Friday, April 29, 2016

Inside Out

The weekend was so crazy that I totally spaced on a big anniversary this week. Monday marked ten years since the initial publication of Once Upon Stilettos. I can't believe it's been that long.

One of my areas of interest is psychology, since I think it helps me create well-rounded, somewhat realistic characters. I like figuring out what makes people tick, and that's also useful in real life. If you can figure out the underlying reason for a person's behavior and grasp where they're coming from, they're easier to deal with (and, yeah, manipulate). This was useful back in my PR days, when a client would make an unreasonable request. I had a knack for figuring out what was behind the request and then coming up with a way to meet that underlying need that was more reasonable. If you met the underlying need, they were usually happy even if you didn't give them exactly what they asked for. I find the same thing often works with editors, where I can figure out why they think something needs to be changed, so I can find a way to give them that without changing my vision for the story.

Of course, before you can really understand other people, you have to be willing to take a good look at yourself, since that filters your perceptions of others. It's also important as a writer, since you're the only person you know inside-out. One of my first big revelations came when I was a couple of years out of college and my employer sent me to a week-long professional workshop. Most of it was stuff related to my job, but the first thing they did at the kick-off event was administer the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test (Google it -- you'll find some free online versions). The huge revelation from my results was that I was an introvert, which meant something different than I'd always thought. I'm very verbal and can be outgoing in the right circumstances (people talk about how vivacious I am on convention panels), which I thought meant I was extroverted. But in the sense of these personality types, it's about where you draw your energy. If you get recharged when you're around people, you're an extrovert. If you get recharged by alone time, you're an introvert. I felt like I was in one of those Peanuts cartoons where someone has a huge revelation and shouts out "That's it!" and sends the other person somersaulting backwards. It suddenly explained everything about the way I worked and my social life. I suspect that my life would have gone very differently if I'd taken that test in high school, along with all the other "what career should you have?" assessments. Most of those tests were about what you were good at doing, but they didn't take personality into account. I ended up in journalism because I liked and was good at writing and enjoyed reading and research, but that's a terrible career for someone who's drained by being around people and who doesn't like having to make phone calls. Then, to make matters worse, I ended up going into public relations, as one of the jobs you could get with a journalism degree, which requires even more dealing with people. Though I'm not sure what other job would have suited me, given the lack of entry-level novelist jobs. I was interested in TV writing, where there are staff jobs, but those writers have to work as part of a team and I can't even imagine that.

Anyway, understanding that about myself allowed me to develop a lot of good coping mechanisms and taught me how to treat myself, that it was okay to say no to invitations when I want some alone time. Now it seems that introversion is a cool thing, or else a huge number of my friends are introverts, because I keep seeing articles on the topic pop up in my Facebook feed. Recently, there was this one on owning your introversion. I think I'd add to that the idea that alone time doesn't necessarily mean staying in. I like going and doing things by myself, which is sometimes a challenge to manage with friends who want to do things with me. It's hard to explain that I want to do the thing, but I don't really want to do it with them (or anyone), and it gets awkward if you say no, you don't want to do the thing with them, but then you do the thing on your own and you run into the person there, which usually means that unless it's a multi-venue thing (like a movie), once someone asks me to go, I either have to go with them or not go at all. There's a very different energy to doing things alone, and I have a different experience alone vs. going with someone. I find that I interact with my environment more and get more out of a lot of things when I do it alone, while if I'm with a person, I interact with that person and it seems to shut out other people (which is why I prefer to travel alone). And it's different with different people. Some people are good about the idea of being at an event at the same time, but not necessarily being together. We can intersect at times but we can also do our own things and don't have to be joined at the hip. Other people expect to stick with you the whole time if you go to something together, and that's a lot more restricting and draining.

But when I found that article, there were a number of other things on that site that were specific to my Myers-Briggs type that were rather eye-opening. It was like "oh, that explains so much." This article on the Dark Side of the INFJ was like me in a nutshell. I was particularly interested in the "door slam" part because I didn't realize it was a known thing. There were a couple of particular instances that came to mind when I've done that, but then looking back, I realized it's happened a lot, though it's not always so obvious when we moved so often and that put a natural ending point on a friendship where there might have been a door slam if we'd stayed. Plus, that's the way just about all of my romantic relationships have ended (I don't stay friends after a breakup). It's usually not something I've necessarily done on purpose when I've let a friendship end this way. It usually comes in conjunction with a major life upheaval, when I have to retreat for a while to deal with it, and then when I'm through it and get in touch with a friend, I get blasted with accusations of being a terrible friend for being out of touch. Then when I point out that I'm the one who initiated contact here and I haven't heard from that person in just as long, I get blasted some more, and it's more than I can deal with, so I back off for a while to recover and get past the anger, but then after the last blast I start to fear I'll get more of it the next time I try to say anything, and meanwhile I've discovered or rediscovered other friends who have been supportive during the major life upheaval, and I start to realize that this friend was always an emotional drain, so I just let it go, drop it, and move on. I think maybe that comes back to that introvert trait of tending to attract needy people. The needy ones are the first to lash out when you're not meeting their needs, and they're less likely to take the "I haven't heard from you in a while, are you okay?" approach rather than sulking until you reach out to them and then blasting you for not being in touch. I've gotten better about avoiding those relationships in the first place now that I've learned that I'm not so desperate for friends that I have to deal with difficult people. I've also learned to look for the red flags in the early stages.

And then this article pretty much sums up my personality.

I suspect a lot of my characters are a lot like this, just because it's easier to write from that worldview. It's a lot harder for me to write an extrovert, and when I do, it doesn't always feel authentic because it's essentially faked. I can write the behavior, but it's hard to write the viewpoint. I get tired just writing it. But then avid readers tend to be introverts, so they're more likely to identify with the kinds of characters I write.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Back to School

I had my last children's choir session last night. Now we just have to sing Sunday and then at the children's worship service next Wednesday, but I don't have to have lesson plans for that and the parents will be present, so that should mean they're on their best behavior (ha!). I got one thank-you gift from a kid, some chocolate and pecan candy. Another kid gave me a big hug. Otherwise, I think these kids are still too young to comprehend the concept of the end of the school year. They haven't really experienced that yet.

Even though the school year is coming to a close, I'll be going back to school this weekend. The local newspaper sponsors these One Day University things, in which they bring in some top professors from universities all over the country for a day of lectures. Usually, there are one or two lectures that sound interesting, but it's not worth the price (in the $200 range), so I've never gone. The newspaper has also started a subscriber rewards program, where every so often they send out an e-mail with a list of upcoming events that you can win tickets to. You select which event to enter a drawing for of that round. It's mostly concerts and sporting events, and I've entered every time but haven't heard anything. This time around, the One Day University was on the list, and there was a lecture on the psychology of good and evil on the schedule that I thought might be very useful for characterization, so I chose that event for my entry. Yesterday, I got an e-mail telling me I won for the event Saturday. That was kind of exciting. I guess I really need to hear that lecture.

This does mean I'll be "working" two weekends in a row, then a weekend off, and then the next weekend I'll be working again.

Meanwhile, my shopping trip earlier in the week proved fruitless. I remember when a few years ago the dressy top was such a big thing. The go-to dressy casual outfit was a sparkly camisole, jeans, and heels, or you could wear the top with a skirt or tuxedo pants for a more formal occasion. But the only dressy tops I found in the whole mall were "mother of the bride" type jackets or midriff-baring halters, and an online search of the major department stores didn't come up with anything, either. So, I'm going to get wild and crazy and break out the sewing machine to get exactly what I want. I have a pattern for a bodice/vest that I've made before, and yesterday I bought some satin material to make it. I haven't sewn much in a long time, but this pattern is one of the few things I've made, and it came out really well then. If it comes out well, I'll have to get someone to take photos to post.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Once Upon Stilettos Reread: Chapters Five and Six

Now that the book is done and I can think about anything else for a while, back to the Once Upon Stilettos commentary, with chapters five and six.

The visit from the parents came from two things. One, I realized that we were approaching Thanksgiving on my book calendar, and two, when I was thinking of the worst thing I could do to poor Katie, it was having her parents show up while she's in the middle of all kinds of craziness. She's still getting her bearings in the magical world, and then she's having to confront what to her are the primary symbols of her nonmagical life. She doesn't want her family to worry about her, but she's now in a situation where she's actually under attack.

The other big thing going on is the office politics plot, where they know there's a mole and that makes things get kind of crazy as everyone in the company becomes paranoid, and backstabbing ensues. This was roughly based on my experiences near the end of my tenure in the corporate world. We'd been in a real boom period in my industry, so we were expanding and hiring so many people that they joked about how you could get a job if you could fog a mirror when you breathed on it. Things were already getting shaky even before 9/11, but the bottom fell out afterward, and there were multiple rounds of layoffs. At first, it was just the fog-the-mirror people being let go, but then they started closing entire offices, including some that had just been actively recruiting. With each round of layoffs, people got even more paranoid that they would be next on the chopping block. I was dealing with an immediate supervisor who seemed to see me as a threat, so she kept deliberately excluding me from meetings, including the pitch team to re-pitch our biggest account, the one where I had become the CEO's personal speech writer. We lost the account, and I got laid off (which worked out for me in the long run, and that company hired me as a freelancer). If we'd set up an anonymous tip line around that time, I can only imagine the kind of stuff that would have been on it.

You know it's bad when even Owen is getting paranoid enough to rig a new security system on his department. It's worse when, as paranoid as he is, he misses the fact that his own office is being bugged. I liked when he was getting testy while working because it kept him from being too, too perfect.

By the way, I came up with this plot and figured out who was going to be the mole when I was midway through writing the first book. so the clues were already being planted in that book, even though the possibility of a mole didn't get raised until this book.

Then we have yet another big date with Ethan. I remember doing a lot of research to figure out things they might do. I knew I wanted it to be kind of an out-of-town event, but I hadn't actually planned all the other stuff that might happen. I was looking up some famous foodie restaurants in the outlying areas, and stuff like that. And then I thought it more likely (given what's to come) that he'd want to come to a magical party. There's also his spontaneous nature, which isn't a great fit for someone like Katie, who'd rather plan and know what to expect. So, all that research, and I didn't use it. But some good stuff spun out of it that I hadn't planned on, so I'm not complaining.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Free Time? What's That?

It feels really weird having free time. It's like when I was in school and got to the end of finals. The first few days afterward seemed odd because I didn't have to study, but I felt guilty for not studying, and I'd forgotten what I did with my time when I didn't have to study.

Except now I have other stuff I need to do that I didn't get around to doing, only I don't really want to deal with it because I want to enjoy the free time, but then I feel guilty for not doing it. So maybe I should deal with all the stuff and then enjoy some free time. Well, some of the stuff. Some of it may take longer than that.

I think today's task will be to reconfigure some of my office. If I move my modem and wireless router around, I free up some space on and around my desk, and moving the wireless router to the bookcase by the desk will allow me to connect it to my stereo, so I can then stream music from my computer or phone through my stereo speakers, and I think that will be essential for doing further desk cleaning and office reorganization. Come to think of it, I need to set up my phone for my wi-fi, which I haven't done yet.

I was going to spend today practicing the harp, but a string snapped overnight, which is odd. I wasn't even playing it at the time and hadn't touched it for a few days because I was out. The person who loaned it to me said to take it to him if I needed a string replaced, so that will have to wait either to Wednesday or Sunday.

So I guess I'm down to spending the day cleaning my office while listening to music for brainstorming purposes and maybe starting to deal with some marketing tasks.

Monday, April 25, 2016

It's a Monday Weekend

The book is off to the copyeditor, and I survived the convention weekend. I've decided to treat the next couple of days like a weekend, since I worked all weekend.

Yesterday proved to be particularly rough, as one of my friends passed away Saturday night at the convention. I'm not officially on the committee for this convention, but it's all the same group of friends running it as run the convention I'm part of, and then we're also all part of the same social group. This friend has been really pivotal in the group, so it was a real shock to arrive Sunday morning and get the news. We weren't telling attendees because we didn't want to cast a black cloud over the event for them, so those of us working on the convention and participating in programming had to go on as though nothing had happened. That meant I had about five minutes between getting the news and having to go onstage and moderate a panel. I think I got through it all okay, and I doubt anyone who didn't know me well would have been able to tell a difference (or they might have figured I just had deadline brain), but I really had to compartmentalize to do it. Then I had to come home and edit. I suspect there might be some cratering in my near future when it catches up to me.

Now I'm really regretting that I was so focused on what I needed to do that I never took the time to swing by where he was and say hi, which I usually do. I guess that's a reminder to never let those opportunities pass by because you never know when an opportunity will be your last one.

I think this afternoon I'm going to go shopping. I need groceries, so I have to go out anyway, but it's also only a few weeks before the Nebula Awards weekend, and all my evening attire is at least a decade old. I wore my newest evening dress the last time I went to the Nebula Awards. I'm thinking I'll just buy a fancy top because I have a cute satin skirt. I also need a purse small enough to fit into my tote bag (so it doesn't count as an extra carry-on item) but big enough to be useful. I had one, but it was a cheap one from Target that started disintegrating, and I want to replace it with a good one that will last.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Quiet Before the Rush

I'm enjoying my wi-fi this morning by having my morning tea and doing my morning Internet browse on the patio. It would be much nicer if one of my neighbors wasn't using a loud power tool.

I'm about halfway done with my edits. I think the book is "there," so all that going back and fixing seems to have worked. I'm just catching a few things that don't need to be there anymore because the stuff they're setting up no longer happens, and I'm having to adjust some setups for new things that happen. I'm also catching a number of redundant conversations, or at least lines in conversations, as well as some awkward wordings (if I sell this book for audio, the narrator will thank me). That's the benefit of reading out loud. If you read it out loud and find that it doesn't sound like anything a real person would say, it needs to be fixed. Then there are things your eyes skim over that really hit you when you read them out loud.

Getting much work done today might be a challenge, as I have to go into convention mode. At noon I'll be talking about other time travel stuff that Doctor Who fans might like, and at four I'll be on a panel about that other franchise that had a long hiatus before coming back to create a whole new generation of fans: Star Wars. Tomorrow morning at 10 I'll be helping with the first-timer intro panel, and then at noon will be on the panel about 'shipping Doctor Who (for the record, I'm against it for the Doctor, like it between companions). At five, I'll be popping back for a look at series 9 (which, I must confess, didn't really stick with me -- I'll be decorative on that panel). Sunday at 11, I'll be discussing other stuff Doctor Who fans might like, and at 1 will be talking about the state of genre TV and movies. I probably won't be around much otherwise, except in those hour-long gaps between panels, because I have work to do and live close enough to run home.

And then I know I'm getting close to the end of a book because I have a sudden desperate urge to clean my house. I'm sure it will fade as soon as I turn the book in and have time for it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Someday I'll Find My Desk

I finished the round of rewrites on Tuesday, and later that day I found that in order to get my personal copyediting fairy godmother before the end of May, I need to get the book to her by Monday. So, I turned right around and started one more clean-up pass, and it's a good thing because I've already caught a few things that no longer made sense, based on changes I made later in the book. I was setting up things that don't happen anymore.

This means I'll be really busy for the next few days. I'll definitely be coming home between WhoFest panels because this isn't the sort of work I can do sitting in a hotel lobby. I'm proofreading and fixing wording by reading out loud, and not only is there the reading out loud factor, but it takes a lot of concentration.

I held off on doing WiFi at home for a long time, but I'm finding that it's less of a distraction than I feared. I've been working at my desk, which is probably better for my posture, and I think knowing that I can get on the Internet at any time is making it less appealing. I'm also finding that I'm multitasking my goofing off. I can play on the Internet while I'm watching TV at night, which leaves me focusing more on work during the day. Having the instant Internet access even if I leave my desk also means that I can quickly check facts and look things up. I've been more productive this week, though I suppose some of that may have to do with now having a deadline that involves a commitment to another person. That makes for good motivation.

The first item on my agenda after I send off the book Monday is mucking out my office. I want to make it more of a pleasant working environment. The wireless means I can rearrange some things around my desk because I'm no longer limited by where the cables are. But first I have to find my desk. I'm sure it's in here somewhere.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Hitting the Hard Parts: When You're Stuck

In my writing posts, I'm currently talking about getting through the hard parts of writing a book, when it would be easy to give up, either due to something in the book itself or something outside the story.

This time, I'll get into the trickiest one of all, when you're stuck -- when you either don't know what should happen next or don't know how it should happen. Either way, you just can't seem to go on from where you are. It's easy at this point to decide that the book just isn't working and give up. This is also when other ideas start looking very tempting and when outside distractions become more powerful. Anything else starts to seem more interesting to you than the book you're trying to write.

This is definitely a case of "been there, done that" for me, so here are some tactics I've found that have helped:

One thing to do is go back and re-read what you've written, either from the beginning or at least a few chapters before the point where you're stuck. That helps put it into the perspective of a reader. It's easy to forget that a reader will go through in an hour or two the pages you've slaved over for weeks or even months. Seeing how the book leads up to where you are may give you the momentum and inspiration to pick up and keep going. You may also notice plot threads that you've set up or character arcs you've built without even realizing it. That may give you ideas for what to do next.

After you read, step away to give yourself time to process it and think about it. There's been research showing that physical activity helps spur creativity, so get some exercise. Go for a walk, go dancing, do some gardening, hit the gym. That may help spark some ideas. Research has also shown that doing something that requires some concentration is good for helping you work out problems. Play a musical instrument, do some kind of craft that requires thinking, sort documents, do anything that forces you not to think about about your book. While you're not thinking about it, the problem may be sorting itself out in your subconscious.

If you have an outline, review it. If you don't, try making an outline, figuring out the major turning points leading to the ending and then filling in incidents. If you have an idea of how the book should end, try reverse engineering to think of what needs to happen to bring about that ending. Or if you don't know the ending, work backward from what you do know.

Think about your characters' goals. What do they want to accomplish in your story? What steps should they take to reach their goals? What might get in their way? What was the last thing your protagonist tried? How did it work out? What's the next thing he or she should try in the aftermath of the last attempt? What's the last thing the villain tried, how did it work out, and what's the logical next step?

Make a list of things that could happen next, or if you know what happens next but not how it should happen, then a list of how it could happen. Try to be as specific as possible, and fill at least an entire sheet of paper. You may have to get kind of crazy and silly to fill an entire sheet, but don't stop even if you come up with a solution you think you like. You may find a few ideas you like in the list. Then take a few of the best ideas and explore them more thoroughly. By this time, a scene may start shaping up in your mind. Two or three ideas may come together.

It may help to talk to someone about your story and the problem you're facing. A friend with good story instincts may be helpful here if he or she can ask good questions, but I find that just the act of verbalizing it helps, so even talking to yourself may help.

If you have a scene in mind for later in the book, go ahead and write it. When you're utterly stuck, skip the part you're stuck on and write whatever comes to mind. That way you're still making progress, and writing those future scenes might give you ideas about what can come in between. You're exploring the characters and your situation, and if you're writing, you feel less stuck. If all else fails, write a scene you know won't be in the book, just a conversation between characters, and see what they say to each other. Let them talk about what they want to do, what they're afraid might happen. Then you might be able to create a scene in which those things do happen.

I find it helps sometimes to start a new document to make a stab at writing that next scene when I've finally got an idea for it. It feels less "real" then, which lowers the sense of pressure. I'm just playing, testing out ideas, rather than writing that all-important next scene in the book. When you've been stuck for a while, that next scene can take on impossible proportions, so convincing yourself that you're just playing with ideas may make it a little easier to face. If you have something you like, you can paste it into the whole book. If you don't like it, you can delete it and start over.

Remember that you can always revise what you've written. That next scene doesn't have to be perfect now. It just needs to move the story forward. You can go back and fix it later. You may even replace it entirely later. The important thing is to move forward and finish the book.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dread vs. the Sucker Punch

I got my wi-fi set up yesterday. It took all of five minutes, and I think two of that came from me forgetting that it works better if I turn the wi-fi on my computer on and two of it were thinking of a clever network name and a non-obvious password that I can still remember easily. I even managed to still get work done, in spite of being able to get online from wherever I was. I get a pretty good signal throughout my house, even downstairs in my bedroom and out on the patio. And yet I'm sitting at my desk this morning. I may have to force myself to try making new habits. Like, I could do my morning tea and Internet catch-up on my patio in nice weather and get myself in the habit of doing my work at my desk instead of the other way around.

Of course, cleaning my desk and my office so that I have a peaceful working environment would help matters a great deal. Maybe that's what I'll do while brainstorming the next book.

I rewrote a scene and wrote a new scene yesterday, and I think I achieved my goal with the new scene because my pulse was really racing with the knowledge of what was going to happen next. Of course, my poor readers will have no idea what's awaiting them so they'll get the sucker punch instead of the dread. Mwa ha ha ha!!!!

Now on to fixing the next bit. I'm really hoping to get this round done in the next couple of days. I have a convention this weekend, but I don't have a lot of programming and it's very close to my house, so I may be running back and forth. When it takes 15 minutes to get there and I have a four-hour gap, it's worth going back home to get things done. This is a Doctor Who convention, and I'm mostly helping with filling out panels on other science fiction-type stuff that might also appeal to Doctor Who fans. There are some celebrity guests who are mostly from the "Classic" era that I'm less familiar with. No one's said anything about making me get on stage with all the celebrity guests and make a total fool of myself this year. And you know, in spite of the number of cameras that were going, I never saw any photographic evidence that it even happened. I guess that's a relief.

Now, what additional evil can I inflict on my characters today?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Okay, Now there are 30 More Pages

I had my last Monday-morning yoga class of the term this morning, so on future Mondays I can sleep later, but then I'll need to be good about trying to do some yoga on my own to maintain my flexibility and strength. It makes a big difference if I remember to do a little bit daily.

Meanwhile, it turns out that I wasn't as far along in the book as I thought I was. I incorrectly recalled the page number I was on, so instead of having 30 pages to go, I had 130 pages to go. I just felt like I was so close to the end. But now I really do have about 30 pages. However, they're the pages that most need to be rewritten, and there's a new scene I've decided to add a little earlier, replacing a cut scene. In this case, I decided to go with surprise rather than suspense, so I cut the scene that set up the suspense. Now I think I want to throw in an emotional sucker punch scene to make the surprise even worse. Because I'm evil that way.

It's supposed to be rainy most of the week, so it should be good writing weather. I got my taxes done on Friday, so while I wasn't early enough to feel early, I have that weight off my shoulders and can feel self-righteous about not frantically trying to get them done today. I may devote that time today to setting up my wireless network. That was the toy I bought myself Friday -- a wireless router so I can have wi-fi at home. I'd been holding off because the way I get work done is to take my computer to another place away from the Internet connection, but I figure I can get the same effect by turning the wi-fi off on my computer or, if I'm being really bad, turning off the router. It would be handy to have wi-fi for my phone, and I'll need it if I get a tablet. Plus, I can do social media and promo stuff from my sofa or patio. At least, that's how I rationalized it.

Now to go think of something mean to do to my characters ...

Friday, April 15, 2016


The taxes are done. I just need to double check everything before I file. The good news is that I'm not only getting a refund, but the refund is big enough to pay this year's first quarterly installment and still get some back. The bad news is that this is because I made less money this year and had more business expenses -- not drastically so, but enough to drop me into a different bracket.

Meanwhile, I'm closing in on the current round of rewrites. I won't say that I should finish it today because I only have about 30 pages. That would guarantee that I'd run up against another roadblock, and I already know that part of those 30 pages are the part that most needs to be worked on. But the end is in sight.

I already celebrated a little on both the taxes and the book with a slightly splurgy Target run this morning. I got a household item that was somewhat needed, though I went with the option that was upgrading from what I have. I found a Star Wars nightshirt on the clearance rack, and how could I resist? Now I have something to sleep in for my convention travel this summer. And there was another splurge on something that probably counts as a toy but that I think will be useful if I manage it properly.

There I'm not sure if I'm being an adult or a child about it. It's not a huge expense but is beyond the level of "just throw it in the shopping cart," and I went through a lot of mental gymnastics to justify it, making pro/con lists, deciding it still fit under Christmas money that I haven't really spent, considering that maybe it counted as a book finishing reward or a tax refund purchase. Never mind that I have money to cover it anyway. So on the adult side, I suppose it's mature to consider a purchase like this as an extra outside the regular budget and to think rather than being totally impulsive. On the child side, there's this weird sense that my own money isn't really my own money and I have to get permission to spend it. At any rate, I have a Christmas present/tax refund toy that I'm not going to let myself play with until after I finish the book -- well, this round, anyway.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

More Ripples

I felt like I didn't get much done yesterday, but I did get the business side of my taxes done (the hard part), and I did a lot of thinking about what happens next in the book. I'm dealing with a ripple effect, where the changes in the last scene should have a big impact on what happens next, but I'm not sure yet what that will be. There's a transition scene, and I'm going back and forth on whether it even needs to be there. If it's there, then I think more needs to happen. But then the more that happens there, the less of a surprise it will be when something else happens later. I'm waffling between suspense and surprise.

If I go with suspense, then it's all about knowing something is likely to happen but not being sure what that will be or exactly when it will come. I'll need to drop more advance hints that something is planned, and then the characters will have to take more action to try to figure it out and maybe prevent it.

If I go with surprise, then I'll need to cut some scenes, but then we aren't actually getting the reaction to the previous events.

Every time I think I'm sure about what I should do, I think of something that will be affected if I do it.

So I guess I'll finish my taxes while my subconscious chews on it.

Meanwhile, I'll try to stop giving in to distractions like shopping around for a relatively cheap tablet that I can travel with instead of taking my laptop. I don't know why that became a priority yesterday, but it did. It may be my brain's usual trick of getting me out of the way so it can work.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Summer Schedule

I think I only wrote one entirely new scene yesterday. Then I revised a scene that I thought would require a lot of rewriting but that only required cutting a paragraph or two, writing a new paragraph or two, and changing some pronouns. Today I suspect will be another round of new writing, since the last scene I changed will have some major ripple effects on the next few scenes.

And I suspect I'm going to have to go through and change the chapter breaks and headers throughout the book because I've added and subtracted events.

Someday, I'll finish this book.

Meanwhile, I've been making travel arrangements for some of my summer events. I'll be racking up a lot of Hilton points in May and June. I'd learned that my events at Comicpalooza in Houston were starting earlier than I anticipated, so I had to adjust my travel plans. Rather than adding a night at the convention center hotel, since it's not quite that much earlier, I found a less expensive hotel on the way into the city, so I can make the road trip the day before, then have less than an hour of driving (in extreme traffic, much less if it's not bad) to get to the convention center on the day of the convention. That was a compromise between another convention hotel night and leaving at five in the morning. I've never done a big comic convention with celebrity guests and all that before, so this is an experiment. At the very least, I'll have been in the same building with the entire cast of Aliens, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. I'll just be doing the literary panels, though, so I doubt I'll run into them. Though there is a green room that I presume I'll have access to as a guest, so you never know. Actually, there's a lot I still don't know about this convention. They're not big on the communicating thing. I only found out about the earlier than expected panel I've apparently been assigned to when the moderator reached out to the panelists.

Here are the events I'm currently planning to do (yeah, I need to update the web site):
The weekend after next (22-24) I'll be a panelist at WhoFest DFW in Irving, TX
May 12-15 I'll be at the Nebula Awards conference in Chicago. There will be a booksigning open to the public on the evening of the 13th
June 17-19 I'll be at Comicpalooza in Houston
I'm planning to go to ArmadilloCon in Austin in July, but I haven't heard anything from them inviting me to be a participant (and if I don't, then I won't be going)
I'll be at MidAmericon2 (The World Science Fiction Convention) in Kansas City August 17-21
and I'll be at FenCon in Irving Sept. 23-25

That's what I know of now. I did say I was planning to dedicate this year to my career, and getting out there and meeting fans or potential fans is a big part of that. Somehow, I'll have to try to work in some writing, as well.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ripple Effects

I just thought I'd smoothed out the seams between the rewritten scene and the existing book. Yesterday I found myself writing two new scenes and never even made it to the existing book. It seems that changing one thing had a ripple effect and required other things to change. Plus, I came up with a new idea and decided to add some additional action and fun to the sequence. I could have just smoothed over those edges and jumped back to the existing stuff, but it's more interesting this way.

And then last night I came up with something I need to adjust in what I wrote yesterday.

Goodness knows what will happen today. I didn't plan any of yesterday's stuff before I sat down to write.

I probably could have done more yesterday, but I was distracted by noticing that my outdoor thermometer reading on my weather station was dropping drastically. It went down nearly ten degrees in less than half an hour, the skies started getting darker, and the wind was howling. That generally means that something bad is about to happen. So I got back online to see what was happening. It turned out that there was a very nasty hail storm northeast of me. I barely got a spattering of rain, but there was softball-sized hail utterly pulverizing cars and houses about 30 miles to the northeast. My weather radio did go off with a warning not long after I decided to check on what was going on.

Now I need to buckle down and get some work done. I have to finish my taxes (the hard part, the business accounting, is mostly done) and finish this book. After this week, I can get back to stuff like the Once Upon Stilettos commentary.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Already Behind

I feel like I'm already behind today because I had a yoga class, then the yoga class had a Starbucks (or as we say at church, St. Arbucks) fellowship, then there was grocery shopping. Whew.

But I made it past the latest tricky part in fixing the book over the weekend, and now I can move forward to the next tricky part. I've even done most of the smoothing out of the seams. I just need to do the transition out of it and re-break the chapters.

Meanwhile, I had my first rehearsal with the harp ensemble at church yesterday. I managed to keep up with them pretty well, considering I was sight reading and have been playing the instrument for three weeks. I'm going to need to learn more music theory to figure out chords and accompaniment, but right now I'm doing well to pick out the melody line at tempo. In the lesson book I'm working through, I'm at the part where you start to play harmony and counterpoint with the left hand, and that's really tricky for someone who doesn't play piano. Supposedly, doing this kind of learning that requires making new pathways and connections in the brain and in the brain/body connection is good for staving off dementia.

I hope to have the book done and some of the other business stuff taken care of this week. Then I'll really catch up on life while letting the book rest and brainstorming something else, and then one more round of editing/proofing before I send to the copyeditor.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Avoiding Distractions (sort of)

I still didn't do as much as I wanted yesterday, so I have to be really good today. Really. No distractions. No zoning out. No coming up with random things that need to be done. I just need to get through this scene and out the other side, and it should be easier from there.

I swear, by the time this book is done, I'll have spent about 50 percent of the time I worked on it writing two of the scenes. At least they're major turning point scenes. It would be really frustrating if I kept getting stuck on minor exposition scenes.

When I'm faced with a distraction, I've come up with a new mantra: At the end of the day, next week, next month, next year, at the end of my life, how will I wish I'd spent this hour? Will I wish I'd worked on this book and finished it earlier so I could have written more books, or will I be glad I got caught up in a Facebook doom loop, obsessively checking to see if anyone posted anything new in the last 30 seconds?

If I'm really, really good, maybe I'll finally get around to watching the new Star Wars DVD I got this week. Yeah, I saw the movie three times in the theater, but still …

And now we have a trailer for Rogue One, the story behind how the Rebels got the Death Star plans in the first place. It looks like so much fun, and I suppose that will work to tide us over until the next main Star Wars movie. It should be interesting to see another slice of that universe and what was going on behind the scenes.

But first, I have so much work I need (and kind of want) to do.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Building My Cocoon

I'm going to have to be good today because I somehow wasted yesterday. I did get stuff done, but I didn't get around to the writing work or all the business work I needed to do. It was one of those non-focusing days. This probably means that Saturday will be a working day because I've got a lot of stuff to take care of, and getting a few things off my plate will make me feel better all around for the rest of the stuff I need to do. Also, spring allergies are in full force, which may have a lot to do with it. An industrious spider built a couple of huge webs on my patio, and they were soon totally covered in pollen. They looked all fuzzy.

I did figure out what version of the replacement scene I needed to go with. Now I'm working on what should happen in it. I was imagining it as I fell asleep last night, so perhaps yesterday's lack of focus was my brain's way of getting me out of the way so it could work.

Oddly, some of the lack of focus came from a bit of news about yet another honor for Rebel Mechanics from the library world. It's very cool, but it's also rather frustrating to hear news like that from my editor and to see my publisher tweeting about it when I know just how interested they really were in that book and in turning it into a series. My reaction was a weird combination of "Ha! So there!" and dejection, especially when I started hearing from angry librarians who aren't happy that they got kids excited about this book and now won't be getting a sequel, though I'm assuring them that there will be a sequel. They'll just have to buy it from a different source, though I think there are some libraries that have issues with stocking independently published books.

I suppose more proof of the fact that my brain was working on something was that I was having a noise-averse day. I didn't have to do children's choir (yay!!!), but there was a children's worship service, and I generally go just to be a presence (and to get a good parking space near the choir room), but I had to sneak out and go sit in the fellowship hall until dinner because the music they were playing was so loud and I couldn't handle the noise. Choir practice didn't bother me so much because we were all singing together, but I came home and needed silence.

So I will be building a cocoon for the next few days until I get at least one source of stress taken care of.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Hitting the Hard Parts: The New Idea

You can thank my new hobby for inspiring the next series of writing posts. I'm learning to play the harp, and it may be the first entirely new thing I've tried to take on in ages. I can read music and play other instruments, but the harp is physically unlike anything I've done before, which leads to some frustration. Each new piece of music I have to learn starts with a great deal of fumbling, and I have a moment when I sincerely believe that this is beyond me and I will not be able to do this. Then yesterday I was playing a piece of music that I'd learned and was doing it fluidly and at tempo, and I remembered that this was the piece that almost made me give up because it was utterly impossible. Meanwhile, I've been struggling with a difficult part of the book I've been working on, made worse by a new idea that's distracting me. I realized that this is all really the same issue. In any endeavor as challenging as writing a book (or learning an instrument), you're going to hit a hard part. How you deal with that will determine whether you succeed in the long term.

But saying "just keep going" isn't a big help, no matter true it is. So, over the next few weeks (in posts every other Wednesday) I'll address some different kinds of hard parts and how to work through them. For the most part, I'm assuming a beginning writer who has not completed a novel and who is not under any kind of contract or on a deadline imposed by anyone else. Some of the same tricks and techniques also apply to more experienced authors because almost every book has a hard part, but the circumstances may be different. Contracts and deadlines may affect the timeline and process, but on the other hand, an experienced writer may have a better sense of when something should be abandoned. I generally recommend that a first-time author actually finish their first book, even if it's no good, unless you get into it and absolutely realize that it was a terrible idea. The act of finishing a book is important, and you don't want to get into the habit of starting a lot of things that you quit when it becomes difficult (I speak from experience).

I'll start with the easiest and best kind of hard part that has little to do with the project you're working on: the shiny new idea. The fun thing about creativity is that it breeds more creativity. The more you write, the more ideas you'll have. This is great, but it can sometimes be inconvenient because those exciting new ideas will strike you while you're working on something else, and that makes it more difficult to finish your original project. It's very common for new writers to have multiple projects that have been started and then abandoned when a shiny new idea that seems even better strikes. Even if you don't abandon your current project to play with the new idea, that new idea can be so distracting that you're unable to concentrate on the current project, and its quality suffers.

There may be times when abandoning what you're working on in favor of the new idea is the right thing to do -- when it's exactly what an editor has said she's looking for or the hot thing in the market that you need to jump on right away -- but most of the time, that new idea only seems better because you aren't actually trying to turn it into a book. It's just an idea, almost like the teaser trailer for a potential story.

What do you do when a shiny new idea strikes you at an inconvenient time? Take a moment to do a brain dump. Write down everything you currently know about that idea. That serves three purposes. One is to preserve the idea so you can work on it later. It also helps get it out of your head so you can better concentrate on what you're working on. And it may show you that the idea isn't either as good as you thought or as developed as you thought. What seems like a full story when you're playing with it in your head may give you little more than a few paragraphs when you write it all down. If you stopped your current project to try to write the new story, you might get a chapter or two into it before you got struck by yet another new idea, and you'd end up with those files and files of uncompleted stories. You may still get new details about the new idea popping up from time to time. Keep a notebook handy and jot down what you think of before getting back to work.

I find that it also helps to have some kind of sensory trigger that gets me into the mindspace for a project. It can be an image, a piece of music, or even a scent. After I've indulged myself in writing down thoughts on the new idea, I can use this to get back into the current project so I can finish what I'm working on.

The shiny new idea frequently coincides with other kinds of hard parts, so I'll address coping mechanisms for those in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Problem Scenes

I've run up against a snag in the rewrites. There's a pretty pivotal scene that's just not working for me. It leads to a turning point in the story and is what kicks off the middle part of the book. But there's really not a lot of conflict or tension, no excitement. It's just a bunch of events. I finally realized yesterday that this isn't a scene I can fix. What I need is a new scene.

So I brainstormed possibilities for a new scene that can serve the same purpose, and I think I have it narrowed down to two. One is possibly less colorful and exciting but more believable, and I think I can give it some interpersonal conflict. There might even be a way to throw in some danger. But it also comes dangerously close to repeating a scene from the first book. Similar things happen, but there's a different purpose, different people are there, and there's a different outcome. I could even use that, I suppose, and have the characters aware that this scene is eerily familiar.

The other possibility is a lot more colorful and would be a major sequence in the book, but I'm not entirely sure it makes a lot of sense. Would people really do something like this? It would be a lot of effort for what they want to accomplish.

So I'm torn between a more realistic scene that might be a little boring and a more colorful scene that wouldn't be very realistic.

I've been able to visualize it both ways. I may need to make a pro/con list. I may even need to try writing it both ways and see which one works for me.

It's this kind of thing that makes writers develop homicidal levels of rage when people complain about having to pay more than 99 cents for an e-book. So many hours sweating over stuff like this to make the book the best possible experience for the reader, and there are people who whine about having to pay more than they do for a fast-food soda or cup of coffee for the product.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Back to the Drawing Board

I had a grand epiphany Friday afternoon about what the underlying trouble with my book was. I was lacking a strong story goal. There's a big-picture goal for the series, but there was never really a moment when the main character said "this is what I want to do now" for this book. And that explained why it was all somewhat lacking in conflict. If there's nothing specific that the characters are trying to do, it's hard to stop them from doing it. Then once I figured out what the goal was (it was already there, just not focused on), I realized that part of the problem is that this goal was being easily achieved all along, so the big, climactic scene in which they achieve their goal is rather anticlimactic.

That means more rewrites, though not of the whole book. There are just a few key scenes that will have to drastically change. They can partially achieve what they're trying to do in those scenes while still failing at this goal, and that will make it more tense when they absolutely have to succeed and have no history of having made it happen before.

There was a moment of whining and moaning when I realized I needed to go back to the start, but then I got over it because there's been something nagging at me about this book not being quite right, and it feels good to have figured it out.

Meanwhile, I've thought of a few new details for that new story idea. I think that's a big part of my motivation for getting my head down and finishing this book so I can write the next one and then write this new one. Well, I said this was going to be a year of focusing on my career.

And the harp, because I have to have some fun (and I'm making good progress).

Friday, April 01, 2016

On a Creative Roll

I must be in a really creative phase because last night I dreamed a plot for the next Rebel Mechanics book. The dream wasn't actually about that world. It was something I was doing in an entirely different setting, but during the dream, Dream Me thought to myself that this would make a really exciting Rebel Mechanics universe plot. Then as I was waking up, remembering the dream, I started seeing it playing out in that universe.

Though I still need to finish revising this book, but at least the latest Shiny New Idea is in the same universe I'm working in now, and it's not adding yet another fictional universe to the collection.

I'm in the really tedious part of the rewriting, where it can take me a couple of hours per chapter as I pick at it and try to remember that I need tension and emotion. I can tell the parts I wrote when I was in a tension-averse phase. Since this part is so tedious, it's also time consuming. I'm doing half-hour on, half-hour off cycles. That seems to be just enough of a break to stop me from going into autopilot or "whatever" mode but not enough of a break that I break the spell and step out of that mindset and world. This is where music is coming in handy. I got the "learn to play harp" book I ordered from Amazon yesterday, and that makes for a perfect break. I'm still doing something creative, it's physical, so it works as a distraction, but I can still be thinking about the story.

So, today's plan will be half an hour writing, half an hour harping, all afternoon and probably into the night, depending on how things are going.

I may sound like I'm griping, but this is one of my favorite phases of writing. It's difficult, but the results are so rewarding.