Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dissecting Enchanted

I got about 4,000 words written on the new thing yesterday, but I’m not entirely happy with what I have, and it will need a bit of fixing before I can move forward. I’m not sure these are things I can let stay the way they are and fix on the second round because the foundation has to be right before I can go on. Fortunately, some new stuff came to me last night that I think will help. It even makes sense in the light of day, so that’s good.

I got into a bit of discussion yesterday on Facebook about the movie Enchanted. It’s one of my favorites, a real “happy place” movie, something I pull out when I need a mood lift or am just wanting something silly and fun. I noticed that my interest starts to wane about two thirds through the movie, and I realized that this happens every time. I’m totally involved through most of it, and then right at the time Giselle and her prince are reunited, I find myself reaching for my knitting, picking up a book, or checking e-mail.

Because if it’s worth analyzing, it’s worth overanalyzing, I’ve been thinking about this (since it’s good to know why someone’s attention might wane in a story). Spoilers ahead for a nearly 10-year-old movie.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that there aren’t any real musical numbers after that point (other than the singer providing music for the ball). In fact, there’s an aborted musical number that marks that point — the prince begins singing a romantic duet, and Giselle doesn’t join in, leaving him hanging. I love musicals, and James Marsden has a glorious voice that I wanted to hear more of, so I was disappointed that we didn’t get a real musical number with him. At the same time (and related to this), this is the moment when Giselle goes from being the fish out of water to the “straight man.” The prince then kind of has the role Giselle was playing earlier, while she’s the one who knows the city. An ordinary perky girl who’s at home in her surroundings isn’t nearly as much fun as a full-on Disney princess unleashed in modern New York. I don’t want to see her being normal.

But I also have a lot of problems with the romantic plots — and I recognize that this isn’t universal, that the story works for a lot of people, and it even worked for me the first time I saw the movie, and apologies if I’m about to ruin it for you.

Part of it is that supposedly one of the “lessons” is that you can’t just fall in love instantly. You shouldn’t marry the guy you just met the day before. You need to spend some time getting to know him first. But Giselle didn’t know Lawyer Guy for much longer than she knew the prince before she decided to stay in New York. Meanwhile, Lawyer Guy was with a woman for five years without committing to her, so I suppose they’re also saying that he just wasn’t that into her? Are they advocating a happy medium — one day isn’t long enough, five years is too long. Maybe three days is okay? But then the prince and the ex run off and get married immediately. Are they wrong?

Part of it is that I really feel bad for the prince. In that scene where he’s singing and she doesn’t join in, I become Team Prince. The poor guy has just spent the last couple of days desperately trying to find and save her. In real-life relationship terms, she’s not obligated to love him just because of what he does for her, but in this case, she was expecting him to come for her and save her. That was what she had the fight with Lawyer Guy about the night before when she realized that Lawyer Guy made her feel hot and bothered. So then the prince shows up, having done what she expected him to do, and she’s disappointed. He goes along with her request to go on a date, and it looks like he’s been enthusiastic about that, has really enjoyed his time, and on the same level of enthusiasm that Giselle brings to everything. He’s not at all cynical. There’s nothing in their interaction that even suggests that they aren’t really a good match. They didn’t make him a bad guy, which is nice, but him being a good guy who seems like a good match for her makes her rejection of him kind of weird, especially given her interactions with Lawyer Guy. They spend all their time together berating each other over their worldviews and lifestyle choices. Yeah, he changes, so I guess he’s not quite as critical of her as he once was, but we don’t see them spending a lot of time together being happy and enjoying the same things. Once we’re getting the idea that they have feelings for each other, they barely interact until the climactic scene at the ball. Instead, she spends that time with the prince and with the daughter. It really looks like she wants to stay because she likes New York and the daughter more than because she likes the guy.

And then they Pair the Spares, matching up Lawyer Guy’s driven career-woman ex up with the prince at first sight, probably so we won’t think the main couple are jerks for ditching their present relationships in mid-date to be with each other. If the exes get a happily ever after, then it wasn’t so bad.

I feel like they either needed to show that once the prince and Giselle actually got to know each other they realized that they were incompatible or they needed to make the prince a borderline villain rather than a clueless buffoon (he was really no more clueless than Giselle — in fact, he coped rather well on his own in New York, without having the native guide and local support that she had). And they needed to show more compatibility with Lawyer Guy, more middle ground where they weren’t criticizing each other. Or they could have just let the fairy tale characters learn some lessons from the New Yorkers, and vice versa, and let the established couples remain together, but in a different way. What would it look like for a fairy tale prince and princess to go on a date in New York? What would they talk about? What might they bring back to their kingdom to change their society? And meanwhile the cynical New Yorkers could start living out a fairy tale romance in their city.

Also, as many times as I’ve walked through Central Park, I’ve never run across a musical number and I’m very disappointed in this. Maybe I’ll start one the next time I’m there.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Starting a New Book Day!

It’s Starting a New Book Day! Well, not exactly entirely, since I’ve already written a proposal on this idea, but since then I’ve done a lot of development work on it, and instead of revising what I’ve written, I’m going to make a fresh start. Which makes it essentially a new book. It’s my favorite part of the writing process, though it’s also scary to move something out of my head and onto the screen, since it seldom lives up to what’s in my head. Maybe I should have been a filmmaker because I see a movie in my head and try to transcribe it into words, which can be difficult. It might have been easier to just make the movie in my head as a movie. But then again, doing that would start with transcribing the movie in my head into a screenplay.

This is also when I’m going to try my new Deep Work plan. I have the entire afternoon blocked off for no Internet time at all so I don’t get my thoughts distracted, and I’m not trying to do anything on the to-do list other than write and a few other basic things. The rest of the other non-writing work stuff and most life stuff will happen on Wednesday, which will be my mid-week “weekend” and “adulting day.”

Doing the schedule thing last week resulted in me getting so much more done and also having more quality leisure time. I even scheduled the weekend to make sure I was doing the things I wanted to do instead of mindlessly wasting time. The trick for that is to be flexible and remember that this is something I’m imposing on myself. The purpose behind it is to think about how I’m spending my time, so if I think about it and make a conscious decision to go off-schedule, that’s okay. I’m just avoiding that “hey, where did the time go and how did I not manage to do anything?” sense.

Now off to do a few little things around the house while thinking about the book, and then I’ll dive right in!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Ahead of Schedule

The book is done and off to my agent. Now I’ll just have to check the various files before it goes into production, write and revise cover copy, work with the cover designer, and attempt to do something resembling publicity.

I’m having a little trouble coming up with a schedule for today, but this is where a schedule is so important because free time tends to turn into wasted time unless I’m intentional about it. So, on a day in which I have some free time, how do I want to spend it?

I even have more free time because I woke up early this morning and figured I might as well get up instead of going back to sleep and waking up hours later. I know I need to take care of some business stuff — bookkeeping, bill paying, etc. I want to do some research reading. I was thinking about taking a long walk, but it’s very windy, so I’ll have to see how the afternoon looks. I need to review all my thoughts and notes on the current book. I need to practice my choir music and the harp and piano. If I don’t schedule these things, I’ll end up just checking Facebook and some message boards over and over again.

On the whole, the week of scheduling has gone very well for me. I’ve accomplished a lot and feel good about it. My house is a lot cleaner. There’s a visible difference in the office. I got the book done. I’ve been researching another book. I read a couple of books just for fun. I got back to working on the harp, which I’d let languish. The only thing I haven’t managed is exercise. Even when I schedule it, I end up finding something else to do at that time. On the bright side, that’s when I’ve been getting housework done. When I scheduled a walk, I vacuumed my bedroom and living room.

At the moment, I’m about an hour ahead of schedule for the day. Crazy!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Getting the Hang of Wednesdays

I know Thursdays are supposed to be the day it’s hard to get the hang of, but Wednesdays seem to be that for me. I think part of it is choir and getting ready for it. Part is that whatever enthusiasm I had at the beginning of the week is flagging. Yesterday, it didn’t help that water to the neighborhood was cut off for part of the day for repairs. I think the idea of making Wednesday a break day to do business will help. I seldom get much writing work done, and then I feel bad about that. But if I don’t plan to do that work and plan to do something else, then that functions like a break I don’t feel bad about, and I may get other stuff done.

Meanwhile, I have a lot of reading to do because Nebula nominations are out, and I need to read the ballot. I found almost all of the books at the library yesterday, so I’m getting a jump on the voter packet. In addition to reading in order to vote, I like getting the chance to read things I didn’t select, which forces me to expand my horizons. I feel like I learn a lot from this kind of reading. One positive effect of my scheduling has been more reading time. I’m really enjoying that.

I’m getting close to the end of proofing this book. Then I need to write cover copy, and then I’ll be mostly done, other than checking the formatting files, working with the cover designer, and doing all the promotion stuff. I’m already looking forward to getting on with the next project. That will start on Monday. I had grand plans to start Friday after the proofing is done, but I think I need to do a little more prep work, and then I’m going to have a very social Saturday (two events!), so I probably will have better momentum if I start the writing on Monday.

Now, off to do more proofreading.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Choosing POV

I’ve been talking about narrative point of view in my writing posts, covering first-person and third-person narration. How do you know which to use in your story?

Consider using first person if:
  • Narrative voice is very important in your genre (YA, chick lit, urban fantasy)
  • You need to conceal information from your reader (mystery, unreliable narrator)
  • Your narrator character is likely to be present for all the major events in your story
  • Your narrator character is someone who is likely to be willing to share the information you need to convey

Consider using third person if:
  • There are multiple perspectives you want to cover
  • Your story spans multiple locations, with different characters in each location
  • There’s simultaneous action going on, so that no one person could be in on all the action
  • You want to build suspense by letting readers and some characters know something that another viewpoint character doesn’t know
  • You want to get really deep into a character’s head, letting the reader know things the character probably wouldn’t tell anyone

You can always experiment by writing a scene in third person, then going back and changing the pronouns and then figuring out what else needs to change in the switch to first person. Or vice versa. Which works best for this story? Which is more fun or easier for you to write?

There are also ways to mix it up. A lot of “new adult” books use first person for the heroine’s perspective and third person for other characters. Two (or more) characters might switch off in first-person narration (just be sure to label clearly when you switch voices). You can intersperse letters/texts/e-mails/journal entries to add some first-person narration to a third-person story.

The important thing is that you convey the information the reader needs to know and that the reader is clear on whose perspective the story is in at any given time — unless it’s part of the story that the narrator is a mysterious figure.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On Schedule

My experiment on using scheduling to make me make intentional use of my time was a rousing success. Yeah, it was just one day, but things that bring a sense of reward tend to get repeated, so maybe the one day will become more. I managed to get all the things I needed to do done, along with some things that have lingered on the “I really should do this” list for ages. I also managed to have a lot of extra time for things I wanted to do, like reading, some of it for work, some for pleasure. And I didn’t feel deprived. I still did a lot of the fun goofing off stuff that I usually do. I just didn’t get caught up in the doom loop of spending lots of time mindlessly.

After spending the day doing things that I wanted to do and that contribute toward my goals, I even had a “is this how I want to be spending my time?” epiphany about something I always do — a TV show that’s been sitting on my DVR for a week, one I always watch that I used to enjoy, and I realized I didn’t really enjoy it and I wasn’t paying much attention to it. I’m allowed to stop watching and use that time for other things.

So far today, I’m sticking to the schedule and feeling good about it, so maybe this can become a habit.

One of my big accomplishments yesterday was finding desk surface. My office is a mess. My desk is a disaster area. I tend to not like working in there. But I was taking a break from reading aloud to proofread, and my schedule said to clean the desk, so I spent half an hour cleaning the desk, and it made a huge difference. Another half hour today, and it might even resemble a place where a human being might work. Then I can move on to the rest of the office.

I’ve tried scheduling before, but it was more treated as something I had to do. In this case, I’m putting down things I want to do (or say I want to do) and scheduling time for them. I don’t have to have the willpower to make the right choice when I’m facing a block of time because I’ve already made the choice. It also helps to put hard stops on potentially time-wasting behavior.

So, let’s see how the rest of this week goes and then how it goes next week when I’m back in writing mode.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Doing Deep Work

I had a weekend that was both productive and relaxing. I did a lot of housework and I did a lot of reading. Alas, I didn’t get to look at that house, as they seem to have canceled the open house. It was still on the online listing, but when I went there, there was no sign and the house was shut tight with no one around. My Realtor friend said there was an option contract on it, so maybe they changed their mind about the open house. I think I’m going to take this as a good sign that this house wasn’t meant to be mine, or at least not now. So, onward with my plan for the year to focus on writing now.

Part of my weekend reading was a really interesting book called Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s about how any kind of work that requires deep thinking or creativity requires periods of deep focus. You can’t really multitask and get good work done. A lot of it got into how current business practices are actually robbing companies of real innovation, since they’re more worried about “shallow” work that looks like work — sitting at a desk in an open office, going to meetings, answering e-mail, being on social media — and might even penalize people who are doing what they need to do in order to get real thinking done, like hiding out in a conference room or working at home, only looking at e-mail once a day, not going to meetings, etc.

But for my situation, what I took away from it was the fact that some of my habits that I berate myself for when I’m writing are actually on the right track for getting good work done. I talk about how I tend to be “all or nothing” when I’m working on a book, and I feel bad about not being able to just devote a few hours a day to writing and still get other stuff done. I also tend to get “book brain,” in which I don’t want to do anything other than write or at the very least don’t want to leave the headspace of the story. Both of these are signs of being able to go deep, to get into a state of flow.

The author had some good suggestions for being able to do deep work. One is to be very intentional about how you use your time. Create a schedule so that you don’t let shallow stuff fill your day and keep you from getting to the things you care about — that “first things first” idea. He’s really not keen on social media and e-mail because of what he calls “attention lag.” Even if you only dip in for a few minutes during a break, your mind will still be on it when you get back to work. For breaks, he suggests doing physical things that allow you to keep your mind on your work — exercise, walking, housework, gardening, etc. You can be intentional about your thoughts while doing those things, setting up a problem you need to solve and focusing on it.

One thing I may try is giving myself permission to go all or nothing. I’m not getting business or promo stuff done because it feels like a distraction from my writing. So, since Wednesdays are always a distracted day for me anyway, I think that’s going to be a non-writing day. That will be the day I take care of errands, business (like bookkeeping), and major promo tasks. I can write blog posts and social media posts in advance, work on my web site, contact people for interviews, etc. Then I can devote the other days just to writing, with only a little bit of maintenance on other stuff (post the things I’ve written, reply to e-mail, social media).

That won’t start until next week, though, since this week I’m doing proofing, and that’s a different kind of work that requires mental breaks.

Friday, February 17, 2017


I did make it out for my evening event (a girls’ night out with topical discussion with one of our pastors — yeah, I know how to party), so I got my milk on the way home, and that means serious grocery shopping will wait until next week and I don’t have to leave the house today. It’s going to be a pleasantly warm afternoon, so I will be working on the patio, I think. I have a little less than half the book to go on this editing pass, then I get a weekend break, and then next week I read the entire thing out loud to myself, so I won’t be working on the patio then. I don’t want to risk giving the neighbors spoilers.

I took some time this morning to do a little career and life planning. I’m focusing the first half of the year on writing. I’m getting this book done, then there’s that proposal, then I want to do a couple of shorter works in the Enchanted, Inc. universe, as well as maybe a few other short pieces, and then a fourth Fairy Tale book. That will fill out my publication slate for the rest of the year.

Then in the second half of the year, while I do some development work for other pieces, I’m going to focus on the house situation. I’m still planning to go to the open house tomorrow just to get a sense of scale for the houses in that sub-neighborhood that I’ve targeted, but apparently there’s an option contract on the house, so trying to buy it would mean really getting things together fast, and I don’t think that will happen. Instead, I’m going to look at really being in gear to buy/sell/move in the coming fall/winter timeframe. That gives me time to do a good purge and organize in this house, get some repairs made, see how my book release strategy is going to affect my finances, get pre-approved for a mortgage, etc.

Of course, if I sell the proposal, I’ll have to write that book, which could adjust my timeline, but that would be a good problem to have.

A writer friend introduced me to an acronym that I may have to embroider on a throw pillow: WIBBOW — Would I Be Better Off Writing? I need to remember that when things come up. That’s partly why I’m dialing back on conventions. In the time it takes me to prepare for, go to, and recover from a convention, I could have written at least a short story, if not a novella or a good chunk of a novel. Having a new piece of work out there will do more to promote my work than me sitting on a panel, especially at conventions where I’m already known.

Having a plan makes me feel better. I feel like I have things more under control. Now watch something happen to disrupt my plan.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Cave Mode

In spite of the current lovely weather, I seem to be in “cave” mode. Here’s how the progression of planning errands has gone this week:

I’ll need to get groceries this week, and then there are some things I need at Target. I’ll do a combined Target/groceries run on Wednesday morning, since that will be half-price chocolate day, and I have to go to choir Wednesday, anyway.

Wednesday morning:
I don’t actually need any groceries right now. If I buy milk today, it might go bad before I use up the current milk and the new milk. I’ll go grocery shopping later in the week, and I can run by Target on my way to choir in the afternoon.

Wednesday afternoon:
Rats, the coupons for the things I was going to get at Target have expired, and I was just getting them to stock up, not because they were needed, so I don’t really need to go to Target. And, considering that I still have some of the chocolate from last Valentine’s Day left, I don’t even need to hit the clearance sale. I’ll just go grocery shopping tomorrow.

Thursday morning:
I still don’t really need milk, though I might tomorrow. I am out of bread, though. Maybe I can bake bread. Or, since I have to go out tonight, I can run by the store on my way home and grab bread and milk, and then I won’t have to go anywhere at all tomorrow.

Stay tuned for the weekend, when I’m baking bread and scrounging up creamer packets from hotel coffee “condiment” packs to put in my tea rather than going to the grocery store. But really, timing the milk purchase is critical, buying it at a time when I’m not already out completely but not so soon that the new gallon will go bad. We’ll see if I manage to make it to the option evening activity tonight.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Planning for the Weekend

I’m getting close to being done with this book. I went over the copyedits yesterday and made the minor corrections — the typos, punctuation, etc. Now I do one more editing pass to make sure that fixing the copyedits didn’t introduce new errors and to check on some continuity things the editor flagged. This is probably my toughest edit because I’m looking at everything. I hope to get that mostly done this week. And then comes the most time-consuming phase: reading the entire book out loud. That’s where I catch any remaining errors, awkward phrasing, or repeated words. It moves slowly, and I can only do so much of it at a time, so I generally work in half-hour increments with half-hour breaks in between, so I don’t fry my voice. And then I should get the book off into production on next Friday. Then I can get back to that proposal.

I’ve already decided that this weekend is going to be dedicated to a massive house cleaning project. Any time this weekend after the house is clean will be reading time, so any housework I get done during the week will increase my weekend free time. I hope that helps provide an incentive. I have a couple of library books I really must get read.

My Saturday afternoon break will be a visit to an open house. They have one scheduled in that house I’ve been keeping an eye on, so I can get a sense of the scale and decide if it really is “my” house or if I want something else and would be better off waiting. It’s really small, but it’s still larger than where I live now, so whether or not it would work for me depends on how the space is used. I’d really rather not move until the fall, but I guess a lot of it depends on what’s available and when.

And now I need to go think of things to do to torture small children tonight. I need to mix up my choir lesson plans because I’m afraid they’re on to me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What's Romantic?

I may have recovered from the convention weekend. A day of rest and a good night’s sleep, and I feel more or less back to normal.

I suppose I should wish a happy Valentine’s Day, but I’m really not a fan of the holiday. And no, it’s not a bitter single woman thing. I’m just opposed to the idea of romance on demand, that you’ve somehow failed in your relationship if you don’t do something big on this particular day, or that you’ve failed at life if you don’t have someone doing something for you. Or that you have to do something special for yourself. Or that you have to do something to make someone else feel better about not having someone. Basically, it all boils down to “buy something today!” and that makes me cynical.

But I’m not opposed to the idea of romance. I’m happily single at the moment and content if I remain this way. I guess I’d be open to romance if I met someone who made my heart flutter, but it’s been a very long time since that happened (I guess I’m very picky, and I seem to be getting pickier with age). I do love fictional love stories, though. And now I’m about to say something rather controversial:

I don’t think The Princess Bride is the best fantasy romance movie. I don’t even think it’s a very good fantasy romance movie. I do think it’s a brilliant film, and is one of my all-time favorites. I just don’t think it’s very romantic. And I’m not sure it’s meant to be. It’s a satire. The book is rather cynical about the romance aspect, even suggesting at the end that the relationship isn’t likely to last. Really, Westley and Buttercup hardly spend any time together during the movie, and we have zero sense of what their relationship is like. The actual “love story” part of the movie happens during that prologue montage of “as you wish,” which obviously leaves a lot of it out. The bulk of the movie is about Westley trying to get back to her while she sits around passively. That gives you the sense that they probably aren’t very suited to each other. Once he starts spending time with her, he’s probably going to be very bored with her. He could do so much better.

So, what do I think is the best fantasy romance movie? My vote goes for Stardust, the adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel. It really is a romance, fitting the structure of the genre. We have the couple that starts out with opposing goals and not being very interested in each other, but then as they face danger together and get to know each other, they start developing feelings, and then they grow as people to be able to be in love with each other and realize that it’s love. They spend almost the entire movie with each other, so we see what their relationship looks like. We see their feelings develop. And there are grand moments of romance and adventure along the way, with swashbuckling, flying pirate ships, desperate chases, secret identities, and all that, plus the kind of happy ending that leaves you with a big sigh. I watch this movie over and over again and it makes me happy every time.

I think an honorable mention might be Ladyhawke, though it’s hampered horribly by one of the most ill-fitting soundtracks ever (supposedly, it had a more traditional score in the European release, and I desperately want them to release that on DVD) that makes it really hard to watch, and then there’s Matthew Broderick’s attempt at whatever accent he was attempting. This one also loses some romance points due to the fact that the lovers can never actually share scenes with each other, due to the plot (they’re under a curse that leaves her as a falcon by day and him as a wolf by night, so they can’t be together in human form), but they do find ways of conveying their love.

Hmm, a common thread seems to be Michelle Pfeiffer — she’s the heroine in Ladyhawke and the villain in Stardust.

Otherwise, we kind of have to go into animated films. I’m partial to Tangled for romance purposes because there’s no creepy Stockholm Syndrome going on and the characters actually spend time together before falling in love.

Another honorable mention in its own category might be the season 3 finale of the TV series Once Upon a Time, which sent two of the characters, who’d been flirting a bit but who hadn’t yet become openly romantic, back in time to the fairy tale world, where they had to play Back to the Future and set things right and find a way back home, and doing all that allowed them to grow closer together and admit their feelings. They’ve botched a lot in that show, but that 2-part episode works. Also, someone needs to cast Colin O’Donoghue as a romantic leading man in something, and please let him use his real Irish accent. His “leading man” big-screen role so far was as a Father What a Waste with an American accent, and while he held his own quite well playing opposite Anthony Hopkins, the charm was utterly wasted in a psychological horror movie.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Convention Recovery

After a busy convention weekend, I’m tempted to take today off to be my “weekend,” but I have that proposal to work on and I got copyedits back on the last book.

While I rethink my marketing approaches, conventions are high on the list of things I’m reconsidering. I think they helped when I was brand-new and getting my name out there, but there’s some sense of diminishing returns now. I get to see some friends and existing fans, but I don’t think I’m selling more books because of my convention presence. In this case, I had about a 40-minute drive each way, and it ate up half of Friday, all of Saturday, and half of Sunday, and it left me so exhausted that Monday is iffy. I may have had exposure to about 20 people who seemed entirely unfamiliar, and I don’t know if any of them will end up looking for my books. I probably would have been better off doing an intensive writing weekend and spending that time working on my book proposal or writing a story.

And that was an in-town con where I got to come home at night and didn’t have to pay for a hotel room. This is why I’m not doing out-of-town conventions where I pay my own way for marketing purposes anymore. I go to professional development and networking events, and I’ll go if I’m an invited guest whose expenses are being paid. I will probably keep doing the local event I’m part of (and the current hotel is less than 15 minutes from my house), but I may back off on the other local event for next year.

The word at the convention this year from a few people is that video is the next big Internet thing, and I was told that I could probably get some mileage out of doing videos since I’m “animated” (as they put it). I might give that a shot. I’ve got the skill set. I don’t watch a lot of online video, and my instinct would be that video might not be the best way to reach people who read, but then I found a bunch of fan-made videos about Rebel Mechanics, so I might be wrong about that.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Development vs. Procrastination

Okay, so I didn’t end up starting to write. I was reviewing my notes to remember all the stuff I developed, and then I got to the notes I took from my agent’s input and found there were some things I needed to develop more. Sometimes, research and development can turn into procrastination methods, but then there are also stories that falter because they aren’t developed enough. The trick is figuring out which is which. Considering that the problem with this story is that it wasn’t developed enough on the first go-round, I’m erring on the side of development. I feel like this was validated when I got the e-mail newsletter from a writing instructor whose seminars I’ve been to, and there was something mentioned in a newsletter article I realized I hadn’t quite developed properly that I know needs to be there, so I still have work to do.

Plus, I have a convention this weekend, and I’m not sure that starting to write before being out for three days would be smart. I can using the driving time to brainstorm and be ready to go on Monday, which is supposed to be nice and rainy.

I’ll be at ConDFW in Fort Worth this weekend. To be honest, I haven’t really put a lot of thought into this weekend. It kind of crept up on me, so I’m not that ready. I need to figure out what to read and think a little bit about my panels.

And now I guess I’d better start doing that.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Optimizing Life

I’ve done a lot of research and brainstorming. I’ve reviewed my agent’s notes. I guess that means today I need to start writing. This is a weird situation in that I’ve already written, but now I’m going to be rewriting, but I’m not editing. There’s a little less of a sense of “I’ll ruin this perfect idea once I write a word,” but at the same time there’s the sense of pressure to make it so much better than it was, so I still have that blank page worry. I love this idea so much that I want to make it as good as it can be.

I’ve managed to accomplish more this week because I’ve been able to get myself out of bed earlier. Those mattress commercials in which people spring happily out of bed in the morning because their beds are so comfortable are a huge lie. When your bed is that comfortable, you don’t want to get out of it. Most of my “oversleeping” isn’t sleeping. It’s lying there and thinking and drifting off again because I’m enjoying how comfortable I am. It seems a shame to be asleep most of the time I’m in bed, when I can’t really appreciate the comfort, so I enjoy lying there, especially in the morning when the memory foam has molded to my body. But the last few mornings I’ve been up much earlier, and I don’t think it’s just because I started keeping score and giving myself points for getting up. Part of it may just be the seasonal adjustment, with the sun coming up earlier. I think it also helps that the last few nights, I’ve turned off the TV and computer earlier and have read longer in bed before turning out the light. At any rate, in about a month we’ll have the change to daylight saving time, and that’s where my body clock functions best. But still, I love optimizing things, so I may keep adjusting habits to see what works best.

Speaking of optimizing, I keep going back and forth on the best way to get the house organized and cleaned, so I’ll be in a better position to someday sell this place. One method has been to take a space and get it set inside-out — declutter and organize it, then clean it thoroughly. The benefit to this is that it creates that “place for everything” situation, which then creates a cascading effect on future cleaning, so anything that belongs in that space can get put away properly. But the problem there is that my biggest problem spot is my office. Most of the clutter in the rest of the house is stuff that should get put away in the office but doesn’t really have a good spot, and the office is daunting. It’s also really hard to see results, so I get discouraged and give up before I get anywhere. So I’ve tried the other approach, getting the whole house superficially tidy on the first pass, then digging in deep. I tend to manage the superficially tidy for quite a while, and it encourages me to want to continue decluttering and organizing, except it also tends to create work because I have to go back and re-clean things.

I think half the reason I’d like to move is that it will allow me to start with a clean slate in a new place. I never really developed the skill set to live in one place for as long as I have lived here. I’m used to being able to keep my life managed by moving every three years. Then I can sort through everything and organize it before anything builds up.

Mind you, we’re not talking about a Hoarders situation. My office is a bit junky because that’s also sort of a storage room (one problem with this house), but otherwise the house is just a bit messy. I just happen to be the sort of person who enjoys hotel rooms and am not entirely happy unless my house is like that, but at the same time I’m lazy and the kind of perfectionist who gets discouraged when things aren’t ideal, like there’s nothing between my ideal and “why even bother?”

What I usually end up doing is coming up with a detailed plan, and then ignoring it entirely. The current solution idea is to do a little bit in the office every day while also tidying the rest of the house.

But now I’m going to fall into another book, and I’ve got a convention this weekend, which means I guess I’ll deal with it all later.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Third-Person POV

I’ve been discussing point of view in the last couple of writing posts. This week, I’ll delve into third-person POV. Third person is when the story is told by a narrator who’s not a participant in the story. Therefore, the characters are all referred to in the third person — he, she, they, etc.

Third-person limited POV is probably the most common and widely used in modern fiction. This is when the narrator gets into the head of only one character at a time — usually one character in a scene, with the perspective only changing at scene breaks. While the narrator is in the head of that character, it basically works like first-person POV with different pronouns. We’re in that character’s head, seeing through his/her eyes. We don’t have access to any information that the character doesn’t have. Sometimes the narrative even takes on the flavor of that character’s voice in those scenes. The main difference, other than the pronouns, between third-person limited and first-person narration is that the first-person narrator is aware that she’s telling a story, while with third person, the reader is getting to eavesdrop on the thoughts of a character who doesn’t know she’s a character in a story. That means that the thoughts are less censored. The character doesn’t get to decide what to tell readers and what to leave out. We’re seeing every thought, feeling every emotion. The viewpoint character with limited third has no secrets from us unless it’s such a secret that she doesn’t even let herself think about it.

That means that it’s hard to use limited third for an unreliable narrator or a character who’s keeping secrets. If you’ve got a character with secrets that have to be kept from readers, you can’t use that character’s POV. You have to stick with other characters observing that character and not go into that character’s head. On the other hand, that uncensored perspective makes limited third good for books that involve sex scenes, since it means you can convey all the thoughts and sensations and the character doesn’t have the option of modesty or shyness. Limited third can be far more intimate than first-person narration, depending on the character.

But you still need to keep in mind that you’re limited to what the character sees and experiences. A line like “His brown eyes widened when he read the letter” can only work if you’re in the viewpoint of a character observing this person. If you’re in his head, he’s not going to be noticing his brown eyes, and the way he notices his reaction won’t be to think about his eyes widening. He’s going to be thinking about how he feels.

One benefit of third person is that you can get into the heads of multiple characters, but changing viewpoints can be tricky. If you switch during a scene, going back and forth to make sure the reader knows what everyone in the scene is thinking, that’s generally referred to as “head hopping.” There are very successful authors who do that, but it’s probably best not to try that as a beginner. The danger of head hopping is that it confuses readers who don’t know whose head they’re supposed to be in at any given point, and the constant switching makes it difficult for the reader to settle into any one character’s perspective. The result is that readers will often distance themselves entirely and never really dig into the book. It’s best to let readers have the time to settle into a character’s head before you change viewpoints, and have a reason for changing viewpoints — the next viewpoint character is in a different location or has a truly different perspective. Don’t just change because you want us to know what everyone is thinking.

Having multiple viewpoint characters, especially if they’re in different locations, can be good for maintaining tension and suspense because you can leave one viewpoint character in a cliffhanger at the end of a scene or chapter and then go spend time with another character, delaying the resolution of the cliffhanger. Then cliffhang the new character and go back to resolve what was going on with the first character. You can have one character not knowing what’s going on with the other character, while the reader knows, which creates suspense, but then there’s also the danger that if the reader knows more than one of the characters, it can make the character seem dumb.

Third-person omniscient narration is when the narrator is outside the story and knows all. I’m not going to try to delve into it because I’ve never tried it, and it’s really tricky to pull off well in modern fiction. It’s most often used today for satire, in which the narrator is commenting on events, or pastiche of 19th century fiction.

Next, I’ll get into how you decide which POV to use in a book.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Book Report: Fun with History

It’s amazing how much more I accomplish when I just get up a bit earlier in the morning. I got up one hour earlier than normal this morning, and I’m at about where I normally am every morning, except I’m not only dressed, but my bed is made, I got the oil changed in my car and a state inspection done, and the scrubbing bubbles are at work in the bathroom. Oh, and I have a grocery list made and coupons pulled for tomorrow’s planned shopping expedition. And I feel a bit more alert. It helps that I decided to try the kind of behavior modification tricks I use on my kindergarteners on myself. I’m giving myself points for various behaviors I want to change. Supposedly, I’ll let myself redeem those points later on something, but I know from experience that this doesn’t really matter. Just the fact of getting points will motivate me, because I’m apparently a child at heart. I should give myself stickers throughout the day when I do something on my list.

I’ve been doing some reading recently, so I have a book report.

First, a book recommended here, Child of a Hidden Sea by A.M. Dellamonica. It’s a “portal” fantasy about a person from our world visiting a fantasy world. When our heroine gets zapped into a strange world, she learns a lot more about her own origins and her role in that world’s politics. Plus, she gets intrigued by the biology of that world and how similar and different it is to earth. The fun thing about this story that I don’t think we see in a lot of portal fantasy is that the heroine is an adventurer and explorer. She goes to exotic places to study wildlife, is into diving and climbing, and all that, so she takes to this new world quite easily. She also makes sure to get all the equipment she’ll need when she gets to come back home. I’m hoping there’s a sequel, because I got the impression that the author is going somewhere with the origins of this world.

Then another book recommended here, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. My library had this shelved in children’s fiction, but I think it’s closer to YA, and is very adult-friendly YA. Basically, it’s almost like my Fairy Tale series set in Tudor England. Queen Mary exiles a young noblewoman to a mysterious manor that may be the last gateway to the fairy realm in England, where she finds that the caretakers of this manor have been working with the fairy queen, and this has led to tragedy for the family that owns it now. This is a very spooky and atmospheric read laced with bits of the Tam Lin legend and with a rather nice romantic subplot.

I guess I was on a Tudor kick (possibly because of Secrets of the Six Wives on PBS), because my next read was My Lady Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. This is a very difficult book to describe. It’s an alternate history fantasy with a very quirky touch. It tells the story of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for nine days after the death of Edward Tudor but who was then ousted by Mary (aka Bloody Mary) and then executed. Except in this version, there’s magic — some people have the magical ability to change into animals — and this, rather than Protestantism and Catholicism, is the cause of the divide in the land. People like Mary and her supporters think this is evil. Jane is a scholarly girl who’d really rather be left alone with her books, but her cousin the king is persuaded to name her as his heir, and she finds herself in an arranged marriage with a young man who spends his days as a horse, and then suddenly she’s queen in very fishy circumstances. And then history gets thrown right out the window because it works out very differently. It’s all told with a very modern tone that incorporates lines and references from Shakespeare, Monty Python, and The Princess Bride. I have to say that I found this a very satisfying read because the story of Lady Jane has always struck me as so tragic and unfair. I loved the movie about her starring a very, very young Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes, and I was traumatized when the History Channel (back when they had history-related content) did a thing where they’d show a history-based movie and then have a panel of historians discuss it. The movie is romantic and moving, and then the historians talked about how fake it was and how they actually hated each other (though further reading on the subject indicates that the historians weren’t entirely correct about this). Anyway, it’s a fun read if you’re into history and think it would be better with magic and jokes.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Other Worlds

I’m in heavy-duty brainstorming and development mode now, where the world is really taking shape in my head, and I’m questioning my earlier plans and assumptions about it.

I haven’t written too much “secondary world” fantasy — where the story (or parts of it) take place in another world rather than in the “real” world — so it’s kind of fun to really get to play, but I also have to learn to forget my instincts to make everything align with the real world. I can base my world on a particular era in history, but I’m then allowed to deviate from that. If I like the women’s clothes of an era but not the headgear or hairstyles, I can change it. That was my big lightbulb moment when I got an idea over the weekend and then was looking it up and found that there were some things about the era I was looking at that I didn’t like. I could change it because I’m not writing about England during that era. I’m writing about an entirely different world that has some elements that are kind of like England in that era, but it’s still a different place.

Also, looking at pictures of 19th century fashions late at night after a day in which you ate horribly and didn’t exercise can lead to horrible nightmares about putting on a dress, looking in the mirror, and then realizing that you’ve got one of those massive mid-1880s bustles, only you aren’t wearing any of those frames. I guess it’s time to get back into walking daily.

I’m getting some wonderful mental images of my world, but now I wish I had some kind of artistic or photoshop skills to be able to depict it visually. Then again, not having a reference picture will force me to come up with ways to describe it.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Digging Deeper

I’m experiencing yet another case study in why you don’t just jump on that shiny new idea. About this time last year, I got an idea. I got excited about it, but I had other books to write, so I put it aside. Last fall, I started doing some research and development on it, spent a fair amount of time on fleshing it out, and wrote a proposal. During the holidays, I looked at my agent’s notes on it and realized how shallow my thinking was, and did some more development.

Then yesterday I pulled out some writing books that have exercises in them and used those to do more development, and I was surprised by how much depth came out of that. It really makes what I wrote in the fall look shallow and trite.

I was so excited about what I came up with yesterday that I’m eager to get back on it and see what else I can come up with to figure out my characters, their relationships, and their world.

Then the trick will be to work all that insight into the story. I’m almost at the point where I think I’d be better off scrapping what I wrote and taking a fresh stab at it. It’s not so many words or pages that doing this seems too daunting. I once heard a speaker at a writing workshop say you should do this with every book — write a draft, then put it aside and write it again, since once you know the story and the characters you can really write the story, and if you look at the words you’ve already written, it will be hard to separate yourself from those words. I’ve done that with scenes, when I knew the scene needed to be changed but I found that I was just rearranging words (the rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic metaphor applies). To really get the new scene I needed, I had to start fresh and rewrite it entirely. I think maybe to get the proposal I need, I’m going to have to start fresh and rewrite it entirely.

But this is why it’s really good to let those shiny new ideas sit for a while, then think about them, then let them sit some more, and then really dig into them.

Thursday, February 02, 2017


I’m back in research mode for another project. I do a lot of research for just about everything I write because I think it’s important to ground fantasy in a good dose of reality — if everything but the magic part feels authentic, then readers are more likely to buy the magic stuff.

With the Enchanted, Inc. series, it’s mostly location research. I made several trips to New York to research the locations, and with each book, I spend a lot of time with maps, Google Images and Street View, etc., to make sure things are as close to real as I can get them. That’s because the conceit of the story is that all this stuff is really happening behind the scenes. I love it when I get e-mail from readers about being in New York and finding themselves looking for things from the books, almost hoping to catch a gargoyle moving.

With the Rebels books, it gets a little more complicated. I’m trying to create an authentic-seeming Gilded Age New York, even though it’s a very different one from what happened in our timeline. That takes a lot of research, a historical atlas and timeline, a calendar for that year, lots of historic photos, etc. I’m also trying to create a revolution that works and makes sense, which means researching the real American Revolution, as well as other uprisings, both successful and unsuccessful. At least with this series, when something doesn’t quite match reality, I can say, “But, magic!” It’s a totally different timeline where magic exists and technology developed differently, so if I need a bridge to be in a place where there wasn’t actually a bridge until ten years later, I can put a bridge there.

What’s fun is finding out after the fact that something I made up is actually true. I put the governor’s mansion about where the Cloisters museum is because I figured that if I were a wealthy nobleman who ran America back in the time when land was still just being developed, that would be exactly where I’d put my home. It’s a spectacular spot with amazing views. Then with the book I just finished, I needed to be a little more certain of what was going on in that area in that timeframe, not just the governor’s mansion, but what would be nearby. And it turns out, there were mansions there! There were a number of castle-like mansions on estates. The reason they aren’t there now is that Rockefeller bought them up, tore down the buildings, and donated the whole thing to the city for the park that sits there now. There are still remnants of those estates in the park — some terraces, retaining walls, and outbuildings. It is possible that I saw a photo of these at some point that buried itself in my subconscious, because my mental image of the governor’s mansion was almost exactly the image of the mansion that once stood in that spot.

Yesterday, I was doing some reading to dig a little deeper into the main character of the proposal I’ve been working on. She’s a princess who’s been trained and educated in preparation for becoming a queen. I thought it might be a good idea to look at what that really might be like, so I got books on Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, and it turns out that what I had in mind was very close to what they actually did. I’m sure I’ve heard enough about it over the years from non-fiction books, novels, and PBS that facts stuck, but it’s always fun to have reality prove me right. I did pick up a few little details that might make things more concrete.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

My Independence Day

The book is off with the copyeditor, and now I’m jumping on the other stuff I need to take care of. I have reference books to look at for the next thing I’m working on, we’re doing some reformatting of some of my older books, and I’m working on some branding/marketing stuff.

All very appropriate for the 15th anniversary of my time as a self-employed writer. It was 15 years ago yesterday that I got laid off from my last job. I spent that day reeling. I had very mixed feelings. I’d tried to quit a couple of years before that, but my boss talked me into staying and worked out a way for me to reduce my hours (and pay) and telecommute so I could write more. And then I ended up barely writing because I was finally happy at my job. Then the bosses who’d worked that out for me left, the economy went haywire after 9/11, and I became much less happy. I’d come up with the idea that would become Enchanted, Inc., and I wanted to delve into it, but wasn’t sure I had the time. Things got even weirder at work — we were having to re-pitch our biggest account, the one that took up almost all of my time since I lived near their offices and they’d grown dependent on me. I was even writing the CEO’s speeches. But for some strange reason, they shut me out of all the meetings to prepare for this pitch, at one point even shutting the door in my face when I went to the office to supposedly help work on it. They didn’t take me to the meeting to re-pitch the account. Then they lost the account and laid off most of the staff who’d been working on it, including me. I saw it coming and had all my files already off my work computer, but it was still kind of scary. I had to drive to the office to turn my stuff in, and then I came home and read Harry Potter.

That was around the time I’d really gotten into the series. I’d read the first three books and had finally come to the top of the wait list at the library for the fourth. I’d been planning a reading weekend for that book. It just came a bit earlier than I’d planned. So I came home and did the stuff I’d been planning for the weekend. The next day was when I was officially unemployed, and I was going to spend the day reading, but then my phone started ringing. My old client, the one that had moved to another agency, spurring the layoff, wanted to talk to me about working for them directly. I heard from other clients. That was when I started thinking that maybe I wouldn’t have to find a new job. I could work for myself, and that might give me time to write fiction. Fortunately, I had a lot of money saved up, so I had a cushion. I earned maybe just enough to live on during those first two and a half years. The basic bills were paid, and any extras came out of my savings. Then I sold Enchanted, Inc. and things got better for a few years before I had another dip, and then things got better again.

But it’s been fifteen years since I’ve worked for anyone else, and for more than five years I’ve been strictly writing fiction, having finally dropped my last freelance marketing communications client. It’s not always easy, and I’m probably not where I’d have been financially if I’d kept working full-time, but I wouldn’t have been nearly as happy. I can’t think of anything else I’d want to do. That makes for good motivation for writing. I have to keep making this work because I can’t imagine trying to find a regular job again at this point.