Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book News!

So, in less than two weeks, this will be available:

At the initial release, it will be available in the major flavors of e-book and in paperback. Later, a hardcover will be available, for those who want matching sets, for libraries, etc. I still don't know about audio.

On the same day, you'll be able to get this:

That's the paperback, which looks just like the hardback but is less expensive, in case you got the book at the library and want a copy to keep but the hardback was too expensive. At the same time, the e-book price will be dropping.

I'll be trickling out details along the way, so stay tuned!

In my wildest revenge fantasies, sales of both will really take off and the publisher will feel stupid. I'll get to point and laugh. I know that's unrealistic, but it would be nice, and I can use all the help I can get, so please tweet, post, do Amazon or Goodreads reviews, etc., and if you've got a blog or web site and want a guest post or interview, let me know.

In other news, I started a new project that I'm not ready to talk about yet. I'm a chapter and a half into it, and I think it's going to be viable, but I want to be at least a 100 pages into it before I say that it's definitely going to be a thing.

In general, I was super virtuous yesterday because I not only did my writing, but I also exercised, ate properly, and drank plenty of water. I don't know if there's any link among all these things, but since I realized that in spite of thinking I was drinking enough water I actually came nowhere near the recommended amount and then started trying to drink more, I've had a lot more energy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Surviving as a Writer

In my writing posts, I've been talking about blocks and creativity. Before I move on to cover other topics (any suggestions or questions?), I thought I'd address some other emotional or psychological aspects of the writing life. I don't have solutions for all of them, but I may have suggestions or advice.

1) Perfectionism/fear of failure -- This is a big reason why many people dream of writing but never actually start. As long as the idea exists only in your head, it's pure and perfect. The moment you start trying to actually write it as a story, it becomes flawed. The thing is, that idea in your head really isn't perfect. Writing it down only exposes the flaws. It's easy to have an idea that consists of a concept and a few scenes. Having a plot and every scene needed to get from point A to point B is a lot harder. You can fix something that you've started writing. You can scrap it entirely and start over if it's not what you wanted it to be. But you can't sell an idea that's only in your head. Perfectionism and fear can also keep you from ever feeling like your work is good enough to submit. Making it the best it can be and going through multiple revisions is good, but when you get to the point you're editing your edits, you may end up editing the life out of it when you should be letting it go out into the world to find a good home.

2) Fear of rejection or criticism -- This is another potentially career-limiting issue. If you're going to be any kind of professional writer, you're going to face rejection or criticism at some point, whether it's from editors or agents or from readers and reviewers. Getting back an edited or copyedited manuscript does feel kind of like getting back a graded test or paper in school, but the point is to make your work better. The nice thing about an edited manuscript is that, unlike most tests in school, the whole point is to get a do-over and correct your mistakes. You're not being given a final grade. Fear of rejection is probably the worst possible reason to self-publish your work. I've seen way too many meltdowns happen that way -- an author decides to self-publish rather than face rejections from editors or agents, then sees negative reader feedback and completely flips out that someone didn't appreciate their genius. You've got to develop a thick skin to survive in this business. Fragile egos will go insane. Learn to spot valid criticism you can use to make your work better and disregard the clueless attacks.

3) Jealousy -- unless you get rave reviews, win all the awards, are a huge bestseller, and get big film deals with everything you write, you're probably going to face professional jealousy at some point in your career. This business is so public that it's way too easy to compare yourself to others. You can see Amazon rankings and bestseller lists, read reviews, read publishing news about contracts and deals, see bookstore placement, see who's getting invited to conventions and book festivals, see which books are getting advertising. You watch people who joined the business after you did leapfrog ahead of you, and it hurts when you feel like you've worked hard but don't have the success that others seem to be getting easily. The truth is, while a lot of stuff is public, there's also a lot you don't know is going on. Something that looks like success may not be as great as you think. There are authors who are winning awards, being invited as guests of honor, and even showing up on bestseller lists who are doing crowdfunding campaigns to pay their rent, while authors you may never have heard of are making millions. So, since your judgment of what's going on with others may not be accurate, there's no point in comparing your career to anyone else's. To stay sane, focus on what you can control, which is the amount and quality of your own work. Sometimes the cure for jealousy is to take a step back and stop giving yourself information for comparison. Unless you're searching for a new agent or publisher, you probably don't need to keep track of publishing deals, and knowing everyone's Amazon rankings doesn't do you much practical good. The other cure for jealousy is to lean in -- get to know the other authors you're comparing yourself to and make friends. It's harder to resent the success of people you care about, and when you get to know them, you learn all the stuff that might lie behind the success. Whatever you do, don't try to bring down the people you're jealous of with petty behavior like one-star reviews or public bashing. You're probably not going to change the minds of the people who made that author successful, and you'll only make yourself look bad.

If you are the person who gets all the good things and has it work out well for you, you may be the target of professional jealousy. You don't even have to be super-successful. You just have to have the career that someone else wants. Most of the time, you may not even be aware of it, though there have been times when people lashed out in destructive ways. I don't have a lot of experience with this, but I suppose the best thing you can do is ignore it. Being open about the good and bad of your career instead of only bragging about the good things might help.

4) Frustration -- This is the source of a lot of the professional jealousy, when the things you can't control seem to be conspiring against you -- your editor leaves and the replacement doesn't care about your book, your publicist drops the ball, you can't seem to get reviews, your book doesn't get shelved, the trend your book fits into tanks. Again, the only real solution is to focus on what you can control. It's up to you when or if to decide that it's not worth it. You can either keep on, try doing something different, or quit. Let your frustration motivate you, but don't let it poison you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Damsel Under Stress Reread: Chapters 2-4

Getting back to my Damsel Under Stress reread with commentary after all the travel and home repair issues … Now with chapters two through four.

Katie jumps at the excuse of needing to find a Christmas gift for Owen as a reason to get away from her friends, and then she goes into a burst of paranoia about what would be appropriate to get him so soon into a relationship. This is based on a situation I faced when I started dating a guy right around Thanksgiving. Since we'd just met (it was a blind date that went well), I was wondering if we were even at a gift-giving stage, but then he mentioned wanting to get together so he could give me my present. I went into a panic of trying to figure out something to give him. As I mention in the book, with women you can give stuff like candles. There's not really a male equivalent. Most of the less expensive, less intimate gifts, like books, CDs or DVDs, require enough knowledge to know not only what the person would like but also what they already have -- and that's the tricky part, since if they want something, they tend to get it right away. Even buying things for male friends is a challenge. I'll have an idea for a brand-new DVD as a gift, and then hear how he bought it for himself the day it was released. I've run into similar problems with office gift exchanges. There are tons of potential generic gifts for women, but fewer for men. (Incidentally, his gift to me was what ended the relationship pretty quickly, because it was soooo not appropriate that early in the relationship and showed a complete disregard for my stated tastes and interests. I noticed the red flag, among other red flags, and ended things.)

Rod's makeover starts in this book. I guess that magically crazy semi-date with Katie was a wake-up call for him. He's starting to work on his real appearance instead of relying on illusion. I think some of this was inspired by the fan mail I got for him. I was a little surprised by how much readers liked him, and that made me consider humanizing him a lot more and making him less of a punchline.

Writing a real date for Katie and Owen was rather difficult, and I suppose that's appropriate, given how awkward the transition from friendship to romance can be. I was trying to capture that sense of nerves and shyness as they make that transition. Of course, it helps that they can't seem to have a normal date without some excitement, and after that excitement, things seem to settle more into a comfort zone.

I never seemed to let poor Katie settle into any one job for any length of time. In this book, off she was sent to work in Owen's lab, having to leave her spot as Merlin's assistant behind. Into the gap comes Kim, Katie's biggest rival as a magical immune. Actually, from Katie's point of view, Kim is just another coworker, but Kim sees Katie as a rival. That's somewhat based on an experience I had in my career, where I've had a few people whose jobs I had zero interest in who seemed to see me as a major rival and threat, and who jumped at multiple opportunities to undermine me. Writing these books and using all my work experiences was very cathartic for me. Incidentally, many years later, I made a friend named Kim who was very similar to the way I described book Kim -- physically, not in personality. It was a little weird meeting someone who looked like my character and had the same name.

I really like the bit about wanting a fairy godmother for work -- getting the killer suit and awesome presentation, but you have to get out of the office by five before the Armani suit turns into JCPenney separates and your laptop becomes an Etch-a-Sketch. But I'm not sure a career fairy godmother would have helped me much, as I wasn't really cut out for the career I had. I sure could use one now in my publishing career. Poof! Publicity!

Then I had to pick up on what happened to Philip -- why he was turned into a frog all those years ago. I sort of tied that off in an offhanded way in the fifth book, but I think that's still a dangling plot thread. There was just too much going on in this book to really deal with it.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Time to Go!

I finished my sewing and most of my plotting. As is always the case, it's the details that get you. That brilliant idea in your head looks a lot weaker when you start writing it down, get to the turning points, and realize that you don't have much more than "and then something happens here." But I got those parts worked out, so I think I may start writing actual words today, though I do have a lot of other things on my to-do list.

I did get around to rewatching Aliens over the weekend, and I think they super-specialed the Special Edition. I had the Special Edition VHS and had watched it a number of times, but this was the first time I'd watched the Special Edition DVD, and there were scenes and moments that seemed entirely unfamiliar. I don't know if it's just that I was more familiar with either the theatrical version or the TV version, and the Special Edition that combined the two is less familiar, or if there really was more stuff on the DVD, but I kept having those "hey, is that new?" moments. At any rate, it was fun to watch knowing what I know now about how they were deliberately playing the relationship. It's also highly amusing now that I know that almost all of the secondary Marines (other than the main characters) were serious stage actors in their first film roles. The casting was done in England (since it filmed there), and for the secondary cast, they were recruiting American actors who were there working in British theater.

I also used a couple of Hallmark movies that were on my DVR as background noise for brainstorming (I find that it sometimes helps to have other stuff going on for that -- I can't write with background noise, but that does help my thinking). But we won't talk about those because, wow, so very bad in weirdly amusing ways.

I capped off the weekend with a fun Sunday afternoon concert of geeky pop/folk. And now to get my nose to the grindstone and work on my writing.

Friday, June 24, 2016

One Thing Leads to Another

I ended up with an unplanned morning out. Yesterday, I decided to take my own advice on creativity and work on another creative project while I brainstormed, so I worked on a sewing project I've been thinking about. It worked, as I found a solution to a plot hole -- something I needed to happen but that I didn't have a good reason to happen. But then midway through, I ran out of thread. I figured I'd run up the street to Wal Mart this morning -- a quick 15-minute errand (at the most). However, while they had a rack for the kind of thread I needed, it was just about empty, with only a few odd colors and not the white I needed. That meant I had to go all the way to Jo Ann, a 15-minute or so drive away. Then they were having a fabric sale, so I figured that while I was there, I might as well get some for future projects. There's a DSW across the street, and I figured that while I was in the neighborhood I may as well check it out because there are a few old, worn-out pairs of shoes I really need to replace but haven't found quite the right replacement. I lucked out and found two pairs that fit my needs, and they were on clearance. They were really nice, high-end brands for about what I'd pay for something similar (but lesser) at Payless. And then I figured I may as well swing by Sprouts on the way home to get some produce.

Two hours later …

So now I have a little more sewing to do to finish the current project, and I need to write down my brainstorming. It's amazing what your mind comes up with when you're focusing on something else. I've started having scenes playing out in my head.

This time, I bought a bigger spool of yarn because I figure I'll be needing it eventually. And soon I will have a whole wardrobe of light muslin summer nightgowns -- a good practice project while I get used to this sewing thing, and it doesn't matter if I mess up because no one will see it.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Filling in the Details

I gave myself a morning out because it was the last day the latest Jane Austen adaptation, Love and Friendship (adapted from "Lady Susan"), was going to be in the theater. And I'm glad I went, as it was very well done -- laugh-out-loud funny to the point I'm going to need the DVD to catch all the lines, with some amazing costumes. Plus, the return of the Cold Comfort Farm version of Kate Beckinsale (as opposed to the American action film version).

I also may need to track down the book. I suspect it's available via Project Gutenberg. It's a shorter work rather than a novel, and Austen never submitted it for publication. The credits, in the part where they say "buy the soundtrack on whatever label" said to read the book by Jane Austen, "in which Lady Susan is vindicated." That makes me wonder what they may have changed or left out in the movie.

Now it's back to brainstorming. I did enough yesterday that the plot is starting to come together and I have the major throughline. Now I need to figure out the details. The details are the hard part. When it's still more of a vague idea, it sounds utterly brilliant. Then you start drilling down into the how and why, and it starts to fall apart. So far, my research has paid off because it's given me a lot of ideas and has already filled in some of the "how" stuff. So all that time reading wasn't a waste.

The next real test of the idea will come when it's time to put it in words.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


It turns out that Elsa may have been mad at me, after all. When the repairman took off the back panel of the freezer to expose the inner workings, the whole thing was totally caked in ice, and, weirdly enough, that's why it wasn't keeping the refrigerator cold. Apparently, the problem was the thermostat in the defroster, which allowed everything to get covered in ice, which blocked the flow of cold air to the refrigerator. Now it's all fixed, I have cold food once more, and best of all, I have a whole day in which I'm not waiting for a repair person or having to run errands to get ready for a trip. I might even be able to (gasp!) work. It's hard to concentrate or get started on anything when you know that at any minute, someone may be showing up.

I do have a choir dinner tonight, but then I'll be out of all my activities other than dance for the summer. I hope to get a lot done.

I got extremely optimistic and tried exercising this morning. I could feel how out of shape I was in ballet class last night, and I want to do something about that. I resorted to the trick of finding something I wanted to watch on TV and using that as a scheduled "class" for exercising while watching. So this morning I did about fifteen minutes of yoga to stretch out from last night's class and then jogged on my mini trampoline for about fifteen minutes while watching the classic "Lil Sebastian" episode of Parks and Recreation. It's not much, but it's a start. Supposedly, exercising in the morning gives you more energy for the rest of the day, but it just made me sleepy. Maybe that's because I took a shower afterward, and I'm usually a nighttime shower person, so my body read that as a signal that it was time to sleep.

But I will power through! I have jacket copy to write for Rebel Magisters and then I have a book to plot.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

So Not Cool

No sooner did I get my air conditioner fixed than my refrigerator went on the blink. Either I've angered Elsa, who is abandoning me and taking the cool with her, or the Heat Miser is attacking. Fortunately, the freezer is working, and since I was out of town over the weekend, that's where all the food was. I only lost a few things in the refrigerator. I've got a repair appointment at 1 today, so we'll hope it's an easy fix and something he can do today with parts he has with him. Otherwise, waiting on service people might become my new hobby for the summer.

On the bright side, I didn't have to leave the house to go grocery shopping yesterday, since there was no point in buying anything perishable. I was so very tired after that trip that I just didn't feel like going anywhere. I managed to take care of some business stuff, but anything else was beyond me.

Today, though, I need to jump into action (aside from the time when the repair guy is here). I have just a little bit of stuff I need to look up before I can plot the next book I'm working on, and then I need to spend the rest of the week doing plotting/development work. I have a free weekend other than Sunday activities, so I'm hoping to do a kind of "retreat" to immerse myself in the story and try to get some momentum started. It's always weird to start writing something new.

Meanwhile, I really need to start promoting the new book and the paperback release. I suppose I should be looking for places to do guest blog posts or interviews. If anyone is interested in hosting or interviewing me, let me know!

Monday, June 20, 2016

In Which My Theory is Validated

I survived the trip to Comicpalooza, and now I get to be home for a whole month before my next trip. This trip was really tiring, for some reason, and I'm not quite sure why, as I didn't have a lot of programming, got to bed at a reasonable hour and didn't have to get up all that early. I'm not sure I'll do this one again if I'm asked. The only visibility as an author was during the panels. My books weren't being sold in the dealer's room. People who wanted to see me couldn't find me. I did pass out a lot of bookmarks and postcards at the panels, but I don't know if those will lead to book sales. Basically, everyone who saw me on a panel would have to buy at least two books and tell one other person about my books for the trip to have paid off at all. This event does seem to be trying to add more of a literary presence to the general pop culture mix, but they still have work to do to make it work for the authors. It's a massive, for-profit event, but the authors are being treated like they're at a small, non-profit literary convention, only with less exposure. At the only event similar to this I've been to, where they were adding a literary track to a pop culture event, they paid for the authors' hotel, and they gave authors a free table in Artist Alley for book sales and autographing.

Still, I did have fun, and maybe just giving it a shot this time was worthwhile. One of the panels I was on was standing-room-only, which was nice to see. The people watching was very entertaining. I got to hang out with some of my writer friends. I went to a literary panel I wasn't on and learned some new things.

And then there was this:

Although I had a panel that wrapped up right as this was supposed to begin, I managed to get a seat near the top of the arena-style room for the Aliens reunion panel. Those dots on the stage are most of the cast. The big dot on the screen is Sigourney Weaver. She's the far-right dot at the table. To her left is Michael Biehn, and to his left is Carrie Henn (Newt), all grown up and a mom and school teacher.

There were some fun stories about the audition process and who tried out for which parts. But my favorite part of the panel was getting my personal view of the movie validated.

I've spoken before about how I consider this a rather romantic movie because of the relationship between Ripley and Hicks. He seems very impressed with her, she trusts him, and they form a real bond. Well, Michael Biehn said that was all totally intended and was in the script. He called it a "like story." That was his favorite thing about his character -- not the macho action hero stuff, but the way Hicks was impressed by Ripley, took her seriously, and was willing to listen to her. He said he caught the movie on TV earlier this year and found himself watching it all the way through for the first time in ages, and he was struck by the way that he was smiling every time he looked at Ripley (actually, he said "her" as he patted Sigourney Weaver on the arm). So, yeah, that wasn't just hopeless romantic me reading that into their relationship.

Also, there apparently is going to be an Alien 5 that's a kind of reboot, as Hicks will be in it and still alive. That's nice for me, as I've generally been pretending that everything after Aliens didn't happen. I'm curious what kind of story that will be, as it's rather obvious that time has passed. Will they find each other again, or will we learn they've been together all this time? Anyway, they have to wait until the Prometheus sequel is done (and when Sigourney Weaver is done with Avatar), but they said it was happening.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Reasonable Characters

You'll sometimes hear writers talking about whether their work is character-driven or plot-driven. A writer may come up with characters first and then see what they do, or a writer may come up with a plot and populate it with characters. But to a large extent, fiction is really character-driven because the plot is what happens when characters act and react. You've probably encountered stories that either felt flat or that made no sense because the plot had the characters acting and reacting in ways that didn't fit who they were supposed to be and what they were experiencing. It was clear that the writers had events that they wanted to happen, and the characters were forced to go along with it. That leaves readers going "no one would ever do that" or "there's no way he would have done that."

The thing is, within the world of your story, characters are people, and they need to act like people. You start off with what I think of as the "reasonable man" assumption. When you're on a jury, they talk a lot about a "reasonable man" -- would a reasonable man, given certain information and circumstances, interpret things in such a way or behave in such a way? Readers expect something similar of characters. They put themselves in their shoes (especially viewpoint characters) and think about how they'd react. If someone threatens or harms their child, that someone is probably in trouble. A "reasonable" person wouldn't then go have drinks with that person and listen to their sad life story. If someone is being friendly, a "reasonable" person isn't going to start attacking them.

If your character has reasons for not acting like we'd generally expect people to act, that needs to be established and set up properly. Is there some kind of psychological or emotional trigger at work here? Does the other person remind him of someone in his life? Do they have a history? Has the character been given information about this person (that may or may not be accurate)? In a sense, by changing the context, you're keeping the character reasonable, because readers will think "yeah, under those circumstances, I might do the same thing."

Or maybe your character isn't meant to be reasonable, but that also needs to be established, and it's tricky to pull off if you expect readers to relate and care for the character. This is more likely to be in the villain realm, where the character can be a total psychopath and do things that no one else would do. Even here, though, there needs to be some pattern and method to the madness rather than the character being a total wild card who can just do anything at random.

A related issue is what I refer to as "Idiot Plotting," where the plot only works if the characters act like total idiots -- like the horror movie cliche of going alone into the dark basement without a flashlight or weapon when the characters know there's a killer on the loose.

Beyond the general "reasonable" standard, there's what you establish for your character as normal -- likes, dislikes, fears, hot-button issues. Once you've established these, you can't make your character go against them without a good reason. If you've established that your hero was abandoned as a child and therefore has a huge soft spot for abandoned kids, he's probably not going to leave the orphan lying in the gutter so he can chase after the bad guy's minions unless his reason for chasing the minions is stronger than his abandonment issues sympathy. Your wary, untrusting heroine can't suddenly trust what a shady character tells her just because you need her to so she can get herself in trouble and advance the plot.

But what if the plot you have planned won't work if your characters behave reasonably or according to the way you've developed your characters? You could try changing your plot plans. Think about what these people really would do in that situation and see where it takes you. You can also adjust the circumstances to make the choice you need more likely. In the example above about the abandonment issues hero, someone could step up to tend to the orphan child, allowing him to feel less like he's abandoning the child. You can provide more set-up -- the shady character can provide lower-level reliable information earlier in the story that gives the wary heroine a reason to trust him. You can provide additional motivation to show that this situation is an exception. You can change events earlier in the story to make things more reasonable -- if you want your heroes to team up with a former villain against another villain later in the story and to kind of become friendly, you can't have that villain murdering their families first. Let your future good-guy be less directly villainous, especially to your protagonists.

The bottom line is that you never want to throw someone out of your story with the "no one would ever do that" thought. You also lose a lot of emotion if your characters aren't allowed to react reasonably to the things that happen to them, and a reasonable reaction is going to affect the actions they take. All of this is key to encouraging your readers to relate to and care about your characters.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Rereading Damsel Under Stress -- the Beginning

Now we're moving on in the reread with Damsel Under Stress. This was a challenging book in a lot of ways, and it remains probably my least popular in the series. It was because bookstore orders of this book (before it was even published) had dropped a lot from the previous book that the publisher decided it didn't want to continue the series beyond the books that were contracted. During the pre-publication process, the editor who'd initially bought the series left the publisher, so I ended up with a new editor in midstream. It was also really, really hard to write this book. Although I'd planned more books all along, in a way I felt like I'd closed out the story with Once Upon Stilettos. As a former romance novelist, it was really easy to write about a couple getting together. It was a lot more difficult to write about a couple that is kind of together and who gets along. There really wasn't a lot of romantic conflict left, unless it came from outside sources. I also had a plan in place to move the action to Texas for the next book, which would affect the romance, but it relied on something else having happened that I changed my mind about (it involved an undercover mission). Even the title was a challenge. This book still didn't have a title when I turned it in to the editor. We were joking about being all arty about it and not giving it a title at all. The people at the publisher couldn't think of anything. I finally had a brainstorm in the shower after the book had been through a round of editing. Meanwhile, it was difficult for me personally. I had a friend who'd been serving as beta reader for the first couple of books, reading each chapter as I wrote it and giving feedback (and spurring me to write the next chapter). At about the time I started writing this book, she was diagnosed with cancer. I was still fiddling with the opening and not ready to share what I'd written yet when she passed away (she was a lot sicker than she let anyone know). That made it really hard to write something I associated so much with that friend, because just the act of writing made me miss her. I was in a fog for much of the first draft, then when my agent gave me feedback and I looked at it again after a break, I wasn't even sure where some of it came from, and that meant a lot of it had to be totally rewritten. On the positive end of things, this book gave me an excuse to go to New York at Christmastime. It even obliged me by providing snow. I got to see the store windows, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and all the other stuff that's in all the movies.

So, it should be interesting to revisit this book about a decade after I turned in the finished version. I may have a very different perspective.

The fairy godmother was what I came up with to make things not be too easy for Owen and Katie. I've often joked about needing a fairy godmother, and how the one I got would probably end up being incompetent, knowing my luck. Having that thought yet again sparked the idea. What would happen if the fairy godmother had been coasting for centuries on the success she had with Cinderella and hadn't updated her tactics? Fairy tale romance is lovely in fairy tales, but using those exact same methods would be disastrous in the modern world. I'm not sure where the idea of her just throwing new outfits on top of the old one came from. It's possible it was somewhat inspired by the book Heidi, where instead of carrying luggage, she had to wear all her clothes at once (hmm, maybe a way around airline baggage restrictions? Though the TSA probably wouldn't be amused). That was an odd little detail that stuck with me when I was a child. I think it also plays into the idea of her never really updating herself -- she doesn't shed any of her old methods. By bringing in a fairy godmother, I also wanted to deal with the idea of fate and destiny. It seems in romance novels, if you're fated for someone, you probably hate him, at least at first, since it's not a very interesting story if you like someone and find out you're fated for each other, or if you find out you're fated for someone and decide you're okay with that. I was told my whole life when I wasn't very romantically successful that there was someone out there for me and he'd come along when the time was right. What would happen if you thought you'd found the right person and then suddenly that was when your fairy godmother showed up to help you out?

The other romantic monkey wrench is the fact that it's really difficult to date when you're busy saving the world against magical evil. I've often griped about the typical cop wife/girlfriend on TV shows, where she gets outraged that her significant other puts saving the city/world ahead of that dinner date they had scheduled. Katie's fighting the same fight as Owen, so she understands, but it's difficult to get things off the ground when he's always having to respond to the latest crisis.

I had to rewrite the scene of skating at Rockefeller Center after going there on my research trip (to watch, not skate) because in reality it's not laid out quite the way you'd expect from pictures and TV. The rink is pretty small, and there's stuff all around it. This is where I start to incorporate the subplot because I hadn't ever dealt with how poor Philip got turned into a frog.

And so the story begins ...

Monday, June 13, 2016

Airships and Wizards

I'm still sitting around in a warmish house, though fortunately we had rain and cooler temperatures yesterday, so it hasn't been so bad. I have an appointment on Tuesday afternoon, so I hope that means it'll be fixed then. I resorted to social media shaming and got a response from customer service, so I'm currently mentally composing an epic e-mail.

But I will prevail! I have a lot of stuff I need to get done to prepare for this week's trip, and I'm still in reading/research mode. Ideas are starting to take shape in the back of my head. After today, I start seriously working on developing a plot.

I fell down a rabbit hole of On Demand documentaries from the Smithsonian Channel yesterday, with one on the Hindenburg disaster, one on the Masada massacre, and one on Merlin. There's a lot of airship stuff in Rebel Magisters, with some of the characters taking a long airship trip, and when I researched what the cabin would be like and how long the trip would take, a lot of the info I was able to find led back to the Hindenburg and previous airships like it. There are lots of photos of the passenger lounge area and cabins, and then what helped me for figuring out how long the trip I had in mind would take was a press voyage of one of them that went up the east coast. That gave me how long one part of the trip would take, and then I estimated from there based on distance how long the other parts of the trip would take. My interior would be different because mine is a smaller private ship instead of a commercial passenger ship, and it's Victorian rather than 1930s (and runs on magic), but the photos gave me a good sense of what the layout might be and what the private cabins might be like (a lot like a private compartment on a passenger train). Even though the book is done, I still couldn't resist watching the documentary to see if I got any other ideas, but the focus was more on the aftermath and the investigations.

I may have to re-watch the other two because I was working crossword puzzles at the time and only halfway paying attention. The Merlin one was mostly about how that kind of character has been used throughout history and literature. No mention about a dapper gentleman in a business suit. Hmmph. I also got a little sidetracked during that one because there were a lot of paintings of Welsh bards with harps, and that made me want to play my harp. I'm getting pretty good at "Scarborough Fair," in an arrangement that actually uses both hands playing different notes at different times. I may even be ready to move on to the next lesson, finally. That playing with both hands thing really hung me up for a long time.

And now to praying for rain (and cool) while doing laundry and fuming.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Keeping Cool

I'm having a fun day of sitting around and waiting. My air conditioner isn't working very well -- it was running more than an hour non-stop to maintain an indoor temperature of 81, when it was 94 outside. I have a service plan with the company that installed it, which is supposed to mean that not only do I get twice-yearly checkups, but I also get service when I need it. But the earliest appointment they could give me was on Tuesday, though they said they would try to work me in today, which means sitting around all day, waiting for a call. I'm considering contacting another company and letting them know that if they can get to me before the company I've actually paid to have on retainer, then I'll likely move my service contract to them and ditch the original company.

It's not too bad, though. My house is designed for hot weather. This is when I'm glad I have wi-fi because I can stay downstairs. The upstairs is stifling, but my living room and bedroom are reasonably comfortable with the ceiling fans on. I'm just worried that it will only get worse over the weekend, and I'll be seriously annoyed if I sit here all day waiting for a call and get nothing. I'd rather them just say they can't do it so I can make other plans. I mean, I could go to a movie and sit in the dark and cold or go to the library. I may resort to Twitter shaming. That's the way to get customer service these days.

Now, I know I have one of those little drink umbrellas around here somewhere. I have a photo shoot in mind (if you're going to Twitter shame, you should have some fun with it).

Next week is my trip to Comicpalooza. Here's my schedule, which should be easy to remember because it's awfully short. There's no autographing, but if you can track me down, I'll sign stuff. I already suspect that this event will be a bust for business purposes, but it's a road trip and a nice hotel that will earn me a lot of Hilton points, and some of my friends will be there, and there aren't a lot of demands on me. I'm going to try to make it to the panel with the cast of Aliens reunion, where I will try not to feel old about that being 30 years ago.

Now to go make myself an umbrella drink, get out my battery-operated fan, and take a few selfies to tweet to my AC service company.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Once Upon Stilettos Reread -- The End

Because I'm so close to the end and because it's my favorite part, I'm going to wrap up the Once Upon Stilettos reread with commentary today.

First, there's the date with Rod. In my original vision for this series, before I'd even settled on characters and a main plot, when it was just a concept, I had planned on there being a variety of love interests, with maybe the Mr. Right being a slow burn kind of thing on the back burner. In my wildest fantasies, I imagined raging Internet 'shipper wars over which guy Katie would end up with (though at that time, she didn't even have a name). That never happened, in part because it was so clearly Owen from the moment I started writing and in part because I don't think I have a big enough fan base to have factions, and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of Internet discussion about my books. Anyway, while things were being weird in this book, I figured it was a good time to at least touch on some of the possibilities and show the "what if" scenarios.

Normally, Katie wouldn't be interested in Rod, but with her immunity on the blink, she's fallen under his attraction spell, and he doesn't realize that she's affected. Meanwhile, there's also something working on him. The result is a perfect storm of awkwardness (and a good reason not to even try to date a friend you're not usually that attracted to).

And then we get to my favorite scene, the scene that was playing out in my head before I even started writing the book, where Katie ends up at Owen's house, and things are playing out according to her wildest dreams, with a truly dreamy first kiss -- followed by the realization that it was the shoes all along, that they were under an enchantment. That bit is one of my favorite things I've ever written. It's kind of an emotional sucker punch because up to that point, it's pretty swoonworthy, and then the rug is pulled out from under Katie.

By the way, I don't know if my red shoes are under that kind of spell because I've never actually worn them on a date (not that I've had that many dates since I bought them -- I kind of gave up on dating around then).

I also like the follow-up parts a lot -- Katie's embarrassment and awkwardness, and the way that led into her finally confessing her immunity loss to Owen. The kiss may have been magically induced, but there's real intimacy that comes in the aftermath.

I put in a lot of work of setting up the way Katie's immunity might have been compromised and why it took a while to work when the water in her building was drugged. You may recall the scenes of the roommates arguing over who forgot to buy bottled water and Katie just getting water out of the tap. There's also the way the shoes affected her -- she just admired them in a normal way at first, but Ari was present, and so the spell was put on them later when Katie bought them.

Then we have the final showdown at the company holiday party, followed by a real kiss. When I wrote this book, I wasn't sure I'd be able to continue the series, so I wanted to give some sense of resolution. I've sometimes regretted moving the relationship along so quickly since then because it didn't leave me very far to go from there. They were already together, so I had to either just accept the relationship as an established fact with no drama, or I had to find ways to separate them.

Sales of the series dropped significantly after this book, even though I think it had a strong ending that would have made people want another book. I guess people thought the series was over? I don't know. I know that the third book isn't exactly popular, but people would have had to read it to know they didn't like it, and it seems that a significant number of people who read this book didn't go on to the other books.

Next week I'll move on to the next book. It'll be interesting to get a fresh perspective on it now that a decade has passed. It was a difficult book to write, and the process of writing it was kind of a blur.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Arguing with Future Self

I'm about to have to admit to myself that it's summer. I know, it's not yet officially summer, at least not astronomically. It is, however, meteorological summer. I guess that means this weekend I should finally swap out my summer and winter clothes in my closet, mostly because I have a convention next weekend, and most of my summer clothes are still packed away upstairs.

Summer isn't my favorite season. I like to be outdoors, and it's usually too hot and humid for that around here, plus there are mosquitoes (there's currently one in my house that keeps biting me, but the only time I can spot it, it's landed on my computer, where I can't hit it). Summer is indoor time around here, so I'm going to use it to really buckle down and see how much writing I can get done. There are two books I'd like to write this summer. That would be a dramatic increase over my usual production, but I'd like to see if I can do it. It's going to require rearranging my schedule a bit, but it might be doable if I really buckle down.

And, since I have two books coming out in July -- the paperback of Rebel Mechanics and its sequel -- I suppose I should do some promo work. I've totally fallen off the radar of my publisher, so it's all up to me.

I'm having to rely on the "future self" way of thinking -- what would my future self be happier about me having done? My future self would really like to travel and get my house fixed up and maybe buy my dream house, so I should probably do the current action more likely to lead to that. As a result, I'm having a lot of arguments with myself.

Now off to convince my present self to make a salad for lunch so that future self can fit into my nice summer clothes, and then present self will do some book research so that future self can write that book and even more future self will earn money.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Once Upon Stilettos Reread: Chapters Fourteen through Sixteen

It's time for more Once Upon Stilettos commentary, today with chapters 14, 15, and 16.

This is where Katie's lack of magical immunity starts to get more intense, and it plays into her impostor syndrome. She'd always felt a little out of place in a magical company, and now she's lost the one thing that gave her a reason to be there. In this section of the book, I tried to parallel incidents from the first book where she used her immunity to show how not having it was affecting her. First, we get the meeting where she's supposed to let them know if the other person is using magical tricks. She manages to get through it by relying on her people skills and common sense, which have actually been her best assets all along. I'd imagine that having magical powers might stunt someone's personal development. If you can get what you want with a wave of your hand, you don't need to build a lot of other skills, and that's why Katie's common sense sets her apart from other people at her company.

But she does want to get back to "normal," so she starts taking action by trying to look up her condition in one of Owen's books. The bit about her frustration at not finding the information she needed or finding way too much being like looking up the common cold in a medical journal is based on something I experienced once. My first job out of college was at a medical school, and the library was just downstairs from my office. I was working on a book, and it involved one of the characters getting knocked out. I knew that the way concussions and head injuries are treated in fiction isn't generally realistic, so I decided to go to the medical library after work one day to look it up in actual medical books. I never did find anything as straightforward as "here are the symptoms to look for and here's what to do about it." I couldn't even find anything on whether the advice to keep a person awake was on target or not. There was a lot of stuff on physiological changes and what to look for on scans, but nothing that was useful for someone who wasn't at a hospital. I've actually thought about teaming up with a doctor to write a "medicine for writers" book because even the one I've got isn't very useful and is about the treatment someone with that injury would get at a hospital. What I'm more likely to need is how someone's condition would progress until they got some kind of treatment, since it's no fun to injure a character and then call an ambulance right away. They're more likely to be trapped somewhere or in a time period before ambulances existed.

But I digress … The next part of the book, the big girls' night out (another parallel to the first book) required subtly showing the effects of the red shoes plus the loss of immunity in a way that I hoped wouldn't be screamingly obvious. Reading it now, more than a decade after I wrote it, I'm actually rather impressed at the way the tension built throughout the evening until Katie found herself face to face with Idris, and realized that he knew about her immunity.

Then for a contrast to the night out that was so not Katie's thing, there's the shopping trip with Owen. I did a fair amount of research on jewelry to come up with what she'd recommend for his foster mother, and then I had to rely on help from a friend in New York when I realized that the rare books portion of the Strand is in a different location, where I'd never been. An online friend went there to tell me how you get in and how it looks. She did a great job describing it because I went there myself while I was doing revisions on the book and didn't have to change anything based on what I saw.

When we find the camera in Owen's office, it's obvious that the book was written in 2004-2005 and set in 2005 because it's wired. WiFi and Bluetooth existed then, but weren't quite as common as they are now. I doubt anyone would plant a hard-wired spycam these days.

I recall not being quite sure I should have had Katie figure out who the spy was so early in the book, but I decided that the rest of the book could be about her finding evidence and trying to stop the spy, and if she hadn't figured it out by this point, she'd look pretty foolish. I like that she figured it out while her immunity was out, before that got fixed. It was important that she be able to do this as herself, with nothing to do with magic playing into it.

Up next is one of my favorite scenes I've ever written as we get closer to the end of the book.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Family Traits

I'm back a day earlier than I planned from the family reunion. I'd thought I'd come back to my parents' house from Louisiana yesterday, then come home today, but when I got to my parents' house, I decided to just move my stuff into my car and then come on home to get all the travel out of the way at once rather than face yet another day on the road. As a result, I'm at home on a workday that I'd planned to take as "vacation," so I've been trying to decide if that obligates me to work. I decided that I'm not going to try to stick to a workday schedule, but since I'm doing research and that mostly means lying around reading, I'll do that work.

It was a good trip and a nice chance to catch up with the family, or in some cases, meet family. There were cousins I knew, and even some of their kids I knew, but then there were cousins' grandkids I hadn't met (including a baby who launched himself into my arms at first sight). And then there was my grandmother's side of the family, the descendants of her siblings and her aunts and uncles. It's been so long since I've seen some of those people that even if I knew them, I didn't recognize them. It was interesting seeing how the family traits play out. A number of the girls had wild, curly hair like mine, and so many of the people look the same around the eyes. Plus, apparently cooking is either genetic or cultural because there was so much good food. I didn't even eat dinner Saturday night and wasn't starving for breakfast the next morning.

Now I've got a couple of days of newspapers (and crossword puzzles) to catch up on and some history to read. Tomorrow, I'll make myself think more.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Creativity Boosters

In my writing posts, I've been talking about what to do when you hit the hard part of a story, whether you're stuck or distracted. To wrap up the series, today I'm going to share some creativity boosters that can help whether you're stuck, uninspired, or just want to juice up your work. Some of these come from actual scientific research that I picked up during my years in my previous career as a medical writer and some are things I've picked up or tried in my current career as a full-time novelist. Not everything will work for everyone, but I don't think there's anything potentially harmful in here, so give it a try and stick with what works for you.

1) Get some exercise. There have been a number of studies showing that physical activity increases cognitive performance and creativity. It makes sense that more blood flowing to the brain will help it work better.

2) Listen to -- or better yet, make -- some music. There's something about music that has an effect on the brain and wakes up parts of the brain that aren't used in other activities. This is especially true when you play music. There can also be a meditative quality to playing music that can spark creativity.

3) Dance. This combines #1 and #2 -- physical activity plus music -- in a way that really gets the creative juices flowing. Before a writing session, try putting on some tunes and dancing around.

4) Use your non-dominant hand for some routine daily activities, like brushing your teeth. This is one of those scientific research things. Supposedly, using your non-dominant hand forces your brain to forge new pathways, and when new things in your brain light up or when a different part of your brain is used for different things, creativity increases. This is also supposed to help you in forming new habits -- if you're doing things a different way, the new habits you're trying to form at the same time are more likely to stick because they become part of the brain rewiring itself.

5) On a related note, change your habits or routine. It's hard to think outside the box when you're living inside the box. Change the order in which you do things, take a different route to work, eat something new or different, write at a different time of day. The change doesn't have to be permanent. You just want to shake things up a bit.

6) And this leads to … take a real vacation. That doesn't necessarily mean going to a new place. The word "vacation" means an emptying. The idea is that your mind gets "full" from everyday life, and every so often, you need to do a kind of emptying to release it all and make a fresh start. You can get the same effect at home by changing your routines and taking a break that actually feels like a real break. This is something good to do between projects, if deadlines allow. Instead of writing or even thinking about writing, refill the creative well by doing other activities. Go to the theater or a concert. Have a picnic and walk in the woods. Try to not think about work for a few days. If you can do so without twitching, take a break from social media.

7) Do something else that's creative -- dance or music are good, but there's also drawing and painting, coloring, woodworking, sewing, baking, etc. Create something tangible.

8) Learn something new -- this is another one of those brain exercises. Picking up a new skill requires your brain to work in different ways. Learn a musical instrument or foreign language. Take a continuing education class in a subject that's always fascinated you but that was too impractical to study in college. If you don't already play the piano, learning piano hits multiple creativity boosters -- it's making music and learning a new skill that requires you to use your non-dominant hand (I'm currently learning to play the harp, which does the same thing).

9) Meditate, or just be still. Creative brains tend to be going a hundred miles an hour in every possible direction, with multiple mental "tabs" open. A lot of writers think in narrative. It's good to every so often let all that go and just be. Take some time to sit still and let the thoughts flow in and out without trying to direct them. You can try actual meditation where you don't think about anything, or you can use this as thinking time. The idea is to just relax and be without feeling like there's something you should be doing.

10) Play. Studies have shown that a session of play before a work session improves work performance and creativity. So before you sit down to write, act out a scene with the action figures on your desk, play fetch with your dog, get out the bubble soap and make bubbles, dress up some dolls, or do something else childlike and fun. I don't know if video or computer games have the same effect. The study I saw only mentioned real-world active play. I think the problem with video games for this is that they have an immersive, hypnotic effect, but I'm not a gamer so I haven't tested this in real life. I can vouch for the soap bubbles, though. I think the idea is that doing something silly and childlike before you start to work gets your mind into that mode, so you're less likely to let "adult" constraints hold back your creativity.

Obviously, some of these tips work best at certain points of a project or between projects, some have to be incorporated into a creative way of life, and some are probably best for giving yourself the occasional boost.