Monday, April 24, 2017

Approaching May

I’m closing in on the end of the book — wrote about 5,000 words on Friday and 2,000 on Saturday. I’ve finished the main plot and just need to do the character resolution and wrap-up. That should easily happen this week. Then I need to revise the whole thing, but I may take a slight break and write a shorter piece first. I’ve done so many drafts of the beginning that I need to clear my head before I tackle it again.

Meanwhile, I’ve realized that May is closing in on me, and so I have a lot of stuff I need to get done before I go to the Nebula Awards weekend, which is essentially the annual conference of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I’m doing a presentation and am on a couple of panels, so I have to actually prepare. And then there’s the usual getting ready for travel stuff. This year is going by so quickly.

Before that, I have WhoFest DFW in a couple of weeks. It’s a local Doctor Who convention, and as a local author and low-level celebrity (that should probably be in ironic quotes), I help fill out the programming slots for events that don’t involve the actual celebrity guests. It’s just down the street from my house, so it’s easy to just run over when I have a panel and then get back home. I’m mostly on the program items that are indirectly about Doctor Who, like other books/TV shows/movies about time travel.

So, that’s my May. Plus writing. Lots of writing. I’m behind my planned schedule, though I’ve spent more time writing this year than I had done up to the middle of July of last year. It’s all those rewrites and false starts of this book, which means I’ve put in the time without the forward progress.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Non-Fiction TV

I’ve mentioned how my television viewing has waned, but I’ve noticed another trend: a lot of what I’m watching now is non-fiction. Most of what’s on my DVR is documentaries. Some of them are work-related, tied to a book I’m writing, plan to write, or might write something along those lines someday. I have a couple of documentaries about being a ballet dancer saved that I’ll watch/re-watch before I work on the next Fairy Tale book. I’ve saved a documentary on the Dust Bowl that’s part of the worldbuilding for a book I have in mind. But then there was a series on the art of the gothic in the Victorian era and how the Gothic Revival was about the reaction to industrialization that I recorded more than a year ago because it looked interesting, and it turned out to be the basis for my worldbuilding in the book I’m working on now that wasn’t even a gleam in my eye at the time I recorded it.

My recent viewing seems to have been focused on World War I, with a three-part American Experience documentary that was really eye-opening. I knew some about that war, but there were a lot of things that weren’t really covered in school, like how the politics worked, both in Europe to set it off and in the US to decide how/when we would get involved. Then there were the things going on in the country at that time, like some really virulent racism and an extreme curtailment on civil liberties. There was also a film related to the war, done in dance, but I wasn’t that impressed by it. The choreography was kind of blah, that contemporary pseudo-ballet that mostly involves a lot of writhing on the floor and making pained expressions.

I also finally got around to watching an Independent Lens piece from a few months ago about the tower shooting at UT. Having gone to the University of Texas, I was pretty familiar with the incident. The bullet holes are still there on the buildings and statues, and I had a habit of looking for the ones I knew about as I walked around campus. They became like landmarks for me. This film portrays the incident in a rotoscope animation, with voiceovers by the people being depicted. That made it very intense and personal, and the shock was seeing some of my familiar bullet holes being made. I’d planned to watch it so I could delete it, but I’m going to have to watch it again to take notes because it was an excellent study on people under stress — the victims, the heroes, and the bystanders. They really got into the physical and emotional sensations and their thought processes, and it’s the kind of stuff that I think I could use for characters to make their reactions more authentic.

The other thing I found a little shocking was just how familiar that version of the university and the area around it was to me — a lot more familiar than my more recent visits. Then I realized that there was less time between that incident and my time at the university than there has been between the time I graduated and now. This film was made in commemoration of the 50th anniversary, and I made my pre-registration visit to do some paperwork, set up a local bank account, and generally scope things out on campus on the day of the 20th anniversary (I got to watch a lot of national news crews at work on campus). The explosive growth of Austin didn’t start happening until late in my time there, so the campus and the area around it hadn’t changed that much between the time depicted in the film and my time there, but a lot has changed since then. It made me feel very old and weirdly nostalgic. I don’t even really like going around the campus now because too much around it has changed.

Meanwhile, a couple of weeks ago it must have been “programming for fantasy writers” day on the National Geographic channel because there was a documentary on finding the “real” Atlantis and one on Stonehenge.

And on the fictional side of programming, with the season finale of The Magicians, there’s even less TV to watch. So maybe I’ll get this book done. And then another.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Home Stretch

Yesterday was supposed to be my day to get stuff done other than writing, but I got through my to-do list and still had time, so I got some writing done, too. I’m in the home stretch, with about 20,000 more words to write in this draft, and it’s all outlined. I’ve even seen a lot of the movie in my head. So I’ll be in intense writing mode for the next few days. I tend to write the first quarter and the last quarter of a book quickly, with the middle being the hard part.

I’m also in the home stretch for children’s choir. Just two more sessions where I’m responsible for them and need a lesson plan. This week wasn’t too bad, since a family member of one of the more challenging kids asked if I minded if she sat in. That resolved a lot of the issues, and where it didn’t resolve them, it provided one-on-one handling of anything that came up. I got to focus on teaching, but that meant I had to improvise because I’d put together my lesson plan based on the usual huge gaps I have between activities for getting things under control or having to stop repeatedly for discipline. Without that, I ran out of things to do. I guess I’ll need to come up with more activities for the next couple of weeks since she asked if I minded her coming for the rest of the time. I restrained myself from falling at her feet and whimpering in gratitude.

Today’s writing may be interesting, as allergies have struck with a vengeance. I’ve had times when I’ve been up all night coughing, but up all night sneezing, as I was last night, is new. I guess I won’t be sitting on the patio to work today.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Early Career Planning

In my writing posts, I’ve been talking about writing advice that’s good or that depends on the individual. I found myself thinking once again about that convention panel on career planning for pre-published writers, and there are some things that you might be able to do to give yourself a boost besides just writing. I don’t think all of these are mandatory, but they could be helpful if you do them well. Still, though, the main thing you need to be doing is writing. If you don’t do that, none of the rest of these things will do you any good. I’ve seen a lot of writers stall their potential careers because they got caught up in being involved in writers organizations and conferences, etc., and they thought of that as being writing work, but it kept them from actually writing. They may have been a big shot in the organizations and knew lots of editors because of that, but without anything written, all those connections did no good. So, with each of these activities, you have to ask yourself if you’d be better off spending that time writing.

1) Join a writing organization
This is a good way to network with fellow writers, learn about the craft and the business, meet industry professionals, get feedback on your work, and start getting your name out there even before you’re published. Some of the national genre-specific groups allow unpublished writers to join, and many have local chapters with monthly meetings. There are local groups that meet for critiques or that have speakers. Many libraries and bookstores sponsor writing groups. Check Meet Up, your local library calendar of events, bookstore calendars, or do an Internet search for writing groups associated with your genre.

2) Attend writing conferences
Many of these writing groups sponsor annual conferences. They may be smaller local affairs, just one day with a few guest speakers, or multi-day national conventions with a number of industry professionals. At these events, you can hear expert speakers on the craft and business of writing and schedule pitch sessions with editors and agents. These can be rather expensive, so you might get more bang for your buck if you’re fairly advanced and have a manuscript ready to pitch.

3) Look for other events that include writing activities
While a lot of writing conferences may cost hundreds of dollars to attend, there are fan-oriented genre conventions that include writing activities that may only cost about $40 for the weekend. Look for science fiction or mystery conventions. Many of them include a writers’ workshop and panels on writing. The guest panelists for these events are usually published authors, so even if the convention itself doesn’t include a lot of how-to panels, it may offer you the opportunity to network with writers and talk to published authors.

For any of these in-person activities, you need to present yourself professionally. Don’t shove your manuscript at anyone, don’t corner anyone and force them to listen to a description of your book, don’t derail a panel by asking an irrelevant question that only applies to you or that is only a thinly veiled pitch for your book. Don’t be a jerk, in general. Meeting industry professionals in person can be a positive that helps your career, but it can also hurt you if you make a negative impression or come across like someone who’d be difficult to work with.

4) Study on your own
There are a number of online writing workshops and classes, some free, some at a reasonable cost. Authors, agents, and editors have blogs and write articles on writing. There are books about writing. There are online communities for writers. There’s a lot you can learn without leaving your home.

5) Establish a platform
Do you know a lot about something that might relate to your writing? You might be able to establish a platform based on that before you publish a book, and leverage that into a platform to promote your book. If you’re a lawyer who’s writing legal thrillers, you could write a blog or tweet about legal issues in fiction. Review books and movies involving lawyer characters from the perspective of a lawyer (though you might want to be careful about too much snark about books if you hope to sell a book to editors who published the books you’re tearing apart). Ditto if you’re an aerospace engineer writing science fiction, a folklorist writing fantasy, etc. You can talk about costumes in genre movies, analyze the music, create recipes for dishes mentioned in fiction, or whatever your area of expertise or interest might be.

You can also do this sort of thing if you have a strong voice and can write funny pieces about your own life, witty dissections of movies or TV series, or explorations of pop culture. There are novelists who had huge followings before they ever had a book published.

But don’t feel you have to do this. It takes a lot of time and effort and only really pays off if you have a huge impact.

6) Enter writing contests
I’m actually kind of iffy on this one. There are some manuscript contests sponsored by reputable writing organizations that can get your manuscript in front of editors or agents, skipping the slushpile. But there are also a lot of scams out there. I would be wary of any contest that promises publication as a prize because that prize comes with strict contract terms, with no negotiation. If your book is good enough to win the prize to be published, it’s good enough to be published the normal way, and you might get better terms doing so because then you’d be able to negotiate. For short stories, getting the prize of having your story published on a website means you’ve given up first publication rights and will have a harder time selling it to a real publication. So be sure of what you want out of a contest, who’s judging it, and what happens if you win.

Mostly, though, it’s about the writing. None of these things will do any good if you don’t finish a book and revise it until it’s in publishable condition.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Working Out the End

After a day of brainstorming, I think I’ve figured out what needs to happen for the rest of the book. I dug out my notes from a book on story structure I checked out of the library years ago, and that sparked some ideas. My notes included questions I forced myself to answer, and while I did that, I started seeing the movie in my head.

I know there’s some stuff I’ll have to go back and fix in the next draft, like making a character who’s been drifting on the periphery more prominent and actually defining him, and making the heroine a little more flawed at the beginning so she has room to grow. I’m also not totally sold on the way I did the middle, and there’s one character who may end up being deleted, depending on what I do with the middle. I could eliminate him entirely, except for one critical thing he does in the middle, but once he’s there, I can’t find a way of ditching him. Either he never appears and I find another way to do what he does in the middle, or I’m stuck with him for the rest of the book. I’m worried that his presence dilutes another character who plays a similar role except for that one thing that only he can do, and I think that other character is more interesting and fun.

But first I think I’ll get to the end, and then I’ll make decisions. Let’s see if he earns his keep and does something valuable leading up to the end.

One other thing that came from digging up that old notebook:
That writing book had some exercises for discovering the story you need to be writing. One was to list all the elements you love in books. I did that list, and looking at the list now, I’d say that about 75 percent of them are in this one story. So maybe I’m on the right track.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Staring into Space

I managed to have a weekend that was both productive and restful. I knocked a few items off the epic nagging to-do list, got through all the Easter services, and still had time to do some reading.

Now I have to face the week, and today’s task is mostly going to be brainstorming. I’m building up to the climactic action of the book, and this is where my outline was rather vague. I know what the climactic action will be, but I’m not sure how to get there, on multiple levels. I don’t know what tasks my characters will need to do to get to that point, but I also don’t know how they’ll get there, physically. I’m going to need to make a map to figure out what their travel will look like, and then I need to figure out how the city that’s their destination is situated because I need to figure out how they’ll get into the city. I’m not sure yet if they actually will get into the city or if they’ll end up resorting to plan B before that, but they need to have a plan to at least try and fail before they resort to plan B.

So, yeah, I have a lot of thinking to do. I may have to daydream multiple possibilities and then pick the best. Right now, I don’t have a good mental movie of this part of the book.

It looks like it’s going to be a rainy day, so I plan to put on some music, sit down, stare into space, and call it work. And it is work.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Unwriting

I’ve been in a process I’ve come to think of as “unwriting” for nearly a week. I got to a certain point in the story, realized I was doing it wrong, and went back to fix it. That meant cutting a lot of stuff I’d already written. Yesterday, I finally got back to the same point in the story (in a totally different way) and back to the word count I had before the “unwriting” began. So now I can move forward. It’ll be a shortish afternoon, since I have a Good Friday concert to sing in tonight. I may try to make up the time tomorrow.

I’ve probably been a bit too hard on myself with this book. The idea was so fun and magical, but the actual thing feels like such a slog. I had to remind myself that the process of writing it has nothing to do with the process of reading it. In fact, the more of a slog it is to write, the more effort put into it, the more magical it may be to read. Also, this is a draft. I can sprinkle the pixie dust in when I revise it. That’s why I decided to write the whole thing instead of just a proposal. I only really get a sense of the full impact of the story when I write the whole thing, and that means I do a lot of revising of the opening to fit what I discover along the way. My mantras with this book are “good enough is the enemy of great” and “be too good to ignore.” I want editors to read this and desperately want to buy this book, so it’s worth the effort to make that happen.

In other news, I saw a recent survey that younger readers are more likely to be looking at Instagram than stuff like Twitter or Facebook. As a YA writer, I probably need to look into that, but I have to confess to being utterly clueless about it. It only works on phones, right? I seldom think to use my phone. But I’m a decent photographer (I had to take a course in college as part of my broadcast news degree), so it’s in my skill set. But I think in words, not images, which is why I’m a writer, so it will take some thought. Maybe I’ll do some exploring and brainstorming this weekend.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tackling the To-Do List

I had a thought yesterday while I was making my bed and tidying my bedroom. I found myself noticing little things I needed to do that I never seem to get around to doing, those nagging to-do list items that don’t have a particular deadline and that are just annoying enough to do that I let them carry over for weeks, months, even years in some rare cases. They hang over my head and make even leisure time feel less leisurely because there’s that sense that there’s something else I should be doing. But they don’t get done because I tell myself that I have other priorities. I always have a writing project I need to be working on, and I don’t like spending the emotional energy on other stuff while I’m writing.

So then I got the idea of devoting a week to getting things done — once I have this project and a couple of other things out of the way, take a block of time and devote it to getting all those things done. Then I could take a few days off to recover and enjoy that sense of having nothing I should be doing before diving into the next big writing project. Of course, new to-dos will always arise, but getting the current list done would certainly make the burden less onerous.

So, I made a list of everything I could think of that I need to do that I’ve been putting off, those passing thoughts of “oh, I really should take care of that.” I was surprised to only have about 30 items on the list. A few of them are bigger projects that might require multiple stages, like some of the home repairs I need to do or some of the purging/organizing I need to do, but most were relatively small tasks. I typed up and printed that list, cut the list into individual slips, and created a “job jar.” When I have a spare block of time, I’m going to draw a job and deal with it.

Yesterday’s task was to set up the NoMoRobo service that I can now use with the new phone service I’ve got (yes, I’ve had that since October, but there was a sign-up process, so it didn’t get done). It’s a service that intercepts the known robo caller scammers, so your phone rings once and it shows up on Caller ID, but then stops ringing. The process of signing up was a minor pain that took maybe 20 minutes, most of that having to reload my phone company’s web site a few times, but about an hour later I got one of those calls, and the readout in the Caller ID was one that I’ve had repeatedly. The phone rang once, and that was it, so it worked. This should help my productivity because I can generally ignore the first ring of any call and only break concentration to deal with it if it rings more than once.

I may still try to do the week of getting stuff done, but with any luck, I’ll have knocked out a lot of it ahead of time and will be able to focus on the more serious stuff (which may end up taking more than one week), like doing some of the more major home repairs and cleaning/organizing.

But first, I really need to focus on finishing this book.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rewriting

I’m still plugging away at this book, with the plodding pace that comes with having to write a scene before I know what the scene should be, so I then have to rewrite it. But I’m getting close to the end, around 25,000 words to go. I made a list of things that need to happen before the end of the book, and there’s just one I’m not entirely sure of, whether it should be resolved here or kept for a sequel.

My ongoing dilemma is deciding when to just get something done and move on and when to make things difficult for my characters. When should I just let them do, find, or learn something so they can get to the next part of the story, and when should it be a struggle to do, find, or learn something? I think the answer is that it should be a struggle when it has something to do with the plot — would the antagonists stand in the way at this point? Would someone have had a reason to make something hard to do here? Otherwise, it’s just throwing in artificial conflict.

And then last night I read a deal announcement for a book that fits in the same general category as this one. It sounds like a very different treatment of the concept, but is still playing in the same space. It was a really good deal, sold at auction for six figures. I don’t know whether to find that encouraging and a good sign that publishers might be looking for something like this or to worry that this means publishers will say this is too much like that one.

Come to think of it, from what I know of publishers, it should be a good sign. I might not be able to sell to that publisher, but the auction losers might be looking for something like it.

So I’ll keep plugging.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Report: Lots of Reading

I’ve been making a real effort to read more lately, as I’m watching less TV, so I have a bunch of books to report on.

Fans of my Rebels series might enjoy Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine. You might consider it steampunk, though if you’re being really pedantic and technical about it, it’s more clockpunk, as it takes place during the Regency era, before the Age of Steam really got going, and the alternate technology is clockwork automata, not steam engines. But it’s still a retro-futuristic thing with airships and adventure, with a plucky heroine breaking out of her defined societal role. A young woman who grew up on her family’s Mars plantation feels constrained when her mother thinks they need to move back to earth so she can be trained to be a proper lady. But after her father’s death, she learns of an evil scheme by her cousin to go to Mars and rob her brother of his inheritance, and the only option she seems to have is to disguise herself as a boy to join the crew of a faster ship heading to Mars so she can warn her brother. Those who are real nitpickers about science may have problems with this, as the technology and science are all based on beliefs at that time, which means we have people living easily on Mars, farming there, with a breathable atmosphere, and then there’s the fact that you can sail on sailing ships to Mars. But if that sort of thing doesn’t have you sputtering “that’s not the way it works!” and you’re willing to suspend disbelief and go with it, it’s a really fun adventure story.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman is classified as a children’s book (middle-grade, I believe), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. A young runaway gets lost in the Maine woods and stumbles upon a remote house, where a strange old man gives him shelter, then declares that he’s an evil wizard, and the boy is his new apprentice. When the boy finds that he can’t seem to leave, he decides to take matters into his own hands and learn what he needs to figure out what’s going on and how to get his freedom — but the situation isn’t quite what he’s been told it is. I guess you could almost call it Stephen King-lite, with the strange, mysterious town in Maine and the dark forces surrounding it, but it’s not a really dark story. It’s whimsical and has a sweet heart.

I took a slight break from fantasy when I found a book by Julian Fellows, the writer of Downton Abbey, on the new books shelf at the library. Belgravia had no connections to Downton Abbey, but I felt like there were some parallels in story lines and character types. It starts with an incident at the infamous ball that happened on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, then picks up 25 years later with the consequences of what happened. Those consequences entangle a high-ranking noble family and a family of wealthy social climbers. As on Downton Abbey, we have an ordinary guy who finds himself abruptly moved up in society, scheming servants, and a very forward-thinking young noblewoman. The outcome was rather obvious to me from the start, but I think I would have been very dissatisfied if it hadn’t come out that way. I must say that he’s probably a better television writer than a novelist. The plot is fairly strong, but prose isn’t his strong suit. But if you’re missing Downton Abbey and want a bit more historical costume drama soap opera, this is a pretty quick read.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman was recommended by a reader, and yes, it was just my cup of tea. A librarian working for the magical repository of all books gets assigned a new trainee and a strange mission to go to a steampunky alternate reality where vampires and werewolves exist and retrieve a version of the Grimm fairy tales that includes one particular story that doesn’t exist in other realities. But she’s not the only one after it. This has a taste of contemporary fantasy — in that the heroine seems rather contemporary, though we aren’t quite sure which reality she’s from — but she’s thrown into a steampunk kind of world that also has a lot of other fantasy elements. There are already two more with more on the way, and when I finish my current library haul, I’ll be devouring the rest. Thanks for the recommendation!

And finally, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi is a YA fantasy that doesn’t really read like YA, so don’t let the label stop you if you’re an adult. It’s set in a fantasy version of India and draws upon Indian mythology and folklore, but there are still elements that feel quite familiar from European folklore and fairy tales. A raja’s daughter whose birth horoscope seems ominous believes she’ll never marry because of it, but when she’s put in a situation where she has to choose a husband for diplomatic reasons, she’s unexpectedly whisked away by a mysterious man and taken to a magical realm. As she gradually learns what’s going on, she has to decide who she can trust. The imagery in this book is so dreamlike and beautiful, with some very poetic language. I kept wanting to write down quotes from it. It’s also very romantic, the kind of book you finish with a sigh.

I guess all this is what happens when you cut back on your TV viewing, which is probably good for me. I’m ahead for the year on my reading goals, and my writing output has also increased.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Messy Food

It was a good thing I did a trial run of that recipe. It came out great and was really yummy, but it wasn’t at all appropriate for this situation. We’re dealing with maybe about 50 people, with buffet tables and everyone needing to grab a bite to eat in the half hour between services. Many of the people will be wearing choir robes. This bread was really, really messy to eat, with all that cinnamon sugar goo coating each piece. And since it’s a pull-apart bread, the servings were defined, but they were a little too big for a situation in which everyone will be wanting to take smaller portions of everything. Plus, it’s served using the fingers, which isn’t great for a big crowd. It would be awesome for a coffee/tea party or a family brunch. For the choir Easter brunch, I think I’ll go to my stand-by of soda bread because I can pre-slice it into smaller bits for easy serving, and it’s not at all messy to eat. You have to wash your hands after eating this cinnamon bread before you can touch anything.

I did pass out some of this bread to people in the choir this Sunday. And now most of the rest is in my freezer. I could have happily lived on it, and that was dangerous.

Meanwhile, in my Friday writing session, I wrote for a couple of hours and ended up with 5,000 fewer words than I started with, and then that night I figured out what I did wrong, which will mean rewriting about 2,000 of the remaining words. I also already know I’m going to need to do a pass focusing on character arcs and adding emotion. But I keep telling myself that the object of this exercise is to create something so good that publishers will fight for it.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Test Batches

I think today I should be able to get through the changing/revising of what I’ve already written, so that next week I can write new stuff, and I should be able to finish this draft by the end of next week. Yay! Then I may let it rest a bit while I write some shorter pieces. I really want to get this book right, so I’m forcing myself not to get impatient to just have it done.

I’ll be spending my weekend with the fun of finishing my taxes and working on that web design survey so that I don’t have to worry about either next week and can focus on writing.

I may also be making a test/practice batch of my recipe for Easter morning goodies. Since the choir has to sing for three services, we do a kind of potluck brunch for between services, and there’s a recipe I want to try, but I’m a little wary of bringing something that I’ve never made before when it’s not something like cookies, where you can test one.

There are nice things about Easter when you’re in the choir. You have to get there early, so you get a parking space. You have a reserved seat. You don’t have to worry about what you wear because you’re wearing a robe over it. We spend the time between services snacking, so I don’t have to worry about going out to lunch and getting a table anywhere. I can just come home and collapse.

The down side is that there’s a lot of work leading up to it. This year, we’re not doing a lot of big music for Easter itself, just the usual stuff, but are doing a big thing for Good Friday. That’s what all the rehearsals are about, and that’s what I’ll be doing next Friday night.

So now I think it’s time to do some baking. I’m trying a recipe for cinnamon roll pull-apart bread. Basically, you make cinnamon rolls, but then you coat those roll pieces in cinnamon sugar and put the roll dough in a loaf pan. Theoretically, you then pull the rolls off the loaf. The test run is to see how it works and whether it’s too messy. And as an excuse to have it for myself.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Weaving a Web

The bad thing about having a book boosted into bestseller ranks by something artificial like a BookBub ad is that you then have to watch it very quickly slide back into obscurity. It’s depressing to watch those numbers changing. I have to remind myself that it’s far better than if the ad hadn’t been there in the first place. I just need to get a book that makes it there on its own without any artificial manipulation like a price drop (though with publisher support). That’s one of my career aims.

As part of working toward that goal, I’m about to be getting my web site redone. The designer has a fairly extensive questionnaire so he can better know exactly what I want. I’ve started work on it, but I imagine that’s what I’ll be spending Saturday working on.

The hard part is that he asked who my top competitors are. I thought a good start would be to go to the “people who bought this also bought” for my books, but most of the people who come up aren’t what I’d consider my competition. Most of them are paranormal romances or cozy paranormal mysteries, while I’m trying to position myself in fantasy. I guess I should tell him that. There are some fairly close comparisons in some of my subgenres (especially the YA steampunk), but in fantasy there isn’t a lot that I would put in the same category as my books, which may be part of my problem. Or else the people I get compared to are way out of my league, so trying to compare myself or the kind of website I can afford to get done to them is rather pointless.

I also need to come up with examples of websites I like and don’t like. When it comes to author websites, I can find a lot I don’t like, but few I do like, that have all the information I want in a way that’s easy to find and that doesn’t look too cluttered and doesn’t make me scroll for hours to get to a spot on the page.

Are there any author websites you particularly like or don’t like?

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Writing Truths

In my last writing post, I talked about some myths — some advice about writing that may or may not be true. Today I’ll give some advice that I think it’s safe to say is absolutely true.

1) Read
If you want to write, you need to read. If you don’t enjoy reading, then you probably won’t enjoy writing. Reading fuels writing, and loving to read is how most writers are first inspired to want to write. By reading, you internalize all the lessons about story structure, characterization, etc. In fact, I would bet that you’d get more benefit from reading a lot and never looking at how-to books or taking writing seminars than you’d get from studying writing without actually reading a lot.

What should you read? Read widely in the genre you’re writing. Read the classics in that genre so you know the foundations. Read the latest releases, bestsellers, and books by new authors so you know what’s selling now. Read the award winners so you know what’s considered good. Read outside your genre. You can learn a lot about plotting by reading mysteries, a lot about pacing by reading thrillers, a lot about emotions from reading romance, a lot about language by reading poetry. Take another look at the classics you were forced to read in school and try reading them without having to write essays or take tests about them. Read the latest thing burning up the bestseller list. Read non-fiction so you learn about the world and about people.

2) Write
I may argue with the “write every day” advice, but it’s hard to be much of a writer if you aren’t writing often and regularly. Yes, it’s important to read and study and research, but at some point, in order to be a writer, you have to write something. You have to write a lot. There are some people who are fortunate and talented who sell the first thing they write, but most writers spend a lot of time writing and write a lot of things before they actually get good at it. You wouldn’t expect to be able to play Beethoven sonatas the first time you sit down at a piano, so don’t expect to produce a publishable novel the first time you try to write. There certainly are cases of the industry not recognizing genius, but for the most part, if you’re failing it’s because you’re not good enough yet, and the best way to get better is to write more. Think of it as your practice sessions so that you learn and get good enough to perform in public.

3) Study
While it is important to write instead of deluding yourself into equating writing-related work with actual writing, it is important to learn about what you’re doing, especially when you start considering publication. I’m constantly surprised and appalled by how many people I talk to who claim to be writing seriously who seem to have absolutely no clue as to how the business works. I was recently at a party and ended up in conversation with an aspiring writer who didn’t realize when I said I was a writer that I truly was a career novelist, and she was boasting about the three books she’d written, but said she didn’t have them published because she couldn’t afford that. She didn’t understand that a publisher pays the writer. I tried to gently educate her about the difference between publishing, vanity press, and self-publishing. If you’re trying to do this, you need to know these things, and it’s ridiculously easy to learn, if you make any effort. Most libraries have a section of books on how to write and how to get published. There are writing organizations like Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America that help educate writers. There are writing conferences and conventions. There’s a wealth of information online for aspiring writers. Many editors and agents have web sites and blogs with advice on publishing. There is no excuse for being uniformed about the industry you’re trying to participate in.

4) Persist
This ties into the “write” advice above, in that it may take you some time and a lot of effort before you see success. You’ll get rejections. You’ll get criticism. You have to decide for yourself whether you can handle this. It’s okay to decide that maybe writing isn’t for you, that it’s not as much fun as it seems, that you don’t want to spend the time it takes to be able to succeed. But you have to be honest with yourself about what’s going on. If you really, truly want it, you have to keep going. You have to carry on and finish that book even though the middle is hard and you just got this other new idea. You have to slog through revisions that aren’t as much fun as the first draft. You have to take rejections and decide to try again and write something new. There’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed if you keep on, but it’s absolutely guaranteed that you won’t succeed if you give up — if you don’t finish something, don’t revise and polish it, don’t keep submitting, don’t write anything else.

So, that’s the quick (well, maybe not so quick) and easy (except not) formula for writing success: Read, write, study, persist.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Book Birthday!

It’s new book day! Rebels Rising is out now. Go, buy, read!

And before anyone asks, yes, the series will continue. I’m planning at least one more book. How many more will depend on how hard it is to get the characters out of the trouble they’re in. I don’t know when the next book will be coming. I’m tentatively planning to start writing it this fall, but that is subject to change depending on what else is going on in my life and my career, and how long it takes me to write the other things I’m trying to get written. I’m juggling a lot of stuff right now.

Other FAQ stuff:
I don’t know when/if the books in that series beyond Rebel Mechanics will be out on audio. Apparently, the sales of the first one in audio were “modest,” so the audio publisher isn’t jumping to grab rights to the rest. I don’t know how Audible membership sales affect their sales (this one was published by someone else, not Audible), so I don’t know if using Audible credits counts or if they only care about outright purchases, or what. So, anyway, the answer is still I don’t know, and I’m not sure what can be done to change that, other than perhaps requesting that your library get the CDs, which might mean enough sales that they want the rest of the series. The idea with going with that publisher in the first place, rather than Audible, was that they were supposedly good about getting their books into libraries, while Audible was at the time only talking about doing digital versions.

If you can’t find this book at your library or in your library system, you may have to request that they add it to their collection. This is different from requesting it from their collection or putting it on hold. Most libraries have some way for you to tell them about a book you want that they don’t have. You can ask a librarian about that when you visit the library. There may be a form to fill out. Your library system may also have an online form for you to request a book. Look for something like “request to add item to collection.” You just fill in the author, title and whatever other info you have (most of it you can get from the Amazon listing). You can do this for any book, audiobook, movie, CD, etc. They may or may not do it, but they do listen to what patrons want if they think it’s something more than just one person would want. In this case, there’s a pretty good chance they have the first book in the series, so they may just need cluing in that there are more books in that series.

I don’t know exactly when the next book will be out, since I don’t know for certain when I’ll be writing it. I’d guess maybe around this time next year would be likely, but that’s not set in stone.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Free Time

I tried to spend most of yesterday away from the computer in spite of having a BookBub ad. I do know that I was as high as #83 overall at Amazon and the #14 overall Nook book at B&N. Kind of cool. I think that’s the best I’ve done. Today, it will obviously start sliding and I will have to force myself to ignore it because I have writing to do, and I have a new book coming out tomorrow that I need to do something about. Plus lots of business-type stuff that needs to be done.

We had the final episode of Grimm on Friday, and while I think I’ll miss it, I’m okay with it going. They took a really bad wrong turn in the previous couple of seasons that they couldn’t really recover from. It led to a situation that I couldn’t believe in. It not only seemed out of character for these people, but out of character for people, in general. This is where I have my “reasonable person” rule (as in the standard they mention during jury duty — would a reasonable person make this assumption or decision?) — if a character does, accepts, or believes something that a reasonable person would not, you have to provide an extra strong motivation or reason why this character would do so at this time and in this circumstance. They violated the “reasonable person” rule.

So that’s my Friday nights freed up now. It may be a movie night this week. Or I may go back to my old habit of having a writing marathon on Friday nights. I used to love doing that when I had a day job because that was my best writing opportunity. I’d come home from work, have dinner, then make a pot of tea and write until I couldn’t stay awake any longer. Though I doubt I’ll manage to make it as late as I did when I was 23 or so. Either I’ll do that to make more progress on the primary project, or that will be my “fun” project time — the things I want to play with. Like writing a short story, or playing with a story idea that I’m not sure is viable but I just want to see where it goes.

But first I have to write a book and launch a book and get through this week before I can get to the weekend. Next week is Holy Week, so from Sunday to Sunday it’s going to be incredibly busy for me. I need to charge up this week to be ready.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Good Timing

I’m in the middle of re-replotting the book I’m working on. I wasn’t crazy about what I had done at this point, but I’m not sure where to move forward with it. I can see several options for possibilities, but I don’t know which I like best. This may be a day for sitting on the patio with a whiteboard and playing with flow charts, or something. I don’t know.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned that the price drop on Enchanted, Inc. is because the publisher got a BookBub feature for it that’s running Sunday. It would have been nice if I’d known so I could have built some other publicity around it. With one of those ads, there’s always a chance of hitting a bestseller list, but it means knowing about it and timing the promotion strategically. It would mean focusing the promo and sales on the week from this Sunday through next Saturday, because that’s the reporting period. So I really shouldn’t have said anything this week in order to focus the sales at one time. Ah well, it’s a 12-year-old book, so the odds were always slim. It just would be nice to be able to put something like “USA Today bestselling author” on my covers.

And apparently even my editor didn’t know about Rebel Mechanics being picked up by Scholastic for a book club edition. Not that there’s much I can do about that to promote it, but it’s still a very cool thing that could pay off nicely for me in the long run.

The timing on both of these things is very fortunate, with a new book coming out next week. Even though the BookBub is for a different book, it still raises my overall visibility. Meanwhile, there will be one more book for all the kids who get the book club edition to go on to buy.

All this means I really need to work out the problems in the book I’m working on to have something to go out to new publishers with and capitalize on the increased visibility.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Being an Adult

Although my designated “adulting” day yesterday mostly failed because of tiredness and headache from lack of sleep the night before, it’s been a very “adulting” week. Earlier in the week, I was being a mentor, something that still kind of blows my mind. I was involved in an honorary service organization when I was in college (you had to be nominated and selected for membership), and they’ve created an alumni group. They asked alumni to participate in a mentoring program with current members, and it turns out that there’s a member who wants to work in publishing, so I was able to describe to her what I know about the industry.

This morning I had a call with a web designer. I’m working on trying to look like a real professional, so instead of doing what I can with my own software, I’m going to let a pro work on it. It’s getting unwieldy with as much information as I have now, and the company that made my web software went out of business, so it’s not being updated or supported.

This means I’ll need to write more to pay for it, but on the other hand, maybe a good site will help sell more books.

In my Facebook “memories” for today, they gave me the post I wrote a year ago today, in which I talked about how I got the idea for the current book the night before. I’m still working on developing that idea. Monday night I got a burst of information in the shower (where the best ideas happen) that may alter things, but in a good way, and that meant figuring out how it would affect things, which ended up requiring going back to the beginning to adjust some things to set it up. I’m on about the fifth draft of the first part of the book without the book being finished, which is different from the way I normally write, but I need the beginning to be right before I can move forward. I keep having to go back to set things up properly. This tends to happen in a universe I’m still developing, as I get to know the characters and their situation.

And other than a few tasks I need to take care of, my adulting for the week is done, and it’s time to play with my imaginary friends in an imaginary world.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Now I've Arrived

I’m getting a late and sluggish start this morning, thanks to the thunderstorms that went through just before 3 this morning. My weather radio woke me up at about 2:15. I couldn’t hear what it was saying, so I picked up my tablet and checked Twitter, where I follow the National Weather Service and several local meteorologists, and saw that there was a tornado warning that didn’t include me, but that was heading in my direction. I turned on the TV to get the storm coverage, saw what was going on, and decided it might be a good idea to get dressed and put shoes on. I got everything ready for hitting my “safe place,” but then the warning expired before it got to me, the storm solidified into a solid line, and it went through in about ten minutes. Apparently it got nasty again because there was serious damage east of me, but it wasn’t too bad here, as far as I can tell. When I finally let myself go back to bed, it took me forever to fall asleep again.

Even aside from the storms, yesterday was a pretty eventful day. The book went up for pre-order, but I also got a lot of other book news. It seems that the e-book of the first Enchanted, Inc. book is currently available for 99 cents, so if you want a Kindle copy to supplement your paper copy, if you haven’t tried that series, or if there’s someone you’re trying to hook, now would be the time. I don’t know how long it will last.

But the really cool thing is that a high school classmate sent me a picture on Facebook of the Scholastic book order form he was passing out to his students — that had Rebel Mechanics on it! Now I feel like I’ve really arrived. Those book orders were a major part of my childhood. The day we got the order form was so exciting, and I spent quite a bit of time poring over it, trying to decide which books I wanted (since “all” wasn’t an option). I would try to be strategic with my order, finding a way to stay within my budget and still order enough stuff to get the free poster. My walls were covered with those free posters. The day the book orders came in was like Christmas. The box would be on the teacher’s desk, and there was much anticipation while she sorted things out and then passed the books out. Then there was the anticipation of getting home and being able to dig into my new books. I’d say that most of the middle grade and YA books I own came from Scholastic orders. It gives me shivers to think that other kids are out there, looking at those forms now, and trying to decide whether or not to get my book (get it!).

I think this is one reason I like ordering from Amazon. It’s a way to replicate that experience, only the catalog is much bigger. There’s still the fun of trying to order enough stuff to get free shipping (rather than a poster of a puppy), and then there’s the happy day when the box arrives.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

One Week to Rebels Rising

I guess time flies when you’re busy because it’s only one week until Rebels Rising comes out!

And I have pre-order links:
Amazon
Apple
Barnes & Noble
Google Play
Kobo

These are all for the e-book. It takes a little longer for the paperback and hardcover editions to come up.

And if you just want to see the cover without having to go to a bookstore site, here it is:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Productive Year (so far)

I rewrote the first chapter on Friday and I think I’m on the right track. It’s amazing what giving your protagonist a clear-cut goal at the beginning of the story can do for your plot. Duh!

You’d think after this many books I’d have learned, but apparently not. I seem to have become overconfident and skipped ahead in the process without thinking it through.

I have a busy week ahead, with getting a book ready for publication, writing a book, and doing other business-related stuff.

It was June of last year before I’d spent as much time devoted to writing as I have this year, and last year was a pretty good year. I’m kind of excited to see how much I can get written this year if I keep it up. I’m not doing any conventions during the summer, so I should be able to get a solid streak of writing done after May. I have a couple of ideas clamoring for attention that I can’t wait to dive into.

So I guess I’d better get to work …

Friday, March 24, 2017

Surprise vs. Sense

I thought I’d get a running start yesterday by reviewing the past few days worth of work and kept having a nagging feeling that something was wrong. So, I got out pen and paper and started making lists of what each faction in the story was trying to do, why, what was stopping them from doing it, and what information they had. That led to me realizing that I was doing something I’d just been ranting about writers doing. I was withholding information from readers and characters for the sake of a surprise revelation.

The nagging sticking point in the plot was that the heroine needed to do something absolutely critical but that no one had told her needed to be done (even though there were people who knew) or how to do it. They’d manipulated her into being in the situation to get it done but hadn’t just told her to do it. The obvious, easy fix was to go back to the beginning and write a scene in which they tell her what she needs to do and give her some hints, and she can still figure out how to improvise later because things may have changed. And then I had a moment in which I caught myself thinking “but that will ruin the surprise when she finds out what’s going on.”

That was at about 4 this morning. I finally convinced myself that it wasn’t a particularly fun surprise, it wasn’t a twist, readers wouldn’t have a big “oho!” moment. There were more benefits to the heroine having a clear-cut goal than to having a surprise revelation midway through the book, especially when keeping that a secret defied logic.

And that means I’ll be rewriting the beginning, which will reframe the whole story. It makes it slightly more dark and serious, when I was aiming at fun and whimsical, but I can’t really think of stakes that are high enough to make fun and whimsical work and still be interesting. Then I thought of other stories similar to this, and they all have a bit of an edge of darkness framing the whimsy. I couldn’t think of any that were pure fun without something very dire at stake.

On the light, fun, and whimsical side of things, I’ve discovered that the Disney channel is doing a TV series based on Tangled. I believe it starts tonight, though there was a pilot one-hour “movie” on a couple of weeks ago (on in heavy rotation and available on demand). They’ve got the same voice actors for the main cast, though it’s in “regular” animation rather than the computer-animation of the movie. The look takes a moment to get used to, but it works fine. The story is set in the time soon after Rapunzel returns to the palace and deals with her getting used to having a family, having people around, and having the expectations that come with being a princess. The pilot was rather cute, and it had some musical numbers, though I don’t know if the series will (but considering they have Mandy Moore and Zach Levi, you’d think they would). And yeah, even in this cute cartoon aimed at kids, there’s an edge and some seriousness, so I guess it’s not a bad thing entirely.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Getting Things Done Day

I had my first truly successful “do everything but the writing” Wednesday yesterday. I’m starting to see that organizing my time this way isn’t necessarily getting more writing done, but it is getting more other stuff done that I usually let slip by the wayside while I’m working on a book. I did most of my accounting for my taxes (so now doing my taxes will amount to plugging numbers into the forms), cleaned my kitchen and bathroom, booked my travel for the Nebula conference, handled some other planning related to that conference, contacted a potential web designer, did some promo stuff, and did my planning for choir. Normally, a lot of that stuff would have eaten into a planned writing day, or else I’d have had to push aside writing in order to get it done at the last second. I splurged a little on my airfare, and instead of booking the slightly cheaper flights that required getting up at the crack of dawn, I got the outgoing flight at a reasonable mid-morning time, and the return flight is early in the afternoon, so that I can get up and have a leisurely morning, leave the hotel at checkout time and get to the airport in time for my flight. I’ll get home late in the afternoon, but during a time when the train and bus are on rush-hour schedules, so there’s a chance that I would end up getting home at about the same time as with the slightly earlier flight, which would arrived during the time when there’s a big bus schedule gap. Since I have a lot of frequent flier miles, I’m considering looking into an upgrade to first class.

But now I’m back to a writing day (though I have some follow-ups to make stemming from yesterday’s work). I need to do a step back to fix some things before I can move forward, and I ended the previous writing session at a big turning point, so I need to figure out what happens next. That means there may be more thinking than writing today, but I need to do the fixing now so things are in the right order for moving ahead and so I won’t have to rewrite more later.

I thought I had a rather detailed outline of this book, since I actually wrote a whole synopsis. Ha! It turns out to have been very big-picture. I’m glad I made the decision to write the whole book rather than trying to submit on a partial (first few chapters and a synopsis) because the book will be much stronger. Better a later yes (and, I hope, an enthusiastic yes, with money and support to back it) than an earlier no.

And now my schedule says it’s almost time to start editing, so off to work I go …

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Busting Writing Myths

There’s a lot of writing advice floating around on the Internet, and not all of it necessarily good — at least, not necessarily good for everyone. Even one of my favorite authors has lately been spouting something that I find to be not true at all for me, but saying it as though it’s an absolute. So I thought I’d address some common myths about being a writer that can be detrimental to you if you treat them as absolutes rather than figuring out what works for you.

1) A “real” writer writes every day — I noticed this in an interview recently, with a writer comparing writing to a bodily function and saying that it would be impossible not to do it every day. I guess you’re not a real writer if you write on days you have time to write or treat it like a job and take weekends off. If you let yourself fall into this way of thinking, you might become discouraged or wonder if you’re meant to write if you aren’t driven to do it absolutely every day.

It may be more accurate that a writer thinks about writing every day. Bits and pieces of the story you’re working on or a future story that you’re still developing may float in and out of your brain all the time, even if you aren’t actually physically writing. However, it may be unwise to go too far in the other direction and use this as an excuse to procrastinate, telling yourself that if you’re thinking about writing, you’re okay.

Bottom line: A writer writes. Writers may write every day or they may schedule their writing sessions when they have the time to write. They’re probably thinking about their writing every day, but as long as they actually write something, they can call themselves writers.

2) “Real” writing is done with a pen and paper — this one’s been going around lately (and severely mocked). I don’t even know where that’s coming from. I know very successful writers who write by hand and then do their editing as they transcribe. I know very successful writers who type on their computers. I know people who record dictation and transcribe. I know people who write on their phones. I know people who use real typewriters and then transcribe into their computers. As long as the result is words, you’re writing.

That said, there has been research about the mind-body connection being different when typing as opposed to writing by hand. Most of that has been about memory — you’re more likely to retain information you write by hand than information you type — but switching to writing by hand might be an idea to try if you’re stuck. It can be good for brainstorming or even composing if you find yourself staring at the screen and drawing a blank. There’s nothing wrong with giving writing by hand a try, but it won’t make you any more of a real writer.

3) Talking about an idea will kill it — This is definitely something that varies by individual, and it is apparently true for some people. I just don’t think it’s true for everyone or in every circumstance. I first heard this when I was in college, and it’s been going around the writer clusters on Twitter lately, thanks to a very successful author repeating it. The idea is that you expend most of your enthusiasm and creative energy for an idea in telling it to someone, and you may not have any enthusiasm or energy left to actually write it. There’s also a concern that discussing an idea with someone will mean you’ve been influenced by others, so it’s no longer purely your idea.

This may be true for some people, or even a lot of people. It’s not at all my experience. I find that my ideas bloom when I talk about them with others. I like brainstorming out loud. I’m not necessarily getting input from anyone (my mother will joke about whether she actually needs to stay on the phone or whether she can put it down and go do something else while I talk about my story), but sometimes their questions really help me develop my idea. I came up with a lot of the elements in the idea that became my Enchanted, Inc. series when I was chatting with an editor about it at a party and she asked me questions. It was an idea still in its infancy, so I didn’t have answers to her questions, and I was making things up on the fly. It ended up working like a good brainstorming session. She didn’t add any input, just the questions that made me dig deeper into the idea and develop it. Obviously, eight books later, I didn’t lose interest in writing that idea, and talking about it before I had a single word written didn’t kill it. I tend to find that if talking about an idea kills my enthusiasm for writing it, I probably didn’t have enough enthusiasm to go through with writing it, whether or not I talked about it.

However, it really depends on how you work, how strong you are in holding onto your ideas, how developed the idea is, and who you talk to. This is where you have to know yourself. I may have a very different approach because I have a background in working at an advertising agency, where we had big brainstorming sessions for a lot of our work. That may have trained me to think in that way, getting more and more excited by an idea the more it was discussed. I think it also makes a difference that I live and work alone, so by the time I get around to talking with someone about a story, I’ve done a lot of development in my head already, and I’m ready to get outside input. If you’ve noticed that you’re always coming up with great ideas and then losing interest in them, look at whether you’ve discussed them, and then try writing without talking about it. If you find that you get excited about your ideas and rush to write them, then end up with stories that seem half-baked or underdeveloped, try discussing your ideas with someone.

Is there any other bit of writing advice that you’ve heard and wondered about?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Music/News Flashback

I had a real gold-star kind of day yesterday. I passed my word count goal, outlined today’s writing, did some development work on other projects, did laundry, practiced my choir music and worked on the piano, did some yoga, and went to bed early.

This morning I had a dentist appointment (no cavities, not even the flossing lecture!), which kind of threw my morning schedule off, but I should still get all my writing work done, though I also have grand plans to bake something using the ton of blueberries I bought because they were ridiculously cheap. I picked up some more on the way home from the dentist, so I should have enough for a pie. I’m thinking of making mini pies in the muffin tin and freezing some of them, so I can have blueberry pie whenever I want it. Not that I have that much room in my freezer. A space to put in a chest freezer is on my wish list for my dream house.

The dentist seemed to be in a late 1970s groove today, because that’s the music that was playing. It took me back to when I was living in Germany and listened to the Armed Forces Radio Network on a little transistor radio. Their FM station was more “easy listening” (basically elevator music), but they did play some current music on the AM station, and the dentist office music today was the kind of stuff they played — Supertramp, Steely Dan, Kansas, etc.

But the funny thing was, the bits of songs that jumped out at me weren’t because of hearing those songs as songs. There was a thing they did on AFN that I don’t know if it was a syndicated thing, locally produced, or something someone did and released it as a comedy “song,” but they did “interviews” of various famous figures, using little clips of songs as the answers. Like, there was one that was interviewing some official about the energy crisis and asked what he was personally doing, and the answer was a clip of the line “I try to get undressed without the light” from the Kenny Rogers song “She Believes in Me.” There was also one that used a clip saying “take the long way home” from the Supertramp song.

So as I was lying there, having my teeth poked and prodded, individual lines of songs were jumping out at me as being interview answers, which reminded me of that thing I hadn’t thought about in years. I was a weird kid who read the newspaper, so I actually got the current affairs jokes (and in some cases, these “interview” segments made me look up info, so I was learning about current affairs from them), and I remember being really frustrated when I taped these things and played them for my friends or told my friends about them, and they didn’t get the joke.

Does anyone in my age bracket or older (remembering the late 70s) remember something like this? Was it just a couple of servicemen working at AFN goofing around, or was it a national thing?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beastly Plot Problems

It took a little more than a walk to the movie theater and back to work out my plot problems, but I think over the weekend I finally figured it all out. I’m bad about doing a lot of handwaving when I plot my books. The start of the synopsis is really detailed, then about midway through it becomes more a case of “and then stuff happens.” I figure it’ll come to me when I get there. But when I get there, I need to be a lot more specific than that. I’d reached that point in the book, and every idea I came up with fit into the “but why would they do that?” category. It’s very frustrating. I do think I figured it out, though. We’ll see when I get to work today.

I loved the new Beauty and the Beast. It fixed some of the issues I had with the animated version and the Broadway version. I’ve always been a bit bothered by the enchantress cursing the whole castle because the prince was leery of letting in a stranger. Supposedly, he was being punished for judging by appearances, but if she’s the kind of person who puts that kind of curse on someone and on all his innocent servants, then maybe he was judging her by what was inside. This movie alters that a bit so it makes a lot more sense. I’ve also always been bothered by the fact that the way he shows that he’s changed from judging by appearances is to fall in love with the most beautiful girl in town. In this case, in spite of the song lyrics about Belle being the most beautiful girl in town, I think they make a distinction between her kind of beauty and the kind of beauty he was previously interested in. She’s more girl-next-door pretty, and I don’t think the prince before the curse would have even looked at her twice. He was more into the very artificial Baroque-era beauty of powdered wigs and face paint.

I loved the music enough to immediately buy the soundtrack and have listened to it repeatedly. There are a number of new songs — not just coming from the Broadway version, but new for the movie — that I really love, and I enjoy the new versions of the old songs (Ewan McGregor had WAY too much fun with “Be Our Guest”).

I was really impressed with Dan Stevens’ version of the Beast. His facial expressions really come through even in the CGI, and his eyes say so much. It looked nothing like him, yet was obviously him, if that makes sense. I even managed to have a few Downton Abbey flashbacks, where I recognized a look on his face, in spite of the fact that in this he looked like a fur-covered beast.

So, yeah, this will be one I buy on BluRay on release day. Then I may have to have a massive fairy tale weekend, watching this and Cinderella and maybe mixing it up a bit with Into the Woods and throwing in some Tangled. With lots of chocolate and pink champagne.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Scary Things

I’ve reached a point at which my characters are blowing my plans out of the water — or else are revealing that my plans weren’t very good in the first place. I’m going to have to do some thinking and figure out exactly who knows what and who has what so I can decide where to go from here.

I think that means that I should walk up the hill to the movie theater and see Beauty and the Beast today. The walk will give me time to think and meditate on the subject, and I’ve often found that ideas pop into my head while I’m watching other things.

Yeah, that’s the ticket.

I have a new logo, and now I need a new web site, but I think I may update and change the current one to match the new logo for the time being before the next book comes out.

In the meantime, I also need to come up with something to do with the ton of blueberries I just bought because they were ridiculously cheap. I’m ashamed to confess that I already have blueberry muffins in the freezer, and I just found another packet of blueberries from last year in the freezer. I’m a bad freezer hoarder. I may make a pie this weekend. Maybe some jam? I wonder how Irish soda bread would do with blueberries instead of raisins. Or blueberry scones?

You know that scene in the original Willie Wonka movie where the girl turns into a giant blueberry? That could be me very soon. Incidentally, that’s also the only movie moment I can recall that was so traumatic that I had to be taken out of the theater. I was a preschooler during the original run (yes, I’m old), and I freaked out so badly in that scene that my parents had to take me out of the movie. I didn’t see the entire movie until I was an adult. Now I’m not sure why that bothered me so much. My friend at that age was scared by the Monstro the whale part of Pinocchio, but I was more or less okay with it in the movie, possibly because I’d listened to the story and songs record so many times (though I did make a practice of hiding under the bed during that part). But, yeah, a girl turning into a blueberry was too much for me to take. Mind you, I was maybe 3 or 4 at the time, and human logic doesn’t necessarily apply.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Shocking Twists

Getting back to the topic of what makes me give up on a series — either books or TV … While curiosity and caring are important, there’s one big reason that will make me give up on something, and that’s when it no longer resembles the thing I first loved. I guess that still comes in on the caring side of things, but it’s a big reason why my caring factor changes.

On TV, sometimes it’s cast changes — the actor playing the character I most identified with or loved leaves, a new character I loathe joins the show and takes it over, sidelining the characters I liked. Sometimes the focus of a series changes — a supporting character gets a lot of buzz and starts taking over, sidelining the original main character, a previously non-romantic or just subplot romantic series goes full-on soap opera so that it’s all about who’s with whom, a more procedural series gets bogged down in story arcs, the overall tone gets darker.

The darkness thing is a huge issue in series. There are very few long-running series in books, TV, or movies that don’t get progressively darker as they go on. I think some of it comes down to the overall attitude that dark automatically=good, and writers who crave critical acclaim will go darker in an attempt to be taken seriously. There’s also the issue of raising stakes. When a series has been running for a long time, it’s hard for the characters to face bigger challenges without going a lot darker and more serious, especially if the characters have been allowed to grow and change and learn from their experiences. On TV, there’s the issue that actors tend to prefer playing dark. That gives them a lot more to work with. Many actors got into acting because they wanted to play with being someone different than themselves, and playing dark is a way to do that. Being a nice person doesn’t feel enough like acting. And there’s that credibility thing. You don’t win as many awards in dramas for playing good, hero-like characters. I’ve dropped a few series when my fun, quirky romps turned into slogs through misery. Or, if I’m still really invested and curious, I may skim to find out what happens or watch as background noise without paying too much attention.

Another issue I’m seeing a lot of lately is the attempt to go for the shock factor. Writers have become so terrified of spoilers that they start to consider it to be a spoiler if audiences figure something out on their own, so the writers try to throw in shocking twists that no one could have predicted, even if they’re discussing online and swapping theories with other fans. The problem is that it’s really, really hard to have a shocking twist that’s both shocking and that makes sense, so that after the shocking twist you can look back and see how it’s set up and how the seeds were there all along. Most of the time, in order to get shocking, the writers just pull random things out of thin air, making the characters act out of character with no explanation for why they were driven to do something that drastic. It’s a popular writing exercise to think of something your character would never do and find the motivation that might make them do it, but the trick there is to find that motivation, and that’s usually what’s lacking in these twists. Writers are writing to get Twitter reaction, not for story logic or to create something that’s satisfying viewing. I think a lot of my “um, no” giving upon series has had to do with this shocking twist trend.

I believe that’s what killed Grimm (along with trying to do story arcs and not doing them very well). They did some things that were, in fact, shocking, but they were so far from what had been established for these characters and so far from anything you’d expect any person to do that the audience reaction seems to have been a big “NOPE,” the ratings tanked, and the show got canceled. They’ve reverted to form in the last season and the episodes have been much better (though still stuck with the situations created by the shocking twists), but it’s too late to recover.

There was another one of those shocking twists recently, one that wasn’t that shocking just because those writers keep repeating themselves and it was obvious what the shocking twist was going to be from the moment that plot thread came up. For a moment, I thought they were going to shock us and not do it, but yeah, they did it, and all I could do was groan and roll my eyes.

So, my books may never really surprise anyone in a big way. I’m pleased if you manage to put together the clues and figure it out for yourself. I just hope I never make anyone hurl a book against a wall.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Into the Unknown

I’m now beyond the part of the book that was originally written, so I’m having to figure it out entirely from scratch. There are still a couple of events that I wrote in the first place that haven’t come up in the rewrite, but they’re happening in totally different ways, so I can’t steal from what I’ve already written.

I’m still not seeing a huge benefit from the days of focus vs. the day to deal with life, other than that more life stuff might be getting done, but I also haven’t really had a “normal” week yet, between getting sick one week, having to produce a video last week, and this week wrestling with the time change and having to deal with other work-related stuff that couldn’t be put off until Wednesday. Really, I’m not sure how realistic it is to try to shove all non-writing work into one day, but I’ll give it at least another couple of weeks before I decide to try something else.

I’m getting geared up for the release of Rebels Rising, book three in the Rebels series, coming April 4. Stay tuned for the cover and other information about the book, as well as some pre-order links.

I’ve also had a logo designed and am about to get to work on a website redesign. Soon, I may start looking like a real author!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Curiosity and Caring

Oops! I wrote my post early today, set it aside to do something else, with the intent of proofreading it and posting it later, and got sidetracked and forgot to actually post it.

As I’ve been whittling away at my TV viewing and as I’ve been working my way through reading award-nominee works for judging, I’ve been trying to think about what makes me get into something and what makes me want to turn it off/put it down (throwing it across the room is a different category entirely). I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two main values at work: curiosity and caring.

Curiosity is wanting to know what happens — who is the killer, how will they catch the killer, what’s the real story here, how will these plot threads play out, will the couple get together, which guy will she choose, etc.

Caring is being emotionally invested in the story or characters, wanting things to work out for them or, in the case of villains, wanting to see them get a comeuppance.

Ideally, you get both. You want to know what happens next, and you care about what happens next and how it will affect the characters. That keeps you watching and reading because you want to know the outcome and you want to experience the journey toward the outcome.

The most deadly thing for a story is getting neither, where you don’t care what happens next and you don’t care about the characters. It’s when I’ve had that big realization that I’ve put books down or turned off the television in the middle of an episode. This usually happens with something I feel somewhat obligated to watch or read — people like me are watching/reading this, or this is a thing I feel I should like.

It’s harder to judge when it’s just a case of one lack. I’m realizing for a few things I’ve been watching that I’m really only curious. I want to know where the story is going and what’s eventually going to happen, but I don’t particularly want to go on the journey of getting there. I’m not enjoying spending time with the characters or in that story world. I could get the same benefit from reading a recap or plot summary. In fact, I might get more out of that because I could read a recap in minutes instead of spending an hour or more watching or reading, and I’d actually catch all the key details that I might miss if I’m uninvested enough to skim a book or use a TV show as background noise. Those things are easy enough to set aside or quit watching because I’m not invested, and I can find out what happens in other ways.

The tougher call is when I care but am not curious. That seems to happen in procedural-type shows or in book series where each book is self-contained. I’m not reading or watching for the plot but because I care about the characters and have some investment in them. It doesn’t matter much to me what happens. What matters is seeing how the events affect the characters. But eventually, the not caring about the plot and what happens can take its toll, especially when the characters really aren’t affected. They don’t seem to learn anything or change at all, in spite of what they’ve gone through. It’s a little harder to give up these series because watching/reading can’t be easily replaced with a plot summary, and yet I also find that my lack of curiosity is dampening my caring for the characters. It’s hard to make myself decide that I’m not having fun with this thing anymore. In book series, I find that it takes me longer and longer to get around to reading the latest book. On TV, an episode may sit on my DVR for a week or I may find that I’m running out of time before it leaves On Demand. Or I may find that I’m doing something else during the episode, watching out of a sense of obligation and only glancing up at the TV for certain parts of the story.

So I guess as a writer I need to think about making people care about my characters and keeping them curious about what’s going to happen next. I need to make events affect my characters so that the events matter.

As a reader/watcher, it helps to have some criteria for helping me make those decisions. Am I curious? Do I care? If not, I’m free to give up and move on to something I do care about.

Monday, March 13, 2017

New Time Zone

It’s a Monday after a time change, and that’s probably going to throw off my whole day. I woke up at the usual time — by the clock, so it was like there was no change, but then I was feeling lazy and had some thinking to do, so I did end up getting a later start. Now it’s almost lunchtime and I’m not hungry yet or, really, ready to face the day. It’s chilly again after a warm spell, and one of my neighbors is doing remodeling work that apparently requires hammering and drilling on the adjoining wall (in a four-plex), so I’ve retreated to the bedroom that’s on the opposite side of the house, where I’m ensconced on the bed with the electric blanket on. Cozy, warm, and much quieter.

I think I’m also slow getting started because it was a busy weekend. I had two social events on Saturday, so I was barely home, and I was drained at the end of it, but then had to get up early on Sunday. So I guess it was a “need a weekend to recover from the weekend” kind of thing. I’ll get to work eventually, I’m sure.

In other news, I finally have a contract with Audible for the audio version of Frogs and Kisses. I don’t have a firm release date, but they said sometime in June. I don’t know why it took them so long, since we’ve been working on this since October. That’s just publishing, I guess. Stay tuned for details on more specific dates.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Misunderstood?

The book I’m working on went in an unexpected direction yesterday. I’m rewriting a proposal I wrote last fall, but at a turning point it did something different, so now I’m in uncharted territory. This is going to affect the pacing, so it’s probably a good thing that I decided to write the whole book before submitting it instead of just a proposal. I think in the first go-round, I was too worried about getting all the major story stuff into the proposal, so I made things a little too easy for the characters. They were able to just find or figure out everything they needed. Now they’re having to work for it a little more. I had new scenes playing out in my head last night, which made getting to sleep a challenge, but that’s a good problem to have.

I’m going to have to give my new working structure a few more weeks to shake out. So far, moving most of my business/life stuff to Wednesdays has resulted in me spending more time working overall (about 2-3 hours per week more than when I tried to work on Wednesdays and tried to fit non-writing work in on every other day), but I’m not producing more output, somehow. I think part of that is that I’m revising and editing the previous day’s work before moving on, usually because I’ve thought of something that needs to be fixed or because of the rewrite thing, where I need to remind myself of what’s in this version vs. the previous version, to make sure I’m continuing the right story. Maybe once I’m past the rewrite part and am doing all new stuff, it’ll pick up. You’d think it would go faster to rewrite what I’ve already done, but that seems to be more challenging because I have to remember what I did before, decide what to keep and what to scrap, and sometimes there are a couple of false starts before I can make myself separate from what I did before and move on with something different. That takes more time (and drafts) than just writing something new, when I only have to figure out what happens rather than getting over what did happen.

In other news, I had a bit of a rant on my Facebook page yesterday, but it’s worth repeating here. I mentioned watching the new Time After Time series. But I think I’m not going to go forward with it after seeing an interview in which an actor and one of the creators of the series referred to the Jack the Ripper character as “misunderstood.”

Now, I know that every villain generally thinks of himself as the hero of his own story. Few go around doing evil just as evil because they think it’s evil and evil is fun. There’s some reason that may or may not make sense to anyone else, and it’s generally not justified at all on an objective scale. There’s also a bad tendency in current popular culture to try to make villains sympathetic. We’re supposed to take into account the things that happened to them that excuse or justify the way they turned out. As one show is very fond of saying, evil isn’t born, it’s made. And there’s a tendency to think of good as boring and evil as sexy and kind of hot.

But “misunderstood” is for someone who’s a jerk — the bully, the person with a hot temper, the person who’s overly sensitive and flies off the handle at the slightest offense, the person who’s a bit greedy or stingy. These are all things that can be affected by someone’s experiences and circumstances and may require a little compassion for dealing with these people. It’s really hard to get to “misunderstood” when it comes to mass murder. There’s very little chance of there being a good reason for gutting women, and since this show opened with a scene of this guy committing the murder, it’s not like he’s an innocent person being falsely accused. So it looks like what they’re doing is, as one of my friends put it, making Jack the Ripper “Hot Guy who’s a little stabby.” It’s worse when it involves a real-world killer. Real women died at the hands of whoever the Ripper really was, so it seems to me to be disrespectful to depict this guy as sexy, charismatic, and sympathetic and to claim that he’s not so bad, just misunderstood.

So, if that’s the approach they’re taking, I won’t be watching further. That’s more time for reading, or I could watch movies.

At the rate I’m being turned off TV, I may become one of those “oh, I don’t watch TV other than the news and PBS” people. I guess that’ll save me a lot of money if I ever move and don’t get cable through my HOA.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Out of My League

Life does seem to keep getting in the way of my “getting things done” Wednesdays. This week, it was a case of “oh, can you make a video for us by Friday” from my last publisher. My book is being recognized by a library group, and they wanted a video from me for their web site. But I did also take care of some other things, and I learned just how important the schedule thing is when I have lots of little things to do. I’d slacked off a bit on writing days, since the scheduling there is rather easy. It’s when I have “free” time rather than one big task that I need to schedule my time.

Next week should be a good “getting things done” time because I don’t have children’s choir (spring break). I need the break. They’re getting more and more challenging. This group defies ordinary classroom management and discipline. I tried a suggestion from a veteran kindergarten teacher and former principal to put tape on the floor for positions, let them choose their spot and write their name on it, and then that’s their spot to go back to, as a way of resetting the room when things get rowdy. That worked for half the group. Then there was the kid who kept moving his tape around. And the one who wrote his name on multiple spots and had a temper tantrum when someone else wanted one of his unused spots. And the one who wrote other kids’ names on spots and wouldn’t let them choose.

With one kid, I think there’s some desperate attention-seeking going on. He’s a twin and has a sibling only a year younger, so I imagine he seldom gets one-on-one attention. He desperately wants to be special and to win. Or maybe he’s a narcissist and could never get enough attention or winning. It’s hard to tell without having a good look inside his life. I’m just not equipped in that setting to give him that kind of attention. He’s a sweet child and very smart, and I worry that he’s going to end up with other kids disliking and resenting him for his behavior. Even the other kids in this group have already figured out that he’s the reason they aren’t getting to do as many fun things. This is all way above my pay grade as a volunteer.

But now I get to dive back into writing. Imaginary people are generally a lot easier to deal with.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Career Planning Before You're Published

I’m late getting to today’s post because I had to shoot a video, and it had to be done in the morning to take advantage of the natural light my house gets.

For today’s writing post, I’m picking up a topic from a recent convention panel I was on, about “Career Planning for Pre-Published Writers.” That’s kind of an odd concept, and the description was about building a platform.

But here’s my advice for how to plan your career before you’re published:

  1. Educate yourself on the craft, on the market, on the industry. Go to conferences, join writing groups, read the “how to write” books you find at the library.
  2. While you’re doing this, write something. Finish it. Put it aside.
  3. Write something else. Finish it. Put it aside.
  4. Go back to that first thing you wrote and take a good look at it. Make it better. Put it aside.
  5. Go back to that second thing you wrote. Make it better. Put it aside.
  6. Take yet another look at the first thing, see if you can make it better. Possibly give it to some of the people you met (other aspiring writers) while educating yourself to get their feedback. Use their feedback to make it better. Repeat with the second thing you wrote.
  7. Do serious market research. Who publishes the kind of thing you wrote? Read the most recent books that are closest to yours in genre, subject matter, and tone — not just the bestsellers, but books by first-time authors. Which books currently on the market might compare to yours? If you’re writing short fiction, read the various magazines to see who publishes the kind of thing you wrote. Find out what the submission guidelines are.
  8. Research agents (you’ll probably need one to get a novel sold to a major publisher). Look at who’s getting book deals done in your genre. This may be a good time to go to conferences and see if you can get some one-on-one appointments or pitch sessions with agents. Do some serious online searching to make sure the agents you’re targeting are legitimate and aren’t known for running a scam operation. A legitimate agent only makes money by selling books. They won’t ask for money from you, won’t send you to a book doctor that will cost you money (they might recommend you get more editing, but they shouldn’t send you to a specific person because that’s usually a sign that they’re getting some kind of referral kickback).
  9. Start submitting to publishers/publications/agents, following their guidelines.
  10. I generally recommend that people at least try to go through the traditional publishing route before diving into self publishing, if only to give you a reality check and thicken your skin. If you get a lot of rejections along the lines of “I love this but I don’t know where I’d sell it,” that might be a sign that self publishing could work because you may have a niche product. If your rejections are along the lines of “I couldn’t connect to the characters” or “the plot seems trite,” then go back to step one and write something better.

What about all that building a platform stuff and social media? Really, it will only help you if you do something huge with it. Otherwise, it’s more likely to count against you. If you’re a really clever blogger who manages to get a following in the thousands, or you somehow manage to get tens of thousands of Twitter followers who are real people and not just bots, and your posts tend to go viral, then that might count in your favor when a publishing decision is being made. Otherwise, the main thing is to not look like a total psycho. You don’t want to be ranting and raving about stupid publishers and agents who are rejecting you because they only want to publish trash. Definitely no racist or sexist rants. Mostly, focus on your writing rather than building a platform, unless you have something to build a platform on and can do it in a big way. It would be smart to buy the domain name of your name, maybe put up a placeholder site. But don’t worry about doing any kind of major publicity campaign until you have something to promote.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Reading Roundup

It looks like this might be a “music” book. I had decent productivity while having music playing. I mostly used the soundtrack to Order of the Phoenix. That’s a good background noise soundtrack because it sounds somewhat magical, is alternately energetic and dreamy, and it’s not quite brilliant enough music that I find myself stopping to listen to it. It works great to shut out the mental distractions and make me focus without being its own distraction. I did try switching to the other Harry Potter soundtracks I own, but I can’t write with John Williams in the background because I’ll stop to listen to the music, especially Prisoner of Azkaban. That soundtrack may be his most interesting collection of music out of all the film scores he’s done because it’s like they just told him to go have fun and write the music he’s always wanted to write. As a result, we get a somewhat baroque classical piece that could have come from a Rossini opera, an atonal modern jazz extravaganza, a Renaissance-style piece that could fit in with the actual early music recordings I have played on period instruments, and a choral piece. But I can’t write with it in the background because I find myself stopping to listen and figure out what he’s doing with each piece.

Another thing I tried doing was a “brain dump” before I started writing. It’s kind of like the morning pages concept, only not in the morning and with no set amount of writing or other rules. I just started writing down all the stuff that was swirling around in my head until I got to the book I’d be working on. That did a lot to help me focus instead of getting sidetracked by random thoughts.

And now, as promised, a book report! I’ve been making a lot more time to read, trying to get less screen time, so I’ve been getting through more books.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill — this was shelved in the children’s section (I’d guess it’s classified as “middle grade”) but I think it’s very adult-friendly. In fact, aside from the girl in the title, the viewpoint characters are mostly adults, and you might even argue that the actual protagonist is an older woman. She’s the one who drives much of the story. It’s fantasy story about a town that must sacrifice a newborn baby each year to appease the witch who lives in the woods — except the witch never asked for that and has no idea why these crazy people keep abandoning infants in the woods. She rescues them and takes them to another town to place them in good homes. But then there’s one infant she can’t bring herself to give away, a girl who has magical powers that she’ll need guidance in learning to use. I found this to be a really lovely fairytale-like story with characters who came to life for me to the point I wanted to see more of them. There’s a tiny dragon who thinks he’s a normal dragon living among giants, a wise swamp monster, a young man and young woman brave enough to question the order of things. I read this in just about one sitting. It’s a good rainy Sunday afternoon sort of book.

Railhead by Philip Reeve — This is a young adult science fiction book about a distant figure in which there are wormhole-like tunnels between worlds, through which sentient trains can run. So, basically, you had me at “space trains.” A young thief who’s a bit of a “railhead” (a train enthusiast who stows away to ride around) gets recruited by a mysterious stranger to infiltrate the Emperor’s train and steal an item. But nothing is really as it seems, and carrying out the theft is just the beginning of things. This one had some truly creative worldbuilding, imagining how a massive shift in technology might affect a culture and imagining what the hip young things might get up to in that sort of world. If you enjoyed Bladerunner, this might be right up your alley.

Borderline by Mishell Baker — Adult urban fantasy. I have very mixed feelings about urban fantasy. I love the idea of it and want to like it, but I haven’t been crazy about how it’s been executed, for the most part. It tends to be way too dreary for my taste. But I really liked this one. It’s still darkish, but in a sun-drenched way. It’s set in Los Angeles, and the premise is that there are gateways that allow the fey to enter our world. Some of them do rather well as actors, with their beautiful glamours. Others turn out to be a kind of muse/other half for creative people. There’s an organization that regulates fey activity in our world, making sure they don’t outstay their welcome or break the rules. Our heroine gets recruited to join them as she recovers from a suicide attempt that seriously messed up her body (and didn’t do wonders for her brain). Getting put on the case of tracking down a missing fey nobleman who was involved in the film industry gives her a new focus in life — until she starts stepping on the wrong toes. This was a real page-turner, reading like an old noir mystery but with some definite twists. The narrator heroine isn’t the kind of character I normally like, but I found myself pulling for her, mostly because she owns her issues and isn’t looking for sympathy. It looks like this is going to be a series, and I imagine I’ll be gobbling them up.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden — this is a fantasy novel based on Russian fairy tales and folklore. It takes some tales I’m familiar with and fleshes them out and puts a spin on them. It’s really hard to describe the plot without going into a lot of detail, which I suppose means it’s not “high concept,” but it’s about a family of a lower-level prince in medieval Russia (before it really was “Russia” as we know it). The widowed father gets stuck with an arranged marriage to a woman who’s a very bad fit for that situation and who doesn’t want to be there, and it nearly brings disaster to their whole village when the stepmother clashes with the youngest daughter. Both of them can see the household spirits that protect and serve them, but where the stepmother sees demons that must be banished, the daughter is kind to them and learns from them. Which view prevails could determine whether or not they survive a harsh winter. This was a bit of a slow build of a story, one that sets the stage and establishes the situation, the characters, and the atmosphere before the plot kicks into high gear, but I still found it to be a quick read. It really immerses you in that world, so that when the plot does kick in, you feel really invested in the outcome. It was a great book for a cool, rainy Sunday afternoon. I burrowed under the electric blanket, drank tea, and read all day.

Yeah, I’m the weirdo who kind of wishes every Sunday afternoon could be cool and rainy.