary of Once Upon Stilettos. There may be spoilers for the entire series, as I'll likely address things that come up later. I'm not on any particular schedule. This may be something I do when I can't think of anything else to talk about.

Now, for the beginning ...

It all started with the red shoes, except it actually didn't. While I was writing the first book, I started getting ideas for what would happen in the rest of the series, based on random bits of conversation when someone brought up the possibility of something happening, and I made a note that it should probably happen. As an aside, I guess I was pretty obvious about that because a few years ago there was a team attempting to turn this series into a TV series, and I had a conference call with the lead writer in which she was giving me the pitch she'd give to network executives. She outlined the pilot and first season, then possible plot lines for subsequent seasons. I had to stop her and ask if she'd read the whole series, and she said she'd just read the first book. But her outline for the way each season would go followed the books pretty closely, with season 2 being a lot like book 2, and so forth. It was kind of eerie (but, alas, no network picked it up, and I thought these people would have done a great job with it).

When I got an agent and she was getting ready to try to sell the book to publishers, she had me put together blurbs for possible sequels, to demonstrate that it wouldn't just be one book. Then she made me combine what I had for books two and three into one book. My planned book two was about the mole in the company, with book three about Katie losing her immunity. Combining those plots made the story a lot stronger.

Around this time, when I had an agent but hadn't yet sold the book, I went shopping with a friend. Really, it was just window shopping. We went to one of the upscale malls and treated it almost like a museum. At the time, I had very little income. I'd been laid off from my job a couple of years earlier and was freelancing some, but that money didn't quite cover my living expenses, so I was living off my savings while writing books. And then I saw the shoes, those candy apple red stilettos. They called to me. I wanted them. They were totally impractical. I wouldn't have too many places to wear them or things to wear them with, and for that price I could have bought at least six pairs of shoes in my usual price range. I told my friend that if I sold the book, I'd buy those shoes. The shoes were not in the original plan for the book, nor were they in the plot line that was submitted to the publisher. I wasn't even thinking about them being incorporated into the book at that point.

Several months later, I did sell the book, and it was a two-book contract, with the book I'd already written and a sequel I'd planned but hadn't written a word of. I called my friend to tell her the news, and she asked what time I'd be over to pick her up to go shoe shopping. That day, we went to Nordstrom, and I bought the Infamous Red Stilettos. I must say, I was still wavering on whether I should do it because for me that was a lot of money and I'd never bought an item of clothing that expensive. When we got back to my friend's place, I was still talking myself into buying the shoes I'd already bought, justifying it to myself. I mentioned that the shoes had called out to me. They were magical.

And then, click, I had the opening line and the opening scene for the book I needed to write. Since the book was going to involve Katie losing her immunity, the shoes were the perfect way to show that effect on her, as sometimes she was immune to the spell on them, and then there were moments when she absolutely had to have them. That opening scene was very much my experience when I first saw them and then later when I went to buy them. I just moved the scene to Bloomingdale's in New York (because that was the store in New York where I saw the same shoes and knew for sure they were there) instead of Nordstrom in Dallas.

Incidentally, the original planned title for this book was Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered, which I thought fit it perfectly. Except we found out that a much more famous author was going to be releasing a book with that exact title a few months before mine, so there was a last-second scramble to retitle it. Someone in the marketing department came up with the new title.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Go, Me!

I had a rather full weekend. Friday was quite a productive day. I did five loads of laundry (and put it all away and remade the bed), made a loaf of Irish soda bread, baked a truly evil pecan fudge pie (new recipe), and finished the first draft of my book.

I already know that it will need revising, and the big climactic action sequence definitely needs work. It seems that I made too foolproof a plan. I was so careful to have the characters think of contingencies and be smart about it all, and then after I wrote it I realized that a perfect plan executed flawlessly makes for less interesting fiction. I don't have to make the characters dumber, but I can have them run into something unexpected that throws a monkey wrench into the works. Even the best plan can't account for absolutely everything that might happen in a chaotic system where other people have free will. I also have a lot of tinkering to do earlier in the book to set up what comes later. My mom calls this "Bill and Tedding," after the running gag in the movie Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, in which the time travelers keep getting out of sticky situations by telling each other to remember to go back in time later and put the thing they need in place. And then the thing they need suddenly is there. So now I need to go back in time and put all those things in place.

On Saturday, there was a get-together with friends, and that evening I finished knitting the cape I've been working on for months. So, yet another months-long project completed in the weekend.

Sunday morning, I was the soloist in the choir anthem for church, so I went to bed early Saturday night, adapting to the time change at bedtime. I was supposed to lead the preschool Sunday school singing, which meant getting to church a little earlier, but it turned out there weren't any kids because it was the start of spring break. Instead, I ended up getting a Harp 101 lesson and then I practiced my solo with the organist. I'm really glad I had the time to do that because I'd only heard the accompaniment on the piano, and it would have been frightening to hear it on the organ for the first time when I was performing it. I got to run through it a few times with her, then a few times with the choir and even with the microphone, so when I actually sang it, I was rather calm and confident. It was almost an out-of-body experience. People have told me it was good. I think it was okay and they weren't just being polite. But because I'm a raging perfectionist, there are things I know could have been better (and every time I have a solo, the sermon seems to end up being about perfectionism).

I spent Sunday afternoon reading a book I've been asked to provide a cover blurb for.

So, not bad for a weekend. It's supposedly spring break this week, but that only affects children's choir and dance. I still had yoga and still have a choir rehearsal. I'm eager to dig into revisions on the book. Now that the story is out, I can concentrate on making it better. I can also go back to doing more piano practice since I don't have to worry so much about practicing a solo.

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Week of Accomplishment

This is a week of accomplishments. For one thing, unless things go incredibly crazy, I will likely finish this draft of the book today. My usual daily word count would bring me to right about the word count I want for this phase of the book. I've seen the "movie" of the rest of the book in my head and played out the scenes, so I think it should go pretty smoothly. I just have to decide exactly where to end it, as the movie seems to continue to set up the next book, and I don't know if those parts need to go in the next book or this book.

One of my characters has really surprised me by rising to the occasion. I'd always imagined that this character might be able to do some things, but I didn't see it happening in this way or at this time.

I have to say, this book is turning out to be pretty good. That publisher is going to regret passing on it because this may be the one that starts the buzz for the series in a big way.

Of course, that will be after I've done some rewrites. I may give myself a couple of days off before I go back and start rewriting. By "days off," I mean doing my taxes and giving my house a good cleaning. And doing a ton of reading, as I need to read a book for a possible blurb and read all the Nebula nominees by the end of the month. In fact, Sunday is going to have to be a serious reading day for me.

My other accomplishment this week was playing a piece of music on the piano with both hands. I've always been fascinated with the piano. I had a little toy piano as a child, and I taught myself to play some basic things on it. The girl who lived across the street when I was in preschool through first grade was taking piano lessons, and when I was at her house, I'd go through her piano lesson books and then go home and try to do those things on my toy piano. I was the weird kid who begged for piano lessons while all my friends who were being forced to take them begged not to have to. But I didn't get to do anything musically (other than the regular elementary school music classes) until sixth grade, when I got to be in band. I'd sort of taught myself to read music, but that was when I really got fluent in reading treble clef, without having to stop to think what each line and space was.

When I was in my mid-20s, my parents gave me an electronic keyboard for Christmas, and I bought a "learn to play piano" book. Then I hit a major roadblock of frustration. I would look at an easy piece of music and find myself totally unable to play it. While I can look at the treble clef and identify a note at a glance, on the bass clef I had to stop and go "good boys do fine always." I'd played oboe and flute, so I wasn't used to the idea of playing more than one note at a time or having to make my fingers work independently. The keyboard got put aside, other than occasionally for helping me work out notes in choir music, but even there, it was easier to play it on the flute to see how it would go, since I couldn't play the piano in rhythm or at tempo.

A few years ago, I got a stand for the keyboard, so it sits more like a piano, and so I played with it more often. I got to the point where I could identify the keys without counting from middle C, and then I was able to play the melody line of music in rhythm or at tempo. I've also been trying to work on reading bass clef, so in choir when the director is working with the men, I make myself figure out the notes in their part.

So this week when I was working on my solo for church Sunday, I worked out how to play the chord that leads into my part (that first note is tricky to find). Then I thought I might be able to try playing for real, and I got out that book. This time, it seemed to click. I'm still in the early beginner stages, but I've worked my way up to playing songs that use both hands at the same time and that even use chords on each hand. I'm actually playing the piano! I've even managed to sing while playing. The keyboard is just outside my office and near the spot where I've been writing, so it makes a good break between writing sessions. I feel enough excitement about the achievement that I may even stick with working my way through this book, and then I'll have to look for more piano lesson books to keep developing.

One of my motivations right now may be the fact that a friend in choir has offered to lend me a Celtic harp and teach me the basics, but he has to get his loaner back from someone else. Since that will require using both hands and playing more than one note at a time (and a piano is basically a harp on its side), I figured that playing the piano would be good preparation while I wait. My goal is to be able to play something I can sing with, and a small harp is more portable than a piano. I tried playing guitar, but my skin doesn't form calluses, so pressing the strings against the frets was painful and didn't get better. I was taking lessons, and my teacher even said that it wasn't the instrument for me.

I've been trying to spend less time online, and this is what I've been doing with the time I've freed up.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Almost There!

It's one of those cool, rainy days when it's nearly impossible to get out of bed, but that means it's also good writing weather. I'm closing in on the end of the book. I just got to the big turning point that kicks off the final act. I suspect tomorrow will be a big writing marathon as I plow toward the ending. I know there's going to be a lot of editing and revision required. This draft was to get the plot done. I need to add/change a few scenes for plot reasons, and I think I need to deal more with emotions and relationships because while getting the plot worked out, I skimmed over a lot of that stuff.

But I'm so close to seeing how the story ends! I kind of know how it ends, but seeing it is a very different thing.

My kids were relatively easy to deal with in choir last night. Some of the surrounding school districts are on spring break this week, so the group was small, and the child who's usually the biggest problem wasn't there. We were able to actually do activities instead of spending the whole time stopping bad behavior. Though we do have the one kid who's doing this passive-aggressive hugging thing. He knows he gets in trouble for hitting, so instead he hugs everyone rather aggressively, then says "I was only hugging" when the other kid complains. We have to keep telling him that a hug isn't a nice thing if the other person doesn't want it, and he needs to ask if it's okay to hug someone first. He seemed a little surprised that we were on to him and knew he wasn't just being affectionate. Even if he was, it's not nice to hug people who don't want to be hugged (that's very important to me, since I'm not a big hugger).

And then I have spring break next week, so no children's choir. I'll still have a choir rehearsal, but no lesson plans or kids, and there's no dance class. I'm trying to decide if I want to go somewhere next week for a few days, especially if I finish the book.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Problem Characters: The Love Interest

I'm still talking about problem characters who tend to pop up in your writing and make your story more difficult. This week: the love interest. This isn't so much a problem in the romance genre because the structure of those stories dictates a hero and heroine as co-protagonists (or sometimes protagonist and antagonist) rather than a hero (or heroine) and love interest. It's more of a problem in other genres, where there is a hero doing other stuff, and he may have a love interest waiting at home for him, he may fall in love along the way, or he may be rewarded for success by getting romantic love. I'm going to mostly use "hero" here because this is primarily a problem with stories about men being "rewarded" with women. It can apply to either sex, but I haven't run across too many books with female heroines and non-entity love interests.

This character is mostly a problem when she's treated as nothing more than a motivation or a prize. You could replace her with a valuable vase without changing the plot all that much. I see two key issues that come up with these kinds of characters. If the love interest is already in a relationship with the hero, her being weak and undeveloped makes readers turn against her and want her to die so the hero can be with someone more interesting -- and quite frequently she does, as this character's role is often to be killed so the hero will be motivated to go after the villain. If the love interest is a kind of reward for the hero for his heroism and she's weak and undeveloped, the relationship isn't very believable. We've just watched this hero go through all kinds of stuff, being smart and brave, and then he ends up with this insipid mannequin.

One way to avoid this problem is to stop thinking in terms of "love interest." Unless it's critical to your plot that your hero fall in love with this particular character, just create a cast of characters and see what develops. Give each character a role in the story (aside from love interest), then throw them all together in the plot. You may find one of them fitting well with the hero, and then you can work on developing that relationship. If the plot does require the pairing, give the love interest the same kind of development you'd give to any other character, and find some additional role in the story for this character to play -- friend, partner, member of the team, minor antagonist, etc.

Think twice if your plot requires the hero's wife/lover/girlfriend to be killed in order to motivate him or raise the stakes. That's a trope that's become known as "fridging." Is there some other way other than killing a woman to motivate the hero? If you absolutely must do it, at least let her be a real character who has some other existence than to die for the sake of the plot. Don't just make the hero care what happens to her. Make readers care. Make them feel her loss rather than celebrate because he's now free to be with the far more interesting sidekick.

The same thing applies to a love interest as a reward. Give this character an active role in the story, not just wringing her hands while the hero's in danger and then giving him the big "my hero" treatment at the end. Ideally, readers should be wanting these two people to get together because they like both of them and can see how they'd be good for each other.

Generally, a fictional love story requires some reason the two characters should be together -- affinity, common goals or interests -- and something to overcome -- internal issues, external circumstances. In a romance novel, the conflict to be overcome is the critical part of the story, but outside that genre it may be less important. You don't have to work to keep the characters apart until the happy ending, but you may have a more interesting story if they do have something to overcome, whether it's internal wounds that need to be healed or circumstances that have to be resolved before they have time to start a relationship.

Letting your hero fall in love with a fully fleshed-out character rather than a cardboard standup will only improve your story.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Ugh, Mornings

I've had to get up early (for me) for four days in a row now, since I had a dentist appointment. And it was even raining. I know that people who work regular jobs are playing the world's tiniest violin for me right now, but setting my own schedule and not having to get out of bed early on rainy mornings is one of the perks of this career that makes me reconsider when I get fed up and frustrated with the business. It's worth dealing with the uncertainties and craziness to have that kind of freedom. To make matters even more fun, my weather radio went off with a severe thunderstorm warning right as I was getting dressed, but fortunately the bad stuff had just cleared this area before I had to leave.

Tomorrow, though, is going to feel like a weekend when I finally don't have to set an alarm.

There's something about my dentist appointments. My "winter" appointment used to fall in late January or early February, and it tended to be sleeting on that day. Now that my schedule has shifted a bit, I guess I'm getting thunderstorms.

The other thing that tends to happen during dentist appointments is that's when my agent always calls with news. In fact, I got my initial offer of representation during a dentist appointment. Nothing this time, alas.

But this kind of weather is excellent for writing, so I'll be going offline all afternoon and settling down with the book.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Resisting the Nap Urge

I suspect it will take an act of will and a lot of tea to get much work done today. There's a triple whammy of several early mornings in a row, plus a yoga class this morning that wore me out, plus a rainy day. Even as I sit upstairs in my office, I can feel the pull of my bed from downstairs. Just a teensy nap won't hurt, will it?

I'm heading into another busy stretch of programmed weekends. Most of it is fun stuff, but it's still stuff on the calendar. It's that time of year when choir kicks into high gear. I've got the solo in the choir anthem this Sunday, then next Sunday the children's choir sings, and then there's the Good Friday service and three Easter services. The weekend after Easter may be collapse time.

But with Downton Abbey over, that frees up some TV time. I found the ending satisfying, though I had minor issues with the outcome. In too many cases, the romantic relationships were more "tell" than "show." In the first couple of seasons, Matthew and Mary had enough interaction for us to see how well they fit. One of the interim guys also seemed to generate some real sparks, and she even lowered her guard with him. With the final guy, while their relationship seemed okay in the finale, in all the lead up to it we barely saw them interact. There were more scenes of other characters talking about how perfect they were for each other than there were of them being perfect together.

Then they may have gone a wee bit overboard with pairing off just about everyone, or at least hinting at who they'd be paired off with. The world isn't Noah's Ark. You can end a story without everyone having the perfect mate. I actually was kind of pulling for Mary to remain single. She'd never been overly enthused about the idea of marriage. She loved Matthew, and she had the much-needed heir, and after that I could have imagined her being happily "married" to the estate.

I may rewatch the first couple of seasons someday. That seems like a good rainy weekend activity.

Meanwhile, I was kind of meh on the Once Upon a Time midseason premiere/100th episode. In case you hadn't figured it out by now, Regina apparently really didn't like Snow White in the past. But she's a hero now (and yet, we've never seen her say she was wrong to keep trying to kill Snow White, and she's never apologized for any of that). Maybe it'll pick up again next week. This week, I got a lot of knitting done.

Now, to will myself to work rather than crawling into bed.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Farewell to an Era

I managed to write yesterday. It was very exciting. I seem to have finally emerged from my haze. Now I might start to make actual progress again. But first, I have adult-type stuff to do, like get my car safety inspected so I can renew my registration. It's still early in the month, so I have time, but I have to get new license plates this time around, which means that I can either do the inspection early and then renew by mail or online, or I can wait until later in the month and go stand in line at the tax office. I suppose I could still do it sometime next week, but I have some other errands, and it's a reasonably nice day, so I may as well take care of it today and get it out of the way.

This weekend marks the end of an era, with the final episode of Downton Abbey Sunday night. I can't believe I wasn't initially planning to watch it, but the review in the newspaper was so glowing that I thought I'd give it a shot, and I loved it. Alas, the first season was really the high point. They made some questionable decisions after that, skipping through most of the war, the terrible romantic triangle, the "miracle" cure. Then they started losing actors left and right, and I'm not sure the show ever recovered from Matthew's death -- all that buildup to his relationship with Mary, and then he was gone. I bought the first two seasons on DVD, but I haven't bought the rest because it was no longer something I could imagine rewatching, and once they were into the 20s, the fashion was no longer quite so much to swoon over. This season has become kind of lackluster, and they have a really bad habit of making the interesting stuff take place offscreen. But I love the characters, and I might find myself missing them, even while I'm ready for the show to end before it becomes even more of a parody of itself.

So, Sunday night I may put on a nice hat or maybe a tiara and settle down with a glass of champagne to say farewell to an era. I suspect there was a lot of Downton Abbey influence in the world of Rebel Mechanics, just with the dealings with household staff and the divide between the upstairs world and the downstairs world. I wasn't doing it on purpose, but I'm sure I couldn't help but be influenced by something I was enjoying. I did once quote the dowager countess in responding to a question posed by an editor (they wondered about a ball being held on a weeknight, to which I replied "what is a weekend?" -- people who don't have jobs don't have to worry about scheduling things around weekends).

This is also the return of Once Upon a Time for the spring season, but advance reviews are saying this is mostly a Regina episode, with token appearances by other cast members, so that's nothing to get excited about. It's their 100th episode, and it says something about where the writers stand that they center a milestone episode around a single character, and that single character in particular. If ever there was a cause to do a true ensemble episode, you'd think #100 would be it.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

I Love Love

While I was sick and not up to doing much of anything but thinking -- and even then in more of a daydreamy way -- while I was also having to make some career decisions, I found myself taking a good look at what I like and what I'm good at, and I came to some conclusions that rather surprised me.

One of the biggest is that love stories are my thing. I think about 95 percent of my reader mail involves the romantic relationships in my books or the swoonworthiness of my heroes. When I'm plotting or planning books, the relationship part is usually what comes to me first and is the easiest part for me to figure out. While I try to avoid being a real "shipper" in things I read and watch, a good romantic plot gets me every time, and the possibility of one will capture my imagination.

But I've tended to resist all this because I don't really like "romance." I failed at writing romance novels, though I suppose having any at all published wouldn't count as failure. It just wasn't my thing. I finally admitted to myself that I don't like "romance," as much as I enjoy a good love story. It's the structure and form of the romance novel that I dislike, not the fact that they contain love stories. Romance novels generally don't tell the kind of love story I find romantic. They're about people who have conflict with each other that keeps them apart, and they're mostly about the physical attraction even when the emotions are also dealt with. What I enjoy is a love story that develops along the way while the characters are doing something else, where it's a seasoning in another plot rather than the main plot. So, give me characters having to work together on a quest and very subtly and gradually falling in love as they get to know each other in difficult circumstances, but I'm not at all interested in the guy and the girl who bicker while lusting after each other.

This has given me some challenges in my career. I don't know if it's my Harlequin past or the fact that the Enchanted, Inc. series was published as "women's fiction" rather than fantasy, but the fantasy editors seem to have me pigeonholed as a romance author. Most of the books I've submitted to fantasy editors have been criticized and rejected for being "too romancey." That's one reason Rebel Mechanics ended up in young adult. I initially wrote it as an adult fantasy, but it was rejected, with some editors suggesting I try a romance publisher instead. I knew it wasn't a romance, and I knew enough about the romance market to know it would never sell there. I also knew I wasn't willing to do what it would take to turn it into something that would sell as romance. So since the characters were young and it was basically a coming-of-age story, I aged them down a couple of years, emphasized the youth, and we resubmitted as YA, where there aren't the same silos of books. The constant attempts by fantasy editors (many of whom were already fans of the Enchanted, Inc. books) to pigeonhole me as a romance author baffle me, since I've read books published by some of these same editors that are far more romantic than what I write and that could easily have been published as romances, when my books never could have. I don't know if it's just that mindset because of my history that makes them see things that way, or if that's what they pick up on from my writing, or what.

But I've decided that this is what readers like about me, so I may as well go for it. That can be part of my "not going back to a publisher until I'm the one with the clout" plan, since one of the benefits of independent publishing is the ability to break down barriers between genres and not adhere to genre rules. I'd been holding back on that side of the story for fear of yet another "maybe you should consider a romance house" rejection, but I'm going to write things the way I want them to be without holding back. It's probably not going to change things that drastically. There just might be a bit more of the stuff that's already there. I don't like writing sex scenes (so boring). I do like writing subtle attraction and slow build and partnerships growing out of adversity. If I do it right, the people who like my books for the romance will be happy, but it won't turn off people who aren't reading for the romance. In my grand revenge against the publishing industry scheme, if I do become successful, this will be part of my formula, so they won't dare tell me not to do what's been working for me.

I think I can also make this part of my viewpoint as a writer. One thing I've noticed in analyzing people with careers I envy is that they often have built a kind of cult of personality around themselves based on the things they talk about. This can be one of the things I talk about, finding the love stories in nerdy things -- like my saying that I find Aliens to be deeply romantic. So, yeah, I love dragons and quests and wizards and space battles and people falling in love while doing all these things.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Torturing Characters

It's hard to force myself to move forward on huge career goals when I'm still recovering from being sick. I walked to the polling place to vote yesterday, and while the exercise felt good, it utterly flattened me. I managed to re-read the last week or so of work, but I could barely keep my eyes open. I ended up going to bed shortly after nine, reading for a while until I caught myself drifting off over the book, then turned out the light at ten. And then slept until almost ten. But I feel a lot more energetic today.

I also realized late in the day yesterday that I don't have children's choir tonight. I had a mental lesson plan, but it's a children's worship service tonight. I have even more lesson plan ideas after last night, when I had a very vivid and realistic dream about all the activities I'd set up for tonight, only to realize that we weren't having choir. We have one session next week, then spring break, and then I just need to get through April. Woo hoo!

Now to get back into the book. I'm at the good part when things get really intense. Oh, my poor characters. It's probably a good thing that I can get the sequel to this book out as soon as I have it written because I suspect people will want it as soon as possible. I don't have an actual cliffhanger planned, but I think this book will end with the characters in a difficult place.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Bad News, Good News, and a Publishing Manifesto

Now that I'm back to being more or less moderately coherent, it's time to get back to normal business mode, and that means I have something to announce, both good news and bad news.

First, the bad news: the publisher doesn't want another Rebel Mechanics book.

The good news: you'll get one anyway. I'll just go ahead and publish it myself. The good news about that is that instead of having to wait a year or two, it will probably be coming this summer, soon after the paperback release of Rebel Mechanics. The down side is that it likely won't be a pretty hardcover and won't be in bookstores. You'll have to get the e-book or order a book online. I don't yet know about an audiobook.

I will admit that I was disappointed about this. I was rather unhappy about the degree of support the publisher gave this book. They did such a wonderful job of producing a beautiful book, but they did no publicity. Every guest blog post or interview I did, every event I did, was something I set up or that came to me rather than through the publisher's publicist. The publisher presented me with a publicity plan of what they said they were going to do, but none of it got done, and I didn't know they weren't doing it until it was too late to do anything about it. That meant it didn't show up on any of the genre news sites where I've seen authors of other books like this interviewed. Even on social media, they made one tweet and didn't use any of their other in-house vehicles for promoting books. The book was generally well-reviewed and well-received, and librarians loved it. But too few people knew about it, so they didn't think it sold well enough to warrant a sequel, and they were uninterested in trying to support the paperback to see if it took off.

They were interested in looking at something else from me, but I figured why tie myself to them for another year or two (or more), only to get the same old thing? So I said this book was the only thing on the table, and if they didn't want it, that meant they'd passed on the option and I was no longer contractually linked to them.

That led me to make another career decision: I won't deal with another publisher unless I'm coming to them with enough clout to get them to support my book with a full promotional campaign. Otherwise, why should I bother with a publisher? Promotion and distribution are what they bring to the table that I can't do as well for myself. I'll admit that I have mixed feelings about independent publishing. It's saved my career. Without it, I'd have had to get another day job years ago. It's wonderful to have the option. But I really don't like doing it. I just want to write. I don't like having to make all the decisions and deal with vendors and artists and do all the marketing. But right now, I don't have a lot of faith in publishers. They make very poor business choices based on outdated models. I'm sick of having books that readers love but that no one knows about, and yet the publisher acts like the problem is with the book when it doesn't perform up to their hopes. They throw a lot of things against the wall and see what sticks while applying lots of glue to some things and nothing to others, but they still judge everything equally, as though it's all had glue. So, until and unless I have a book that's up for auction with competition between publishers, so that I can make promotional support part of the bid and get it in the contract (so that I'm the one who gets the glue), or until I'm so successful that they come begging to me (or both), I don't intend to deal with a publisher.

The trick will be to get to that point. I'm not sure that writing better is the answer, though I always try to do better. I don't think the quality of my books has been an issue. They've been favorably reviewed, and the people who read them really seem to love them. They may not quite have the same mass appeal or don't hit the right market niche, but that may not be something I can fix because I'm not exactly a mass appeal kind of person. A lot of it has to do with luck -- the right book hitting in the right way at the right time with the right people. There were bestselling books at the time the first Enchanted, Inc. book was published that have already been remaindered and that probably sold fewer total copies than Enchanted, Inc. has, but they got the push and sold those copies quickly and got the bestseller status that led to more support, while my series got dropped, only to keep plugging away.

But what I can do is dig in and deal with the things I can control, which means this is going to be the Year of My Career. I'm going to really focus on writing and getting a number of books in the pipeline because the more books there are, the greater the chance that something will hit, and publication frequency is also good for momentum, and I'm going to force myself to step out of my comfort zone and try to promote myself more, whether directly to readers or by networking more with peers. I've identified some trends of behaviors I see in the authors in my field who at least have the outward measures of success (I can't look into their bank accounts) and will see about applying those things to my own career.

So, look for news about when the next Rebel Mechanics book will be coming, as well as other books that will soon be in the works.